Saturday, 14 August 2010

Interview: The Gentle Good

Those still looking for the ultimate festival experience this summer could do far worse than the Green Man Festival which takes place 21-23 August in the heart of the Breacon Beacons. It manages to walk the thin line between providing established festival acts (Doves, Flaming Lips) as well as the cream of the folk movement (The Unthanks, Fionn Regan)and those that manage to be both (Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling, Joanna Newsom). The provision of only the best quality food and ale as well as perhaps the best natural setting of any UK festival make this a magical experience.

Someone who knows this better than most is Cardif resident Gareth Bonello. Known as the Gentle Good he has played the festival countless times, to the point that it would be a surprise if he wasn't on the bill. Since his debut single in November 2008 he has released a series of recordings which call to mind Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, Martyn Carthy and Donovan, picking up favourable reviews along the way and winning plaudits for his live performances. As part of the resurgent welsh folk scene he has played with Richard James (ex Gorkys Xygotic Mynci) and he has recieved airplay from Gideon Coe and (somewhat inevitably) Huw Stephens. I caught up with Gareth to find out more about his latest activities in advance of the Green Man.

How did you first get into singer songwriting?

I’d been playing guitar for many years and always thought of myself as a guitarist rather than a singer or songwriter. After a while I started playing traditional music about Cardiff and as I got more gigs I realised that I wanted to sing new material as well so I started writing.

Who do you regard as your formative influences?

Jimi Hendrix got me into the guitar, Martin Carthy got me into folk music and Bob Dylan got me into songwriting. After that I’d say I’m hugely influenced by guitarists from the 60s folk revival such as Davey Graham, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn.

Do you think folk music still has something new to say in 2010?

Of course! Like most music Folk is a very diverse genre and you get everything from heartfelt ballads to freaky instrumental wig-outs to political statement to comedy and they all have something to say. As a genre it also tends to be one that will focus more heavily on the lyrical side of things so there is often more depth of content in Folk song than say, Pop. If you want to hear music that has absolutely nothing to say your best bet is probably to tune into the top 40.

How was playing Glastonbury?

It was hectic, nerve-wracking and brilliant. I’d like to go back and take my time to appreciate it as it just seemed to fly by.

You're playing at the Green Man again this year. Anything special lined up for that?

I’ve got a new album on the way so I’m going to be playing new material and have drafted in bass drums and keyboards for the close of the set – a combo that I’ve never played live with before. I’m also going to be giving away free CDs of some instrumental music that I’ve recorded over the years as a kind of thank you to the Green Man Festival for putting me on for the 5th year in a row.

Any other dates planned?

I’ve got a few gigs lines up in the Autumn, including Cardiff’s Swn Festival and I’m hoping to go on tour in the autumn/winter to promote the new album.

What about recorded material? I understand the new album is well underway?

Yup it’s almost finished. The songs are a lot bigger than the last album and I’m very happy with the way it’s going. We’ve just got a few touches left and it’ll be done. I can’t wait!

Do you feel with artists such as 9 Bach, Richard James and Cate Le Bon (many of whom you've worked with) coming through that the Welsh folk scene is in good health right now?

Yes I’d say it is in good health in that respect. I think it’s fantastic that we’ve got such a great collection of songwriters writing new folk music and making it contemporary and relevant again. It obviously helps if a scene develops because it draws people’s attention to artists they wouldn’t have heard about otherwise.

You sing in Welsh as well as English - what is your preferred language for recording?

I don’t have one to be honest. When I write a song the words of whichever language feels best goes on the track. I’m pretty bilingual as I live in Cardiff (which is mainly English speaking obviously) but have a lot of Welsh speaking friends here so I find my mind is pretty much evenly split between the two most of the time.

What next for Gentle Good?

I’m just focusing on the album at the moment but after that I hope to play more extensively about the UK and then get back recording – I don’t want to have such a long gap between releases this time.

The Gentle Good plays the Green Man festival, Glanusk Park, Crickhowell on 22nd August and the Coal Exchange Cardiff on 4th September.

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