Gwenno at Islington Assembly

Gwenno stands centerstage, palms outstretched, pleading to us with desperate, wild eyes. She thrashes around balling up her fists, doubling over as if trying to expel something painful. She pulls herself up into a tight column, nightdress-clad and statuesque. She is working herself up into a frenzy and she is warning us of imminent peril. Maybe. Although this isn’t for certain as she is completely incomprehensible.

Her band on the other hand are relaxed, lunging into their hypnotic, cyclical bass riffs, driving tom-heavy rhythms and quasi psychedelic guitar melodies as liquid lightshow visuals squelch onto the projection screens behind them.

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There is an energy in the room, it is otherworldly, as if we have been transported back hundreds of years to a rural storm blasted coastline. Gwenno sings in Cornish, a language that she has learnt from her father and is spoken by only a handful, but this only adds to the mystique. There is an understanding, that goes beyond the lyrics. The meaning of her words are irrelevant and it’s the feeling that counts – interpretation is key. Somehow this creates a stronger connection as each person can believe that she is speaking to them, about something to which they can relate.

Suddenly, three songs in, the intensity drops as Gwenno, the powerful, impenetrable, far away character melts, smiles and addresses the crowd – “sometimes you just have to pinch yourself” she beams, “we are here… playing in Islington!”. She launches into a driving, enthusiastic rendition of “Tir ha mor” and Gwenno is jumping about with joy.

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Islington assembly hall is an odd mix of theatre meets school hall disco, but certainly it is a venue to be admired. Announcing that she used to live around the corner, this is a homecoming gig of sorts. Overwhelmed at the support she has received for her two albums – the debut (“Y Dydd Olaff”) written in Welsh, the second (“Le Kov”) in Cornish, she must have had her doubts as to the accessibility and success these records would enjoy, however she is a musician who writes for her own pleasure and wins over the listener with her genuine individuality.

She introduces the sleepy, sun-drenched “Jynn-amontya” as a lovelong in Cornish, written to a computer. It is beautiful and longing, but now we have an insight into what her lyrics may be about, it has a ridiculous element to it – she takes delight in the inside jokes that her songs contain. As multilingual as the night has been, Gwenno introduces “Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki” which, she says, would please the non-Welsh, non-Cornish speakers as it “is all gobbledegook”.

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People are throwing each other round like they would at a ceilidh and for a moment the bouncy floorboards of the assembly hall seem that they may not be up to it.

The beauty of her music and incomprehensible lyrics mean you can interpret it as you like, believe it is about whatever you hold dear. According to the last song of her set (“Eus Keus?”) for Gwenno it seems, that thing is cheese.

Words   Charlotte Evans
Photo’s  Jeff Moh

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