CALAN | SOLOMON | SAIN Records | MAY 12TH, 2017
The untraditionally traditional Cymru, Wales-based group Calan is the only Gwerin (translation: Folk) band to be held in a detainment cell at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport alongside a death metal band from Estonia. Calan is also the only band of any genre to follow-up that experience by performing alongside Sting at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the 50th birthday celebration of famed opera singer, Sir Bryn Terfel Jones.
These facts, even without listening to a note (or a foot stomp) from Calan, makes them rock stars, albeit rock stars on a mission to prove that traditional music, based on folklore and taught and performed through the generations, actually does rock. With 2017 performances in Australia and China following several months touring the US and UK supporting the new album Solomon (Sain Records, May 12th), Calan is on its way to accomplishing that.
Despite the ancient roots of Calan’s music, this brash, young group is comprised of a new generation of ambassadors, striving to take their sound to new audiences, raising some eyebrows with their deliberate presentation, while also raising the international profile of traditional Welsh music. Get used to this: Accordion, Fiddle, Pipes, Harp, and the percussive sound of Clogs are the new Guitar, Bass, and Drums.
To date, Calan has gone from busking in the streets of Cardiff to introducing Welsh traditional music to curious music fans in the UK, Belgium, Italy, France, and on several tours of North America, playing festival shows on huge stages to tens-of-thousands, as well as at local folk club shows, unrestricted by sound systems, while standing on tables and jumping off chairs.
The musicians making these old sounds new, blasting their way through the old reels, jigs and hornpipes, include Calan vocalist, accordionist, and wearer of the clogs, Bethan Williams-Jones, who sings in both English and Welsh, and learned her style of award-winning clog dancing from her father, who was also a champion.
Go straight to album closer “Big D” for an introduction to the clog skills of Williams-Jones. The track is dedicated to carpenter Dafydd Gimlett who built the clog dance stage that Williams-Jones uses on tour. No word who handles clog dance tech duties on the road, but it’s a key job in the Calan camp, if “Big D” is any indication.
The previously mentioned airport incident in Chicago finds its way onto another Solomon track. The song “#DeportationSelfie” documents something that was just a major inconvenience at the time, but that now reflects a major issue facing us as nations, and as human beings.
Patrick Rimes (Fiddle, Whistle, Pipes) and Sam Humphreys (Guitar) are the members of Calan who were the actual subjects of the detention. In his youth, Rimes was a junior Celtic Welsh fiddle champion for three years running. He also plays the bagpipes. Humphreys started out playing electronic pop and rock music before discovering the magic mix of folk and modern styles he brings to Calan. Both men left Chicago knowing more about Estonian death metal than the rest of the band.
Also on fiddle is Angharad Jenkins, the daughter of harpist Delyth Jenkins and late Welsh poet, Nigel Jenkins. In tribute, Solomon’s opening track “Kân” features Nigel’s sampled voice reading an extract of his poem, “The Creation.”
Soloman’s first single is “Apparition,” a Calan original based on entries in the bizarre diaries of Rev. Edmund Jones, a minister and soothsayer living in Wales during the 18th century. The writings affirm Jones’s belief in fairies, and discuss the legend that claimed that when the coal and iron industries came to Wales, the fairies disappeared, as fairies don’t react well to metals.
“He wrote that fairies have an aversion to metal of any kind,” Williams-Jones explains of Jones. “His writing describes how fairies spoke to one another, the language they used, and how they flew through the air. These stories were believed in those days, and now that the mines have closed and the jobs have gone, the fields are green again, so who knows, maybe they’re on their way back?”
No word on how fairies react to Estonian death metal.
Rounding out Calan is Alice French on Harp, who studied the instrument at the University of Wales, becoming so drawn into the wealth of traditional harp music that Wales has to offer, that she is now examining and developing the traditional harp playing methods once used by the Romani Gypsies of Wales.
All of Calan’s various tastes are reflected on the Solomon track “Madame Fromage,” or at least they are in the of the song’s subject matter. While some artists see wine or craft beer produced in their name, Calan has the distinction of a namesake cheese, developed by award winning cheese maker (“Madame Fromage” herself!), Carrie Rimes. You can say that the song is Calan’s “homage to fromage.”
Obviously Calan’s musical and familial roots are intertwined, and run deep, but make no mistake, if the cool factor of namesake cheese doesn’t convince you of the band’s ambition to bring traditional music to bear on the hallowed conceits of rock, here’s another case in point.
According to local papers, at the 2015 International Festival in Lorient, France, Calan “caused chaos” by simply performing. The Beatles at Shea Stadium comes to mind – but with water. Apparently, security officials tried to halt the Calan show at the pavilion situated opposite the nearby harbor, as the ever increasing crowd was in danger of falling in!
For the band’s part, they were in a mood to celebrate on the last night of the festival, and figured the frantic gesturing of the security guards were merely expressions of approval. In true rock star fashion, by the time the band members had left the stage, and were due to be given a “talking to,” Calan had already boarded a ferry home. This is a band has been detained before, after all. They know what to do.
Solomon, the latest album by Calan, arrives via Sain Records on May 12th, 2017 preceded by the single “Apparition,” streaming now.
3/11/2017: Porthcawl, UK @ Cwlwm Celtaidd
4/20/2017: Hereford, UK @ Courtyard Arts Centre
4/21/2017: Farnham, UK @ Maltings
4/22/2017: New Milton, UK @ Forest Arts Centre
4/23/2017: Hitchin, UK @ Folk Club
4/24/2017: Maldon, UK @ Blue Boar/Mac Theatre
4/25/2017: Norwich, UK @ Arts Centre
4/27/2017: Baston, UK @ Barn
4/28/2017: Bangor, UK @ Pontio
4/29/2017: Settle, UK @ Victoria Hall
4/30/2017: Gateshead, UK @ Sage
5/02/2017: Glasgow, UK @ Cottiers Theatre
5/03/2017: York, UK @ National Centre for Early Music
5/04/2017: Sheffield, UK @ Greystones
5/05/2017: Otley, UK @ Courthouse
5/06/2017: Bury, UK @ Met
5/07/2017: Liverpool, UK @ Philharmonic Hall Music Room
5/09/2017: Wavendon, UK @ Stables
5/10/2017: London, UK @ King's Place
5/12/2017: Ivybridge, UK @ Watermark
5/13/2017: Bridport, UK @ Arts Centre
5/14/2017: Horsham, UK @ Capitol Theatre
5/16/2017: Bristol, UK @ Colston Hall Lantern
5/18/2017: Swansea, UK @ Taliesin AC
5/19/2017: Brecon, UK @ Theatr Brycheiniog
5/20/2017: Cardigan, UK @ Theatr Mwldan
5/25/2017: Fareham, UK @ Ashcroft Arts Centre