The Great Camarron & The Ash Grove.

I was in the back of a minibus last week with a gypsy flamenco guitarist who suddenly started playing ‘The Ash Grove’ (‘Llwyn Onn‘). When I asked where he had learnt it, he said that El Camarron, generally acknowledged to be the greatest flamenco singer, used the melody as the basis for one of his ‘falsettas’.
I know it’s a fairly standard set of melodic intervals which have probably been arrived at independently over the centuries by dozens of musicians, but I still think it’s interesting in that it highlighted for me the similarities between certain types of flamenco cante and Penillion (Cerdd Dant).
The sense in both of the voice sailing emotionally over the instrumental sea. The ability to convey the impression of talking to the instrument while trying to appear to ignore it – like the early encounters of two people destined to be lovers, when it doesn’t matter what is said, or whether questions are answered, as long as the dreamy dialogue continues.
When I told him how I knew it and nagged him to carry on, he played the flamenco improvisations on the theme for another five minutes. Is there something in this for Penillion Newydd? No I’m not proposing any sort of ghastly cross-over, but art forms have to move or die.
Flamenco is a case in point. It progressed and flourished so that now it is seen on the greatest stages in the world. Why can’t Penillion do something similar? Because if it can’t progress beyond its own borders and the ex-pat circuit, and does not absorb influences from the wide world, then Welsh culture will be that much less appreciated.
Does Bjōrk know abut Penillion? She should.

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