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Review, Trials of Cato with Tant, Pontio Arts Centre by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

You know you’ve hit on something good when the support act is as good as the headliner. It may have been The Trials of Cato that we had come to see, but it was the five-piece female band Tant that we went away talking about. Running slightly late, we wandered into the theatre at Pontio Arts Centre and were immediately transfixed by their magical and melodic tones. They proceeded through a half hour set that traversed the boundaries of folk and pop with tremendous subtlety, producing a sound that felt highly original and resultantly captivating. All are clearly talented musicians, whether on harp or guitar, but it was their combined vocals that really struck me. Performing acapella on the song ‘Gwydyr Glas’, their voices played together like wind chimes, singing in beautiful harmony whilst also producing distinct tonalities that made this a really fascinating piece to listen to.

At the end of their set, Tant were wildly applauded off stage. Recognising their popularity, The Trials of Cato twice paid tribute to them during their own set, where the praise was again handed out, and deservedly so. It was clearly an inspired choice to have them open. Only the best could follow. The Trials of Cato are certainly that, having already scooped up Best Album at the Folk Awards in spite of their relatively short career. Opening with an instrumental piece before going straight into ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’, these early numbers demonstrated the toe-tappingly catchy rhythms that make their music such a joy to listen to. ‘Haf’ added a lightness of touch to proceedings before ‘Cân John Williams’ was given a Lebanese vibe thanks to a particularly strong instrumental section at its end. The only slight melancholy in the evening came courtesy of ‘My Love’s in Germany’, but even here the performance was more rousing than depressing.

We were then treated to some new material in the form of ‘Dog Valley’, from an album that should be out later this year. It was a track to sit back and enjoy, reminiscent of freestyle jazz and showcasing their skills as truly accomplished musicians. This and ‘Gawain’ are highly recommended for first-time listeners, the latter their “prog rock” offering, which turned this intimate venue into a few thousand seater stadium through excellent lighting and amplified sound. Two favourites in ‘Aberdaron’ and ‘Gloria’ then followed before they closed out with an excellent rendition of ‘Kadisha’. So good was this final number that there was no need for an encore. Indeed, in hindsight, there should not have been one, for it was hijacked by a woman intent on playing tambourine with them on stage. The intervention of security a few moments later meant that any chance of the band making the best of this unexpected entrance was lost. A chorus of boos followed, and the subsequent final song fell a bit flat. It was a disappointing end, but the only blot on what was an otherwise incredible night of Welsh folk music. The strength of and sheer originality on the national scene at the moment is inspiring. The Trials of Cato most definitely reflect that, and after their performance here, Tant are undoubtedly doing the same.

Click here to visit The Trials of Cato’ website.

You can watch Tant perform their song ‘I Ni’ here.

gareth
Gareth Williams

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

Review, the dark, fuel theatre/ovalhouse co-production, at pontio by gareth williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Everyone has a story to tell. The Dark is Nick Makoha’s story. His is a story of a childhood journey from his home in Uganda to the UK. It is a journey across a country that is under siege and extremely dangerous. It is a journey of survival, on a minibus bound for the border. It is a journey of a mother who desires a better life for her son. It is witty. It is thought-provoking. At times, it feels terribly real. As Makoha himself says, it puts ‘a face to the polarising words of refugee and immigrant’.

Featuring Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry in multiple roles, The Dark immerses you in the Ugandan culture of the 1970s. The brutality and oppressiveness of the Idi Amin regime is felt throughout. Yet this play is ultimately about the colourful characters whom Makoha and his mother meet along the way. Balogun and Henry inject such vibrancy into these people. They transition seamlessly between the different characters. It never gets confusing as to who they are portraying. Such transitioning is made even more natural by the excellent use of lighting, as well as their movement around the stage.

The set is simple enough. It features a cluster of chairs underneath a massive overhang filled with boxes and bags. This is clearly the minibus (or ‘mutatu’ in local parlance). In addition, an OHP screen and projector are to one side, keeping us updated on the times and locations of the journey. We also get to see some personal photographs of Makoha’s which flit onto the screen now and again. They act as a gentle and sobering reminder that what we are witnessing is a reconstruction of real events. This is what makes the final scenes in particular all the more powerful.

Although engaging throughout, it is in the final quarter of an hour that The Dark really grips you. With the border now well and truly in sight, the young Makoha and his mother have soldiers hot on their tail. But just as the chance of escape beckons, his mother must make a life-changing decision. It is incredibly tense. Positively gripping. But what makes it even more powerful come the end is the subsequent reaction of the UK border official towards the young Makoha. This final scene left me feeling frustrated and rather angry. And I think that’s what Makoha the writer is looking for. He wants to shake us out of our complacency. To remind us of the responsibility we have towards those who have had little choice but to leave their country of origin because of war and conflict. As such, The Dark is a timely play whose message we would do well to heed.

Nick Makoha

The Dark is Nick Makoha’s story. It is an important story for our time. It may have been made even more powerful if it immersed the audience into its world via the seats on stage. That’s where I felt I should be, compelled, as I was, by the performances of Balogun and Henry to join them on this journey. As it was, this one-act play still made an impact on me in the way that I think it was meant to. I just hope that it is seen by much bigger audiences than witnessed it here in North Wales. It is pertinent. A story that is much needed. There is a power and importance to this individual’s story that cannot be underestimated.

Click here to visit Fuel Theatre’s website.

gareth

Review Llechi, Pontio by Gareth Williams


4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
 
Having missed it first time around, the chance to catch the restaging of Llechi seemed too good to miss. Originally performed as part of Pontio’s opening season, this eclectic mix of visual, musical and aerobatic art forms was a fascinating watch. It was engaging from start to finish, featuring a host of performers, all of whom played their part in making this a thoroughly enjoyable and captivating show. Despite its fluency in the Welsh language (with the exception of poet Martin Daws), I, a humble learner of the lingo, still managed to be entertained and entranced by the spectacle on offer. It was a delightful performance that offered plenty of emotion and a real sense of place.
Originally curated by alt-folk group 9Bach, the Welsh sextet returned to lead a talented cast in this fresh and innovative approach to storytelling. Taking us on a journey through the history, culture and traditions of the slate industry, this performance brought to life, in a new way, the story of local Welsh slate – the people, and the landscape. Full of experimental sounds and a mix of genres, it spans the centuries. This huge timescale is reflected in the song choices: from a spine-tingling rendition of Welsh hymn Dyma’r Gariad to the bass-fuelled beats of ‘90s rave music. There is no clash of musical styles here however. Instead, 9Bach have managed to create a very diverse yet complimentary soundtrack. The changes of tone, mood and tempo that take place throughout are at no point jarring. Instead, with help from the lighting, each transition is smooth and natural. It is something that could so easily have been a disaster. Here, though, it not only works well. It works incredibly well.

Alongside the musical prowess of 9Bach, choreographer Kate Lawrence and her team offered up some stunning physical performances in the air. It helped being seated on the lower balcony to watch these four talented dancers move across the auditorium. It was clear that many of their actions were reflecting the movements of quarrymen. But their pieces also featured an elegance that conveyed something of the local landscape too. Their graceful movements made for a mesmerising sight. But it also brought to mind, as a result, the ethereal and mythic quality of the mountains and the quarries. This was complimented perfectly, at one point in particular, by the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Lisa Jen Brown. Truly evocative, the backdrop of images that featured in the show were sometimes superfluous as a result. It was a strangely immersive experience.

I came away from Llechi desperate to buy the soundtrack. The music was wonderfully inspirational, eclectic and truly evocative of its Welsh setting. 9Bach have delivered a beautiful collaboration that is full of heart. It is a love story that awakens the senses and births a spirit of hope. It says that this land is not forgotten to another age. Instead, it evolves, becoming the place of the next generation who follow in the footsteps of their forbears whilst carving out new paths of their own. Sadly, the soundtrack isn’t available to buy (hint to anyone who may be able to change that.). Nevertheless, it will stick in my mind for a long time to come. Llechi is a truly memorable piece of contemporary Welsh art.
https://www.pontio.co.uk/Online/Default.asp