Degawd n 1: Welsh for decade, a period of ten years 2: Group of ten.
Dawns v 1: Dance, to move the body and feet rhythmically, esp. to the accompaniment of music.
It is 1996, and a shy farmer's boy, gambolling through the badlands of early morning Clocaenog, whistles a tune, one that is startlingly out of sync with the hymns of his fathers. Suddenly, the sunrise pierces the clouds and bathes the young farmer in the light of a brand new dawn. Here begins a musical journey that will take him across the globe from Denbighshire to Gwynedd and beyond, a journey that will broaden his horizons and blow the minds of those who witness it. This is Eilir Pierce, future Lord of the Degawdawns.
And here we are, eleven years later, finally able to assemble a definitive review of the works of this genius. One hundred songs: for the ten years from 1996 to 2006, and for the ten people that lived them. Degawdawns is a collection rather than a collective, of different projects and people, in different times and places. This retrospective features music from throughout Eilir's career, all painfully reconstructed from the original material. From the hiss-kissed early years, to the later cutting-edge four-track recordings, it's all here.
The first musical epoch memorialised on this album coincides with the time Eilir spent in Canterbury in the late Nineties. It was here that he met Matthew Walter, a struggling Midlander who enabled Eilir to realise many of his musical ambitions. Together they formed one of the seminal partnerships of the Degawdawns era: Eilir and Matthew. Many of the songs from this fertile period find a place on this compilation.
Following the acrimonious collapse of Eilir and Matthew in 1998, Eilir turned to his burgeoning band of supporters for inspiration. His first recruit was Simon Mcloughlin, a talented multi-instrumentalist who Eilir recognised would benefit from his nurturing influence. In return Mcloughin drew on his experiences of post-war Nuneaton to add a melancholic counterpoint to Eilir's pop sensibilities. Cast into this mix were Nick Mann, a Cornish bass player with funky bones; Sean Curtin, an axe-wielding Londoner with a riff for every occasion; and Tom Mackay, whose sense of rhythm was fundamental in allowing him to play the drums. Eilir's flock subsequently collaborated with one another in various permutations, all of which feature here, among them Karrberg, En Es Que, and Agenflun.
In 2001, Eilir returned to the land of his fathers to resuscitate the ailing Welsh television industry. This was, famously, far from a garlanded homecoming. Eilir's near-complete denial of his heritage in his early work had been noted, and he realised that he would have to demonstrate his commitment to his homeland through his music. Eilir duly picked up a shovel, for his was to mine the soil for the treasures of Welsh musical talent. What he unearthed was not coal or slate, but diamonds and gold, in the form of Fflur Dafydd and Gwyneth Glyn. Unknown until their discovery by Eilir, these performers have of course gone on to become the greatest singers in the history of Wales (after Meinir Gwilym). Together they created "Fflugel", a breathtaking forty-track album that restored Eilir's reputation, and which is represented here by the stunning "Teimlo", among others.
Hot on the heels of this success, Eilir scored another direct hit with the MET project. Persuading Matthew Walter to bring his jangly guitar back to the party, and tossing Tom Mackay's primal beats into the fire, Eilir forged an exciting new sound. Perhaps his most critically successful work, MET represents the culmination of the Degawdawns ethos of non-hierarchical collaboration and features a song that Eilir woofs all the way through.
The final phase of Degawdawns has seen Eilir define himself as a bona fide solo artist, with contributions both from the usual suspects and from two new accomplices. The first of these was Huw Roberts, a backstreet lawyer from Rhuthun with hippy hair. Although Roberts and his brother, the great Aled Roberts, were actually present at some of Eilir's earliest sessions, it was not until the 29th Album that Eilir deemed Roberts to have completed his apprenticeship, and finally invited him to collaborate with him. The sublime "Llyffant", along with others presented here, testify to Roberts' astonishing talent.
Finally, the summer of 2006 saw Eilir travel to France to track down a final acquisition for Degawdawns, one Seiriol Cwyfan Davies. A member of the Beatabet collective, Davies added a hitherto unexplored orchestral element to Eilir's music, allowing it fi nally to achieve the epic scale at which it has often hinted.
Sadly, that brings us to the end of the Degawdawns story, the end of a decade of dance. But at least we have this collection to remember it by. Eilir of course 'can't stop dancing 'till the music stops'. That's him there on the horizon, silhouetted against the sun, spinning to the rhythms in his own head, raging against the dying of the light. Shine on you crazy dickhead.
Montevideo, October 2007