My two favourite things are travelling, music and ruthless efficiency. So I’m sure you can understand the buzz I get when one of my great loves leads me by surprise into an element of the other.
For example, had it not been for seeing my childhood heart throb, songstress Nana Mouskouri, on Saturday night prime time telly in the 1960s I doubt if I would ever have bothered going to visit the sun-kissed Mediterranean island of Crete where she was born and where she first went to Specsavers. Similarly, without having travelled extensively through Japan, I might never have discovered David Sylvian (the only member of the Sylvanian Families to have made it big on the rock stage).
Wherever I go in the world I make a point of investigating the local music, both traditional and modern, the results of which have inspired me to carry on investigating World Music incessantly, even while I am at home in Britain. As a consequence of this, it was at the WOMAD Festival of World Music (my own personal Nirvana) in July this year that I discovered a cracking little six-piece band that I had never heard of before, called 9Bach.
Their material is a mixture of updated versions of traditional Welsh folk songs and new tracks wonderfully crafted by Lisa Jên, the group’s singer-songwriter. They perform all of their material on modern instruments, giving it a laid back Indie atmosphere, but the inclusion of a Celtic harp together with the fact that all the lyrics are sung in Welsh give it a mystical, worldy feel too. This combination of contemporary music and an old language works exceptionally well to produce hauntingly beautiful results that make the hairs stand up on the back of my Celtic neck.
Front lady Lisa grew up in the village of Bethesda in North Wales, a place long dominated by its massive slate quarry which was once the world’s largest and which remains the site of Britain’s longest running industrial dispute, the Great Strike of Penrhyn, which began on 22 November 1900 and continued for three years. The quarry, the strike and the people of Bethesda have influenced the words of most of their songs which are consequently performed with a great deal of passion. This might make you think of them as an old fashioned ‘finger in the ear’ type folk band but they certainly are not. 9Bach are definitely a band of the twenty first century and their unique style makes them well worth going to see.
9Bach on stage at the Lantern in Bristol.
In fact, I went to see them again tonight but this time at the Lantern (the smaller hall within Bristol’s Colston Hall complex) which was quite a contrast to the festival field full of festival people on a balmy summer’s eve in rural Wiltshire. A different setting but still incredibly good as their material, delivered with the seriousness that the subject matter demands, was broken up with interludes of friendly, chatty, jokey bits which I always enjoy as they give a little insight into the performers’ character and demonstrate their appreciation of the people who have turned up to see them.
I find it really refreshing to know that good quality new music is still being made within our islands. 9Bach can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the acts I have seen or heard since I immersed myself into the world of World Music but, relatively speaking, you could say that they are a local band and because of this I was able to go to see them playing live just down the road from where I live. Much as I love the fervent and febrile beat of the Abatimbo Burundi Drummers, they’re never going to turn out on a cold and wet November night in England’s West Country.
9Bach’s latest album is called Tincian (a Welsh word, in this case meaning the clanking industrial background noise you constantly get from living near a vast quarry) and you can buy it on the World Wide Web thing and they do lots of touring and festivals and they’re well worth a listen. So … go and give them a listen!
As a footnote I would like to express the immense feeling of joy I experienced when, whilst doing a tiny bit of research for this piece, I came across the Welsh phrase ‘Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod’ which of course means ‘My hovercraft is full of eels’.