About Gareth Bonello / The Gentle Good
Gareth Bonello/The Gentle Good is a highly acclaimed songwriter, musician and recording artist that writes in both English and Welsh.
Known for his enchanting melodies, intricate guitar style and beautiful acoustic arrangements, The Gentle Good is the stage-name of Welsh musician Gareth Bonello. Gareth is a captivating interpreter of traditional music and one of the foremost songwriters working in the Welsh tongue today.
A past recipient of both the Welsh Music Prize and the Welsh Language Album of the Year Award, Gareth has built a reputation for successful cross-cultural collaboration. His recordings with artists from China and from the indigenous Khasi communities of Northeast India have garnered international acclaim. The latest album Galargan (Lament), is a stripped-back exploration of traditional Welsh melody that took form during the long isolation of the pandemic. It has received rave reviews, including a rare 5 stars from The Guardian.
As the recipient of the Elan Valley Trust Fellowship for 2021-22, Gareth Bonello spent his time getting to know the landscape, culture and communities of Cwm Elan.
Much of the year was spent staying at Penygarreg Cottage, a residence without wifi, television, phone or radio signal in the heart of the valley. As a zoology graduate and former field ornithologist, he set about observing the wildlife of the region and began researching local history and folklore. He learned the names of the hills and mountains, streams, slopes and moors and began amassing a collection of books on a variety of topics about the area.
Galargan / Elan
Through learning more about the past and present of Cwm Elan, Gareth hoped to better understand contemporary Welsh identity and the nation’s relationship to the political power structures of the United Kingdom. As a result of this work, he has been composing new music inspired by the valley, drawing parallels between the issues and challenges affecting Cwm Elan, the Welsh nation and wider society today.
Gareth turned a spare room in the cottage into a makeshift studio and recorded new material there. Over the course of the year he finished arranging and recording an album of traditional Welsh folk songs called Galargan, and began writring and recording a new album Elan based on his time in the valley. The isolation of the house proved perfect for this task, allowing space to try new ideas without being disturbed or bothering neighbours.
Many of the songs on Galargan are set in rural Wales, telling the stories of shepherds on the hills and the coming of spring and summer. By exploring the landscape and learning about the lives of people that lived there in the past, Gareth developed a deeper connection to these old Welsh songs whilst staying at Penygarreg. He began adding verses that located their stories in Cwm Elan and adapted folk melodies into instrumental pieces themed on the landscape.
Much time was spent walking and learning the Welsh names of the landscape. Many of the names describe the lay of the land, revealing crossing points over rivers or streams, or the route through to the next valley. There are other names that reveal local stories, beliefs or folk tales and many that shine a light on the historic movement of people through the land. These names can be seen on OS maps of course, but walking the landscape imprints those names and meanings clearly and firmly on the mind. Gareth is now working on ways to help visitors and those that don’t speak Welsh to connect with the landscape through the Welsh language.
Gareth was assisted in his research by staff from the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. He was particulatly interested in the history of droving in the area and found there are several ancient routes from Ceredigion to Hereford and beyond that run right through Cwm Elan. With the Eisteddfod in Tregaron in 2022, he saw an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the drovers and made the journey on foot from the valley to Tregaron. In the Eisteddfod he performed a set of songs composed in Cwm Elan at the Tŷ Gwerin (Folk House).
Local artists and those from further afield were invited to visit Gareth at the house and the surrounding area. These included Radnorshire guitarist and composer Toby Hay, the musicians and songwriters Harriet Earis, Ida Wenøe, Samantha Whates and Ivan Moult, visual artist Richard Chitty, textile artist Catherine Davies and the visual artist and musician Andy Fung. Many of these individuals have contributed to the creation of the new album Elan. During the residency Gareth began performing some of the new songs to audiences in the area and worked with Len Carter at ‘The Lost Arc’ in Rhaeadr to put on a gig in March 2021.
This year, Gareth has been finishing the work of recording Elan at a studio in Cardiff. There are songs about the romanticisation of the Welsh landscape and the problems posed by second homes and holiday lets. There are songs about prominent peaks and Welsh placenames, about dark skies and the loss of communities drowned under water. There is a collaboration with Asin Khan Langa and his band SAZ from Rajasthan, which plays on the theme of Elan as the ‘desert of Wales’. There is even a song about the political instability of the past few years and the danger of wreckers, framed around the legend of a local family that would stalk the hills to rob drovers on their way home. Elan scheduled for release in October 2024. Galargan was released in September 2023 and has received high critical acclaim, much of which can surely be attributed to those long winter nights Gareth spent honing the arrangements in Penygarreg cottage.
Twitter/X – @ghbonello
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