FEATURE: Birdsong /Cân yr Adar (Album from Kizzy Crawford, Gwilym Simcock and Sinfonia Cymru – Basho Records)

Birdsong (Cân yr Adar in Welsh) is a collaboration between Welsh/Bajan singer/songwriter Kizzy Crawford and pianist/composer Gwilym Simcock. It also involves six instrumentalists from Sinfonia Cymru – flute, horn and string quartet. The album will be released on 10 May, when it will be launched as part of the Hampstead Arts Festival, St John’s Downshire Hill, and the work will also be performed at three dates in Wales. Feature by Sebastian: 

Kizzy Crawford’s focus on singing, songwriting and releasing her music started remarkably early: “I had put out a little demo CD that I’d done when I was 14. But my proper first EP, recorded with Amy Wadge, came out when I was 16.”

Since then, and now in her early 20s, her career has grown in scale considerably. She appeared at Glastonbury as an 18-year-old in 2014, and has also performed at the No.6 Festival in Wales, at Womex, Green Man. The biggest crowd? When she performed at Cardiff City Stadium alongside the Manic Street Preachers to welcome the Welsh national football team on their return from Euro16. And five of her songs are in the contemporary music section of the A Level Music syllabus in Wales.

Kizzy Crawford was born and spent her early life in the picturesque seaside town of Aberaeron in Ceredigion, and has lived in Merthyr Tydfil since the age of ten. The places she has lived give her a strong affinity for Wales and for nature: “These are the places where I learnt to appreciate nature, I spent most of my time outdoors and in the countryside and also where I learnt to speak Welsh and love the Welsh language.”

The dual language background, the natural frictionless ease with which she moves from one language to the other – it is a constant in Birdsong – is not just impressive, it comes across as natural and authentic, part of her essence: “There are times during the day where I’m completely thinking in Welsh or times where I’m completely thinking in English. Spiritually and poetically I think in Welsh, I did a lot of studying of Welsh poetry when I was in school. So when it comes to writing poetically, rhyming, or being inspired by history, I think it flows easier in Welsh. But then, my own writing about relationships would maybe come more naturally to me in English. It depends completely where I am in that moment.”

Gwilym Simcock and Kizzy Crawford
Photo courtesy of RSPB

While she was still at school her first opportunity to work with Gwilym Simcock came along. They were both invited to create songs evoking the skyline of Port Talbot in Wales on a BBC Radio 4 programme called Playing The Skyline. That collaboration proved successful: “I got to chat to Gwilym about his process and he was chatting to me about my process.” And that first spark has led to this much more ambitious collaboration about the Carngafallt rainforest and RSPB reserve in Wales.

Kizzy Crawford remembers how it got going: “We came up with the idea of having concerts that would give the feeling to anyone in the audience that they were in the actual rainforest. We started out going through all the seasons and all the songs that are played in each season, the lyrics and everything make them connect into one big piece.” That structure around the seasons, and the theme of migration gives the album a wealth of interconnecting threads.

Gwilym Simcock was not just very happy to be collaborating with a singer, but also to have had the opportunity to be involved in the process from beginning to end and “to take care of it”. He arranged and orchestrated the whole album, as well as all the editing, mixing and production. His preoccupation was to make the different “arcs” in music work concurrently, so that the album bears repeated listening, as well as having a simplistic appeal. Many of the songs have more extended structures – leading to a more engaging and convincing listening experience than just regular 3 or 4 chord tricks.

That sense of the bigger structure enhances the feeling of being immersed, of being present in the rainforest, of being completely open to the sights, the sounds and the surprises, and that is another unifying principle in this large-scale piece. It is also cleverly intensified by the characters with whom Kizzy Crawford identifies. It is a very personal experience. She describes her method: “As a songwriter I’ve always enjoyed writing metaphorically trying to put myself in as a character and obviously with this song I am trying to be one of the birds myself.” The range of textures and timbres that Gwilym Simcock has conjured from the ensemble – from cultured musical sounds to some remarkable passages imitating nature – is also remarkable.

In Angelic Soul she imagines the pied flycatcher, a bird which spends half of its time in Wales or the U.K, and then half of its time in the other side of the world. “It’s never quite sure which ones feels more like home. I was sort of trying to relate that to myself and how I have family in Barbados, and I have family in England, and I have family in Wales as well, and I have sisters in Africa as well. I never quite know myself where I feel completely at home and its basically just a mix of all those places.” It is an idea with strong personal resonances: “I’m trying to convey the same with that bird. Even if you’re born in one country, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to feel at home there. Home is something you take with you.” The song repeats, intones the Welsh word “hieraeth”, the longing of wanting to be back at home.

Birdsong draws the listener into the Welsh rainforest. It is a magical place. And after several listens, I can say it feels more and more like home. (pp)

The rainforest at Carngaffalt
Photo courtesy of RSPB

ALBUM LAUNCH: Hampstead Arts Festival, St John’s Downshire Hill, 10 May (BOOKINGS)

The album and tour have been made possible by Hampstead Arts Festival, PRS Foundation, Sinfonia Cymru, Arts Council of Wales and the Waterloo Foundation. A small donation from every album will go the RSPB Wales.

Welsh tour dates 

11 May – Wyeside Arts Centre 
12 May – Tramshed, Cardiff 
13 May – Taliesin, Swansea

LINK: Video of the making of Birdsong/Cân yr Adar

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