Gareth Williams

If my life were to be described on Twitter, my 140 characters would probably include: Amateur Baker, TV Lover, Welsh Learner, Contemplative Christian, One-time Alien Voiceover, Country Music Convert, Anxious Introvert I love the arts and am passionate about the importance of their place within society, whether that be TV, radio, film, literature, the theatre, social media, the list could go on... Here's to the creatives of the world!

Review, Kitty MacFarlane, Record Journal Live, Gwaenysgor Village Hall by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

On a cold Autumn evening, I ventured through the country lanes of North East Wales to the village of Gwaenysgor. It seems a very innocuous place to attend a gig with one of folk music’s brightest upcoming stars. Yet the small village hall, nestled in a corner just off the main road, was the perfect setting for an evening with Kitty MacFarlane. No sound system. No microphone. No fancy stage lighting. This was just Kitty and her acoustic guitar.

Hosted by the Record Journal Live, this wasn’t your average concert. In many ways, this was the epitome of a gig organised and run by people who are passionate about bringing live music to the local community. There’s something quite special about wandering in and finding your name written on a piece of paper, ready to be ticked off; being handed a cup of tea in a random mug that’s been poured out of a stainless steel teapot; entering into a hall whose tables and chairs have had to be laid out beforehand. No technology. No paid bar staff. Just a warm and friendly atmosphere into which MacFarlane’s gentle vocals and whimsical guitar chords beautifully contribute.

Beginning with ‘Only Human’, MacFarlane proceeded with a delectable mixture of stories and songs. It was a fascinating insight into both her songwriting process as well as her wider world. From it, I sensed a deep affinity with nature. There was clearly a deep connection to her local area too – the Somerset Levels. To be given a context to songs like ‘Man, Friendship’, written in response to the 2014 floods, a picture of which adorns the cover of her debut album, gave them an extra dimension. Told with light humour and gentle passion by MacFarlane meant that they became ever more compelling too. Such light humour peppered most of her anecdotes. Her passion was especially evident when it came to ‘Glass Eels’. Introducing the song, she recounted how she’d spent a day with some wildlife conservationists, studying these fascinating creatures. Such an experience clearly left its mark on her, her continuing interest in eels all too evident and somewhat infectious too. It gave a real insight into the careful crafting that has gone into each of her songs. Every one featured in this set had a tale to tell, and was sung with tender conviction.

One of the most captivating moments in this set came during her rendition of David Francey’s ‘Saints and Sinners’. With the guitar placed to one side, this was Kitty MacFarlane truly unplugged. If it wasn’t enough to enjoy the sole sound of her melodious voice, once the familiarity of the chorus had been claimed by the audience, they joined in with her to create a finish to the song that was truly transcendental and awe-inspiring. It perfectly encapsulated the emotion of the whole evening.

Kitty MacFarlane is as warm and welcoming offstage as she is on. She has received huge commendations for her debut album Namer of Clouds, and rightly so. It is a superb record that deserves your listening ear. In some respects, the twee surroundings of a local community hall is exactly where you expect her to be. To hear her live is a real treat. To be in such an intimate environment when you do is a bonus. The Record Journal has tapped into something here. They’ve kept it sweet and simple. On this occasion, it suited MacFarlane’s performance perfectly. Stripped back and laid bare, this was folk at its finest. A concert that was well worth attending.

Click here for tour dates and further info.

gareth

Review, Lord of the Flies, Theatr Clwyd/Sherman Theatre Co-Production by Gareth Williams

(3 / 5)

The all-female cast of Lord of the Flies, a Theatr Clwyd and Sherman Theatre co-production, may have caused a stir in some quarters. But, for me, it’s actually one of the least interesting aspects of the production. This adaptation of William Golding’s 1954 novel translates the characters from page to stage seamlessly. It is their unique and distinct personalities, and the interactions between them, that fascinate most. The gender, as well as race, of the actors on stage very quickly becomes superfluous. I hope that, after all the hype and controversy, Jodie Whittaker’s introduction as the 13th Doctor next week will have a similar effect.

Director Emma Jordan has chosen to explode this production onto the stage. Sitting comfortably in my seat, the sudden detonation of light and sound to begin the play made me jump out of my skin. It was terrifying. Yet the exhilaration was equally palpable. It doesn’t take long for the characters, stranded on a desert island after their plane crashes, to establish themselves in the minds of the audience. The sensible Piggy (Gina Fillingham), the humble Ralph (Lola Adaja), and the vitriolic Jack (Kate Lamb) are as familiar here as they are in the pages of Golding’s book. Nigel Williams’ script remains relatively faithful to the novel, whilst condensing the action into a tightly-framed two hour performance. This means that the narrative skips along nicely. Yet the big moments still have plenty of room to breathe, resulting in some dramatic scenes that ooze tension and leave tangible space for reflection in their wake.

Far removed from her lovely persona as Delia Busby in Call the Midwife, Lamb seems to relish the role of Jack. The harsh delivery of her early criticism towards Fillingham’s sweetly amusing Piggy makes her character instantly dislikeable. Lamb appears at pains to place her character as the central antagonist through her brash and bold movements alongside the venomous verbal outbursts contained in Williams’ script. Such characterisation presents a confidence and commandeering that translates itself into a vision of leadership that can seem right and proper. It is in stark contrast to the pragmatic Ralph, played by Adaja. Her presence is less about physical flare. Instead, it is a more contained performance that sees the character wrestling internally with conflicting ideas and sentiments. This is conveyed brilliantly by Adaja through far more subtle movement than we get from Lamb. Combined with more strain and staccato in her vocal expression, Adaja demonstrates both the humility and self-doubt that lie at the heart of Ralph. This makes her, to all intents and purposes, a far more qualified leader, in my view. Yet this is a vision of leadership that is so often judged as weak and ineffective. The dynamic between these two, very different characters is, I believe, of huge relevance today, not least in the context of local, national, and global politics.

When I encounter Lord of the Flies, it is the use and misuse of power that fascinates. It is a theme that goes beyond gender. It speaks of the human condition. Therefore, to argue that changing the gender of the characters is problematic is, in my opinion, nonsense. Not that it is completely irrelevant. After the show, I overheard one female audience member comment that girls can be just as savage as boys. Would this observation have been made without the female-only cast? To offer an alternative (female) perspective, one that still remains sadly lacking in contemporary theatre, is important. But it is by no means one of the main reasons why this production is worth seeing. It is worth seeing because it features a very talented and dynamic cast who work brilliantly together to create an engaging and interesting adaptation of Lord of the Flies. Add in some well-placed music and very effective use of lighting and it makes for a bold and challenging dramatization of a narrative whose themes still resonate strongly today. In the end, this is simply a great story, well told.

Click here for tickets.

gareth

Review, Talk of This Town, Catherine McGrath by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

Catherine McGrath represents the next stage in the UK country music revolution. I say this because it is not just BBC Radio 2 that are championing her. Scott Mills and others have been playing the 21-year-old’s music over on Radio 1 too. Her debut album Talk of This Town is bursting with the kind of country-pop that made a certain Taylor Swift known to the mainstream. In that case, it might not be one for the country music purists. But for those of us who like the lyrical emphasis and authenticity of the genre, McGrath serves up a real treat.

Talk of This Town is essentially the soundtrack to the past three years of her life. Adopting a heart-on-sleeve approach to her storytelling, McGrath is open, honest and vulnerable about her relationships. It has the effect of making them relatable in such a way that even I, a 27-year-old male, could find solace in some of her songs. I say this because their themes resonate beyond the boundaries of their mostly romantic settings. For example, opening track ‘Talk of This Town’ presents the image of a person who doesn’t quite fit in (tick), who has been continuously shot down (tick), and whose dreams are waiting to be burned down at the first signs of fear or failure (tick). The more I listened to this song, the more I could see myself in it, and the more I gained inspiration from McGrath’s ultimately positive outlook.

The further one goes into the album, the more McGrath’s honesty and vulnerability transcend the catchy pop riffs of her songs. They may be coated in music that makes you want to dance, but contained within are raw and revealing emotions that are comforting, hopeful and inspiring in equal measure. For example, ‘Just in Case’ is underpinned by uncertainty, ‘Dodged a Bullet’ reveals hidden emotional scars, and ‘Thought It Was Gonna Be Me’ is a harsh lesson in heartbreak. This latter song is beautifully complimented by its predecessor ‘Wild’, the epitome of McGrath’s blend of honest storytelling and infectious country-pop music. ‘Wild’ is probably the standout track on Talk of This Town, followed closely behind by ‘Lost in the Middle’, which has the most stupendous chorus. Both tracks are heavily-laden with guitars, whilst the addition of the banjo gives each a sprinkling of country and western flavour. This seems to be the favoured musical mixture for McGrath, and it works well, despite what country music critics such as David West and Duncan Warwick might argue.

Talk of This Town is a wonderful collection of songs that might be influenced by the sound of Taylor Swift but are written from the heart of Catherine McGrath herself. They are a beautifully blended set of country-pop songs that draw comparisons not only with Swift but Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris too. There is a Kacey Musgraves-like honesty to her storytelling that definitely leans towards the hopeless romantic of Musgraves’ Golden Hour. Yet despite this emphasis it remains hugely relatable, largely because McGrath presents her experiences in such a way that the themes contained within them become identifiable beyond their specific context. She is the outsider, the dreamer, playing second fiddle and without much romantic luck. Yet in spite of her experiences she remains positive and inspired. You need only listen to the music that she combines with her lyrics to realise this.

Catherine McGrath is a real talent. She is going to go far, not just because she is making great music but because she is a genuinely lovely person too. The response to the release of Talk of This Town was evidence enough that she is fast winning a legion of fans. Her autumn tour will surely be the last in which she plays the UK’s smaller venues. The larger arenas beckon. It won’t be long before this talented (for so long supporting) artist becomes a regular fixture at the top of the festival bill. And she truly deserves it.

Click here to view her website.

gareth

Series Review, Hidden, BBC Cymru Wales by Gareth Williams

(3 / 5)

When one looks back over 2018, Keeping Faith is sure to come out on top in the world of Welsh television drama. It has been a huge success. Its latest stop on its incredible journey is primetime BBC One. It goes from strength to strength, and will certainly deserve all the accolades that come its way. In amidst all the hype of this brilliant series however, it has been easy to overlook another Welsh drama that has been airing over the past two months on BBC Wales and BBC Four respectively. Produced by the creator of another Welsh hit drama Hinterland, Ed Talfan, Hidden has been allowed to bubble away below the surface of Keeping Faith’s success. I would suggest that this is primarily because it is a crime drama. And though I would agree, to a certain extent, with some of the groans that accompany the thought of yet another one hitting our screens, it does at least offer something a little different. There is a slight spin on the achingly familiar.

The twist in Hidden’s tale is the revelation of the killer at the outset. The opening scene sees a girl running through the woods, pursued by an unknown man. This girl is subsequently found dead. The investigation that unravels across the whole of the series centres on finding this girl’s killer. Such a task is given to local detectives Cadi John (Sian Reece Williams) and Owen Vaughan (Sion Alun Davies). But whilst they are in the dark over the killer’s identity, the viewer is given unprecedented access into the life of Dylan Harris, played brilliantly by Rhodri Meilir. A strange, sensitive and brutalised figure, Harris lives with his mother and daughter in an old farmhouse deep within a forest of the Snowdonia National Park. It turns out that he is a serial abductor of young women. Having let his latest catch go, we witness his unsuccessful attempt at abducting a local farm girl. Then, as the pieces of the drama’s puzzle start to come together á la The Bridge, he claims the life of long-suffering student Megan Ruddock (a standout performance from Gwyneth Keyworth). What follows is a tense thriller that follows both the police investigation and Harris’ narrative simultaneously. As a result, it involves the viewer deeply in its various twists and turns over the course of its eight episode run.

Despite the fact that the central crime isn’t particularly original, Hidden remains worthy of some praise for the performances of two of its central actors: Rhodri Meilir and Gwyneth Keyworth. Episode four in particular, which is wholly focused on Dylan and Megan, is a deeply uncomfortable yet utterly compelling hour of television. It is made so by their noteworthy performances. Firstly, Meilir brings a vulnerability and gentleness to the role of Dylan that will be recognisable to fans of the sitcom My Family, in which he played the hapless Alfie. Yet this vulnerability and gentleness are subverted as a result of the abuse Dylan has suffered at the hands of his mother (Gillian Elisa). As a result, they manifest themselves in an extremely dark and dangerous way, far from the comforting confines of the Harper household. Meilir manages to express such complexity at the heart of his character in such a way that the viewer is both sympathetic yet repulsed by him. To extract such opposing emotions is testament to Meilir and his ability to play such a broken and complex figure. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Keyworth produces an emotionally raw performance as Megan, a student whose mental anguish (outwardly shown in the form of self-harm) is exacerbated by her abduction. It is an incredibly challenging role that Keyworth manages to embody wholeheartedly. As a result, she is powerfully believable as Megan. It is easy to forget sometimes, in the course of the series, that what is witnessed is a dramatic reconstruction. Keyworth plays it in such a way that it seems horribly real. For me, it is one of the most engrossing performances in a British TV drama this year.

With a stunning backdrop that shows off the bleak, mountainous terrain of North West Wales in all its magnificent and austere glory, Hidden may not be revolutionary but it is still worth watching. With some excellent performances from the cast and a slightly different take on the conventional crime narrative, it has enough going for it to keep viewers coming back for more. If you like your crime dramas dark and disturbing, then Hidden is certainly for you. It may not be Keeping Faith but it nevertheless showcases the fantastic talent coming out of Wales at the moment at every level, from production to acting, storytelling to editing. This is very exciting. With hopefully more fantastic ‘Made in Wales’ dramas to come, the Welsh TV landscape looks like going from strength to strength.

Click here to watch the full series.

gareth

Review Home, I’m Darling, A Theatr Clwyd/ National Theatre Co-production by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

Travelling along the sun-drenched roads of North Wales in the heat of an early July evening, I wondered whether it was the right time to be going to sit in a theatre. But Home, I’m Darling is worth suffering a bit of sweat for. It may have been warm in the Emlyn Williams Theatre, but that did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying Laura Wade’s brand-new play. With a sizzling set, a bunch of colourful characters, and a blooming good narrative blossoming with resonant themes, this is a must-see for the summer.

As I entered the auditorium, I gasped with amazement at the sheer size and scope of the set. To be greeted by a full scale model of a house was not what I expected. I was positively overwhelmed by the sheer level of detail in its interiors and furnishings. The work of designer Anna Fleishle and her team is nothing short of remarkable. It transports us immediately into the world of the 1950s, where we meet a “sickeningly happy” couple played by Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Humans) and Richard Harrington (Hinterland, Lark Rise to Candleford). Parkinson plays the doting housewife to Harrington’s sporting gentleman. Set to the music of Mr Sandman, there is an air of pristine perfection about this opening scene. The song exudes a dream-like state in which these two characters exist and, indeed, as Harrington’s Johnny pops on his hat and coat, takes his lunchbox packed by Parkinson’s Judy, and kisses his wife goodbye, it all feels rather like a Sunday afternoon TV movie. So when Parkinson pulls out an iPad from a drawer, it creates a moment of dissonance that reverberates on the saccharine glass of this play’s squeaky –clean window.

Parkinson gives an accomplished performance as Judy, an idealist who delights in the idea of immersing herself in the 1950s by becoming a full-time housewife. It is not just the décor that oozes a nostalgic charm. Along with some incredibly elegant dresses, Parkinson’s slightly RP-toned accent and gliding movement paint a picture of a simple existence far removed from the complications of modern life. Judy is a woman who has chosen this life of frugality and servitude. Parkinson has her defend this choice with the kind of razor-sharp wit that is a staple of her acting persona. Even the impassioned speech of her feminist mother (Sian Thomas) seems to have little effect on her. It is a succinct and timely reminder of all that women have fought for over the past 100 years. It may not have broken through the resolute edge that Parkinson provides Judy with, but it was powerful to hear as an audience member. Such a resolute appearance is marked by an air of vulnerability however. Judy has lost herself in the pursuit of her ‘50s dream. It is left to Johnny to help her find herself again. Harrington invests warmth and loving care into his character. He could not be further removed from his troubled and brooding character in Hinterland. When he does get angry, it is a tone that will be familiar to fans of the BBC Wales crime drama. It seems that anger is what Harrington does best. Yet there is a distinctly soft side to Johnny that shows another side to Harrington’s acting ability that I’ve not seen before. It was refreshing to see, and proves his worth as one of Wales’ finest contemporary actors.

Sadly, we don’t get to see near enough of another of Wales’ finest. In my opinion, Sara Gregory is up there with Eve Myles in terms of her acting ability and characterisation. Her turn as branch manager and Johnny’s boss Alex in Home, I’m Darling is short but unsurprisingly sweet. She brings a professional charisma and expert flair to her character that makes her a formidable force for the short time she is on stage. When her, Parkinson and Harrington are together, it is one of the most electrifying scenes of the whole play. Kathryn Drysdale and Barnaby Kay complete the cast, both giving solid performances as husband and wife duo Fran and Marcus. Such is the quality of their characterisation that they could easily be the lead characters in another story. It is testament to Laura Wade’s writing that, instead, we have them occupying this space as minor, but no less significant, characters to Parkinson and Harrington’s leads.

Due to move to the National Theatre in London later this month, Home, I’m Darling is worth catching if you are in or around North East Wales. Director Tamara Harvey and her team have again excelled themselves with a production that is just as, if not even more memorable, than 2017’s Uncle Vanya. The set is certainly as iconic as the one created for Uncle Vanya, and the cast that has been assembled is again oozing with quality. Katherine Parkinson feels like she was made for the part of Judy. Richard Harrington is brilliant as her husband Johnny. Sara Gregory and the rest of the cast are given characters that could quite easily be lead parts in an alternative version of events. Massive credit must go to Laura Wade for creating such an inventive and mesmeric play. She has created something that perfectly encapsulates the zeitgeist, and that includes the weather at present. Amidst the current spell of sunny weather, it is worth venturing indoors for an evening in order to see this wonderfully colourful creation.

Click here for more info.

gareth

Gareth Williams

Review, Island Town, A Theatr Clwyd/ Paines Plough Co-Production by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

The Roundabout Theatre makes a welcome return to North Wales sporting a rather distinct yellow exterior. If you’ve not heard of it before, this is a theatre like no other. Assembled from flat pack with nothing but an Allen key, once complete, it is a fully self-contained, intimate little theatre that houses some of the most fantastic new plays in Britain. One of those plays is Island Town, which I was lucky enough to see last week. This 80-minute story of small town life could be described as a dramatic stage version of the BBC3 comedy This Country. Still full of humour but with a darker political edge, Island Town focuses on the lives of three friends trying to get by in a place that offers very little in the way of meaningful activity. With only the hope of escape, they settle, for the time being, on hanging out with one another, getting drunk on cider and looking ahead to the start of their adult lives. But when school’s out and exams are over, they find that it’s not so easy getting by in a place where there’s nothing to do. And escaping is not as easy as it sounds.

Writer Simon Longman has done a sterling job in creating a simple yet powerful narrative. He has created three well-formed characters that all three actors seem to comfortably step into and make their own. It is their relationships that drive the story forward, and make this piece particularly engaging. Whilst I am sad that the wonderful Katie Elin-Salt is not part of the cast this year, the production company, Paines Plough, have nevertheless found three excellent actors to play the roles. Katherine Pearce, in particular, has proved to be a real coup. I say this because she steals the show as Kate, an angry and assertive young carer who feels trapped by the need to look after her ill father. Pearce crackles with antagonistic rage. She places Kate as the centre of attention, a position which seems to strengthen her resolve whilst simultaneously covering up her vulnerability. Such is her pragmatic insistence and strong-willed notions that the three of them must escape the confines of their hometown that we, like Sam (Charlotte O’Leary) and Pete (Jack Wilkinson), agree to go along with her. Yet the consequences of such a decision are damaging to say the least. From here, Pearce slowly allows her character’s vulnerability to creep up to the surface. She causes the fragile state of her character to painstakingly crack through its steely confines. Such a move makes for an emotive performance, and makes Pearce herself one-to-watch.

Both O’Leary and Wilkinson give good support to Pearce in her more central role. In particular, Wilkinson brings a wonderful humorous naivety to his character. He deposits real warmth into his performance that evokes much laughter from the audience, particularly as he spins a fantastic web of outrageous stories, the highlight of which has to be his cremation for a fish. You can’t help but love him, which is why the injustice that he subsequently suffers elicits very strong feelings. In this instance, Longman makes Pete a political mouthpiece for the small town unemployed. He notes that there are no jobs in the local area. With no means of earning money, he must sign on. Yet he can’t sign on as he hasn’t got enough money for the train to the out-of-town job centre. There are no buses, and he can’t drive either. The non-specificity of Island Town’s setting means that it speaks generally into the heart of rural British life, of “Towns that sit like islands in the middle of fields”. Longman shines a sharp spotlight on the realities of small town life, making this not only a humorous play but a very relevant one too.

Island Town is a funny, thought-provoking play of minimalist proportions. At the same time, its message is somewhat universal. At one end, it captures the wonderful creativity that can arise from sheer boredom. On the other hand, it reveals the desperation that can result from a lack of amenities. Katherine Pearce gives a strong emotive performance as Kate, ably joined by Charlotte O’Leary and Jack Wilkinson. The three capture life in a small town incredibly well. With no props or no scenery, they still manage to draw us into their world and make it incredibly real. I’d recommend you catch it, if not in Mold then elsewhere. That’s the beauty of this pop-up theatre. It can pop up anywhere.

Click here to find out more.

gareth

Review, Ghost of You, Megan O’Neill by Gareth Williams

(3 / 5)

Irish singer-songwriter Megan O’Neill has just released a beautiful debut album that I would highly recommend listening to. Ghost of You is a lovely collection of songs that represent a wonderful opportunity for some easy listening on a summer’s afternoon. Served as a main course of ballads with a side of electric guitar-infused pop, it is a delectable album that gently tantalises the taste buds. You certainly wouldn’t refuse more.

Opening track Don’t Come Easy sets the scene, creating an expansive space which O’Neill fills with her gorgeous vocals. The electric guitar here helps open up the stage so that when we enter into the slow, soulful sound of Let’s Make One Up, its full potential can be realised. With a great guitar solo and the lovely addition of an electric organ, this is a fabulous blues-inspired track that ensures the walls around this album remain wide and open for the rest of its duration. Into this space, O’Neill then steps to sing a succession of piano-laden ballads, each one beautiful in its own way. The title track is one that could easily make it onto a mainstream radio playlist, reminding me of a stripped back version of an Anne Marie or Dua Lipa song. To place O’Neill alongside these artists is also to say that her vocals are second-to-none. In some ways, it is all about the voice. Whether echoed (Treading Water), amplified (Don’t Say It’s Over), emotionally-charged (Any Younger) or naturalistic (Lost a Love), here is an artist whose voice is the defining feature in every song. Perhaps that’s why the ballad suits Megan O’Neill so much. Instead of drawing you in, she fills the space; rather than edging closer to her, she comes to you. It is a different kind of closeness and intimacy. It works well.

My personal favourite on this album has to be Bottle. Having recently listened to Mind of Mine by Lisa Wright, there seems to be an alcoholic theme emerging in my UK country music collection. Both artists seem to be seeking solace in the wine bottle. Whereas Wright’s troubles are told in a musically-dissonant way though, O’Neill takes a much more familiar line, pouring her despair and yearning into a big vocal performance full of aching emotion. It doesn’t make it any less relatable though.

Following close behind in the standout tracks on Ghost of You is the final song, Lost a Love. Despite thinking that catchy crowd-pleaser Good Love would be the one that would stick in my head afterwards, I actually found Lost a Love to be the song that left an indelible mark on my mind. It is what I call a “proper country ballad”. It evokes the likes of Emmylou Harris or Beth Nielsen Chapman in its simplicity, reflectivity and poignancy. Moreover, there is so much emotional vitality and variety in O’Neill’s voice here. It is absolutely compelling. Truly four minutes to savour.

No wonder Megan O’Neill has reached No.1 in the Irish country music charts, shared a stage with Miranda Lambert and Kip Moore, and appeared numerous times at C2C. She has an immense voice and a great songwriting talent which combine here to make a truly wonderful album. As debuts go, Ghost of You is more than pretty good. Full of ballads dealing with love and loss, it is engaging on every level. I’d encourage you to check it out.

Click here to sample some of her tracks.

Review, Parch, S4C by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

Last Sunday evening, I spent a good ten minutes with my hand firmly placed over my mouth. In the final episode of S4C drama series Parch, there was such an unexpected twist that I simply hadn’t seen coming. In my own words, ‘Well, that was a bombshell and a half’. To think that this is it, that we will no longer be following the crazy and chaotic life of the Reverend Myfanwy Elfed, is more than a little sad. Yet writer and creator Fflur Dafydd has reached the conclusion that this is a good time to say farewell to this most lovable of protagonists. It’s a little frustrating. Carys Eleri has brought such warmth and wit to her character that it has always been a pleasure to share in her company of a Sunday evening. But if she must go, then she has gone in the most beautifully tragic of ways. It felt like Dafydd always knew how this series was going to end. It made the final scenes no less surprising though. And for someone who has journeyed with Myfanwy through all three series, the emotional impact of this final section certainly hit hard.

It is only retrospectively looking back at the narrative arc of the main character that you begin to see the full artistic vision of Fflur Dafydd for Parch. As such, although gutted that this is the end of the road, I applaud her for having the conviction to draw a natural line in the sand and stick to it. So many TV drama series’ these days have a tendency to drag on a bit too long, remaining on our screens on the basis of their initial commercial success. What would have been the right time to stop is made into a springboard in an attempt to give fans more of what they love. Yet for so many it is like carrying on after reaching the edge of a cliff. Few fly. Many fall. As a result, I’m rather glad that Dafydd has refused to bow to the desires of people like me who want to see Parch continue. Instead, it will remain an ever-affectionate drama in my mind rather than a hoped-for return to a glorious past. Not that the series has to end due to Myfanwy’s absence. It is testament to the strength of Fflur Dafydd’s writing that, over the course of these three series, the focus has been as much on the other characters as the cleric of the title. As such, although initially a contemporary representation of a female priest within the Church in Wales, the series has also seen a broader focus on the trials and tribulations of the Elfed family and those around them. We have been involved as much with Gwenlli (Non Haf) and her struggles with her sexuality, for example, as we have been with Myfanwy and her faith. This final series, in particular, has been such an enjoyable watch in part due to Dafydd’s ability to hold the various storylines onscreen together. She has woven romance, mystery, fantasy, and family drama together so brilliantly that, in the end, it has become an ensemble piece. But, ultimately, it would be odd to continue in her absence. Even if she were to be like the ghostly visions that have accompanied her throughout the series’, somehow it wouldn’t be the same. In the end, Fflur Dafydd has made the right decision to bring Parch to a close.

Parch is another example of the high quality television drama that is currently being produced in Wales. As I’ve said recently, I think this is something a golden age for Welsh television drama. Having watched it alongside Keeping Faith, I can honestly say that Parch ranks just as highly in my view. It may not have won the plaudits that Keeping Faith has, but it has shown a quiet strength, epitomised by Carys Eleri’s performance. Whilst Eve Myles showcased her bold and brash physicality in Keeping Faith, Eleri has brought a humorous vigour and subtle power to her character in Parch. In doing so, she leaves behind an indelible mark of a veracious female lead who will be sorely missed.

So thank you, Fflur Dafydd. You may have left me in tears at the end, but the past three series have been a joy to watch. Parch will be missed.

Series Review, Keeping Faith, BBC Wales by Gareth Williams

(4 / 5)

Having just watched the final episode of Keeping Faith on BBC Wales, I’m asking myself: Is this a golden age for Welsh television drama? Hinterland was critically-acclaimed. Bang featured in the national press. Gwaith/Cartref continues to be a marker for quality Welsh-language drama. Parch has just entered its third series. And Craith will be broadcast in the English language later this year as Hidden. It appears that one cannot move for drama made in Wales. And it’s about time too. Gone are the days when S4C was presumed to be solely for first-language Welsh speakers. Once, BBC Wales-backed dramas were so few and far between that their broadcast almost felt like a national event. Now, subtitles are no longer a barrier, in large part thanks to the phenomenal success of The Killing. Meanwhile, BBC Wales will be following up Keeping Faith with Hidden later this year.

Of course, quantity does not automatically mean quality. However, in the case of the above, quality most certainly matches the output. In terms of Keeping Faith, this has not only been reflected in its incredible cast of Welsh actors but in the gripping storyline and its atmospheric soundtrack. So, if you haven’t managed to catch it yet, here are three reasons why you should go to BBC iPlayer and download the series:

Eve Myles

Fans of Torchwood and Broadchurch will already know the brilliance of Eve Myles. Personally, I’ve run out of superlatives to describe her acting skills. Here, she plays the lead character Faith, wife to Evan (Bradley Freegard), mother to three children, and a lawyer in her husband’s family firm. One Wednesday morning, her life is turned upside-down when Evan leaves home and disappears without trace. Over the course of the next eight episodes, we see this strong, no-nonsense woman face the most challenging emotional, professional and personal pressures of her life. In doing so, Myles produces a character of incredible complexity with seeming simplicity. She manages to wholly embody her character and, as such, Faith’s every expression is drenched in meaning. There is a moment in episode two, for instance, when her vacant stare manages to reveal a plethora of internal emotion. We see her frustration, pain, anger, sadness and confusion all packed tightly into that single expression. Only the best actors can convey so much through doing so little. This is not to say that Myles’ natural physicality does not also enhance the strength of her performance. There is a wonderful moment in episode six, in the boardroom of the law firm, where Faith’s frustration and joy is brilliantly conveyed through the movement of Myles. In this same episode, when Faith is in conversation with Gael Reardon (Angeline Bell), Myles moves so quickly from a smile to a frown that it adds a light humour to the serious nature of the circumstances. In so doing, we learn so much about her character. It is these small moments, in which so much is communicated, that make this such a standout performance. She really is one of the best actresses of her generation.

The Music of Amy Wadge

Alongside Eve Myles, the music has got to be the star of this show. It is beautifully constructed, weaving in and out of the series like the ripples of water in the opening titles. Written, composed and performed by Amy Wadge, it is gorgeous in its simplicity and captivating in its tone. It is a bit of a coup to land a woman who has written songs for some of the biggest stars in the music industry (Ed Sheeran and Kacey Musgraves among them). Yet her star quality is surely what elevates this soundtrack to become a powerful narrator within the series. Wadge has clearly spent time with the character of Faith, connecting so deeply with the character’s emotions that at times the music speaks what no dialogue could. As such, it perfectly complements Myles’ performance, even enhancing it at times. Before going out to buy the soundtrack however, I would recommend a listen to the Welsh translation, sung by Ela Hughes. If you like the originals, you will love these Welsh-language versions.

The Story

Keeping Faith is first and foremost a drama about family. The mystery of Evan’s disappearance may be the hook, but the central focus is on the family. To this end, Matthew Hall has enabled the series to steer the course of eight episodes without ever overstretching the plot twists or exhausting the narrative threads. It enables us to remain intrigued by the disappearance of Evan whilst giving us a fully formed world of characters all with secrets of their own. As a result, the central mystery becomes laced with other mysteries as the web of family affairs widens. It is not only the marriage of Faith and Evan that is put under the microscope, but those of Tom and Marion (Evan’s parents) and Terry and Bethan (Evan’s sister) too. Add a cast of corrupt police officers, a criminal underworld and a client that has feelings for Faith and there is no shortage of action. All that is left is to give a nod to some of the cast for bringing Hall’s intriguing narrative to life so vividly, among them Mark Lewis Jones (Stella), Aneurin Hughes (Hinterland) and Matthew Gravelle (Broadchurch).

What do you think? Is this a golden age for Welsh drama? And what are among your favourites? Answers on a postcard (or in the comments below).

C2C: Country to Country Festival 2018, 5 UK Country Music Acts to Watch by Gareth Williams

For most people, country music evokes images of Stetsons, cowboy boots and the deserts of the Deep South. And though these are perfectly legitimate symbols, this increasingly popular genre is a whole lot more diverse than one might ordinarily assume. To gain some understanding of how broad a church this music really is, I would recommend a visit to the annual C2C: Country to Country Festival which takes place at the O2 Arena in London. Here, you will find an incredible range of sounds that might seem completely opposite to one another and yet, in the world of country music, sit happily alongside each other in perfect harmony. There is no better example of this than from this year’s event, which I have recently returned from. Within a couple of hours on Sunday night, there featured mod-inspired rock, gospel-infused folk, and bass-laden pop. In no other genre would you get such an array of musical styles playing to the same enthusiastic audience, one after the other. Yet this is the joy of country music. It embraces almost every musical style. The only necessary ingredient is good storytelling.

Country music is a genre that is growing in popularity on both sides of the pond. But its rise in Britain has been especially notable in the last couple of years. Many point to the emergence of The Shires as the starting point for the growing interest here. Indeed, their debut single Nashville (Grey Skies) resulted in my own conversion to country. Whether it began before then, there is little doubt that their subsequent success has opened a door for British country music artists, and the success of C2C has further demonstrated a huge appetite for the genre. Having attended the event for the first time last weekend, it was so pleasing to see and hear the quality of the British acts on show. Don’t get me wrong, the Main Stage concerts, featuring the big stars of American country, were incredible. Yet I was especially excited by the range and wealth of talent on show from this side of the Atlantic. To this end, I would recommend any number of review sites to read about the fabulous talent that was on show from across the pond. Here, I simply want to highlight five British country music acts in particular that I think you should look out for in the coming weeks and months:

Elles Bailey

Bristol-based Elles Bailey combines rock, blues and country to create a mature, soulful sound. Her high-energy performance went down a storm on the Big Entrance stage. Touring to smaller venues around the UK and Europe, be sure to check her out. You are sure to be thoroughly entertained.

Katy Hurt

Soaked in country music from a young age, Katy Hurt is now maturing into one of the UK’s finest singer/songwriters. With a debut album on the way, these are exciting times for this young female artist who is a great advocate for country music here in the UK.

Clara Bond

Having discovered Clara Bond during my early forays into Twitter, I was already well acquainted with her music before seeing her play live on the Busking stage at the weekend. Her debut EP Out of Towners is a brilliant record, full of country pop vibes and catchy lyrics. She is definitely one of my top female UK country music artists to listen to.

The Adelaides

If you love the gorgeous harmonies of Wildwood Kin and Ward Thomas then The Adelaides are sure to be your thing. These three girls create such beautiful melodies and have such a sweet rapport on stage. Be warned though. You’ll never look at jelly babies in the same way again after their song of the same name…

Twinnie

Why hasn’t this lady released an album yet?! With vocals to rival that of Imelda May and a sparkling personality to boot, Twinnie is surely going to be a major breakthrough act at some point in the near future. A Yorkshire lass with a dry wit and a soulful sound, I think it’s fair to say that she’s the Kate Rusby of the country music world.

These guys are just a small selection of the fabulous talent that is emerging on the UK country music scene. Exciting times are ahead, of that there is no doubt!