Gwenno – ‘Le Kov’ reviewed

A seismic Celtic record, daring in its musical content, showcasing Gwenno’s vocal gift at its best.

Kate Bush covered Péadar Ó Dornín’ s Mná na hÉíreann in the nineties, Skye rockers Runrig performed Alba and An Toll Dubh in their tours alongside Rod Stewart covers, Gwenno won Welsh Language Album of the Year in 2015 before taking the decision to pay tribute to the other British Brythonic Language, Cornish, on her second solo album.

This album is a combination of accepting the culture which your parents have valued enough to want to pass on to you” Gwenno has explained and where her debut largely returned to her mother’s Welsh, here she pays equal homage to her father’s Cornish tongue, finding a creative muse from the sunken Brythonic cities Cantre’r Gwaelod, Kêr-Is, Langarrow and Lyonesse. This is an empowering record of Celtic mythos.

As someone who spent part of his undergrad listening to Ned Maddrell records while studying Celtic Modal verbs (Maddrell was the last surviving native Manx speaker), this is indeed a linguistic treat, but for those who haven’t the same salient desire for Celtic languages, they will be pleased to hear that there are enough pop hooks here to make this much more than an academic preservatory paper. Tir Ha Mor sounds of sweet, sophisticated Parisian pop, an eighties Serge Gainsbourg for text reference. A tribute to St.Ives painter Peter Lanyon (a victim to a 1964 aircraft crash), Gwenno calls him Marghek an Gwyns. “Marghek an Gwyns was his Bardic name,” writes Gwenno. “Rider of the Winds.”

Herdhya has the slow hew hay of a four o’clock club closer, fittingly laconic, yet strident, akin to Annie Lennox’s dignified Lord of The Rings work. Eus Keus?(Is There Cheese?) has the reigning drive of a Thom Yorke track by verse and a driving drum filled -chorus conjuring the excitement of a synthpop power ballad. Piano hypnotiser Jynn-amontya (this writer’s favourite track) is both jazzy and spacey, trippy out-there effects close the track with the psychedelic fervour of sixties avant-garde milieu. There’s a gorgeous sense of Vangelis/Mike Oldfield at play on Den Heb Taves, albeit a track sung with the power of an ardent whose primary goal here is to pay tribute to a language spoken by three to four hundred native speakers.

But there’s fun to be had here too. Groove centred Daromres y’n Howl  (Traffic In The Sun) plays with the delightful flippancy of a Supertramp track (Gruff Rhys makes a cameo here) and Aremorika has a seismic rocking quality to it. Hi a Skoellyas Liv a Dhagrow is so named as a tongue-in-cheek call back to an Aphex Twins track of the same name (musically, it sounds like the France Gall eighties hit that never was). And in more powerful forays, Hunros is sung with the staggering stamina of a classic Enya track, Gwenno’s vocal gift at its best.

This is a seismic Celtic record, daring in its musical content, admirable as a document for a living, breathing language. Fancy recording a Breton album to complete a Brythonic trilogy?

❉ ‘Le Kov’ by Gwenno was released by Heavenly Recordings on 2 March 2018. Listen on Spotify or buy from the Heavenly shop.

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