Witness | A New Musical Experiment

Trumpeter Tomos Williams (Burum and Khamira) has a new musical project touring Wales in June. Here he expands a little on the ideas and the influences behind his newest venture ‘Cwmwl Tystion / Witness’.

Tomas Williams | Cwmwl Tystion | Witness
Tomas Williams’ Cwmwl Tystion | Witness

Tomos Williams has assembled a cast of brilliant Welsh musicians to perform a new Suite of music which reflects on the cultural and political present and the history of Wales under the title ‘Cwmwl Tystion /Witness’. The band, touring Wales and London (12th June – 29th June), will perform the newly composed ‘Witness Suite’incorporating strong elements of jazz, free improvisation and Welsh folk music. The name ‘Cwmwl Tystion / Witness’ has Biblical roots, but is derived from a poem by the great Welsh poet, nationalist and pacifist Waldo Williams (1904-1971). In his poem, Waldo asks ‘Pa Beth yw Dyn?’ (What is Man?) and the music of the ‘Witness Suite’ ‘bears witness’ to these complex times.

The band has been hand-picked; Huw Warren and Rhodri Davies are stellar Welsh musicians, who’s creativity have garnered international reputations. Huw V Williams, Francesca Simmons and Mark O’Connor all bring unique qualities and experiences to the band, while the performances will be augmented by live visuals from Simon Proffitt.

On composing the ‘Witness Suite’ Tomos admits to being heavily influenced by recent political music: Wadada Leo Smith’s totemic recordings (in particular Ten Freedom Summers and America’s National Parks), Ambrose Akinmusire’s genre-bending Origami Harvest and Harriet Tubman’s searing, visceral music all led to writing new music that reflected on the current political climate, as well as reflecting on the Welsh experience and recent Welsh history.

Movements have significant titles: ‘Tryweryn‘ and ‘The Blue Books‘, in memory of recent and not so distant Welsh history, while ‘Mynyddoedd Cymru‘ (The Welsh Mountains), and Paul Robeson and the Miners Eisteddfod 1957, celebrate the Welsh landscape and culture. The final movement ‘Pa Beth yw Dyn?’, (What is man?) directly references Waldo Williams’ poem, placing the work outside the boundaries of national identity and asks a more fundamental universal question.

Tomos is particularly excited to be working with Huw Warren (piano) and Rhodri Davies (harp, electronics) for the first time. Huw and Rhodri have never shared a stage or performed together, so Cwmwl Tystion / Witness will deliver an important first in this regard.

Tomos said, “I’ve had the idea of putting a band like this together for some time, but after listening to Wadada Leo Smith’s ‘America’s National Parks’, my thoughts crystalised and it became obvious to me that Wales needed a project like ‘Cwmwl Tystion/Witness’ at this time. It feels like Wales has been under siege recently – with one thing leading into another – so I deliberately want to fuse the influences of the avant-garde and free jazz with more straight-ahead elements to represent the chaos and uncertainty of the present.”

About the band members, Tomos said, “I’ve known Rhodri and Huw for years, and am a huge admirer of their work, but have never performed with either. This will also be the first time that these two perform together, which is pretty exciting. Huw V and Francesca bring their own influences to the project – both are very comfortable with the avant-garde and free improvisation which is particularly important to this band, while Mark O’Connor quite simply is an astonishing drummer. I’ve played with Mark for years, and he always takes the music in different directions and colours and augments every musician’s contribution. I really can’t wait to get started on the tour and hear these brilliant musicians perform together.

“There’s also the added element this time of Simon Proffitt’s live visuals. I’ve never performed with visuals, but rather than being an ‘add on’ the visuals will be pretty central to each performance. I knew Simon would come up with some cool stuff – which he has – so the interaction between the music and the visuals will add another layer to the performance and to the audience. Simon has designed numerous posters and CD covers for me over the years, and he did the eye-catching poster for this tour too, so I had every confidence that he’d come up with some interesting ideas.”

The opening concert of the tour will be in the Great Hall, Aberystwyth on Wednesday 12th June, before the band visit Mold, Cardiff, London, Swansea and Bangor. Aberystwyth Arts Centre are an important partner for the project, where Cwmwl Tystion/Witness will rehearse for two days prior to the tour.

Tomas Williams | Cwmwl Tystion | Witness
Tomas Williams’ Cwmwl Tystion | Witness | Tour Poster

The Cwmwl Tystion Suite‘ has been funded by Tŷ Cerdd, and the tour is made possible by generous Arts Council of Wales financial support.

Here’s some more information on the musicians:

Huw Warren has been at the forefront of British Jazz since the 1980s and has recently released two albums on ECM with Quercus (alongside Iain Ballamy and June Tabor), as well as releasing his new piano trio Everything in Between in March this year on CamJazz. Huw has been a central figure on the Welsh jazz scene for decades, and his ability to play both on the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ is crucial to this project and the overall band sound.

Rhodri Davies, a harpist from Aberystwyth, is one of the leading figures of free improvisation and contemporary composition both nationally and internationally. He has played with a who’s who of improvising musicians (Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, John Butcher, Butch Morris, Pat Thomas) as well as being the harpist of choice for contemporary composer Eliane Radigue and many others. Recently he has formed the avant-pop band Hen Ogledd with Richard Dawson. The avant-garde and improvisatory element that Rhodri contributes sets the music apart and is a central voice throughout the entire Suite.

Huw V Williams from Bangor now living in London is known for his ‘Hon’ band and album that was released a few years ago. He will be releasing a new trio album later in the year

Francesca Simmons is a violin (and saw) player from Clwyd who is equally comfortable improvising or delivering a folk melody. She works regularly with theatre productions and various other bands.

Mark O’Connor is Wales’ pre-eminent drummer who’s worked with Tomos over the past decade (touring internationally with both Burum and the Indo-Welsh fusion band Khamira), as well as playing with Huw Warren and Paula Gardiner amongst many others.

Simon Proffitt,  a visual artist and designer will be accompanying the performances with live visuals.t



Here’s a clip of Cwmwl Tystion / Witness available to watch.

Another article about Cwmwl Tystion / Witness on Wales Arts Review is available now.