Sesiwn Fawr 2016

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The weather forecast wasn't the best for the weekend of Sesiwn Fawr 2016, and driving through the drizzle and mist of Blaenau Ffestiniog on the way it felt we were being balefully compressed into the car by the clouds.

By 7pm Friday the sky was clearing, dispelling the gloom, and the festival opened at The Ship Hotel, on a permanent, hard roofed, open air stage fashioned at one end of an extensive courtyard, with the immaculate power and indie-pop purpose (a half hidden Jamie Carragher Fifa 13 reference if ever there was one) of Houdini Dax. They are a superb live band.

Jambyls followed, probably relieved to be let out for a short moment from the perpetual Blaenau mizzle; when their debut was released we noted here that 'If they can reproduce the heart of this live then it is music made for a bigger stage' - they can, they did and it is.

Then Scotland's Talisk were fantastic - a folk three piece with both enormous dynamism and hypnotic precision in their music. But Mynediad am Ddim, celebrating their 42nd year, and perhaps unexpectedly against such talent, took the evening as their own with craft and sheer on-stage warmth. Yws Gwynedd closed - full of verve and energy.

Saturday was a complex proposition as there was so much to choose from, with six 'stages' on the go for much of the afternoon. On a stage in a corner of the main square of Dolgellau, which was closed for the event, rain could not dampen Patrobas' country rock enthusiasm and vitality - and shortly after in Tŷ Siamas Glain Rhys opened with an awful lot of enchanting, clear voiced promise. In the same venue Osian Morris' lugubrious but effective take on folk blues, accompanied by acoustic bass, was mournful but completely absorbing.

We moved to a wine bar - Gwin Dylanwad - for a real highlight as Gwilym Bowen Rhys powerfully and charismatically played folk ballads unamplified - then to the Ship where he did a similar set on the main stage. It is also almost as impressive to watch him sell a CD as play. He was followed at The Ship stage by The Changing Room, from Cornwall, who engaged and beguiled the audience with beautifully performed electrifying and authentic folk.

Next up Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog, who played a set built around their recent new album IV, and delivered a storming performance. They were followed by the energised, revved-up folk-rock of Dolgellau's own Gwerinos, and the evening closed perfectly with The Elephant Sessions' vividly funked up neo-trad folk.

Osian Morris opened Sunday at The Ship - before an enthralling hour from Jodie Marie and Matthew Frederick. Jodie Marie went first, mostly with material from her magnificent blues drenched 2015 album Trouble in Mind - and her soaring, emotive and powerful voice was one of the absolute highlights of the whole weekend; then Climbing Trees' Matthew Frederick, no stranger to Sesiwn Fawr, played and sang his own evocative and spirited solo songs to equal effect, and finally they performed together - impressive pieces they have written as a duo over the last eighteen months.

Meic Stevens took to the stage dressed all in black, then played guitar and sang, an enthralling presence and performer still. Following him Brigyn, suited and booted, played a captivating collection of songs - and the final one, a flawless version of Haleliwia (Hallelujah), was possibly the peak of the whole weekend - an unexpected showstopper.

Bronwen Lewis played a lovely set, closing with her enchanting version of Fields of Gold. And then that was it - the end of our festival, unfortunately missing Ghazalaw. And to be honest it was hard not to be a little gutted it was over. This account is just one trail through the exceptional line-up - missing as much as was seen.

The emphasis of the event is Welsh, especially Welsh language, music, with artists from the other Celtic nations adding further colour. The essential magic of Sesiwn Fawr is that it is a superbly run and curated event, in a beautiful location, with a real, genuine sense of the community and culture that hosts it.

I was lucky to speak to Ynyr Roberts, from Brigyn, briefly before we left - "This is an event we happily chase to play at" he said. It is easy to understand why.

  • T. H. Roberts Coffee Shop Sign
  • Houdini Dax : Jack Butler
  • Jambyls
  • Talisk : Hayley Keenan
  • Mynediad am Ddim
  • Yws Gwynedd
  • Patrobas
  • Glain Rhys
  • Osian Morris
  • Gwilym Bowen Rhys
  • The Changing Room : Tanya Brittain
  • The Changing Room : Sam Kelly
  • Cowbois Rhos Bottwnog
  • Gwerinos
  • Jodie Marie and Matthew Frederick
  • Meic Stevens
  • Brigyn : Eurig Roberts
  • Brigyn : Ynyr Roberts
  • Coffee
  • Until 2017
  • T. H. Roberts Coffee Shop Sign
    Dolgellau offers very good food and drink - and the whole place was alive for the weekend
  • Houdini Dax : Jack Butler
    Houdini Dax played an ebullient set heavily laced with their exuberant singles
  • Jambyls
    Jambyls performed a rousing set based on their 2016 debut album Chwyldro
  • Talisk : Hayley Keenan
    The award winning trio Talisk played with mesmerising musicianship
  • Mynediad am Ddim
    Mynediad am Ddim offered hugely engaging folk - 42 years of practice can sometimes bring a positive result
  • Yws Gwynedd
    Yws Gwynedd closed Friday with sparkling Welsh indie / rock
  • Patrobas
    Patrobas are developing into an accomplished live band - seen here performing behind a wall of afternoon rain
  • Glain Rhys
    Opening at Ty Siamas Bala's Glain Rhys has an enchanting, clear voice
  • Osian Morris
    Osiam Morris plays understated and mournful folk blues
  • Gwilym Bowen Rhys
    New folk from Gwilym Bowen Rhys - sat tuning up before performing songs from his new album, which will be released in August
  • The Changing Room : Tanya Brittain
    Another highlight, Cornwall's The Changing Room play superb contemporary folk with a distinct sense of place
  • The Changing Room : Sam Kelly
    Changing Room's singer Sam Kelly
  • Cowbois Rhos Bottwnog
    A first rate performance from Cowbois Rhos Bottwnog
  • Gwerinos
    Local band Gwerinos added effervescent energy and life to the Saturday evening
  • Jodie Marie and Matthew Frederick
    Solo and as a duo singer songwriters Jodie Marie and Matthew Frederick offered an hour of great Americana and blues influenced music
  • Meic Stevens
    Meic Stevens can make asking for a plectrum from the crowd compelling even before he plays
  • Brigyn : Eurig Roberts
    Brigyn played songs from their extensive catalogue
  • Brigyn : Ynyr Roberts
    Brigyn closed their set with the showstopping Haleliwia
  • Coffee
    One more cup of coffee for the road ...
  • Until 2017