Phil Wyman


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Outside the slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, in the foothills of Snowdon, in Trawsfynydd, is a house with the “black chair.” Yr Ysgwrn was built in the 1830’s and only one family lived in it until 2012, when Gerald Williams sold the house to the Snowdonia National Park. It has since been renovated for visitors, but maintains the look it would have had in 1917 – the year Ellis Humphrey Evans, known by the bardic name Hedd Wyn, was killed in a battle in WWI. The bardic chair at the National Eisteddfod is awarded to a living poet, but Hedd Wyn died in battle on August 31, 1917, and was awarded the chair before news arrived of his death. When the ceremony was held for the award, the chair was draped in black, and has famously become known as Y Gadair Ddu.

I visited Yr Ysgwrn three days before the 100th anniversary of the death of Hedd Wyn. A bilingual tour of the house was given, and during the tour, Gerald, who still lives nearby on the property popped in to say hello.

Gerald lived in the house with seven bardic chairs awarded to Hedd Wyn, and kept the house basically unchanged through the years. He did not have a refrigerator. He used a slate pantry to keep things cool. His oven and the heating for the house were the same wood stove from the days of Hedd Wyn. When he moved out to allow for the renovation, he insisted that the place remain as the home it would have been for Hedd Wyn, instead of becoming a stuffy museum. Gerald appears to be cut out of the same cloth as one of Wales most famous 20th century poets, R.S. Thomas, who was a bit of a cantankerous prophet – seeing the machine of anglicized modernization as the death of the Welsh langauge and the rural Welsh community spirit.

Gerald walked into the room during the tour, was introduced to everyone, and upon discovering that I was an American who spoke a bit of Welsh, smiled, hung and my arm, and talked with me for a while.

The scenery around Yr Ysgwrn evokes poetry. A hundred years after the death of the Welsh Bard, Hedd Wyn’s home and his story touched my heart as deeply anything I’ve experienced on this trip. If you listen closely enough, musical words bounce on the winds from the surrounding mountains and valleys.

Gwae fi fy myw mewn oes mor ddreng,
A Duw ar drai ar orwel pell;
O'i ôl mae dyn, yn deyrn a gwreng,
Yn codi ei awdurdod hell.

Pan deimlodd fyned ymaith Dduw
Cyfododd gledd i ladd ei frawd;
Mae sŵn yr ymladd ar ein clyw,
A'i gysgod ar fythynnod tlawd.

Mae'r hen delynau genid gynt
Ynghrog ar gangau'r helyg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
A'u gwaed yn gymysg efo'r glaw.

The week of concerts began on the first Saturday of the Welsh National Eisteddfod. I had already been on the Rebel Alliance farm for four days. Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Cymraeg was running affordable concerts – designed for the not-so-well-off people - at Penrhos Dairy Farm, and it was not an official part of the National Eisteddfod events. Thus, I dubbed them “The Rebel Alliance”. Gwyn and I had been helping Pastor Rhys Llwyd from Caersalem Church in Caernarfon, and Ieuan the farmer and his farm hands to convert the barn into a concert venue.

The first Saturday started off big. Bryn Fon was the draw of the Saturday night. The heartthrob actor/musician from the 80’s/90’s packed the cow house with screaming women of all ages, but it definitely leaned a little gray. Over the week Candelas, Meinir Gwilym (one of my favorite Welsh songwriters), The Welsh Whisperer, Steve Eaves, Bob Delyn, Gai Toms (one of my favorite people and favorite performers), and Geraint Jarman (the Welsh version of Mick Jagger) took the stage at our little cow palace. Tuesday night became a night of bards, and the poets took over the evening. The cows were getting milked at 6am and 4pm, and by 8pm the people rolled in and the music began each night.

There were some acts of particular note during the weeklong event. Candelas performed a set as tight as any I’ve ever seen. They were professional in every respect, and as approachable as your next door neighbor. Of course, I am assuming you have an approachable neighbor. Steve Eaves is the consummate professional as well, and he has a long history of great folk rock in Wales. His set was emotional and beautiful. Geraint Jarman rocked the house, and even in his seventies, he pops around the stage with his gangly, lanky frame and performs his reggae infused Welsh rock to make your body move. Meinir Gwilyn’s set was as fun as I had expected, and even more fun when I was able to hang out with Meinir a bit after the show, and again a couple days later on the main Eisteddfod field. The Welsh Whisperer is an act that transitions between bands, and introduces the performers, but is as entertaining as any of the bands. But, the surprise of the week was my friend Gai Toms. I’ve seen Gai perform solo a few times. I even jammed with him, when we first met in Washington D.C. This was the first time I had seen Gai perform with a full band, and he knocked it out of the cow pasture. The drummer was playing with him for the first time, but it didn’t matter. The band was tight. The performance was funny, emotional, dramatic and musically stunning all at once. I told Gai, “I used to like you…but after tonight, I love you.” Gai gets my nod for best performance of the Penrhos Farm/Cymdiethas Yr Iaith Cow Palace Festival. Well, that’s my name for the event.

On the second weekend of the National Eisteddfod, I met Meinir on the Maes (the main field of the event). We talked music, we talked Welsh langauge, and we talked about life in North Wales, and I recorded the time together. Please check out the interview. It will be worth your eight minutes. Meinir is one of the kindest, most approachable people you can find, and considering her popularity in the Welsh language music scene, that is noteworthy.

I also spent some time with one of the most engaging and happy groups of the Cow Palace Festival. Y Brodyr Magee (The Magee Brothers) from nearby Caergybi (Holyhead) were in the house for one of the evenings. This group of brothers ranging from nine years old to late twenties sang traditional Welsh songs, had some originals, and were as cool a group of brothers as one an find. Move over Jackson 5! I spent a few minutes talking with them, and you can catch that interview here on AmeriCymru as well.

By the end of the week, I was knackered (one of those words an American learns to say in the UK). Since my flight was heading off early Monday, I had to beat feet for London before the barn was returned to its pre-concert venue state. I said my goodbyes to the boys on the farm, and Ieuan told me to return anytime I was anywhere near Bodedern, Ynys Mon, North Wales. I will definitely be back to say hi to Ieuan and the gang, but I imagine next time it will just be the girls getting milked in the back who will be singing.

Y Teithiwr Twp #9 – On the Fferm

By Phil Wyman, 2017-09-02


Bodedern is nearly at the end of Ynys Mon (Anglesey) – not far from Holyhead and the ferries to another shore. This is where the Welsh National Eisteddfod is going to be this year. The Welsh National Eisteddfod is a festival of Welsh language and culture. Now, it is only a few days before the pomp begins, and the Gorsedd of the Bards don their robes for the crowning and the chairing of the bards. The small two lane roads are all a bustle with construction and road crews hoping to complete their work before the weekend and the Gorsedd strike. The maes (field) for the event is just out of town, before you reach the little one shop and a post-office village. But as for me, I am hanging out with the rebel crew in a barn on a dairy farm.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith (Society for the Language) once ran Maes B – the youth field. Maes B is where the Eisteddfod sends the kids for their rock n’ roll. In a squeaky clean poetry and classical music event with white robed “druids” awarding medals and crowns and chairs, Maes B is a coming of age party for Welsh language youth sneaking in pints and who knows what else. But, back in the early part of the century (the century we now live in) Cymdeithas yr Iaith lost their spot running the gigs to corporate interest and hopes of raising funds for the Eisteddfod. So, the rebels that they are, they have been running an affordable fringe concert event ever since. As is usually the case, my friends are part of the rebel alliance. Of course, its really not as dramatic as I am making it sound. The Gorsedd do not wear the white of Storm Troopers. But then again, we are setting up our week-long set of gigs in the village – on Ieuan’s dairy farm, inside the barn, and that’s where you can find me.

I have been pounding stakes into the field to map out parking and camping locations. I have climbed ladders to set pigeon spikes on the rafters of the barn, so that Bryn Fon and Meinir Gwilym don’t get pooped on while performing. I’ve been shoveling gravel to fill holes in the drive, and setting up multiple levels of safety fencing, because the cows need protection from the concert goers, and someone perchance might climb over brambles and fences to fancy a drunken swim in the slurry pond. But, all this work is the easy part. The challenge of week for me is doing it in Welsh. I am not succeeding well at this task.

The accents in the North of Wales befuddle me. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between Welsh and English when these accents are added to a discussion. All the work is being done in Welsh this week, and I am able to catch about 70% of any conversation. Unfortunately, the other 30% is usually the critical part that defines the parameters of the dialogue. It all feels like being on a train, and trying to listen to the train conductor as the train nears the next station. Train conductors are taught to speak clearly until the pertinent info arrives:

“Mind the gap between the train and the platform. Our next stop ibsn Frnkl@#34kjbqwcz.”

This is how my brain is processing information in Welsh this week. It comes to me something like this, “We still need to i9uerig%$jvbc in the field, and niuyqg&@#swx87ubwec.”

Americanwr Twp ydwi. But at least I’m giving it a college try out in the rebel alliance fferm in Bodedern.



Between the Trees at Night.jpg

Due to the number of festivals I have attended over the last 2 months, I have spent more time hanging between trees in my hammock tent than in any bed in a room with a shingled roof overhead. But, don’t feel sorry for me. This is a planned adventure – a bit of Jack Kerouac without the sex and drugs. More like a British version with camping in noisy rock festivals, and the Welsh cheering the long sunny days as though they were some kind of minor miracle.

The second weekend of July brought me into the valleys north of Cardiff, and the sunny days were still smiling on the Welsh summer. In a little village near Caerphilly named Rudry, which some of the Cardiffians have never heard of, at the village parish hall, is a folk festival called Between the Trees. Needless to say, I would be quite at home here. I had already spent a bit of time on and off with my friends Andrew and Dawn in Gwaelod y Garth. Andrew Thomas is a proper good, mildly rebellious Welshman who also happens to be one of the founders of Between the Trees. I had arrived at Andrew’s place shortly after the massive Glastonbury Music Festival in Pilton, and a quick revisit to the wonderful little New Age-y hippie town of Glastonbury, and then the work began. I was here to help with the festival. It is always far more fun to help work in a festival than it is to simply be a “punter.” My first task was to help my friends Charlie and Becky set up the lighting: strings of white lights 12 feet of the ground around the festival site, and colored flood lights on the perimeter giving an ambient glow to the trees surrounding the field. I had done this with Charlie in another festival back in May, but now he was busy moving out of his apartment, so Becky and I set up the posts and strung the lights around the grounds, and decided we were the new lighting masters. Move over Charlie!

Andrew cleared a cozy little gathering space in the woods, and I dragged hay bales into the clearing. This was going to be the place for my shenanigans during the festival. I was slated to lead a poetry workshop, arrange for some poetry sessions and storytelling, and lead an evening of Cigars, Whisky, and Philosophy.

After three days of set up, running around picking up supplies with Andrew, the two-day festival began. Friday evening started as we had only just finished the lighting, and the set up crew was busily buzzing around in that semi-panicked state known to all festival organizers. I had already made a mild stir for being the American who spoke Welsh. There were a few fluent speakers I tried to keep up with, and a whole lot of people who felt mildly guilty, because the American spoke Welsh better than they did. But, it was all good fun and we drank beer, listened to live music from local bands, and talked about life. As the night ended, I found a place in the trees to hang my hammock tent, and slipped into my little cocoon, as one noisy bird periodically screeched at me through the night.

On Saturday morning, after breakfast, I went into my cozy little hay bale nook of the woods. It was a fortunate location from which to work, because the day was sunny and muggy-hot. With a group of 8 people, we held a poetry workshop, and I had everyone write a limerick, because limericks are fun way to learn rhyme, meter, and include a short story within the small poem. I was wearing a tall steampunk hat, which had been given to me by some new friends from a conference in Sheffield. (The picture of me playing the guitar shows the wild hat.) Consequently, I ended up as the topic of some of the limericks. For example:

There once was a man with a hat

And people would flee when he sat

He brought a foul scent

Wherever he went

Because in his hat he had shat

Later that same day, I ended up playing a short music set to cover for one of the musicians who could not make the festival. A few of the limericks were read, and so I became the font of laughter again. I ended my short music set with a Welsh translation of the doxology, which translated into Welsh in the 1700s.

I Dad y trugareddau i gyd

rhown foliant, holl drigolion byd;

llu'r nef moliennwch, bawb ar gân,

y Tad a'r Mab a'r Ysbryd Glan.

That evening a group of about 30 people gathered in our cozy little clearing in the woods, and we held a lively philosophical discussion about language and oppression. My nerdy interests in post-colonial theory came out, and soon the discussion danced around the subject of English oppression of the Welsh language through the centuries, and how this affected Welsh culture and life. There were two fluent Welsh speakers in the group, a large smattering of people who had been taught Welsh in school, but felt guilty that they did not speak the language better, and some random slightly nervous Sais (Englishmen). The discussion was friendly, but a clear tension was evident, and it was not a tension between the English and the Welsh, rather it was a tension between North and South Wales. Only one person in the group had lived in North Wales, and even though she was fluent in Welsh, she had felt a bit left out as a kid, because Welsh was not her first language. It was interesting to hear the people from South Wales discuss how they it seemed to them that the people in North Wales believed that the only real Welshman was a Welsh speaker. Having spent a lot of time in North Wales over the years, I ended up being the North Wales defender for the discussion. I have heard about this tension from some of my friends, but this was the first time I experienced it in such a fashion as this. I love these kinds of events, where hard topics are discussed in safe environments, and I am hoping to repeat the difficult discussion on this topic in other locations around Wales. These events are where life happens and peace can be created between differing opinions.

The festival had two stages playing live music through the two days. One had full bands and the other was an acoustic stage. The music was folk and folk rock primarily, and was of a high quality. Most of the bands were from Wales. Here’s to hoping that this festival continues, grows and keeps singing and swinging Between the Trees in Rudry.

Link to Between the Trees Festival: http://www.

playing at Between the Trees Brenda Adams Photo.jpg