Saturday, 24 April 2010

Laugharne As Plasticine

The walls between our languages seem to be bending, at least they were in Laugharne the other week. There was a time when what went on in Welsh stayed that way. And if your song or your poem was in English then your audience would inevitably be English-speaking monoglots. Wales stumbled towards the free world of the future with a system of cultural apartheid firmly in place.

But here in the no longer booming two-thousands the world is a different place. For a time now the number of Welsh-speaking writers willing to address English audiences has been on the increase. Menna Elfyn, Grahame Davies, Elin ap Hywel, Gwyneth Lewis, Catrin Dafydd, and others have all straddled the language divide and found that, having done so, they did not wake up as traitors. “I am only willing to speak in English to fellow Welshmen outside our borders”, a famous novelists was once heard to say. “I have no interest in anything other than Welsh literature”, retorted another. “I am never speaking the English tongue again”, declared the Anglo-Welsh poet Harri Webb. These polarised and provocative positions do not resonate now as they once did.

At the Laugharne Weekend there was an exciting and rich mixture of new music (Fionn Regan), cult authorship (Niall Griffiths), revived renegades (The Fall and the Slits), musicologists, poets, fictioneers and prize-winners of all sorts. Here the two languages of Wales banged up against each other naturally, as if we were a balanced bi-lingual nation. One where the product was more important than the process. What you’d said more significant that the language you used. How you sang more enjoyable than the tongue you employed.

Hoards of visitors from other parts of Wales (and even more from beyond) flowed through our most surreal of townships. This is the place where the chip shop closes at 8.00, festival or not. There’s no tourist information centre. And the memory of Dylan hangs on in the well-preserved writing hut: new walls, new doors, new floor, new windows and re-roofed recently but still as it always was.

Bill-toppers were Roddy Doyle, Martin Carthy and Howard Marks. In the Fountain Inn Keith Allen, wearing a kaftan, ran three episodes of Laugharne’s Got Talent. I didn’t have the strength to stay to see who’d won but it might have been the nine year old singing Gwenith Glyn.

The afternoons of singers blended languages and literature as if the world was plasticine. Richard James, The Gentle Good, the amazing Katell Keineg, Charlotte Greig with her Freud reworkings, Mark Olsen and others did the sort of thing with song that Rachel Tresize, Dan Rhodes, Louise Welsh and Patrick Jones did with words.

The Laugharne Weekend is a real addition to Wales’ cultural calendar. Long may it continue.

A version of this posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday 24th April, 2010 - #144

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