Boomkat Product Review:
Rhodri Davies (Apartment House/Hen Ogledd) charms with this gorgeous suite of improvisations on a C.13th Horsehair harp specially built for this release - the maiden voyage on his Amgen Records
Seemingly recorded in a stone cottage in medieval times, but actually captured in Newcastle upon Tyne, 2020; ’Telyn Rawn Amgen’ revolves around a flurry of 18 poetic improvisations on the transportable, lightweight sort of harp that was used to accompany Welsh and Irish bards back-in-the-day. Once popular, and even mentioned in C.13th Welsh law, the instrument has been practically obsolete for nearly 200 years until Davies’ process of research and experimentation brought it back to life in 2016, intended as he says, “as a means to improvise historically informed music and re-evaluate the legacy of the harp in Wales”. And he does so thoroughly, taking inspiration from contemporaneous historic texts and poetry to coax and pluck out rawly gorgeous flows of extended melodic thought from its horse hair strings.
As a member of new music specialists Apartment House, as well as the ancient punk rabble Hen Ogledd and myriad collaborations with the exploratory avant-garde, Davies brings an in-depth experience and dexterity to his performances here. Experimenting with different styles of stringing - both plucking and bowing straight, woven, and plaited strings - he wrests a remarkable range of sonorities from the harp, from lissom, lilting melodic pieces to shredded scree and see-sawing folk discord that gets right in the back teef and flings us back to backroom pub sessions in our native North of England, where echoes of these traditions used to (or still?) play out. But Rhodri surely revitalises the sound with a bleeding sense of expression and gripping storytelling that gets beyond images of hoary beardy tropes and gets in your head, much like his previous collaborator Laura Cannell did with Polly Wright on 2019’s ace ‘Sing As The Crow Flies’.