On Armistice Day, Cardiff-based Welsh folk band, The Gentle Good, launched their latest album, Ruins/Adfeilion, in a church in Canton with standing room only in the audience. The album speaks, bilingually, to a moral conviction in the face of the uncertain times we are in.
Bonello commanded the stage accompanied by a full orchestra: Welsh harp, string quartet, stand-up bass, horns, and vocal harmonies. He performed on guitar, harmonium, and piano. The high ceilings and pillar-lined aisles created a sound environment that accentuated the warmth & soulfulness of the music, holding onto each note of the music comprised of Welsh and English lyrics.
“This album in particular has more social commentary in it [than others].” There’s an old model of protesting people still [are asking] where are the protest songs?” Bonello said. “It’s hard to do that kind of thing and sound new and interesting. I feel I can express my frustration at certain social situations or political situations in my own way and so that’s what I did with this album.”
In Pen Draw’r Byd (The Far Side of the World), Gareth toyed with a contemporary take on a traditional Welsh folk theme in which the “poor, lonely folk maidens waiting for their sailors” wander the shores waiting indefinitely for their sailor boys. In this version, she doesn’t wait but affirms, In Bonello’s words, “I’ll leave the sea to the seagulls, thank you very much.”
The alchemical combination of musicality and personal chemistry on stage, and incidentally in the audience who appeared to be familiar with Bonello on a personal level, stirred a spell-binding listening experience. The audience was quietly captivated throughout each song.
“We needed this,” Louise, a concert-goer, said. “It’s good for the soul. We needed some medicine after this week.”
Toward the end of the set, the band played The Fisherman and a man in the front row, who had worked with Bonello on a music video for the song, began singing along.
David Morgan, the church warden was pleased with the number of Welsh-speakers in the crowd. “My god! It’s the language of my culture and my country. It’s so important. It means so much to me.”
The instrumentation is as much a part of Bonello’s storytelling as the words are themselves. In Bound for Lampesuda, Bonello opens with guitar and vocals, “Pray to Mary for safe passage now that we’re so far from home.”
The strings come in, reminiscent to the swell of the sea as the song builds. In an instrumental break, the horns call out, as though they are the boats atop the waves mournfully seeking refuge. The lyrics go on to critique the lack of action by European and UK leaders. “They’d leave us for the waves to swallow,” he sings, transporting a willing audience with a compelling narrative driven by a universal heartbreak.
“Bound for Lampedusa was about migrants, refugees, fleeing Libya in a poorly made boat and trying to reach somewhere to claim asylum. That’s a horrible situation. Thousands of people have drowned over the past few years and mainly it’s because of the inaction of the European Union for political reasons,” Bonello said.
Aesthetically, while the music speaks to injustice, it speaks on a level with the listener that invites comfort, synthesizing an unlikely harmony between a person’s goodness of heart and a world of corruption & blind cruelty. The sound is serene and the vocals are as sensitive and gentle as the name would suggest.