By Jon Gower
Bands such as Super Furry Animals, Stereophonics and Manic Street Preachers have long served to put the country on the musical map, and sell millions of albums to boot. Now talented newcomers such as Duffy are forging a trail for emerging artists such as Marina and the Diamonds and Ellie Goulding. They all join a musical roster which includes the ever energetic Tom Jones and other great singers such as Bryn Terfel and Shirley Bassey, in opera and showbusiness respectively.
Folk or traditional music is energized by bands such as 9 Bach whose singer Lisa Jen Brown delights in arranging old tunes in sparkling new arrangements and delivering them with a voice that rings clearly true. The spirited melodies of the five piece band Calan and individual artists such as the extraordinary singer Georgia Ruth Williams and world-class harpist Catrin Finch, refashion often ancient tunes and mold them into modern cuts. While individual musicians can make arresting music put over fifty together, as happens with Y Glerorfa, a sort of folk orchestra, and old melodies are given both depth and punch.
The harp, of course, is a symbol often associated with Wales. It’s believed that the country has more harpists per head of population than any other: little wonder that the town of Caernarfon hosts an International Harp Festival, with lectures, concerts and competitions.
In classical music, too, composers such as Guto Pryderi Puw and John Metcalfe build on vibrant traditional composers by the likes of Grace Williams, Alun Hoddinott and William Mathias. The Vale of Glamorgan Festival is an annual celebration of contemporary music which first started in 1969 and has attracted composers of the calibre of Arvo Part. Welsh National Opera, based in the golden armadillo shaped Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) in Cardiff Bay is simply world class. It tours regularly around Wales and beyond and its community projects such as Opera Max are rightly lauded. The WMC, designed by architect Jonathan Adams is itself well worth a visit, staging anything from large scale musicals in the 2000 seater Donald Gordon theatre, to stand up comedy and experimental theatre in the smaller Weston studio.
Wales’ biggest festival deserves it own paragraph. The National Eisteddfod is a unique establishment, rightfully described as the largest travelling cultural event in Europe. It’s a sort of artistic circus, with a tented pavilion instead of a big top, and each year it pitches up in a different part of Wales in the first full week of August. From druidic ceremonies to late night rap concerts, it’s a remarkable event, which has the side benefit of recharging interest in the Welsh language wherever it goes.