Volunteers are the core of folk sessions
Since January this year a folk session has been held at the Boar’s Head pub in Carmarthen, inspired by a similar event organised in Pontardawe.
The session in Pontardawe was also inspired by another, as Harri Powell of Menter Iaith Castell-nedd Port Talbot explains;
“Sessions at Tŷ Tawe, Swansea have been running for a while, at least 12 years, for more experienced folk musicians. At Tŷ Tawe I met Caradog Jones, who is a folk harpist. I realised he was the eldest brother of Aneirin Jones, an amazing fiddle player (No Good Boyo / Vri), and I had worked with Aneirin when he was at YGG Ystalyfera.
Caradog explained that he had an idea to start traditional Welsh sessions in the Swansea Valley area and I was very excited as I also like to play music. Following this informal chat, we arranged to meet at the Menter’s office, with Aneirin and another musician from Ystradgynlais called Geraint Roberts. As a result, the first SeshSŵn was organised in April 2017 at the Gwachel in Pontardawe.
The SeshSŵn is open to everyone from all walks of life, including Welsh speakers, learners and non-Welsh speakers, as well as experienced musicians, new musicians and people who just want to enjoy in a fun Welsh atmosphere. Folk sessions usually perform instrumental tunes, without singing, but we sing a couple of Welsh songs to be more inclusive. Some like to have a pint, watch and sing some of the choruses. The sessions raise awareness of traditional Welsh music and most of the people who have attended have learned a lot of tunes and songs over the past 2 years.”
As a result of the sessions, 2 folk bands have formed over the past year and a half, ‘Gwyr y Stac’ from the Cwmafan and Castell-nedd areas, and ‘Madog’ from the Cwm Tawe area. These bands play traditional melodies and songs, and now they are performing all over Wales. Many of the participants have emphasised that the sessions have improved their Welsh language skills and vocabulary, as well as music skills. Some people have decided to learn Welsh as a result of the sessions, as they want to know what some of the lyrics of songs they have learned mean.
Last year Rhys James, his wife Heledd ap Gwynfor, and Meredydd, their 3 year old son traveled to the Gwachel pub in Pontardawe to enjoy a SeshSŵn night, inspiring them hold a similar one in Carmarthen. Rhys says;
“My wife Heledd works for Mentrau Iaith Cymru, and she heard about the session at the Gwachel in Pontardawe, so we thought we’d see what was happening. I play a guitar and our son Meredydd loves music, singing and dancing all the time, so we were eager to join in. Similar evenings take place in Llanelli, Swansea and many other towns across Wales and we thought it was a shame that there was nothing in Carmarthen, especially places that let children attend, so we thought we’d organise it ourselves!”
Informal folk sessions are extremely popular in Ireland and Scotland, and become more popular in Wales. Sesiwn Pen y Baedd in Carmarthen is an opportunity for Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers alike come together to hear the Welsh language and its folk music. The only rule is that only Welsh folk music is played, so that the next generation becomes familiar with their heritage. Rhys says;
“One of the great successes of the session is the age range of those present. We have had families there – from the age of 6, as well as their parents’ generation and older again – brilliant! It’s what we want – everyone able to enjoy together and learn new songs and tunes.”
The SeshSŵn organisers are proud of the volunteers that are core to these evenings. Harri Powell says;
“It was great to see another area was keen to start a session itself. The more areas that have them the better, as it will normalise the concept of Welsh sessions to Welsh society. I’m happy to support any venture that wants to start one. I would like to emphasise how important volunteers are to SeshSŵn. We rely on them and I would like to thank them very much, especially Caradog Jones and Geraint Roberts. So I wish all the best to the Pen y Baedd Session and to the volunteers like Rhys who runs it.”