9Bach/Colorama – Buffalo Bar, Cardiff

In case anyone is in any doubt that this isn’t going to be a typical indie gig, the staff at Buffalo Bar have dimmed the house lights and placed a single flickering candle on each table; immediately engendering the stygian atmosphere of a Parisian jazz club. Tonight’s show is happening to mark the launch of not one but two new albums from bands who perform, at least in part, in the Welsh language; Colorama who are promoting mini-album Magic Lantern Show and 9Bach with their eponymous debut.

Colorama are first to take the stage and in many ways it is a testament to their strength of character that they are in a position to do so at all. Theirs has been a torrid year which could have been entirely defined by a single weekend in June during which they played a triumphant set at Glastonbury and then tragically lost their hugely talented double bass player David Fletcher to a sudden heart attack. The trauma of such highs and lows are not in evidence this evening and, a dedication of all that we do to David aside, you’d not suspect anything. It is a set of well crafted, melodic, bilingual ‘psyche-folk’ tunes which are brought to life by the distinctive vocal talents of Carwyn Ellis. Definitely a band to keep a close eye upon in the future.

It is a refreshing change to go and see two bands who have no interest in what the latest received wisdom is about what is ‘happening’. With SFA increasingly losing the plot and the demise of Gorkys Zygotic Mynci it’s been a little concerning to note that music from Wales has apparently veered off down an emo cul-de-sac. Thankfully both bands here tonight prove that to be quite wrong. It has been a while in the making but 9Bach’s debut album has been worth the wait and there’s great anticipation here tonight to see how its blend of traditional welsh folk tales, trip-hop grooves and reverberating guitar fare on-stage.

They don’t disappoint and this is in no small part due to the brief explanations from vocalist Lisa Jen which preface each number. The set begins with Rope, a happy-go-lucky song, featuring delicate harp work and divine vocal harmonies from Lisa and Esyllt, about a man who wants to, and then does, strangle his wife. 9bach bring new interpretations to traditional Welsh music although, it has to be said, they appear to be very much drawn to the darker side of folk tales. Trout is so called because it is about an unwanted, pregnant girl who sees the fish swimming free on the river bed and wishes she was with them. It’s beautiful in Welsh says Lisa but it doesn’t seem to translate well. There’s no hope in this tale though and by the 4th verse the poor girl has got her wish, floating dead in the water holding a note which simply says I was the unwanted girl. It’s not Agadoo is it!

The subject matter may be dark but the delivery is transfixing, the use of harmonium particularly adds to the haunting beauty of the experience. The translation from album to stage isn’t all perfect however and while the thundering bass works perfectly on numbers like Nain it, on occasions, threatens to crush the delicacy of the other instrumentation, but then this is not the ideal venue for achieving concert hall sound. Before the night is out we are thrown a few crumbs of comfort in the form of Cariad which is a tale of young love from which, miraculously, the participants emerge unscathed, although the poor lad lost at sea in next song Caernarfon is not so lucky. If you get the chance then you should definitely try a night out with 9Bach, yes people will die along the way but their sacrifice will be your gain.

Steven Burnett

Updated: Sep 04, 2009

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