This review is written by Dai Woosnam, firstname.lastname@example.org, 11/02
Although I write this review from my current home here in Grimsby, England, I should perhaps tell you dear reader that I hail from Wales. So what better than a Welshman to review a CD called “Druid Dance”? After all, Wales is the pre-eminent country in perhaps the WHOLE WORLD when it comes to keeping the “druidic influence” alive-and-kicking.
After all, the foremost cultural event in the whole country is the National Eisteddfod. And this event is presided over by druids, who every year are the “Power Behind the Throne”: the Chief Druid personally crowns the writer they have elected the leading bard for the year.
And “druids” and “Wales” are even more entwined in this year of 2002 than ever: George Carey, the world-wide head of the Church of England - The Archbishop of Canterbury - has just retired, and been replaced by the Archbishop of Wales. Much has been made of the fact that the new man has donned druidic robes in the past at National Eisteddfodau: and traditionalists in the C of E cite that as evidence of at least a flirtation with paganism.
I confess it just confuses me: so this Welshman reviewer turned to the album hoping that there would be none of the ambiguity intrinsic in the dual role of “druid” and “churchman”. And to be fair to Jules Bitter, his CD proved (with one exception, mentioned at the end of my piece) to be marvellously FREE of grey areas of uncertainty.
For a start, there is the musicianship. Every instrumentalist performs with total assurance. It is perhaps invidious to pick one or two out of about ten performers, but space restrictions mean I must. So first it is “hats off” to my fellow country person Zara Roberts, who not only plays harp rather well, but also has an angelic voice. I was particularly touched to hear her sing a song that expressed her “hiraeth” (longing for Wales) in the ENGLISH language.
I belong to the 81% of Welsh people who (to all intents and purposes) are monoglot English speakers. Of course I would LOVE to speak Welsh, but to me the “language of heaven” is ENGLISH, and I have my work cut out just trying to master THAT! But Zara helps remind us that Wales is a country with TWO languages, and one of them is English.
Alas, sometimes it seems to me that monoglot Welshmen are regarded as ersatz Welshmen by some of their Welsh-speaking brethren. Try telling that to monoglots Sir Anthony Hopkins and Tom Jones!
So I thank Zara for choosing to sing a song in English. And it even made ME feel homesick, well at least for a few minutes.
But in this array of expert exponents of the bouzouki, guitar, harp, accordion, keyboard, bodhrán, fiddle and Jew’s harp, it is flute/tin whistle player (and arranger, and general “brains” behind the whole album!) Jules Bitter who constantly impresses one, with the sheer WIT of his playing and his purity of tone.
There is an interesting use of background field recordings in his musical travels around the Celtic states: “cousin” countries where the links form the basis for the album. And there is also an imaginative and informative set of liner notes.
However, pleasing on the ear though this album surely is, I am far from certain that the CONCEPT really was explained to me. There is an element here of “find something with however remote-a-link to the druids” and stick it all together, and hey presto, we have a “concept album”.
No we don’t. We have a pleasant album: no more, no less. Not one you’d sell in a “Garage Sale”, but nor one you’d fight to take with you to a Desert Island .
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