As those of you who follow me on Facebook already know, we had the lovely experience of bumping into the always interesting Meinir Gwilym (that link is to her brand-new website, which I think she’s mostly put together herself, chwarae teg!) and Bryn Gwynfryn in Pwllheli on Saturday. [I’m determined to twist Bryn’s arm into a cup of tea and chat in the near future, even if it means wandering around Trefor shouting that I’ve got a thermos ready]. Anyway, when I carry Angharad Lliar upstairs to bed after her mandatory two or three stories every night, I tell her to ‘hold tight’ around my neck (because it’s a slight help for my back!). In Welsh, that’s ‘Gafael yn dynn’, which also happens to be one of Meinir’s songs (which you can buy for $1 on iTunes or, even better, get the whole superb album directly from Meinir herself) – and pretty much every time I say that to Angharad Lliar, however sleepy she is, she starts singing that song.
Imagine my delight, then, when instead of calling the police and asking them to arrest me as a potentially dangerous stalker, Meinir responded to my shameless request for her to sing a bit of that song to Angharad Lliar by doing exactly that – while Angharad Lliar gripped me firmly around the neck and stuck her hand over my mouth to make sure that I didn’t embarrass her (or myself!) by joining in. Meinir’s one of the most successful Welsh singers we’ve ever had – somehow I can’t imagine Bob Dylan or Madonna supporting a low key local event in the same way, or giving one-by-one personal mini-performances in such a humble and friendly way.
But don’t worry – this isn’t just a piece of hagiography!
I’ve been thinking for a long time, on and off, about how we can use Welsh artists to help learners, and how Welsh learners could be a massively valuable support for Welsh artists. I don’t think I’ve got a good, clear solution in mind yet, but I do think that 2014 is the year where I need to try to start throwing some things together and seeing what works.
I know already that many of you have found listening to bands you like a great way to drum certain words and phrases into your subconscious – and most Welsh bands have such low sales figures that every extra bit of marketing is a genuine help.
I wonder if doing an SSi-style lesson for an individual song would make our learners more likely to want to buy that album? Particularly if we struck a deal that meant you could get the album for a little less than it would be in the shops? Might that even be interesting enough for you to be willing to look at signing up to a monthly deal, maybe?
If we had a few hundred learners on a monthly deal, we could go to and fro between giving you access to the biggest names in Welsh music, and giving the occasional huge boost to really promising young bands – and if we could get more than a few hundred involved, it could even become something that would be a genuinely valuable shot in the arm for the SRG (Sîn Roc Gymraeg!).
Maybe we could be thinking more carefully about linking certain phrases in the new course back to particular songs – and we’ve also replaced the very tired, cheesy intro music for the original course with a little clip of a fantastic song by the remarkably talented Lleuwen on the new version, which will be backed up with links to where you can get the album online. There might be more we can do with that.
[Disclaimer: Lleuwen was responsible for one of our favourite SSiW moments to date, when she sent us a signed copy of her latest album ‘Tân’ (which is gorgeous, and which you should rush and get right now) as a thank-you for SSiW, which it turned out her Breton husband was using! So we are openly and extremely biased in her favour…:-)]
I’m also thinking that once Ifan has survived the first few mountains of work we’ve built for him, maybe we can build something to help introduce learners to Welsh bands, and make it easier to buy online – at the moment. Sadwrn.com and Cerdd Ystwyth and Sain Records all have online selling capabilities, but I don’t think any of them has really cracked it in terms of ease of use and navigation, and certainly not in terms of social ratings and feedback and interaction.
I think getting some tentative first steps to work here might be particularly important for two other reasons – the 30% or so of our learners in England, and the 30% or so of our learners in the United States. As ‘World Music’ has grown in popularity, it’s become less and less comprehensible to me that our best artists, who are absolutely genuinely fantastic, world-class performers (as you’d expect from a culture which has always valued music so highly) don’t sell in the kind of numbers outside Wales that makes it possible for them to perform and record full-time.
Very few (if any?) Welsh language artists create on a full-time basis – they almost all need some kind of day job to keep body and soul together, despite the fact that their music is brilliant.
I’d be very, very interested in your thoughts on this.
It’s one of the ways in which I believe SaySomethinginWelsh could make a genuine and lasting contribution of real value to Welsh language culture – so let’s start thinking about it more, and testing as much stuff as possible over the course of the next year or so…:-)