Kicking off a new series of Q&A’s with some of Wales’s leading artists, musicians, performers, and writers, singer-songwriter Angharad talks influences, ambitions, and her new persona as musical chameleon.
Where are you from and how does it influence your work?
I was born in Mumbles, Swansea, but I now live in Mount Pleasant, on the hill above Swansea. I love this place. Within walking distance I can get to town, the beach, and out to the parks (of which Swansea is spoilt for choice). We’re nestled in the trees of an old quarry which is part of the Green Corridor, a nature reserve that runs right along the hill from Mayhill to the Uplands. When I’m out walking these streets and parks, that is when my songs and ideas come to me, so indirectly this place plays a huge part in my work. But more specifically, I’ve written a song about the quarry as it has such an interesting history. You can hear that here.
Where are you while you answer these questions, and what can you see when you look up from the page/screen?
I’m sat at my desk in my music room/office/junk room. I have a baby grand piano to my right, which I’m looking after on permanent loan for a friend of mine. My violins are hanging on the wall in front of me, and around my feet are boxes of books and cases for a range of various stringed instruments, some that I play, others I’ve inherited from my father. My desk is scattered with papers, books and various pieces of stationary. It’s a mess. It’s not the working environment I desire, but I have to make it work. Somehow I can never find the time to tidy it up.
What motivates you to create?
Song-writing is a relatively new pursuit of mine, in fact I didn’t start properly until 2021. But I’m now hooked. If I don’t have a half-written song spinning round my head, then there’s something wrong. It helps me make sense of the world around me. If I want to document something, whether that’s a feeling, a time or a place, I’m more likely to remember it if I’ve put it into song.
Currently, I’m on a bit of a mission to get my voice as a mother-musician heard. I realised that mothers voices are rarely heard in popular music, probably because we drop off the scene when we have kids. Or at least that’s what I believed until I had children. There are actually many mother-musicians making it work, but it’s not easy. It’s a male dominated music industry out there. Who’s speaking to the mothers? Who’s singing our story?
I also believe in simply being a vehicle to pass on traditional Welsh music from the previous generation to the next. But in doing so, making it current, relevant and interesting for the present times. I want us to be taken seriously as a nation, and I believe that a deep understanding of our music and culture helps us look to the future with greater confidence. This is why I called for a degree in traditional music recently at the Welsh Folk Awards. It’s a disgrace that we currently don’t have one.
What are you currently working on?
Secretly, over the past two years I’ve been writing songs about the joys and horrors of motherhood, in a genre that is so new to me as a musician. Previously I played almost exclusively instrumental music on my violin, but since having children I’ve found a voice. Literally a singing voice, but also words, and messages and stories that need to be told. They were all recorded before the birth of my son in March 2022, and in October this year (2023) I will be releasing my debut solo album Motherland on Libertino Records. There’s a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes to release and promote an album which isn’t all that creative. But the songs keep coming, and so I’m saving them for the next album.
Those who are familiar with my previous work, will be pleased to know that I haven’t put the ffidil yn y to (given up) on my folky stuff. In August, myself and Patrick Rimes from Calan will be releasing our debut duo album together with Ty Cerdd, called amrwd. And I’m also thoroughly enjoying dipping my toes into the colourful and delicious world of jazz harmony with Huw Warren, and some of his music graduates from Cardiff University. I have a lot of music in me at the moment!
When do you work?
When I can, and around the kids. With a three-year-old and a one-year-old, it’s pretty chaotic at the moment. They go to nursery for two days a week, and so this is my time to get on with stuff. Creatively however, my mind rarely stops. In fact, I’ve found a way to be creative on the go with the children. Songs come to me easily when I’m playing with them. Every little activity turns to song when I’m with them, and so it’s a fruitful palette for creativity and song-writing.
How important is collaboration to you?
It’s essential. No musician can work alone. It’s such a collaborative artform. It fills me with so much joy when I’m collaborating with the right people. Everyone has different strengths and their own unique flavour. When you know what they are, you can lean into them, and that’s when the magic really happens.
Who has had the biggest impact on your work?
It may be cliché, but I think my parents have had the biggest impact on my work. I can hear their influences in various aspects of my work. My father’s presence is really present in my song-writing at the moment.
How would you describe your oeuvre?
A musical chameleon, swinging from alt-pop to traditional folk. A melody maker and a word spinner.
What was the first book you remember reading?
Smot yn Gweld y Byd. It was given to me as a gift when I was born by Menna Elfyn, and became a firm favourite.
What was the last book you read?
Probably Smot yn Gweld y Byd! We still have that book, and it’s a favourite bedtime story with my children too.
But the last book I read for myself was How Not to Exclude Artist Mothers, by Hettie Judah. It’s full of practical ideas on how to make society a more welcoming place for artist mothers. After reading it, I felt the need for a book entitled How Not to Exclude Mother Musicians.
Is there a painting/sculpture you struggle to turn away from?
There’s a painting I look at every day because it’s next to our TV. It’s an Iwan Bala piece, from his series of maps of Wales. In this piece Wales is lying flat on the eastern boarder, and the western coast is facing up to the sky. It could be a heart, it could be an iceberg. Iwan later added some words to the piece after we worked together on PROsiect hAIku, following the death of my father in 2014. It’s such a special gift.
Who is the musical artist you know you can always return to?
It’s hard to chose just one, but Aberjaber, and particularly the album Y Bwced Perffaith, is always a comforting listen. My Mam played the harp with this band, and so the music is filled with happy childhood memories. Other artists from my childhood such as Nancy Griffith, John Cale, Patty Smith, Keith Jarrett, The Beatles are first in the search bar if I don’t know what to listen to. I realise now how lucky I was to have such a strong and varied musical foundation.
During the working process of your last work, in those quiet moments, who was closest to your thoughts?
Always my children.
Do you believe in God?
Not as such, but since embarking on my song writing journey, I’ve begun thinking about my own spirituality. I’ve certainly started believing in a greater presence than our own. For example, whenever I’m out in nature, in green spaces, or on the coast, that is when my song ideas come to me. They’re like gifts. I don’t try hard, they just come. The hard work then comes to try and complete the song, and knock it into a bit of shape. But the initial ideas, the melodic lines, and sometimes whole verses or choruses come to me when I’m out in nature.
I’m so glad that I’ve figured that out – it’s part of my process now, to spend time outdoors in nature, because that’s when I feel closer to something else. There’s definitely something greater going on up there in the universe, but I just don’t quite know what it is. For some reason I’ve never quite connected with the idea of Jesus and God. But I think my God might simply be Mother Nature.
Do you believe in the power of art to change society?
Absolutely! I wouldn’t write songs if I didn’t think I could make some sort of positive change.
Which artist working in your area, alive and working today, do you most admire and why?
Aeddan Williams. He is the most well-rounded musician I know. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, and understands everything from John Cale to Rachmaninoff, Miles Davies to Dua Lipa. And can play all that stuff too. He’s just become the Head of Music for RCT. The kids of RCT don’t know how lucky they are to have Aeddan at the healm.
What is your relationship with social media?
I hate it, but I’m a total addict. I’m trying to take it a bit more seriously, or strategically now that I’m working on an album release. I love being able to connect directly with people. But my phone is the evil presence in my pocket which detracts me from enjoying the present moment, and particularly being fully present with my children.
What has been/is your greatest challenge as an artist?
Do you have any words of advice for your younger self?
Your time will come. Enjoy life and don’t stress about doing too much all at once. You have to live a little in order to have something to say.
What does the future hold for you?
The future looks so joyful and interesting with my gorgeous family and my art. I couldn’t be happier, bringing the two together. I feel like I have a clear vision, purpose and reason to create. Motherhood and music come hand in hand, and I’m really enjoying it!
To find out all about the latest releases from Angharad you can visit her link.tree.
Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad Angharad