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root salad 9Bach

The new exponents of Welsh dark-folk are on a voyage of discovery. Simon Jones inspects the maps.


e didn’t turn to Welsh folk as a source, Welsh folk songs turned to us, and demanded

something a bit different, a bit special be done with them. For too long so called traditionalists have been strangling these songs with upbeat tempos, and fiery virtuoso fiddle sections, drowning out the simple yet stunning melodies. Surely the whole point of folk music is that it evolves, and gets reinterpreted, and that’s why it’s still alive?”

Martin Hoyland’s a man with ideas and opinions. His wife Lisa’s forthright too. “To me, these songs are soul music, I wish to sing them as they come to me, as I feel them, not how someone else wants them sung. We are lucky in Wales to have such beautiful, heartfelt songs in our tradition – they really get me in the pit of my stom- ach. The story behind them, the heartache and sorrow – that’s what I’m drawn to. I tend to stay away from the jolly ones, I like to feel the pain of the saddest.”

The founders of dark, Welsh wonder, 9Bach may not be long on hilarity but their creativity is not in doubt. Having sculp- tured one of the most affecting Welsh albums in recent times, they can at least now pause and take stock, chat about their explosive combination of roots, rock, darkness, barbed wire emotion and belief that less is more, especially if applied to songs from old stock.

“I think it’s the space we give each

other, and the sparse arrangements, some- times you can say more by not playing. Some of the songs we put through a long and tortuous process, getting it wrong before getting it right, others have been a lot easier – our methodology is still evolv- ing,” explains Martin.

It’s all a long way from the kitchen sing-arounds in North London which gave rise to Martin’s accidental discovery that his missus could sing Welsh material. “For months we sat in and sang and played them, simply for the joy of it, although all the time the songs were inspiring bass lines, drum beats and counter melodies flying around our heads,” he confirms. Next thing you know they’re playing to satisfied listeners on BBC Radio Cymru and matters moved on apace when the Green Man festival offered them a slot. The duo needed to become a band smartish.

“It was cruder and more simplistic than what we do now but we had the blueprint,” Lisa offers.

Were the band sympathetic to what 9Bach was about from the off? “Ali [drums] and Esyllt [harp] are friends of ours, and understood what we were trying

to do straight away. We had a problem with our first bass player, who would never turn up to practise! We acquired Dan, Esyllt’s brother who’s slotted in perfectly. Although the songs start with me and Martin, we are a proper ‘band’, everyone adds their own special bits,” Martin adds.

They began to drip-feed singles, limit- ed editions into selected Welsh stores and on sale at gigs. I put it to them that it was- n’t the most high profile of arrivals. “The singles were a deliberate ploy, although the first one was the obvious thing to do. We’d been offered a support tour as a three-piece (vox, harp, guitar) and decid- ed it would only be worth doing if we had a CD to sell. We booked a studio, recorded a couple of songs as a trio, then printed 500 CDs, which all sold out. We decided to do others before the album, to kind of introduce 9Bach to the press and radio, as we thought it would be a struggle to get Welsh language songs any coverage, which is a continuing problem, although the ploy has helped!”

Having arrived under the radar, so to speak, and causing a proper buzz in the right places meant their self-titled album was going to be a belter. Actively promot- ing their darker side, the gothic songs and elements within the tradition, its sonic sounds and edgy atmosphere make for fascinating if disturbing listening, Lisa’s innocent voice set against a series of alter- nating soft and gritty textures.


e feel it gives the full picture of 9Bach, while also pointing to other exciting possibilities. The

album goes in lots of directions and there are many different moods, but somehow there is common ground that holds it all together. Producer Krissy Jenkins, and the Wings For Jesus Studio in Cardiff, set such a relaxed and easy vibe they instinctively knew how to get the best out of us, and constantly stretched and challenged us. We had 70% of it worked out beforehand,” says Lisa.

Since its release, 9Bach have got the thumbs up across a wide range of media, gigs develop apace and they’ve returned to the Green Man. “Something very spe- cial happens at that festival, I can’t say why, but we just go to another level; one of those things, you can’t analyse it, it’s some kind of telepathy, everyone clicking. It feels effortless at the time, but you come off stage shattered.”

Heads down, they’re already planning their second collection, likely to contain some original material. “If we ever start repeating ourselves, or become stale, then that’s the time to stop, but at the moment we’re really excited about exploring a whole new load of possibilities!”

Messed up Welsh folk songs on Gwymon Records and at

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