Apparently the world's leading player of Welsh Triple harp is paid in Reese's Peanut Butter Cups!
Greetings from... well, no, not from Wales actually. I'm snatching a break between gigs on tour here in Australia at the moment to write to you. But the salutations are no less Welsh for that! Nancy Carlin, my dear friend and tour manager in North America has been on my back to write to you since February, and I have been wanting and meaning to write, honest.
But you know how it is: so much chocolate, so much red wine, so much shopping, so much television, so many videos, and so little time! Not to mention all the touring and performing.
But in fact Thistle-fans, it's a great life really. (The touring I mean, not just the chocolate!) As many of you probably know, I used to do a 9-5 desk job as an archivist in the National Library of Wales. But now I'm happy. The stark contrast between piles of devastatingly boring dusty chapel records and the exciting life of a jet-setting-megastar-of- international-fame-and-renown don't bear thinking about...(!)
With hindsight of course, I can now see my seven year sentence at the Library as a tremendous formative period. It certainly made me fully realize that such a job was not for me. But more importantly, because of the research opportunities it allowed, it also made me begin to fully understand the true vitality and extent of our old Welsh instrumental traditions, and just how much had not been lost over the years due to over-religious Methodist zeal and Victorian English snob values. The historic evidence was all there, safely captured in old manuscripts and publications from the last three centuries.
Wales never really seemed to feature much in the world of Celtic music when I first touched on it. Many people in fact would have said that Wales never had any such folk music, or if it had existed, it had all been lost. The truth is, that the research work had not been done.
The Welsh on the whole were just too busy being "anally retrocontemplative," wallowing in the "Land of Song" clichè, doing hymns, Negro spirituals, and opera choruses, and in so doing, believing that Welsh tradition was alive and well.
Worse than that however was the stranglehold the Classical tradition had exerted over the world of the harp, giving rise to the lie that a modern Welsh classically -- trained harpist is maintaining "the old tradition." It was no surprise then really that young Welsh people (including myself) who were interested in real folk music would turn towards Gaelic and Breton sources, rather than those of their own country.
By now of course, things are somewhat different, and Welsh traditional music in its true form (due to better research and more sincerely-made attempts at performance over the last twenty years) is making something of a comeback. It's sad (and it annoys me!) that these efforts are not better acknowledged within the Welsh communities both at home and abroad, but it does brighten my day to feel at last that the Celtic and Folk worlds are beginning to accept Welsh music a bit more, not least because at last they have gotten to know about its existence!
We know that it's not Irish music, nor Breton or Scottish, and I know we don't have the wealth of performing experience behind us as all those traditions do, but our tradition is just as valid and unique and should be considered as much a part of Celtic culture as all the rest. We now have formed a new society in Wales to safeguard and promote our instrumental traditions, and there are quite a number of up-and-coming youngsters with harps and fiddles eager to "do it right."
One Welsh record company has even started to take folk music seriously by setting up their own traditional music sub-label. So, give us fifty years...
It only remains for me to thank you, Thistle & Shamrock, for being so supportive over the years, and not just of me, but of other Welsh acts and interests which you cover. I never get to hear your program (living either in Wales or on the road), but judging by the number of punters at my concerts who mention your show, what you do is obviously appreciated by very many.
Thanks again, and keep up the good work!
Llwyddiant i'r achos! (Success to the cause!)
PS: Payment gladly received in Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
For current information on Robin Huw Bowen, visit the website: www.crasdant.com