Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita braid tales of Wales and Senegal

Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita braid tales of Wales and Senegal

After seeing Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita once again last night at the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room, and to celebrate an outstanding concert, here’s a repost that records the first time we saw the duo – in October 2014. Continue reading “Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita braid tales of Wales and Senegal”

Advertisement

In the Black Mountains: walking a crooked mile to a crooked church

In the Black Mountains: walking a crooked mile to a crooked church

‘Where England ends half way across a field’ in the Vale of Ewylas, we followed a trail that led eventually to ‘the cleft Church at Cwmyoy, its displaced gravity’ (in Geoffrey Hill’s words from Comus). Unique since no part of it is square or at right angles with any other part, the church tower tilts at an alarming angle that outleans the Tower of Pisa. It’s an astonishing building that stands beneath a crag on the slope of a hillside with scarcely a house in sight. Continue reading “In the Black Mountains: walking a crooked mile to a crooked church”

In border country: haunts of ancient peace

In border country: haunts of ancient peace

A song of harmony and rhyme
In haunts of ancient peace.
– Van Morrison, ‘Haunts of Ancient Peace’

Last week we spent an all-too-short four nights based in the Black Mountains region at the eastern end of the Brecon Beacons. It’s an area that has inspired poets and painters, diarists and novelists: Bruce Chatwin called this area one of the emotional centres of his life.

For me, the trip had been partly impelled by reading Tom Bullough’s novel Addlands which is set in the Edw valley, north of Painscastle and Hay on Wye. But the literary and artistic connections in a landscape that still seems lost in time are numerous: Bruce Chatwin, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, Francis Kilvert, Allen Ginsberg and Owen Sheers, David Jones and Eric Ravilious are among those who lived here, passed through and were inspired by this area. Continue reading “In border country: haunts of ancient peace”

Addlands: the inescapable ties of geography and place

<em>Addlands</em>: the inescapable ties of geography and place

In the current issue of the London Review of Books there is an article by John Lanchester in which – although he’s writing about Brexit – he makes an observation that seems to resonate with a novel I read recently: ‘England’, Lanchester writes, ‘is both a small country and a big one …there is a lot of Deep England out there.’

Tom Bullough’s Addlands is set in deepest Radnorshire, a story of hill farmers battling with the forces of nature in one of Britain’s wildest, poorest and least populated areas. Historically a Welsh county, culturally Radnorshire has been a law unto itself, its people declaring their identity as neither Welsh nor English, but Radnor folk, people of the Borders; and fiercely-contested borders between fields and farms form one of the threads in a novel that spans the decades from the 1940s to 2011. Continue reading Addlands: the inescapable ties of geography and place”

Brain cloudy blues

Brain cloudy blues

‘My brain is cloudy, my soul is upside down …’
– Bob Wills, ‘Brain Cloudy Blues’

The sun is molten in a shimmering sky. But we are driving through mounds of snow, banked in drifts along the carriageways and lanes: drifts of Ox-eye daisies. For mile after mile along the North Wales Expressway there are tens of thousands of these gently swaying flowers that seem to thrive – often deliberately planted, I think – turning what would otherwise be an extended wasteland along roadside verges into a summer’s visual delight. When I was a child in Cheshire these flowers – so bright that they appear to ‘glow’ in the evening – were commonly known as Moon Daisies. Continue reading “Brain cloudy blues”

David Jones: Vision and Memory at Pallant House

David Jones: Vision and Memory at Pallant House

There’s a self-portrait David Jones painted in 1931 when he was in his mid-thirties. In Human Being he depicts himself almost as a boy, an unworldly youth with a thoughtful, quizzical look in his eyes who radiates a sense of inner strength. His hands are delicate, sensitive, almost feminine.

At Pallant House Gallery in Chichester last week I stared at this memorable image for some time, trying to figure out the man who is the subject of Vision and Memory, a major exhibition of his work showing there until February. There was much about Jones that I found a strange, complex and difficult to understand – whether in terms of the historical, religious and mythological allusions that fill his paintings (and his poems) – or in the sense of knowing the human being behind the work. Continue reading “David Jones: Vision and Memory at Pallant House”

Seckou Keita in the Phil’s new Music Room

Seckou Keita in the Phil’s new Music Room

On Monday evening I went along to Liverpool’s newest live music venue – the Philharmonic Hall’s Music Room – to see Seckou Keita give another outstanding performance on the kora. I say another because a year ago we saw him, along with the Welsh harpist Catrin Finch, in what we decided was one of the best concerts we had ever attended. Continue reading “Seckou Keita in the Phil’s new Music Room”

Lleyn walks: Lost and no way out at Hell’s Mouth

Lleyn walks: Lost and no way out at Hell’s Mouth

Half-way through our week on the Lleyn, and the wind which had got up on the second day was still blowing strongly as we drove into the car park at Porth Neigwl (aka Hell’s Mouth) to begin a walk around the headland of Mynydd Cilan. Continue reading “Lleyn walks: Lost and no way out at Hell’s Mouth”

Quarrying for rock and an ancient language at Nant Gwrtheryn

Quarrying for rock and an ancient language at Nant Gwrtheryn

The last time we were here was more than two decades ago, when this remote and awesome valley was more often known in guide books as ‘Vortigern’s Valley’. Today, the Welsh traitor Vortigern has been expunged from the valley memory: there is no mention of his name in the historical display at the Welsh Language Centre that now thrives at the end of the mountain road. More of that later. Continue reading “Quarrying for rock and an ancient language at Nant Gwrtheryn”

Porth y Swnt at Aberdaron: the poetry of a place

Porth y Swnt at Aberdaron: the poetry of a place

Aberdaron is, I think, the most characterful village on the Lleyn, a  picturesque cluster of white-washed stone buildings huddled around two small, hump-backed bridges and a church that edges the shore. Its present appearance belies the village past. Long a fishing village, in the 18th and 19th centuries it developed as a shipbuilding centre and port, exporting limestone, lead, jasper and manganese from local mines and quarries. At low tide you can still make out the ruins of an old pier running out to sea at the western end of the beach. Continue reading “Porth y Swnt at Aberdaron: the poetry of a place”

Uncommon Ground: learning to read our landscape again

Uncommon Ground: learning to read our landscape again

Recently I was presented with a beautiful gift – a book by Dominick Tyler called Uncommon Ground: A word-lover’s guide to the British landscape. The book is the product of a year that Tyler spent travelling the length and breadth of the British Isles to photograph specific features of the natural world. Continue reading “Uncommon Ground: learning to read our landscape again”

Visions of the Valleys: Kim Howells on art from South Wales

Visions of the Valleys: Kim Howells on art from South Wales

In an excellent film on BBC 4 last night, Visions of the Valleys, Kim Howells looked at how artists have responded to the natural splendour and industrial landscape of the Welsh valleys, and to the lives of those who have lived and worked in their mining communities.

Kim Howells was a familiar figure on the left to those of my generation. Born in Merthyr Tydfil, the son of a Communist mine-worker, at the time of the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike he was a full-time official of the South Wales National Union of Mineworkers, helping to co-ordinate the strike in South Wales. In 1989 he entered the Commons as a Labour MP, later occupying ministerial positions during the Blair-Brown period. Continue reading “Visions of the Valleys: Kim Howells on art from South Wales”