Review, Cabaret Pontio with Gareth Bonello, Georgia Ruth & Toby Hay, Pontio Arts Centre by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Considering they had never played together before, Gareth Bonello, Georgia Ruth and Toby Hay seemed like a long-established trio. Their first gig as a three-piece was certainly an enjoyable one. Coming together from Cardiff, Ceredigion, and Rhayader respectively, these three folk musicians brought real warmth to what was a pretty wet night in Bangor. With songs inspired by land, place and people, this concert, as part of Pontio’s Cabaret series, was a gently inspiring, fairly lucid affair. Transforming Theatr Bryn Terfel into a downtown night club, the ambient lighting and tight staging made this a really intimate experience. It felt refreshing, relaxed, and played well to a hushed and attentive audience.

Taking the form of a songwriters round, the evening began with Bonello, who performed a straight-up folk number before handing over to Hay. The highly-accomplished guitarist began with a short piece, inspired by home, before providing us with a wonderfully atmospheric version of his song ‘Starlings’. Hitting such high, soft and delicate notes on the guitar, the addition of Ruth’s harp and Bonello on the harmonium created an incredibly visual sound that hung in the air long after the last note was played. It was then over to Ruth for a performance of her song ‘Terracotta’. Its hauntingly beautiful tones struck me as being very reminiscent of 9Bach’s ‘Anian’, and was just as good. It was then the turn of Bonello again for a performance of his song ‘Pen Draw’r Byd’ before we returned to Ruth for what was, for me, one of the highlights of the night. Watching Ruth’s fingers gliding gracefully across the strings of the harp during ‘Clychai Aberdyfi’ was mesmerising. And with Bonello keeping a steady beat on duitara and then double bass respectively, and Hay strumming gently on the guitar, it made this a song to savour, both visually and aurally. To finish the first half, Bonello played a song written as a tribute to his grandmother, who used to pick cockles down by the local river. The low notes of the double bass and deep echo of the electric guitar, along with the yellow lighting, created a truly evocative scene of a river at sunset. It made ‘Merch y Morfa’ a beautiful tune with which to close before the break.

The second half opened up with Bonello performing ‘Y Deryn Pûr’ before handing over to Hay for another double header. Asked by his fellow singers to choose a traditional folk song from his home county to perform, a lack of forthcoming material meant that we were treated to two originals by Hay himself instead, both inspired by his local landscape. The first, ‘Radner Lily’, was gorgeously performed under glowing lightbulbs hung from the ceiling. The gentle grace of the electric guitar and accompanying harp led to a delightful skip into the second song, ‘Water Breaks Its Neck’, from Hay’s forthcoming album. Ruth then performed ‘Week of Pines’ from her latest album to rapturous applause and cheering from the audience – a clear fan favourite. Bonello then treated us to two tunes written specially as part of his PhD on the duitara. This Indian folk instrument proved a fascinating listen on both ‘Maid Marian’ and ‘Diamonds’, the former’s medieval associations really evoked by the sound of this four-stringed cousin of the guitar. It was then back to Hay for a performance of an as-yet-untitled song that I recognised from his recent gig at Focus Wales. It was excellent then, and with the addition of the double bass here, it was by far another standout moment of the night.

To finish, Bonello, Ruth and Hay took to the forefront of the stage to perform off mic. With only the harmonium for company, once Bonello had found the right vocal range, the three performed a gorgeous final number that was received extremely well by the audience. It rounded off an impressive night. They left the audience wanting more. Any nerves they may have been feeling did not show. There was no sense of awkwardness or any hint that this was their first time performing together. And after such a positive reaction, my guess is that it won’t be the last. Keep your eye out for future dates. I’d be surprised if there isn’t more to come.

gareth
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