On Wednesday, September 16, Flying Cat Music presents the vibrant Welsh group Calan in concert in Phoenicia at the Empire State Railway Museum located at 70 Lower High Street. The doors open at 7:00 p.m. with the show beginning at 7:30 prompt. Admission is $15 or $13 with RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 845-688-9453.
When most people think of Celtic music, their minds turn to Ireland and Scotland, or even, perhaps, to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia with its rich Celtic fiddling traditions. But a band named Calan is causing many people to rethink that association and nudging Wales towards the center of the Celtic music circle. Calan is an explosively vibrant group of young musicians who in recent years have taken European festival goers by storm with their dynamic presentation of the traditional Celtic music of Wales. This summer marks the first time Calan has toured North America. Their Phoenicia show is among a small handful of American appearances the band will make prior to heading home after having been invited to play at the just completed North American Festival of Wales in Columbus, Ohio.
Calan played their first performance at Sesiwn Fawr Dolgellau in 2008, a world music event held in the town of Dolgellau in Wales. Since then, they have played numerous major festivals in the United Kingdom including Cambridge, Shrewsbury, and Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, and they have toured through much of Europe. In 2010, Calan won the prestigious Trophee Loic Raison for Best New Group at Europe’s largest folk festival, the Inter-Celtic Festival of Lorient (English translation), which is attended by 700,000 people annually.
2008 also marked the release of Calan’s first CD, Bling, which immediately won strong praise from fans and critics alike. This review from the Belfast Telegraph is representative: “The dynamic quintet’s debut album, Bling, has everything you could want from a record — stunning use of instrumentation, gorgeously crafted songs, sprightly foot-tappers, verve and raw excitement.” Songlines Magazine wrote, “Their debut album is as energetic as you as you might expect, but it also has subtlety and, in places, a mournfulness that is impressive in such a young band.” The Daily Mirror summed it up, noting that Calan on “Bling” played with “grace, daring and sheer joy.”
When observers describe Calan as a young band, it is not an exaggeration. Seven years after that debut CD finds Calan members still in their twenties. Several of them met a few years prior to the recording of Bling when a Welsh cultural organization arranged for ten young musicians from Wales to travel to Sweden for Ethno, a festival for young people between 16 and 25. As Angharad Jenkins (one of Calan’s two fiddlers and a two-time junior Celtic fiddle champion) explains, “All of us have come from backgrounds and homes where folk music was listened to and appreciated… We’ve all grown up going to Clera (the Society for Welsh Traditional Instruments) workshops.”
Though their stage demeanor embraces the youthful outlook of a new generation of traditional musicians, they could not be more passionate about their personal Celtic roots. Liner notes for Calan’s latest release, Dinas, are written in both English and Cymraeg, a Brittonic branch of the Celtic languages which is the oldest language in Britain and dates back possibly 4,000 years. Calan’s vocals are also sung in both languages. While they include some original material in their repertoire, in Calan’s own words: “mainly we like to stick to the task of bringing Welsh traditional music to the people.”
Dinas captures Calan at the height of the group’s musical prowess, as the core of the band has remained intact for seven years. The British publication Acoustic Magazine has this to say about their new music: “Fiddles, guitar, accordion, bagpipes and step dancing explode into life as Calan perform songs and tunes from their new album Dinas. Infectious guitar rhythms and high voltage routines give way to beautiful and haunting songs as they tour throughout 2015 to celebrate their latest release.“ As Bethan Rhiannon Williams–Jones (lead vocalist, accordionist, and champion step dancer) explains while reflecting on the evolution of the band, “We are all comfortable standing on a stage together, now – and we all know what’s going to happen.”
The Phoenicia performance will feature the four-member core of Calan, while the fifth member of the full group, a harpist who attends as many of Calan’s shows as her schedule allows, will not be able to attend. The show won’t lack for Celtic pyrotechnics, however, with Angharad playing fiddle next to fellow fiddler Patrick Rimes, who also plays bagpipes, whistle, piano and accordion, as well as pigborn–a Welsh reed instrument–while Sam Humpries plays guitar, bass, and kick drum, and Bethan will be on lead vocal, accordion, and on occasion stepping out.
Calan regularly thrills audiences of thousands in outdoor festival settings. We can hardly believe our good fortune in being able to present a group of this caliber inside the intimate confines of the Empire State Railway Museum. Undoubtedly, it’s because Calan is still relatively unknown here in America, and their love of performing is such that they would rather play for a small, enthusiastic audience on an otherwise idle Wednesday night than keep their instruments locked away. If you have any love for Celtic music, don’t miss this chance to see, hear, and meet the members of Calan.