Ffynnon Music Reviews

BBC Radio 2

Mike Harding Show

Fed up with fast Irish reels and craving Celtic music with a difference? Enjoy bands like Ar Log and Calennig but up for a fresh approach to Welsh song? Then go and check out Ffynnon (pronounced Fun-on): the members of this
three-piece, boasting an impressive portfolio of touring, radio, tv, film and academic credentials between them, perform deep-rooted Celtic songs with a rare degree of originality.

Vocalist Lynne Denman leads the trio through sixteen diverse tracks with intriguing arrangements courtesy of Stacey Blythe on keyboard/accordion and Dave Reid on second keyboard and a six-string bass which half the time he
plays like a melody instrument. This restricted palette works beautifully and a certain jazz influence is of the cool, meandering variety rather than the wilder sax-led jazz-folk fusions we've heard much of lately.

Mainly from Wales with a nod to other Celtic traditions along the way, the songs include settings of 17th, 19th and 20th century poetry, a Scots border ballad and Welsh dialect songs - an eclectic mix with only the inclusion of Northumbrian song Felton Lonnin complete with Geordie accent striking a slightly odd note. Denman contributes haunting vocals, several song tunes and the album's closer, a very canny Welsh/English macaronic. Reid's own tune Y Rhaeadr (The Waterfall) showcases his wonderfully unorthodox approach to bass playing and both his and Blythe's versatility shines at every note.

Current favourites in a CD which grows more fascinating with every listen are Pais Dinogad (Dinogad's Smock) - a 6th century nursery rhyme with a compelling spoken counting line; Cwcw Fach (Little Cuckoo) with its acapella overtones of a medieval carol and Le Petit Cordonier (The Little Shoemaker) a deliciously dancey Breton tongue-twister sung to perfection. Serious talent here and this album's a real grower.

Living Tradition

Ffynnon - Adar Gwylltion
Phil Thomas

What a joy to encounter a CD which requires the listener to do a little work and to find that the effort put in is rewarded on so many levels. I tend to recoil at music labelled ‘fusion' because it brings to mind my first experience of the cocktail ‘Black Velvet' (Guinness and Champagne) which I felt was a ruination of two fine drinks. But this ‘jazz-soaked Celtic folk music' (a quote from Radio 2) is something else.

Ffynnon are Lynne Denman (vocals), Stacey Blythe (just about any instrument you can name), Emma Trend (fiddle) and Matthew Lovett (guitar and bass). Dylan Fowler also features on guitar and drum and the album was recorded at his Stiwdio Felin Fach in South Wales. I have loved Lynne's voice since first hearing her in a duo performance with the late and much missed bassist Dave Reid in about 2002. She has a jazz-tinged voice with power and subtlety in equal measure and she could sing the instructions from a workshop manual and I would enjoy it. Stacey also has a fine voice and is a multi-instrumentalist who brings influences from the many genres of music in which she has worked. Emma's fiddle playing adds welcome colour and Matthew's dark brooding bass makes the hair on my neck stand on end.

Do you get the idea I like this one? You bet. And I think I know why. Much of the singing is in Welsh (with a little French and English here and there). No explanations, apologies, translations or compromises (and quite right, too!). Sleeve notes are sparse. There is even a little humorous story told by Ethel Fronhaul (how did she get in?) and various other sound effects, noises off and snippets of conversation. I don't know why they are there but they seem to fit. Perhaps my lack of understanding of the words makes it easier to suspend one level of judgement and simply treat the voices as the beautiful instruments they are. This album reeks of jazz but feels like folk. I think it would be wrong to single out tracks. But I will. Listen to the jazzy Oer (which means ‘cold' in Welsh), and then check out Stacey's own composition, Iain's Reel, featuring the low whistle. The contrast is astounding. Listen to it all, and then listen again. I did.


Ffynnon - Adar Gwyllton
Julian May

Complex concept album of simple melodies

Ffynnon are a four-piece band from South Wales who play traditional music with jazzy and bluesy inflections. On this album they endeavour to draw out the connections between people, history and the nature of place and language. It begins with a recording of a young girl asking her grandmother to name all her brothers and sisters, she was one of ten children and so her reply is a beautiful litany of Welsh names. There is a grandmother in the second track as well. ‘Cherries’ is a poem by Janet Dubé sketching the life of her grandmother, who had to leave her home and abandon her language to find work. Set to Stacey Blythe’s accordion, Matthew Lovett’s bass and Emma Trend’s violin, it is sung lucidly and straightforwardly by Lynne Denman.

Then comes a set of four 18th century englynion (one of the strict forms of Welsh poetry) followed by a reel played on a low whistle that dissolves into a snatch of women talking (something to do with old age and money) This in turn fades into birds calling over mudflats. There is a spirited piece with lyrics dating from the sixth century lamenting an empty hearth. The album ends with the sound of curlews calling.

In spite of all the loss and leaving in these songs both ancient and modern, people always remain, conversing in their own voices just as the wild birds do. Ffynnon may use traditional instruments but theirs is a modern expression and the music is quite surprisingly so. It’s very impressive and rather beautiful.

Rock ‘n’ Reel

Adar Gwylltion ****
Dave Haslam

Three albums in and Welsh quartet Ffynnon (pronounced fun-on) continue to evolve into one of the Principality’s most innovative purveyors of traditional and contemporary Welsh music. This time round, following the untimely death of bassist Dave Reid, original members Lynne Denman (vocals) and Stacey blithe (accordion, harp, piano, whistle and vocals) have recruited fiddler Emma Trend and guitarist/bassist Matthew Lovett to expand the band dynamic and their presence is certainly felt, particularly on the traditional instrumental workout, ‘Jigiau Naid’, where fiddle accordion and guitar unite to mesmeric effect.

Ffynnon may pride themselves on their strong Welsh identity but with Adar Gwylltion they also prove themselves to be open to other influences, which accounts for the presence of the Breton dancing song ‘Sept Marins’, the joyous ‘En filant ma quenouille’ complete with harmony singing and handclap percussion and especially with ‘Elen a’r Eos’ where words by Elen Egryn are set to a tune by Galician musician Mercedes Peón, the result being something akin to a Welsh version of fado – if you can imagine such a thing.

Instrumentally spot on it’s Denman’s powerful and assured vocals that provide the icing on the cake and whether she’s singing in Welsh, English or French, she imparts truckloads of emotion into the songs, from the opening ‘Cherries’ (a new setting of a poem by Janet Dubé) through the blues-soaked ‘Oer’ to the otherworldly ‘Breuddwyd’ that closes the album. Beautifully produced by Dylan Fowler (who also guests on guitar and drum) Adar Gwylltion is a rare gem.


Delyth Jenkins

Ffynnon’s new line-up involves founders singer Lynne Denman, Stacey Blythe on harp, accordion and piano, plus fiddler Emma Trend, Matthew Lovett on guitar and bass. A guest appearance by Dylan Fowler on guitar and drum is also featured. If you haven’t come across them before, think early Fernhill and you should have a pretty clear idea of their style.

Lynne’s powerful voice always manages to hit the spot, whether it be in a traditional song or in more recent compositions. She has made something of a speciality of her settings of Welsh poetry. Llys Ifor Hael (reprised from their last album), arranged for voice, bass, fiddle and harp, is a dignifoed and moving lament for the ruined court of Ifor the Generous. Denman is equally at home in Welsh, French or English. The Breton dance song En Filant ma Quenouille, with its close harmony singing and infectiously joyous clapping and drum accompaniment, is thoroughly enjoyable. Another highlight is Cherries, a striking setting of a poem by Janet Dubé.

A wonderful album of inventive instrumentals and heartfelt and bold songs.

Celtic Beat

Ffynnon, Adar Gwylltion
Joanne and Art

What a combination! Of present with distant past with recent past. Ffynnon-Stacey Blythe, Lynne Denman, Emma Trend with Matthew Lovett with guitarist and drummer Dylan Fowler, have concocted a brew here that is both traditional and radically their own, combining many strains into a consistent whole, presented with outstanding musicianship.

"Cherries" is a tribute to a feisty strong woman of Wales written by her granddaughter-a great piece of personal history. And in the end, is not that the history that matters most? Lynne Denman carries the day here vocally, as she does throughout.

As to ancient history, here are two laments about the bitter beginnings of Wales. "Llys Ifor Hael" is a Welsh "Ozymandias" sad, haunting with harp used seldom more powerfully by Stacey Blythe. This 18th century lament by Ieuan Brydydd Hir is contrasted to an intense more immediate lament to the era by the 6th century Llywarch Hen, one of the outstanding Celtic poets of the Heroic Age for the fall of the court of great Urien and Owain. Ffynnon pulls off the contrast between the nostalgic elegiac sadness of one and the sound and the fury with real experienced sorrow of the other, and speaks to the listener, whether they understand Welsh or not!

Along with Welsh legacies, here are Breton ones also. "En Filant ma Quenouille" where Lynne and Stacey sing in unison to Dylan Fowler's great percussion, and "Septs Marins" the song/dance of Bretonnes waiting for their men to return from the sea. Here the "percussion" is Stacey's harp.

If "Elen a'r Eos" a 19th century Welsh poem of healing a broken heart sounds Hispanic it is because the instrumentals here, with Stacey Blythe's accordion combining with Lynne's vocals, are courtesy of Galician nightingale Mercedes Peon.

On this CD Ffynnon knows how to bring out the most poetic, often heart rending musical expressions ,Whether these are magical songs about "the threshold" between man and nature as in the title cut "Adar Gwylltion" or solely instrumental pieces with Stacey Blythe's whistle as in "Iain's Reel" or Lynne singing the Blues in "Oer" (Over-like listening to this song needs a translation). There are in addition to this great musical mix verbal storytelling episode from Ethel Fronhaul as in "When he started the World" and often before a cut, you can hear the artists talking to each other. Instead of detracting from this it adds to it. This is a different album and a great one.

Ffynnon finishes appropriately in the whole universe of this CD with "Breuddwyd" a powerful song of yearning combining Welsh and English backed by Stacey's accordion.

This CD is both unique and defines the best in Welsh and Celtic music today. -AK

Folk and Roots

Ffynnon - 'Adar Gwylltion'

Ffynnon are a four piece based in Cardiff, although relatively unknown this side of the big pond, which is perhaps a symptom of the lack of acknowledgement given to the Welsh contribution to the folk arts in these islands, the band were signed to the Green Linnet label in the states as a result of a demo tape sent through the post, following this up they have performed succesful concerts across the US. The band started life as a trio consisting of Dave Reid, Lynne Denman and Stacy Blythe, Read was well know on the Jazz scene both in London and Wales and his Guitar playing bought a special element to the original trio when combined with the more 'folky' elements of Denman's vocals and Blyth's accordian and harp. Although sadly Reid suffered a fatal heart attack in 2003 his influences can still be felt in the bands sound. After this tragedy and loss the band re-organised and recruited two new members, Fiddler Emma Trend and Guitarist Matthew Lovett who like Read has a background in the Jazz scene and indeed plays with the BBC Not NOW Jazz Ensemble.

'Adar Gwylltion' is one of those CD's where it is hard to identify a particular highlight or two, indeed without fail every track is a highlight in its own unique right. The quartet experiment, improvise, include other traditions and put their own mark on each track whether instrumental or song based. Indeed the 13 full tracks include both instrumental and vocal based tracks and range from Songs taken from the Breton tradition to Welsh poems and elements of the Welsh oral tradition put to song. The two examples of the former are 'En filant ma Quenouille' and 'Septmartins' with the latter being a traditional Breton song concerned with the young women of the village waiting for the return of the sailors, examples of the latter include 'Rheged' which are verses from 'Diffaith aelwyd Rheged', an ancient Welsh poem lamenting the betrayal which lead to the loss of the ancient British lands and 'Llys Ifor Hael' a work by the 17th century poet Ieuan Brydydd Hir. For the most part the songs are in the Welsh Language, the exceptions are the English Language poem by contemporary poet Janet Dubé and part of the final song 'Breuddwyd'. However the strength of this quartet lies precisely in their innovation and absorbing other influences (the Jazz background of one of their members being an obvious example) whilst in no ways losing the essence of their own tradition or for that matter the Breton songs they include on this collection.

Whilst each of the band are busy and are involved in several other projects on the strength of this release I find it hard to believe that Ffynnon will not become more of a 'name' on the folk scene over the next few years. My only criticism are the lack of details on the inlay card either about the band or the songs and poems, although to be fair the lyrics and details of the songs are clearly available online and can be found at ffynnon.org which includes the details you would expect along with short clips from each track on the current CD, sufficient to encourage you to increase your credit card bill I would suspect.

Sing Out!

Adar Gwylltion
R Weir

The dynamic quartet Ffynnon is based in Wales, a fact that’s not always apparent on the eclectic, crisp and exciting Adar Gwylltion. The title translates as ‘wild birds’, an apt metaphor for the undulating instrumentals of fiddler Emma Trend, bassist Matthew Lovett, multi-instrumentalist Stacey Blythe and the resplendent vocals of Lynne Denman. It’s also an appropriate handle for an album that detours to Quebec for ‘En filant ma quenouille’ a work-tempo spinning song perfect for clogging, and to Brittany for ‘Sept Marins’ whose rhythmic French cadences are delivered with precision, power and hints of pathos by Denman. This is an album of many colors. ‘Cherries’, a poem set to music, tells (in English) the bitter-sweet tale of a resilient Welsh-speaking woman forced by war and circumstance to adapt to a not-always-accepting Anglo world around her. Its mix of contemporary, jazz and Celtic instrumentation is reminiscent of Capercaillie arrangements. Ffynnon follows with a series of Welsh language songs which use strongly accented harp cascades, melancholy fiddle, bouncy bass and dramatic vocals that emphasise consonants in a mix evocative of Scandinavian bands such as Gamarna.

‘Oer’ by contrast is torchy Welsh blues and Denman smokes the vocals. She follows with ‘Elen a’r Eos’ with pain-laced vocals set to Blythe’s doleful accordion, a perfect frame for a song that tells us that talking to nightingales helps cope with a heavy heart. It’s one of several bird-themed songs on an album that would soar without avian assistance.

Tel: 01570 480818
ffynnon.org - Sun 20 Jan 2019 12:33:20