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The Celtic Music of Wales

Updated: May 31, 2001

Although most folks think of Celtic music, in their mind they hear Irish or Scottish music. However, Celtic music also is found in Wales. My knowledge of Welsh music is poor indeed, and anyone who wants to help with this section of the website would be most appreciated!


If I have this correct, the Welsh people are Celtic, but their language, Welsh (Cymraeg), is not Gaelic (as is spoken in Scotland and Ireland). The Welsh are known as great singers, but much of the traditional instrumental music of Wales had fallen out of hearing to those outside the country. Recently, there has been revival of Welsh music following on the heels of the traditional music revivals in Ireland and Scotland.

This music is quite distinctive from other Celtic music, having had a fairly independent history. Not only is the song and tune repertory very distinct, but so are many of the instruments. Of particular interest are the Welsh triple string harp and their very simple bagpipes. There was (to me) a suprising amount of Welsh music available at Down Home Records in El Cerrito.

The Welsh Triple-Stringed Harp & Robin Huw Bowen

"Of the six Celtic nations, Wales alone has the only unbroken harp tradition, dating from prehistoric times to the present day. There never has been a time when there were no professional or folk harpists in Wales, or when the harp was not revered by the Welsh.... [One dramatic development in that tradition involved the development of the Triple Harp during the 18th centry.]
"The Triple Harp...has three rows of strings, the outer two tuned in unisons to the diatonic scale, and the third row in the centre tuned to the accidentals, thus rendering the instrument fully chromatic. This gave the Welsh harpists far more scope than they had previously had on the rather more limited single-strung harps, and the Triple Harp caught on like wildfire, so much so, that by the middle of the eighteenth century, it was known as "The Welsh Harp", and held in high esteem as the national instrument." (from the liner notes to The Sweet Harp of my land)
(The Sweet Harp of My Land)

(Hewn Ailwyd/Old Hearth)
Robin Huw Bowen - The Sweet Harp of my Land/Telyn Berseiniol fy ngwlad (1991 Teires, Flying Fish Records, Inc.(FF 70610) 1304 West Schubert, Chicago, Illinois 60614). This is a very, very pretty album. The harp itself has a gorgeous sound and Bowen is clearly a master at it, weaving magical spells with a complexity that surpasses any other harp music I've heard. The music on this album tends to be fairly quiet and contemplative airs, though there is also a scattering of lively dance tunes. The tunes stretch back to the Middle Ages showing the length of this tradition. Excellent liner notes in English and Welsh. This lovely instrument has clearly found a worthy champion. (Very highly recommended)

Bowen's newest album - Hen Aelwyd/Old Hearth (Marquis Classics, 1999) is described as "Welsh music on the Triple Harp to fire the soul". Again, Bowen generates an amazingly warm, rich sound from the triple harp. This CD contains a lovely mixture of old and new traditional tunes, all masterfully played. (Highly recommended)

Bowen has been touring the S.F. Bay area once or twice a year recently. Bookings in the U.S. for Bowen are being handled by the Bay Area's Nancy Carlin Associates e-mail: nancyc@well.com.

Sampler Albums & Groups

(Hyn) Carreg Lafar Hyn - Traditional Celtic Music of Wales(Marquis Classics, 2000). This group has been in the forefront of the revival of traditional Welsh music. They have also toured the S.F. Bay Area and will be back in the fall of 2000. This, their second, CD contains an amazingly rich diversity of music ranging from lovely airs such as "Afon Yr Haf/The Summer River" to hard-charging songs such as "Dau Rosyn Coch". All the songs are in Welsh with short English summaries in the liner notes. The group has both excellent male and female solo singers and also sings wonderfully as a group. This is a strikingly different sound than Irish music, particularly when the Welsh hornpipes or Welsh bagpipes enter the fray; it reminds me more of Breton music from France. Carreg Lafar is a class act all around. This album was released in 1998 in Wales, but only recently has become more available in the U.S. Nominated for a Grammy Award (Very highly recommended)
(Canu Gwerin Newydd) Goreuon Canu Gwerin Newydd - The Best of New Welsh Fok Music (1997 Sain (Recordiau) Cyf.) This is a sampler of 18 songs and tunes from nearly as many Welsh groups including Ogam, Cusan Tan, Ar Log, Pigyn Clust, Branwen and Carreg Lafar. The collection is quite varied, with some arrangements being far more "folky" than Celtic.
(Crasdant cover) Crasdant - Crasdant (Marquis Classics ) This group that has toured northern California several times consists of harpist Robin Huw Bowen, fiddler/accordionist Stephen Rees, flutist Andy McLauchlin, and the clogging of Huw Williams. This all-instrumental album sounds more gentle than their live show. In this more peaceful setting Bowen's sparkling harp playing shines particularly well. Not to disappoint there are also lovely duet on pibgorns (= hornpipes). Also of note is the rapid clogging of Huw Williams on a couple of tunes which provides lovely percussive effect. Excellent liner notes in English and Welsh. (Highly recommended) (Bookings in the U.S. for Crasdant are being handled by the Bay Area's Nancy Carlin Associates e-mail: nancyc@well.com)
(Rough Guide) The Rough Guide to the Music of Wales (World Music Network 2000) To me, this album points to the differences between Welsh music and Irish/Scottish music more than the similarities. This CD is a remarkable collection of 20 tracks of instrumentals and songs of enormous variety. There are also excellent liner notes. Those who know Welsh music better than I love this CD.


(Pur) Siân James - Pur (200_ ) Noted for her clear, vibrant voice and her ability to adapt many styles of music to the Welsh language and the harp ........This lovely singer has graced the Bay Area several times in the last several years.

Welsh American Society of Northern California e-mail: president@wasnc.org

For an extensive on-line catalogue of Welsh music check:

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Please send me your comments or suggestions: jim@sfcelticmusic.com