One of my favourite places in the world is the Gower, a small peninsula southwest of Swansea in Wales. There is nothing more soothing than standing on the hills overlooking Rhossili Bay and Worm´s Head watching the hang gliders using the westerly winds that comes in from the Irish Sea and the Atlantic.
The Gower was also the home district of Phil Tanner, one of the legendary traditional singers of the British Isles. Many revival groups have used the songs collected for him, Steeleye Span to mention but one.
Calennig has been around for many years. I first came across them in the mid-80s but lost contact. A Gower Garland marks my return to one of the best Welsh groups around. Calennig is a duo. Mick Tems, who is also a keen reporter of the Welsh folk music scene, plays accordion and keyboards and does most of the lead singing. Patricia Carron-Smith plays concertina and spoons and sings as well.
A Gower Garland is a celebration of Phil Tanner, marking the 50th anniversary of his death. There are quite a few songs connected with him on the album. The starter “Gower Reel” is a nice piece of mouth music, as with many songs augmented by a few tunes. “Fair Phoebe and the Dark-Eyed Sailor” is a ballad well spread over the Isles, also recorded by the aforementioned Steeleye Span, among others. “The Wassail Song” is a Gower version of the traditional “Soap, Starch, Candles”. And “Swansea Barracks”, a love song with local content, is sung to a tune fairly similar to the one often used with the Australian ballad “Jim Jones at Botany Bay”.
But A Gower Garland is much more than just a re-recording of songs collected from Tanner. It is a tribute to the culture of a small part of south Wales. Tems and Carron-Smith have done their research very well. They have dug deep into the local traditions, picking songs to show different faces of the life of Old Gower. And each song is accompanied by a detailed description of where the song comes from and what it was used for.
Do not expect just a piece of history. The songs and the performances are enjoyable in their own right, apart from their cultural connection. Calennig performs them very well, much as they were intended. You can tell that Tems and Carron-Smith master their trade and that they are truly enthusiastic about the songs and tunes they hand us.
It may not be everyone´s cup of tea, but it should be interesting to anyone with the slightest interest in Welsh music or Welsh culture, even though everything here is sung in English. I know what I will be playing in the car stereo the next time I get the opportunity to visit Rhossili Bay.
(WildGoose Studios, 2000)