Blaen Cwrt by Gillian Clarke

You ask how it is. I will tell you.

There is no glass. The air spins in

The stone rectangle. We warm our hands

With apple wood. Some of the smoke

Rises against the ploughed, brown field

As a sign to our neighbours in the

Four folds of the valley that we are in.

Some of the smoke seeps through the stones

Into the barn where it curls like fern

On the walls. Holding a thick root

I press my bucket through the surface

Of the water, lift it brimming and skim

The leaves away. Our fingers curl on

Enamel mugs of tea, like ploughmen.

The stones clear in the rain

Giving their colours. It’s not easy.

There are no brochure blues or boiled sweet

Reds. All is ochre and earth and cloud-green

Nettles tasting sour and the smells of moist

Earth and sheep’s wool. The wattle and daub

Chimney hood has decayed away, slowly

Creeping to dust, chalking the slate

Floor with stories. It has all the first

Necessities for a high standard

Of civilised living: silence inside

A circle of sound, water and fire,

Light on uncountable miles of mountain

From a big, unpredictable sky,

Two rooms, waking and sleeping,

Two languages, two centuries of past

To ponder on, and the basic need

To work hard in order to survive.

.

By Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer) 1978

.

Additional information:

When her children were young, Clarke bought and renovated an old, ruined small holding called Blaen Cwrt in Talgarreg, south Ceredigion, where she now lives, and which she often figures as her poetic ‘milltir sgwâr’ (square mile). […] Reminiscing on that time and that house as formative to the emergence of her poetic voice, Clarke recalls that ‘to “work hard” meant more than one thing. It’s both chopping wood, carrying water, and writing about it.’

Dr Siriol McAvoy, Gillian Clarke: My Box (A help-sheet for teachers) CREW: Centre for Research into the English Literature and Language of Wales, Swansea University, August 2018

Amy Speace concert at Acapela, Pentyrch, Cardiff

Anyone wanting an update about how Acapela is doing these days can consider this an update from the previous post years ago.

Awkward text placement…

Amy Speace is a folk/Americana American singer-songwriter from Baltimore, Maryland. National Public Radio described her voice as “velvety and achy” and compared her to Lucinda Williams. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee. A former Shakespearean actress, her music has received critical acclaim from The New York Times, NPR, The Sunday London Times, Mojo Magazine, etc. Speace’s song, Weight Of The World, was recorded by singer Judy Collins on her 2010 album Paradise.

Seen on 5 February 2020 at Acapela Studio.

As soon as you walked in there was a guy in a t-shirt acting as the doorman with a clipboard checking if you had bought tickets. There seems a lot more space in this bar area now. If every person who had a seat in the performance room came in here there would still be plenty of room to move about. You can see the kitchen area behind the bar where there’s a stone oven to cook the pizzas which they seem to specialise in.

Every time some pizza came past it looked nice enough with some fresh salad. To me though there was a particularly acute rancid smell to them. It was probably a certain sauce or something I just found an unappealing smell. I’m not sure how to describe it but as we were sat near the door it assaulted me a few times unintentionally.

There were about 20 people initially and by the time it started 50 or so had assembled in the audience. It really wasn’t that many and no one was sat upstairs (well Amy’s mother along with the guy controlling the lights and sound on his iPad but not any paying customers). Amy isn’t that well known here ‘but is on the rise’ as far as people are concerned like some other American folk singers who didn’t get larger crowds until they had come here a few times to build up word of mouth. It’s an intimate venue but indeed it wasn’t filled to capacity sadly. Presumably it is the pizzas helping to keep things ticking over.

Since the last time I was here they’ve removed more of the hard wood church pews and replaced them with stackable chairs and small tables. I suppose it’s to create a sort of ‘cafe bistro’ performance venue atmosphere. The table I was sat at was wobbly so you dare not lean on it but I’m sure the other tables were more sturdy. There are rows of chairs on the side (under the stairs), a few rows of chairs at the back and tables to the front. So if you’re unlucky and arrive later when there is unallocated seating you not only are sat with far less space for yourself but will also be watching the performers from behind people eating too. Oh and there are pillars too but that only restricts a few very specific seats and they’ve clearly tried to counter that by giving more space for the performers more floor space, to stand further forward, than previously.

No one was eating during the performance, unlike the last time I was here, but I don’t know if that was enforced by the venue or just a coincidence. When Amy came out she commented on the pizza to the effect of something like ‘surprising to find nice pizza in Cardiff’. I think most performers find it odd but all really like the acoustics of the former chapel so it’s a bit of a trade off.

We were sat downstairs by a pillar but with a good ¾ view (i.e. not at the front nor side of the performance area). There isn’t a raised platform stage area and the floor looks very scratched up now as the varnish has gradually been worn away by equipment being moved about. Someone walked by before the start smelling of toilet fragrance aerosols… or maybe it was a very cheap perfume? And it lingered… nasty. Not the venues fault but it was such a strange smell I couldn’t help but note it. The venue is perfectly fine smell wise but this perfume and the pizza were very pungent.


8.05pm the performance began.

Amy was wearing a long navy dress with small diamond patterning and white pixie boots. It reminded me of the sort of dress country singers wore in the 1970s.

She told stories between the songs about her parents’ religiousness (the father is a lapsed baptist who gave her a big, leather bound, white bible while her mother is a Catholic and there was an unspoken agreement the children would be raised Catholic) and political e.g. How she is a folk singer so her being a liberal should be a given to some degree yet some complain saying they thought she was going to do songs like a Country singer (i.e. the stereotypical Texan republican who loves their country blindly). She had her son in her fifties and named him Huckleberry as her husband teaches Southern literature and she thought it would be unique… only to discover someone else had also used that name.

Amongst the songs she performed were the following:

She forgot the lyrics to this one when she was about to perform it
She felt the need to explain a Lorna Doone is a shortbread biscuit before singing this. I mean I immediately thought of the novel when hearing the name. Americans have awkward names for their snacks don’t they?
She told a story about when she had written this after a break up and later was performing it when her new boyfriend’s family were sat in the front row. She panicked worrying they thought it would be about him. In her mind she was running a script of ‘but I won’t write a song about your son…’ in tune with the instrumental. But fortunately her loud Texan friend, from the back row of that performance, shouted ‘AND YOU DID!’ at the end of it. Anyway she married her boyfriend and had her son, named Huckleberry, when about 50 years old. Her husband teaches Southern literature and people find it odd a Yankee (northern states) person would want to name their child something like that.
She finished with this song doing it without the amp.

She performed most songs with an acoustic guitar connected to an amp but one or two she did sat at the grand piano too.

At 9.03pm there was an interval. A staff member rushed in zealously seeking empty glasses to take off tables. It got to the point he seemed to be eyeing up half filled glasses as if ready to claim them as having been abandoned if people were not sat next to them to ward him off. Out by the bar Amy’s mother was selling CDs of three of her albums, t-shirts and apparently one album on vinyl. Amy would sign them too. About 10 or so minutes later the second half began suddenly signaled by the lights suddenly being turned off again.

While performing she forgot the lyrics to a few of her songs so a friend had to look them up for her. It was fortunately made more charming rather than awkward. Earlier she had joked at other performances she had had to do that too.

After she remembered and performed the first forgotten song a guy shouted “got there in the end” which the classic sardonic Welsh sense of humour. It’s not meant in a bad spirit but I imagine it so easily could be misread as such if people are not familiar with it… and let’s face it when you have visiting foreign artists I do often wonder if it gives a bad impression and if it’s affected the chance of people coming back again. However Amy mentioned how polite British audiences are as American ones have to be made to shut up and often will throw things at the performers. British audiences chuckle while American audience guffaw it seems. Probably it makes it easier to read the tone of the room compared to more reserved audiences.

She had gone up Snowden and it was the first time her parents were touring the UK. She seemed hung up, like all visiting American artists, on the whole ‘divided nation’ aspect of America at the moment regarding Trump and said Britain probably is too now due to Brexit. She joked politicians need to get better hair and some exercise in reference to Trump and Boris Johnson.

At 22:25 the concert ended after she said she would do a false ‘walk off and encore’ by turning away a few seconds rather than walk out the room. She did one of the last songs acoustically without her guitar plugged in. Oddly it might have been better to do that more in this venue but I guess everyone is used to instruments being amplified these days that just having the instrument sounds less ‘authentic’ somehow…

It was very enjoyable. The stories actually felt personal rather than just a script she rattles off to every audience. It’s a bit concerning she forgot the lyrics to her own songs though. But overall it was very enjoyable. I recommend seeing her if you’ve the chance though it is one of the few occasions where I’ve seen a performer forget their own lyrics which in a less seasoned act would be criticised as being unprofessional.

Parking is still the biggest issue the venue faces really even with it’s relatively small capacity. Park on the road side and if you can’t then you’ll have to park further down or in a residential space. There are no real alternatives to be honest but that’s the cost of it being in a community’s former chapel.

P.S. Here are some names of other acts coming here soon if you want to look them up… The Magpies / Daisy Chapman / Maz o’connor / Emily Mae Winters / Mr Tea and the Minions / Morganway.

Threshold by R S Thomas

I emerge from the mind’s

cave into the worse darkness

outside, where things pass and

the Lord is in none of them.

.

I have heard the still, small voice

and it was that of the bacteria

demolishing my cosmos. I

have lingered too long on

.

this threshold, but where can I go?

To look back is to lose the soul

I was leading upward towards

the light. To look forward? Ah,

.

what balance is needed at

the edges of such an abyss.

I am alone on the surface

of a turning planet. What

.

to do but, like Michelangelo’s

Adam, put my hand

out into unknown space,

hoping for the reciprocating touch?

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Later Poems (1983)

From A Suburban Window by Dannie Abse

Such afternoon glooms, such clouds chimney low –
London, the clouds want to move but can not,
London, the clouds want to rain but can not –
such negatives of a featureless day:
the street empty but for a van passing,
an afternoon smudged by old afternoons.
Soon, despite railings, evening will come
from a great distance trailing evenings.
Meantime, unemployed sadness loiters here.

Quite suddenly, six mourners appear:
a couple together, then three stout men,
then one more, lagging behind, bare-headed.
Not one of them touches the railings.
They walk on and on remembering days,
yet seem content. They employ the décor.
They use this grey inch of eternity,
and the afternoon, so praised, grows distinct.

by Dannie Abse
from A Small Desperation (1968)

Carol by R. S. Thomas

What is Christmas without
snow? We need it
as bread of a cold
climate, ermine to trim

our sins with, a brief
sleeve for charity’s
scarecrow to wear its heart
on, bold as a robin.

by R. S. Thomas
from Later Poems
(1983)

Diver-Bird by Mike Jenkins

People sat up from skin-baking or shade-seeking,
children on flabby lilos stopped squall-splashing:
not a pointy snorkeller, but a diver-bird.
'Duck!' someone called, as he dipped
and disappeared underwater, emerging
liquid minutes later as no human could.
'Guillemot' I said assured, chuckling.
 
Grey-black, shiny as wet seaweed
his head intent for rush of a shoal,
no periscope or radar could equal
that vision: beak needling fish
leading a feathery thread up and down.
I tried to swim out, follow him,
make clicking noises to draw his attention:
he ignored my performance.
 
Returning home, in reference books,
I realised 'guillemot' was just as absurd.
He was elusive here as he'd been  
in the bay, no silhouette fitting.
Yet I knew he'd keep re-surfacing
further and further away, stitching
more firmly because I couldn't find a name.
 
 
by Mike Jenkins
from This House, My Ghetto 

Additional information: Here are some fun facts about the guillemot.

Pavane by R. S. Thomas

Convergences,
Of the spirit! What
Century, love? I,
Too; you remember -
Brescia? This sunlight reminds
Of the brocade. I dined
Long. And now the music
Of darkness in your eyes
Sounds. But Brescia,
And the spreading foliage
Of smoke! With Yeats' birds
Grown hoarse.
Artificer
Of the years, is this
Your answer? The long dream
Unwound; we followed
Through time to the tryst
With ourselves. But wheels roll
Between and the shadow
Of the plane falls. The
Victim remains
Nameless on the tall
Steps. Master, I
Do not wish, I do not wish
To continue.


by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)

Extra information:

The pavane, pavan, paven, pavin, pavian, pavine, or pavyn (It. pavana, padovana; Ger. Paduana) is a slow processional dance common in Europe during the 16th century (Renaissance).

Also the poem might refer to the pavane, a sedate and dignified couple dance, similar to the 15th-century basse danse. The music which accompanied it appears originally to have been fast or moderately fast but, like many other dances, became slower over time.

Brescia is a city and comune in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy. It is situated at the foot of the Alps, a few kilometres from the lakes Garda and Iseo. With a population of more than 200,000, it is the second largest city in the region and the fourth of northwest Italy. The urban area of Brescia extends beyond the administrative city limits and has a population of 672,822, while over 1.5 million people live in its metropolitan area. The city is the administrative capital of the Province of Brescia, one of the largest in Italy, with over 1,200,000 inhabitants.