For Christmas, I was given an album by The Gentle Good entitled ‘Y Bardd Anfarwol’ (the immortal bard). The Gentle Good is the stage name of Gareth Bonello, a Welsh songwriter who takes inspiration from the language and poetry of Wales to create beautiful music.
My Dad had spotted this album, thought it looked interesting and picked it up without ever hearing any of it before. When I read that it was bringing together elements from Welsh and Chinese music I was intrigued and when I played it on Boxing day I had no idea what to expect.
The album describes the life of the poet Li Bai during the Tang Dynasty who wrote around a thousand poems. We begin with him leaving home as a young man to look for a Taoist master in the mountains, travelling along the rivers in China while dealing with the loneliness of leaving his family behind. The poetry (and the music) follows his journey through mountainous landscapes, waterfalls of the Lou Mountain and the moon, a running theme throughout his poems. Then comes his failed career as a military strategist that forces him to travel further than he’d ever been before in exile. Time also comes into play as we see him accepting aging and then drowning as he (now a poet god) attempts to embrace the moon reflected in the water.
The album opens with the sounds of a busy street in China, before a traditional Chinese string instrument enters playing an improvisatory passage. About a minute in, the street fades out and a guitar playing a more conventional western rhythm enters with a flute and violin playing long held harmonies. After this first purely instrumental track called ‘Erddigan Chengdu’ the rest of the album follows with a mix of songs, in Welsh but with traditional Chinese harmony and instruments, and instrumental pieces. It’s a very beautiful and relaxing album that paints a magical picture of this poet’s journey.
(one of my favourite songs from the album)
If you look on ‘The Gentle Good’s website there is a link to their SoundCloud where you can listen to this whole album. Since Christmas, I have been listening to this album a lot, and it’s become one of my favourites. I thoroughly recommend it because it’s something different, but not so different that you feel like you can’t connect with the music. It’s an amazing fusion of cultures and I’d love to hear more like this in the future.