Rating: 4 out of 5
Kent took quite a big hit from the first bout of snow, courtesy of The Beast From The East, so when its mini mate hit this weekend many plans were cancelled or at least disrupted. Making your way to a gig in the biting cold as the snow continued to fall could have been a questionable decision. When your destination is, to all intents and purposes, a two up two down that's been knocked through and the act that you're going to see is about to sing all the songs in her set in a language you don't understand then that choice becomes just that little more suspect.
It's never good to live your life with regret or wonder what could have been though, so I, like many other hardy souls (including a few DFL types [Down From London] who'd decided to make a weekend of it) braved the elements and made my way to Ramsgate Music Hall to see Gwenno.
An intimate, thriving indie venue, the upstairs bar provided warmth and welcome as everyone shut themselves off from the extremities of the night to listen to songs about computer love and cheese.
It must seem like an awfully long way away from the lights of Las Vegas and the polka dots of The Pipettes for Gwenno. With the release of her critically acclaimed second full-length album 'Le Kov' she has almost single-handedly brought the Cornish language to the attention of the world. The Welsh daughter of a Cornish poet has taken niche to a new level and found an audience as wanting and receptive as she could wish for. The success of an album that few can, lyrically, understand is a phenomenal achievement. It is a testament to the quality of the music, its harmonies, melodies and its arrangements that make her latest release so readily appreciated.
Gwenno Saunders and her band opened up with the first track off of 'Le Kov', 'Hi A Skoellyas Liv A Dhagrow', and didn't look back. From a slightly pensive start they were quickly into their stride. With three keyboards in sync the rich, electro-infused sound reverberated around the music hall to the delight of the crowd. The current single 'Tir Ha Mor' rung out like an old favourite as the enthusiasm of Gwenno and her band quite easily and obviously transferred itself to the audience.
The collective energy in the room was evident throughout the night and the anecdotal asides were priceless. "I've written my most recent record in Cornish, it's a language that I speak, but also it's a language that few people have written songs in so I figured there's less of a chance that I would have stolen something from someone else", she said. "When I was thinking about what kind of songs that have been written in Cornish that haven't been, I thought about one of them would be to do with technology, so this is a love song to my computer, which I think is a first. I don't want to make any claims." Gwenno's song about unrequited love, 'Jynn-Amontya', with its high set vocal and celestial keys sounded awesome in the intimacy of The Ramsgate Music Hall.
The evening's undoubted highlight came at the end of the gig, twice. Gwenno gave the full back story to her album research and even her own bewilderment at the "ridiculous" nature of her chorus and song for her finale. She then proceeded to teach those gathered before her the translated lyrics to her closing song. "Is there cheese, is there or isn't there cheese? If there is cheese, bring cheese, if there isn't cheese bring what's easy." "If we say it altogether cheese may appear from the sky." (Sadly it didn't) Ahead of closing out the night with not one but two pumped up versions of 'Eus Keus' she thanked the venue and the crowd, telling them that they were probably the "largest congregation ever to have ever chanted about cheese in Cornish, in Ramsgate."
Few people ever understood what Elizabeth Fraser sang, and to be honest that was part of the charm; you didn't need to necessarily get every lyric, you could still love the songs and so it is with Gwenno. With a faint echo of the Cocteau Twins in the guitar and even a hint of Dead Can Dance in the air she and her band delivered a great gig in a great venue. Gwenno's voice was the best instrument in the house all night as she gave us a performance well worth all of our collective efforts. The music was brilliant, the humour was unexpected and the decision to go well and truly justified.