‘Adra’ is the Welsh word for ‘home’, and also the title for my forthcoming (in a little while…) debut solo album. I decided to document the journey from conception to completion mostly to look back on when all is done, but also in the hope of helping others struggling to break through their glass ceilings and finish projects they have always dreamed of.
Home is a complicated word, meaning many different things to different people. For me, home is definitely Wales. Whilst I may have been born in England, and am not a fluent Welsh speaker, the thriving capital city that is Cardiff is certainly the place to which I owe most, if not all, of my growth as an artist and person. My family moved to the city when I was 8 years old and we felt thoroughly welcomed to the country.
The cultural life in Cardiff is magnificent for a city of its size and I shared my youth with many talented friends, teachers, and mentor figures to whom I owe a great deal. I have also been lucky enough to witness some of the world’s greatest musicians in some of the city’s fantastic venues over the years.
This album is my way of acknowledging my home, exhibiting the music and culture to the wider world, and giving a nod to some other places I may have considered home along the way. I hope that it will raise interest in the Welsh language, even a small amount, and encourage people to explore further some of the composers or traditions featured.
To introduce you to some of the works that will be included on this album, I will write a brief summary below.
Transcriptions from the Robert ap Huw manuscript
The Robert ap Huw manuscript is the oldest surviving source of harp music anywhere in Europe and is a vital source for the study of early Welsh music. The music within is like nothing I have ever heard. Encoded within the 100 or so pages, and in one of the most stunning forms of tablature I have ever seen, is a beautifully simple, yet complex tradition. Harmonically, it is a binary music, creating musical form through a series digits, ‘IIOOIO’ for example. The way in which the music and tablature work will be the topic for another blog but suffice it to say that it is worth the effort of learning to read its code for the musical results.
The relationship between Wales and West-Africa is a special one to me. My brother recently spent the year in Senegal, and the collaboration between Welsh harpist Catrin Finch, and Kora player Seckou Keita is a musical paring that I particularly enjoy. I am convinced that performance, or at least study, of the extinct medieval bardic tradition of the Welsh, especially that of the ap Huw manuscript, could be influenced a lot by the performance and study of West-African griots and, in particular, Kora players. Both are wandering harp traditions, playing and/or singing to please those in power, be they court dignitaries, or tribal chiefs (which really are one in the same.) Inspired by South African guitarist Dereck Gripper, I will be including a number of Kora pieces in this album to compliment the ap Huw transcriptions.
A new ‘ap Huw’ Commission
Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland is arguably one of the greatest works for classical guitar, certainly of the 20th Century, if not all time. It is a long, winding journey through a series of variations on Dowland’s Come Heavy Sleep climaxing with an increasingly violent and unpredictable passagaglia before finally resolving to the Dowland theme in its pure form, putting the rest of the piece in context. My dream for this album is to commission a work inspired by the Britten (though a 21st Century take on the form), using an ap Huw transcription as its base.
Joel Järventausta, Beach
York was a city that I called ‘home’ for the academic year 2014-15. I learnt a huge amount here, made some lifelong friends, and had my eyes opened to contemporary music. One such friend, and astoundingly talented composer, was Joel Järventausta. Joel is just finishing an MMus at the Royal College of Music, London, and is about to start a PhD at King’s College London. Of the piece, he has written this note:
“The initial ideas for the soundworld of this piece came to me whilst walking on the sand dunes of a beautiful beach in the North West coast of England. The piece is mostly built from seemingly wandering natural harmonics, resulting in a resonant, colourful and pulseless sonic landscape – perhaps that of an imaginary beach.” – Joel Järventausta (2017)
What impresses me most about this piece, is Joel’s ability to stray away from some sort of tonic centre, even in a piece of atonal music, and very firmly return ‘home’ by the end, leaving the listener, and performer, with a sense of closure and an end to the wandering journey. You can hear the piece here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uu-seL6n85o
Gerard Cousins, Welsh Folk arrangements
I first met Gerard at the Cardiff Guitar Festival 2016 and was immediately impressed by his compositions and arrangements. I bought his book there and then and set about learning some of his pieces. I have included his music in almost all my concerts since that date. The album will include Cousins’ stunning Fantasia on Ar Lan y Mor, and Lisa Lân.