Gareth Bonello, the man behind The Gentle Good, is somewhat of a folk genius. Blending traditional folk sounds with contemporary themes, his new album Tethered For the Storm is a truly beautiful collection of songs. We caught up with Bonello to talk about the album, his influences and the Welsh Language.
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As an introduction, how would you describe your sound and style to our readers? The music is a blend of '60s finger-picking guitar, soaring strings and traditional folk with a tint of psychedelia. Who would you say your primary influences are? I’d say the great acoustic guitar players of the 1960s such as Martin Carthy, Davy Graham, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch and John Fahey. I’m also very influenced by old folk music, particularly the melancholic words and melodies of Welsh folk music. You’ve played shows around the world. What has been your highlight so far? I really enjoyed playing at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC in the summer of 2009 as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. It was a two-week celebration of Welsh culture, Latino music and African-American spoken word all on the National Mall. It was fantastic to be involved. Wales has a lengthy tradition of folk music. Why would you say this is and how would you say this has influenced your sound? I think in Wales we have a very long oral tradition, where songs and poems would be passed down from memory from one generation to the next. We’ve always celebrated music and the written word in Eisteddfodau (cultural festivals that take place all over the country) and it is because of these that by the 18th Century the songs were being written down as well. I think in many ways Welsh music and poetry have helped to maintain a separate Welsh identity in the context of the growing influence of the more dominant culture from England. The melodies and words of old Welsh folk songs are an incalculable influence on my music. I often perform traditional songs as part of my set, and have also written new folk songs using old poetic meters that can be found in traditional Welsh music. Half the songs on the album are written in Welsh. Was this a conscientious decision, or does it come naturally to perform in both languages? It’s more of a natural process really. I live and work in Cardiff and use Welsh and English roughly the same amount so my mind is pretty much split between the two most of the time. When I’m writing a new song it’ll normally suit one language better than the other for some reason.
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Do you cover the same subject matter lyrically on your Welsh language songs as the English ones? I do but I think that the style is different. The album has four songs in Welsh; ‘Colled’ is about loss, ‘Deuawd’ is about vices ‘Llosgi Pontydd’ is about burning bridges (not literally) and ‘Cysgod y Dur’ is about the steel industry in Cardiff. In Welsh the lyrics are often more abstract, and often with a more complicated rhyming structure. In English I think that I am more direct and maybe more visual - the words often describe a scene that I try to use to get the meaning of the song across. Tethered For The Storm is your second album. Did you approach it differently to recording your debut? Yes, the second album was written as a complete work whereas the debut was more a collection of songs that I’d been playing for a few years. With the new album I wrote the lyrics before the music, which I hadn’t done before. I wanted the lyrics to drive the music rather than the other way around. I also left a lot of space on the songs because I wanted to make sure there was plenty of room for the string arrangements. You are also a member of a band called the Silver Spurs. Can you tell us a bit about them? We’re on a bit of a hiatus at the moment as we’re all in other bands. We play very dark country songs and Ellie the lead singer has a fantastic voice. I’m sure we’ll get going again soon. What are your plans for the year ahead? Any tours coming up? I’m doing a bunch of gigs from March onwards throughout the UK to promote the album. I’ll also be playing at the Green Man Festival in August and hopefully a few others. If things go well I hope to be pretty busy. Finally, we’ve given the album a positive review. What would you say to sway those readers who might still be unsure whether or not to check it out? Well if you’re still reading by now you might as well have a listen to the music!