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Uncovered Roots: The Joy Formidable On The Welsh Language and Their Debut EP At 10

Monday, 18 November 2019 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Steve Reynolds

Some musicians believe that they have cracked the mystery behind perpetual motion, and that the secret is to never stop inching into the future. There are times, though, when a brief pit stop is a welcome distraction; a chance to reframe and understand past achievements in the context of a body of work. 

The Joy Formidable have just pressed pause. Only a year on from the release of ‘AAARTH’, their fourth LP, the north Walian band have revisited their earliest days with a revamped version of their debut EP ‘A Balloon Called Moaning’. 

Rather than slap some b-sides onto a vinyl reissue, though, the power-trio—guitarist and vocalist Ritzy Bryan, bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matthew James Thomas—have re-recorded it as an acoustic collection and translated its lyrics into Welsh, releasing both versions as a double whammy.

“We’re not particularly nostalgic, to be honest, and I think it’s important to keep on moving forward,” Rhydian says. “That’s the great thing music gives you, it enables you to be in the moment. We don’t look back too much, and we felt like we’d brought something fresh to it by reworking the songs. There’s something creative to go with it. You’re having to get to grips with what the songs were about. A literal translation doesn’t always sound very good, sometimes it doesn’t even fit. We got to know the songs intimately again.”

Titled ‘Y Falŵ​n Drom’, the new version reconnects the group not only to a time in their past but also foregrounds the environment that initially shaped their music. “At the core we’re the same but we’ve been through a lot over the past 10 years,” Rhydian says. “Personally, and together. When you listen to stuff it’s like when you smell something, the senses can really transport you back. 

“It does remind me of the time when me and Ritzy started off the band, essentially in our bedrooms demoing. It was after a crappy disbanding of the previous band we had, and we were just not thinking about anything other than having fun with it. We just really enjoyed losing ourselves in these recordings, getting to grips with the computer and using that tool as much as the acoustic guitar or whatever.”

‘A Balloon Called Moaning’ introduced Whirring, which remains one of the Joy Formidable’s signature songs a decade on. It found a fan in Dave Grohl, who has subsequently invited the band to tour with Foo Fighters in the US. As ‘Y Falŵ​n Drom’ does in a recorded sense (here Whirring/Chwyrlio is a string-adorned folk-pop confection) their Stateside footprint has allowed the group to share their cultural roots with audiences who might previously have been unaware of them. 

“We’ll play a Welsh song and people will be very inquisitive and supportive, they’re happy for you to draw attention to the fact it has its own language,” Rhydian says. “It’s part of our identity and people find that interesting. We’ve had lovely responses to playing Welsh songs all over the world.”

That sort of cultural exchange, of course, works in both directions. As part of their upcoming tour, which also includes dates in Manchester and London, the Joy Formidable will host Formidable Fest/Gwyl Aruthrol at the Tramshed in Cardiff. 

The running order is set to combine Welsh artists from across several mediums with invitees like Brighton’s Blood Red Shoes. The idea is to put openness at the top of the agenda, something that can be traced all the way back to a childhood spent in Mold, a town only a few miles from the English border.

“It was quite an odd thing for us in a way,” Rhydian says. “In terms of identity it’s interesting. We got shit for speaking Welsh and for speaking English. For me it’s just about everything being inclusive. The world is becoming so much smaller with globalisation, whatever you want to call it, and it is about respecting where we all come from. 

“Wales does have its native tongue, it’s a beautiful language and drawing attention to that is a good thing. The festival is very much centred around Wales, mainly Welsh artists, but we’re bringing bands to Wales as well. Some haven’t played Wales before or it’s been ages since they played. Again, it’s that inclusivity instead of this fucking division. I’m not interested in division.”

The Joy Formidable Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri November 22 2019 - MANCHESTER Bread Shed
Sat November 23 2019 - CARDIFF Tramshed
Sun November 24 2019 - LONDON Islington Assembly Hall

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