This year’s circle in 12 parts features guest artists chosen by zodiac sign, my first guest for Aries is Rowan O’Neill:
“When first asked to take part in this project my immedate thought was to interrogate Jacob’s record databases looking for songs and music related to sheep or defaid. This resulted in a selection of records that juxtaposed ram and lamb; safe grazing or being rounded up and counting your blessings instead of sheep.
Jacob was also keen to include some kind of live intervention in the mix. I was not sure what this would be but as aries season got under way in March I began reading Allen Raine’s novel A Welsh Singer (1897). I have been looking at the work of Allen Raine as part of a mentored Research and Development Project with creative agency Addo. The novel charts the rise of the heroine from a poor orphan to local eistedddfod winner, then circus performer in London and finally an opera singer on the European stage. The first sentence of the novel references a March morning and a sheep that has fallen off a cliff to its death where it now lies at the bottom, ‘as dead as a red herring’.
My original idea for my Allen Raine project had been to base an opera on her later novel, Queen of the Rushes, set during the 1904 Welsh Revival. Though I had read the novel some years ago I had quite forgotten that the central character of this work is in fact, for most of the novel, mute. She does however eventually regain her speech and at this moment, overcome with emotion, she breathes a, ‘prayer of gratitude, in words that no longer died upon her tongue, but reached her ears in the music of the human voice.’
As a young girl I competed at an Eisteddfod in Aberporth performing a song called Y Ddafad Gorniog. The opening lyrics are etched in my memory but I do not completely recall the tune. I have sung the tune as I remember it with a simple piano accompaniment. Working it out I started singing Baa Baa Black Sheep too and recorded this with concertina which I began learning to play last year.
I worked with Jacob in 2020 on a music project working with young carers using an app called Loopy HD. For this aries mix I made a couple of vocal pieces with Loopy HD that riff on both the folk tunes/songs and the, ‘music of the human voice’. The twelve loops mirror perhaps the twelve parts of the zodiac circle and the loops of Jacob’s records.
The horned ram’s head is a souvenir from the farm I grew up on, Rhos-y-Gadair Uchaf, at the end of a lane in Felinwynt.”
Vinyl records used in the mix were Holst’s ‘Mars’ played by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra & the L.A. Philharmonic, as well as reinterpretations by Tomita and by Kevin Peek on ‘Beyond the Planets’.
Other records in the mix: Roger Christian – Discover yourself through Astrology; John Dankworth – The Zodiac Variations; Cosmos – Your Stars for 1968; Norrie Paramour Orchestra – The Zodiac Suite; Cannonball Adderley presents – Soul Zodiac; Cosmic Sounds – The Zodiac
Records chosen by Rowan: London Symphony Orchestra – Sheep May Safely Graze; Hogia Llandegai – Defaid William Morgan; Jac a Wil – Y Ddafad Golledig; Roy Buchanan – I’m a Ram; Stories of Larry the Lamb in Toytown; Bing Crosby – Count Your Blessings instead of Sheep;
Other contributions from Rowan included readings of text:
Allen Raine, Queen of the Rushes (1906), Chapter 8 ‘Maldraeth’
Allen Raine, A Welsh Singer (1897), Chapter 1, Abersethin Slopes
Bah Bah Black Sheep
Mae gen i ddafad gorniog