AmeriCymru: How did Estron come to be formed?
John: We're basically a family and friends band - I've been doing stuff with my daughters, Micky and Danny ever since they were quite small but in 2012 we started playing with Holly Robinson, a really talented and well known fiddler here in Pembrokeshire, and coined the name Estron for the band. Jess Ward joined us with her harp two years later. I suppose the band really got going after Micky and Danny moved on from the instruments they'd learned at school to things they wanted to play for themselves. Micky learned clarinet to begin with but took up the ukulele and now she plays both with Estron, while Danny abandoned the trombone for the Welsh pipes - she borrowed a spare set I had and taught herself how to play surprisingly quickly. I suppose it helped that she'd been exposed to my own playing her whole life!
AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your most recent album 'Gwawr'?
John: We recorded Gwawr in May 2015. We wanted to capture the music we had been playing since we started and before we moved on to new material. I've been playing this music for a long time now and I guess the reason we're playing this stuff is mostly that the girls have been exposed to it all their lives so that to them this is what they associate with Welsh pipes, whereas for Holly and Jess it was all new and exciting. To Micky and Danny this music is just `normal' everyday stuff. I suppose that's what makes it `folk' music.
AmeriCymru: When did you first become interested in the Welsh pipes?
John: I started playing bagpipes in about 1990. The first set I had was a set of smallpipes from the Early Music Shop which I made from a kit. After putting it together I realised that I could make these things so I then went on to make a set of, I suppose you could describe them as `Border pipes' in G which I mostly played for the Morris team I was a member of. Then in '97 or '98 I met Ceri Rhys Matthews and became a member of Pibau Pencader, a Welsh piping club he'd started. There was something like ten people in it, a mixture of raw beginners and experienced pipers. There was a need for instruments and myself and John Glenydd started making pipes for the other members, and later to sell to other people as well. We were making all kinds of things from simple diatonic clarinets to bombardes and pibgorns, and bagpipes based either on the Breton veuze or ones which used a pibgorn as the chanter. Meanwhile Ceri was teaching us all his Welsh pipe music which by the nature of the instruments is quite a lot different from much other Welsh folk music. It was a great time and later I also played with Ceri in a pipes and drum band called Pibe Bach, playing both here in Wales and further afield. We even got touring work with the British Council in places like Oman, Palestine and Libya.
AmeriCymru: If someone wished to master the instrument, where would they go to acquire a set of Welsh pipes? How hard is it to learn to play the pipes?
John: Acquiring a set of Welsh pipes is not so easy at the moment. I don't know whether John Glenydd in Llanfihangel ar Arth in Carmarthenshire is still making pipes - I don't have his contact details but you could probably find out by contacting Ceri Matthews. I was making pipes myself until a few years ago but I went down with asthma which is very sensitive to wood dust so I've had to keep out of the workshop. Having said that, recently I've been teaching Danny how to make pipes and she's managed to acquire very good woodturning skills so we'll have to see how this develops. There are other people making pibgorns - Gavin Morgan in Merthyr Tydfil springs to mind. A lot of pipers here also play the Spanish Gaita which is pretty good for playing Welsh music on.
The pipes aren't particularly hard to play - they have open fingering much like a tin whistle which beginners find much easier than that of other pipes, such as Scottish ones. The hardest part is disassociating the blowing from playing the tune - with a bagpipe you play the instrument with a constant pressure on the bag with your arm and you only blow into the instrument when you need to keep it topped up with air.
AmeriCymru: Where can readers go online to buy or listen to your music?
John: Gwawr is available as a download (or as a CD) from Bandcamp. There's a link to it from our website (www.estronband.blogspot.co.uk). You can also find a solo album I made a few years ago, `Cerrig Dymuniad' on there as well as Jess's first solo harp album `The Mermaid's Lament'.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
John: It's important that we keep this music going in this age of globalisation - otherwise we're going to lose it. Welsh culture has always been under a lot of pressure from across the border in England and it's important that we keep our cultural differences. We all need our roots, our differences.