Crasdant, October 13, 2006, First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, Arlington, MA
Crasdant plays music to warm your heart and tells tales to tickle your funnybone. This Welsh band played on a wet windy night that, they said, reminded them of home. The two sets of instrumental music for flute, harp, fiddle, and guitar, with an impressive bit of clog dancing thrown in were varied and fascinating, and the evening was over too soon. The concert was part of the excellent Celtic music calendar put together by Music-For-Robin, in the same venue as Pipeline.
Robin Huw Bowen played the spectacular triple harp. The man-tall harp, with three sets of strings, is tremendously impressive just standing in a room. It is, Robin told us dramatically, "the throbbing, pulsating heart of Welsh music" and when played as Robin plays it, the tone and the flow of the music is magnificent.
I realize that I've just used a lot of superlatives, but it merits them. This instrument is a superstar. That makes it all the more surprising that Crasdant doesn't put the harp out front all the time. The group played as a true ensemble, sharing the melody between the triple harp and Andy Mclauchlin on the flute, and the ringer in the group: the very talented Chris Bain (of Chicago), subbing in on fiddle for the absent Stephen Rees.
If anything, the melodic lead was usually taken by Andy -- on flute, but also playing whistle and pigborn. The pigborn, or hornpipe, is as nasal and penetrating as bagpipes, and literally made from the horns of cattle. Andy made it a pleasant companion to the fiddle and harp, which I imagine is quite a trick.
Although Huw Williams didn't take the lead on guitar or knee harp, he captured the limelight with both his excellent Welsh clog dancing and his delightful, magnificent lies about the international adventures of Robin's harp. The harp, Robin told us, went to the Dominican Republic when the band went to Florida. Huw embroidered on that -- the harp not only led a revolution, but, he told us, became president of that country. (He didn't explain how it was lured back into Robin's arms.) If you hadn't known before the concert that the Welsh are famous storytellers, it was evident before the end.
Huw's clogging was also delightful. I'm familiar with Appalachian clogging and Northwest English clogging, but the steps of Welsh clogging are different and appealing. Huw, wearing thick wooden clogs, danced around a candle stuck in the neck of a bottle, providing a percussive addition to the music. The climax involved jumping up and snuffing the candleflame between his clogs without rocking the bottle -- wow!
The band played Welsh reels, jigs, slipjigs, airs, a few polkas, a swing tune, and one jazzy finger-snapping number as part of the encore. All the tunes were played expertly and with a lot of spirit. In particular, one standout was a lovely tune that Andy wrote in his mother's honor. One Morris tune crept into a set of reels, a Morris tune played with an unusually fast tempo. But then, as Robin said, if you were Morris dancing in the north of Wales among the miners, you might want to move fast, too.
At it's best, live music provides a balm a troubled soul. I saw Crasdant at the end of a particularly disastrous week (the sort that involves police, ambulances, and tax accountants -- and all the misery associated with them), but by the end of the evening, the misery was gone and my heart was full of both peace and joy. My compliments and thanks to the players.
Sain, their label, has a Web site that has up-to-the-minute information on the band (in Welsh and English).
Reviews mentioning Crasdant on GMR can be found here, here and here.
Reviews mentioning Robin Huw Bowen on GMR can be found here, here (RHB playing with Lafar), here and here (RHB as part of Telyneg).