Secret Meeting score: 82
by Phil Scarisbrick
Gwenno’s first solo album, Y Dydd Olaf, was a beautiful collection of songs composed entirely in her native Welsh tongue. Despite the language barrier, the record proved popular with Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers alike. For her second solo record, the former Pipettes singer has gone even further into her roots by composing a record of songs entirely in Cornish. For anyone outside the UK who is unfamiliar with our geography, Cornwall is a county situated on a peninsula in the south west corner of England. Cornish is its traditional language, although it is now spoken by less than 1,000 people. One of those people is Gwenno. The daughter of a Cornish poet, she seems desperate to see the language live on. To lose it would mean to lose a piece of her identity. The album’s title – Le Kov – translates as ‘Place of memory’ and this tribute to the land of her father is filled with life and love.
Opening track, Hi a Skoellyas Liv a Dhagrow (She Shed A Flood Of Tears), springs into life with elegant, swelling strings setting the platform for interplaying twin guitars, before returning to provide the hook. This music could easily furnish a scene from a James Bond film, one with glistening sun and a beautiful beach. The song also shares its name with one of the tracks from Aphex Twin’s 2001 album, Drukqs. She explains, “I imagined Richard D James coming across this long lost Cornish 70s folk rock song on vinyl in a charity shop in the city of Le Kov, and then stealing it.”
Tir Ha Mor is driven by a simple drum beat and muted bass line and sounds like Neon Bible-era, Regine-sung Arcade Fire. Eus Keus seems to be an ode to cheese (and who doesn’t love cheese? Apart from vegans obviously), and feels like a dairy call-to-arms. Daromres y’n Howl translates as Traffic in the Sun, and is a psychedelic, groove-laden romp, complete with Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys providing a guest rap. Jynn-amontya is high concept love song, with the target of devotion being a computer. It seems to lament the modern reliance on technology, which not only could lead to the death of the Cornish language, but seems to be doing some serious damage to English too.
By approaching this record in the way that she has, Gwenno has created a world separate from that we dwell in. Full of sunshine and joy, it celebrates the cultural heritage of one of the most historically rich areas of the UK by creating a new plane on which it can exist. At a time when our government is systematically slashed arts budgets, as well as withdrawing funds for the Cornish language completely, it is a welcome middle finger to those that seek to curb the next generation of artists. Gwenno is a fine musical visionary, but also completely switched on to what we have, what might be, and what has been. Though myself, and most listeners won’t understand the lyrics being sung, the record’s message is obvious to us all.