Live : Sesiwn Fawr 201721-23 July 2017, Dolgellau
Waking up on the day you are due to go to this event is the same as waking up on the first day of the school summer holidays when you are nine.
This was Sesiwn Fawr's twenty-fifth year, and it sold out fairly comprehensively. In its time it has been a larger scale event, but is currently settled in a town centre location over a three day weekend. The programme is based around one large outdoor stage at the back of The Royal Ship Hotel, which is used throughout the weekend, and the event also takes over ad hoc venues across the whole market town of Dolgellau on the Saturday afternoon - including a town square stage.
It's an imaginatively and superbly curated folk festival, which has an immersive magic for two reasons. First it is absolutely of its place - unashamedly Welsh in culture and language - including the majority of the music, the stage announcements and the conversations around you. Second it is also a completely open and welcoming event, which itself in part comes out of an entirely justified cultural confidence; not least because the musical quality of the home grown performances is often astonishing.
To re-emphasise a thread from a conversation with folksinger Chris Jones last year, folk music must be rooted in community and culture - deracinated it loses meaning. Sesiwn Fawr is so vibrant and alive because the music has its roots in a community that profoundly values it.
This year the festival was headlined on the Friday by Calan and Dolgellau's own Sŵnami, on Saturday by Scotland's dazzling Peatbog Faeries and England's Coco and the Butterfields; Sunday was closed by Sipsi Gallois. But Sesiwn Fawr's strength is in its depth - away from the very top of the bill there were a host of indelible highlights, here are five:
- Gai Toms : At Sesiwn Fawr to launch his seventh album, Gwalia, Toms' notably played a dramatic and magisterial version of Yr Hwyliau, and an epic version of the new album's title track - for the latter, rather than use the sample of Eleri Llwyd singing O Gymru that appears on the CD, he brought her on stage for possibly the most poignant moment of the whole festival; her voice is as plaintive and beautiful as when the song was first recorded. Tears were shed. Toying with our emotions, he finished with a rousing, upbeat Sunshine Dan. [ website ]
- Tant : Tant are a five piece, young, all female group; four of them sing, underpinned instrumentally by a harp, small harp, two guitars and a cajon. They performed twice on the Saturday afternoon: first at Tŷ Siamas, and then in a coffee shop - their vocal performance was, for long moments, little short of extraordinary; at the second show the cafe was full, and people where spilling out on to the road as they tried to see and hear.
Unexpectedly and delightfully impressive.
- Climbing Trees : Pontypridd's Climbing Trees have released two albums of accomplished Americana influenced songs - Hebron and Borders. At Sesiwn Fawr without a drummer, an acoustic set opening the main stage on Saturday evening proved they
can reimagine their often sublime music live.
[ see full review ]
- Nantgarw : Nantgarw are an exciting young traditional band from South Wales - to quote Chris Jones again "Just in their organic playing they go against all that stripping out of politics and life from folk music. Their clog dancing is brilliant, wild. I really rate them - they have the right spirit." He was certainly correct in his view - an enthralling Sesiwn Fawr performance in the town square was marked by two brilliant, starkly percussive clog dances.
[ Nantgarw Facebook ]
- Lewis & Leigh : Three EPs and a near perfect debut album, Ghost, established Al Lewis and Alva Leigh as a duo with mature songwriting skills, and the performing talent to deliver fully on what they have written. This Sunday afternoon set confirmed that live - the songs stripped back, elemental and emotive - their music shines as much as it does when recorded.
[ see full review ]
Until next year, 362 sleeps.