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Old and new guard of the Welsh folk scene take centre stage at festival

Two leading lights from the Welsh folk scene will be taking centre stage at the North Wales International Music Festival’s first dedicated folk night for over 10 years.

World-renowned trio Awen Celtica will be joined by chamber-folk band VRï for what promises to be an exciting and eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary Welsh folk music at the concert at St Asaph Cathedral on Friday, September 27.

Awen Celtica, which was formed in 2016 by long-time friends and Welsh folk exponents, Siân James, Sioned Webb and Arfon Gwilym, have been trailblazers for the genre, both as a band and as individual artists.

Meanwhile, VRï are a young three-piece band who recently scooped the Best Album gong at the Wales Folk Awards 2019, with their debut album Tŷ Ein Tadau.

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VRï also won the award for the best traditional song for Ffoles Llantrisant, which has also been nominated in the best traditional track category at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

The festival will be on from Saturday, September 14, to Saturday, September 28, thanks to support from the Arts Council of Wales, Tŷ Cerdd and Colwinston Charitable Trust.

Among the other highlights will be performances by Japanese pianist Yu Kosuge, rising piano star Luke Jones, the Only Boys Aloud choir, vocal group The Gesualdo Six, an evening dedicated to the festival’s founder William Mathias featuring Rhiannon Mathias, Paul Mealor, harpist Elinor Bennett and pianist Iwan Llewelyn-Jones and mezzo-soprano Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, who will perform with the resident orchestra NEW Sinfonia.

With Welsh Folk music gaining greater recognition, both at home and on the international stage, Awen Celtica’s Siân James said she was delighted to be part of the festival’s ‘folk night’ that’s being sponsored by Salisburys Chartered Accountants, in St Asaph.

Director Jeremy Salisbury said: “Salisburys are delighted to continue their annual sponsorship of the festival and we are looking forward to a fantastic night of folk music with these two hugely talented bands. I am sure it’s going to be a truly memorable evening.”

Siân James

Siân James, who lives in Llanerfyl, Powys and has been performing Welsh folk music since the age of 12, said Awen Celtica’s billing at the festival comes at an exciting time for the genre.

“Welsh folk is definitely not seen as niche music anymore and it is a very exciting time for the scene right now,” Siân explained. “And festivals such as the North Wales International Music Festival are essential in giving Welsh folk music a wider profile, particularly to younger and new audiences.”

Both Siân and her fellow band member, Sioned Webb have a long connection with the festival, having been taught at Bangor University by the festival’s founder Professor William Mathias.

“From Awen Celtica’s perspective, the three of us began from the absolute roots of Welsh folk, where the delivery of the music was totally pure and in the traditional vein, listening to your family members singing” said Siân.

“When the three of us play together, the items have a more traditional flavour with harps and folk singing, but Sioned and I like to experiment with two pianos, so the festival audience can expect a really interesting cross-section of vibrant Welsh folk music.”

Siân – who has 10 albums under her belt, including her latest, Gosteg – has been playing the Welsh harp since the age of 11 and describes playing Welsh folk music with her friend Sioned, and Sioned’s husband Arfon, as ‘an absolute joy’.

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“It is hugely important for us to keep Welsh folk music, the language and the tradition of storytelling alive, which is what we try to do when we sing,” she added.

A well-known triple harp player and musician, fellow Awen Celtica member Sioned said it was an honour to play in the festival’s only dedicated folk night.

Sioned, who lives near Bala, North Wales with her husband, Arfon, will also be taking part in the festival’s educational programme.

“Giving our genre a headline night and incorporating it into the festival’s music programme is such a wonderful way to showcase Welsh folk music,” said Sioned.

“Awen Celtica is very much rooted in the tradition, but we also have our own style, and then you have younger bands like VRï who like to experiment – which means that Welsh folk is always accessible and relevant.”

Sioned said she was delighted to be double-billing with VRï on the 27 September, as she taught fiddle player Patrick Rimes the piano when he was a teenager. Sioned believes that bands like VRï are the new faces of the Welsh folk tradition.

“As a band, VRï are very different and evocative and they have found their niche. I really do believe they are the next generation of Welsh folk music and the audience are in for a treat. I hope too that some collaboration will happen between the two bands”.

Patrick, 27, who is originally from Bethesda but now lives in Cardiff, and formed VRï with friends Jordan Price Williams and Aneirin Jones three years ago, describes their style as ‘Welsh chamber-folk music’.

He said: “We are delighted to be playing at the festival, as our whole ethos is about string chamber music,” says Patrick. “VRï is not straight up ‘diddly aye’ folk, we see it more as chamber-folk – it just happens that the repertoire is from the canon of traditional Welsh music rather than Handel or Mozart.

“This is exactly the kind of festival we want to be doing as it is our natural audience and we are really excited about performing. We like to experiment with our music as part of the vibrant, varied and exciting Welsh folk scene today – and this is exactly what we hope people get out of the concert at St Asaph Cathedral on September 27!”

The festival’s artistic director, Ann Atkinson, said that having a dedicated evening for Welsh folk music at the festival was a natural development this year as it perfectly complements the festival’s theme of ‘Mother Earth’.

“I always think folk music is very organic and it depicts the ups and downs of life and how we connect with the earth.

“Siân, Sioned and Arfon are leading lights in the world of Welsh folk music, while VRï are the new guard, which will make for a really powerful and moving evening of Welsh folk music.”

Tickets are available online, from Theatr Clwyd, Mold – 01352 344101 or Cathedral Frames, St Asaph – 01745 582929. For more information about the North Wales International Music Festival please visit www.nwimf.com

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