Sprawling Hooves

Hen Ogledd

We first heard from Richard Dawson, the English folk singer and musician based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, with his superb release The Glass Trunk – a very imaginative, rugged, and beautiful statement of raw folk music that truly brought local history to life in a way which few can manage. If you were prescient enough to buy a copy of that buried gem, you’ll have enjoyed the musical interludes on the album where Dawson played guitar joined by Welsh improviser Rhodri Davies on his pedal harp. If you enjoyed that coupling, you’re going to love Hen Ogledd (ALT.VINYL av050), an entire vinyl LP of instrumentals by the pair. Can’t recommend this release highly enough, which may seem strange considering I’ve let it lie in the vinyl queue since 23 December 2013.

The only thing that could possibly prepare you for its powerful, life-enriching sound is Wound Response, Rhodri’s solo LP from 2012 on the same label, which (unexpectedly perhaps for this gentle and unassuming harpist) was pretty much indistinguishable from avant-garde heavy metal, delivering a powerful stream of iron blasts of amplified noise that put Keiji Haino in the shade on any given Sunday. Rhodri’s arrived at this brilliant sound through amplification and use of transducers, contact mics, volume pedal, and an overdrive unit, and presumably something like this is what we also hear on Hen Ogledd. Distortion is part of it, but it’s a controlled and disciplined use of distortion, not wallowing in the glories of unrestrained feedback as so many death-metalling teens never fail to do.

Every track on the LP is a glorious, maximal experience of unfettered through-performed noise, with nary a gap left for a man to catch his breath. But it’s also melodic noise. Primitive melodies and rhythms are delivered with the accuracy and plangency of a fictional New Wave band from 1978 formed of elves, goblins, and other supernatural folk, transponding their eerie tunes from Faerieland by the gift of time-travel. This LP more than lives up to its cluttered collage cover artwork, and by the end of it you can see more and hear more than the Lambton Worm. Additionally, the track titles add to the sense of the uncanny, effectively forming one-line poems that are lyrical word-paintings of the North-Easterly landscape. Davies moved up to this part of the UK some years ago, and his sense of connectedness to the area keeps on appearing in his album titles and musical statements. 1

Sadly, this release is not included in Rhodri’s Pedwar box set from 2014, making it all the more imperative that you hunt down your copy soonest. Rhodri kindly sent me a copy of Pedwar some time ago, and we hope to give this one notice in due course.

  1. Well, that much is true of Carliol (ftarri-220) at any rate, his 2012 album with John Butcher.

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