A very short story
The Pull of the River

Tunes for a Monday Morning: Following a River

They Nested in a Porcelain Bowl by Jackie Morris

Today's music is by Owen Shiers, a musician native to West Wales who creates under the name Cynefin. "The word ‘cynefin’ is swaddled in layers of meaning," Shiers explains. "A Welsh noun with no direct equivalent in English, its origins lie in a farming term used to describe the habitual tracks and trails worn by animals in hillsides. The word has since morphed and deepened to conjure a very personal sense of place, belonging and familiarity."

Shiers is engaged in "a musical mapping project which traces a line from the past to the present -- starting in the Clettwr Valley where I was raised. The result of three years research and work, the project’s aim is to uncover lost voices, melodies and stories, and give a modern voice to Ceredigion’s rich yet fragile cultural heritage. The resulting album, Dilyn Afon/Following A River, presents forgotten and neglected material in a fresh new light. From talking animals and tragic train journeys to the musings of star crossed lovers, farm workers and lonely vagabonds, these songs provide a unique window into the past and to a vibrant oral culture."

Above: "Forgotten Songs of Ceredigion," a lovely little video explaining the project. It was made for a fundraiser in 2018 to help finance the album.

Below: "Cân O Glod I'r Clettwr," the opening song of the finished album, released in 2020. The ballad describes "a life’s journey from birth to death along the banks of the Clettwr River, which starts its journey on the marshland above Talgarreg village and flows into the Teifi near Dolbantau Mill, on the border with Carmarthenshire."

Above: " Y Ddau Farch/Y Bardd A’r Gwcw," two songs with similar lyrical themes of animal communication. The first is a conversation between two stallions; the second is a conversation between a bard and a late returning cuckoo.

Below: "Y Deryn Du." Conversing with birds is a Welsh literary tradition dating from the classical period of Dafydd ap Gwilym, notes Spiers. "Named 'canu llatai' (llatai means love-messenger), such pieces usually involve a love-struck poet sending a bird with messages of love to a sweetheart. What sets this work apart from other llatai songs is that the author has not yet set his heart upon someone; instead the deryn du (a blackbird) acts as an avian dating service, listing all the apparently eligible local women."

Above: "Ffarwel I Aberystwyth," a song conveying the hiraeth (longing) of the sailors as they leave Cardigan Bay, naming the places and people they've left behind. The end section of the track is a fragment from a song, "Hwylio Adre (Sailing Home)," in J. Glyn Davies’s book of Welsh sea songs and shanties. 

Below: the video for "Y Fwyalchen Ddu Bigfelen." This is another song, says Spiers, "which features a conversation with a blackbird. It's debatable, however, if the song can be included in the llatai category since the ‘beloved’ in question is not a woman, but Wales itself. It is, in essence, a song of hiraeth by a boy who has crossed the border into England and is longing for his homeland, embodied in song by the mellifluous calls of the yellow beaked blackbird."

Owen Shiers

The painting above is by artist, author, and magic-weaver Jackie Morris, who lives on the coast of Wales. Please visit her website to see more of her extraordinary work.