Supporting John Francis Flynn tonight at Clwb Ifor Bach, The Gentle Good, aka Gareth Bonello, is a rare gem in the crown of the Welsh music scene. A singer with an eye on the issues of the present day, capable of articulating a musical response with elan (take for instance, the gorgeously melancholic refugee tale Bound For Lampedusa, from 2016’s Ruins/Adfeilion), who is also a scholar of Welsh folk tradition and is passionate about keeping that thread intact.
This fascination with the songs passed down by Bonello’s forbears forms a theme running through last year’s Galargan (‘lament’), from which he cheerily delivers a succession of beautifully played (his fingerpicking guitar playing is a joy to behold), lyrically downbeat numbers about lovers spurned, heartbreak and misery – a classic ingredient list for an enduring set of folk songs.
John Francis Flynn utters not a word, towering over a packed Clwb Ifor Bach, before launching into opener The Zoological Gardens. Kicking off his most recent album Look Over The Wall, See The Sky, the song is lyrically bawdy but delivered woozily, as if from the haze of a daydream. Mole In The Ground, a Pete Seeger tune, is delivered in a similarly off-kilter fashion, its spoken word delivery almost unsettling, as it emerges from the Dublin man’s imposing frame.
“Howyiz?” he greets the audience at this point, his previously stern-seeming demeanour softening. Indeed, he is, from here on in, a fine host, engaging the audience with great humour and warmth. “Does anyone know what this is called?” he asks, of a pair of gaffertaped tin whistles. “A twin whistle!” comes a quick response from a wit on the front row. “Close. It’s two tin whistles taped together.”
Much of tonight’s set is pulled from Look Over The Wall, which came out to much acclaim last year, and which he and his band recreate with the help of a double bass, drums, guitars and a tangle of electronic kit. Highlights of both the album and tonight’s set include Kitty (introduced with a ramblingly entertaining story of how it had been handed down through Shane MacGowan’s family) and the closing version of Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town, which is softly sung back to him by all and sundry.
John Francis Flynn + The Gentle Good, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, Fri 26 Jan
words HUGH RUSSELL photos JOSEPH ELIJAH