The Music Fix first became aware of the exquisite 9Bach when they accompanied Gruff Rhys on the madcapCandylion tour. Since then we’ve eagerly scoured listings and release schedules hoping to chance upon them again but, until now, they’ve been exceptionally elusive. I know that tradition dictates that you should always leave an audience wanting more but this was getting ridiculous. All of a sudden and 9Bach are everywhere, a GreenMan set last week, an album through the letterbox this week and a Cardiff date next week; it never rains but it pours.
Not that we’re complaining you understand. Now, I have to tell you, listening to the album is a fundamentally different experience to catching 9Bach live and to a certain extent I feel that I’m out of my depth. Look, I’m a Cardiff boy, I’m proud to visit the Millennium Stadium and cheer on Gareth Bale as he nips down the wing but I just can’t speak Welsh. This is rarely a significant disadvantage but today I’m at a bit of a loss. When you see the band live Lisa Jen will give the audience some verbal crib notes before performing a song but here, I’m on my own. I’ll do my best…
Fortunately I can recall a few things from last week’s festival set and can confidently tell you that opening track Bwthyn fy Nain is a traditional Welsh folk tale about an old woman who has lived her entire life on a quiet mountainside, tending her pgs and sheep and in blissful ignorance of the horrors of war, terrorism and hate which beleaguer the rest of the world. A song which yearns, I suppose, for the freedom to escape the artificial, man made problems of the world. It is beautifully recorded with a simple arrangement which nevertheless veers away from the traditional welsh folk approach and instead gives the music space to breathe and resonate, resulting in a sound as warm and organic as that of the Cowboy Junkies Trinity Sessions. They didn’t have a xylophone solo though so extra points to 9Bach there.
The arrangement of Mae Nhw’n Dwedyd provides the first real surprise of the album as it is more Portishead than Planxty. This underlines the determined 9Bach manifesto to make these ancient folk songs accessible to a contemporary audience. They may be delivered in their original tongue but there’s really nothing to scare the non-native Welsh speaker from engaging with 9Bach. Just listen to the heartbreaking yearning in Lisa’s harmonium accompanied voice as she delivers Llongau Caernarfon and you instantly know this is a song of loss, you don’t need to know that she’s scouring the horizon for he long-lost sailor husband in order to connect. The language ought to be no more a barrier than the Northumbrian dialect of The Unthanks would be to appreciating their traditional tunes.
Pontypridd is perhaps the most ‘traditional’ folk performance of the set and comes complete with some enchanting arpeggios and lilting melodies from Esyllt Jones’ harp. This arrangement contrasts perfectly with the bass heavy Pa Bryd y Deui Eto which tips a nod to the Super Furries. Closing track Lisa Lan is also notable for it’s bass lines which recall those of Pentangle’s Danny Thompson, carrying Lisa’s spellbinding vocals along with them before finally cutting them loose and allowing them to fade out into the ether. The perfect album for all those long, dark winter nights ahead of us. Highly recommended.