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Owen Shiers sings Lliw'r Ceiroes with his band.

Cynefin – Owen Shiers – Lliw’r Ceiroes

Crossing Welsh tradfolk with Ethiopean tizita, Cynefin's Owen Shiers explains the background to his new video, Lliw'r Ceiroes.

A new video release from Cynefin, the stage name of Welsh tradfolker, Owen Shiers, is always going to be cause for celebration. We’ve had the pleasure of chatting to him in the past on The Old Songs Podcast, and his 2020 album, Dilyn Afon, was one of our favourite albums of 2020.

Last night, he released an exquisite live recording of ‘Lliw’r Ceiroes’, taken from the aforementioned album, on his Youtube channel (click the play button in the image above to view it), so we dropped him a line to ask him a little bit more about the song’s origins.

On his website, Owen explains that the song was collected in the first half of the 19th century by a chap called Ifor Ceri (or John Jenkins, as he was sometimes known). Ceri is an important figure amongst traditional song collectors. Born in 1770, he played a key role in the establishment of the Eisteddfod. His Melus Seiniau was a collection of over 200 Welsh songs and tunes that he brought together between 1817-20, continuing to make additions until 1828.

It is from Melus Seiniau that Owen took the song, ‘Lliw’r Ceiroes’. Noted down by Ifor Ceri, the source singer was Evan Thomas from Llanarth, Ceredigion. Owen’s album arrangement is believed to be the first-ever recording of the song, hence his suggestion in the tweet above that it may not have been performed live for a couple of hundred years.

Owen explains, “The song follows the heartache of a young man who has likely put his foot in it with his sweetheart and is now asking for penance. ‘Lliw’, in Welsh, can mean both ‘colour’ and ‘appearance’, and so ‘Lliw’r Ceiroes’ or ‘Colour of Cherries’, in this case, is a nickname or term of endearment for his beloved who he is so desperately trying to win back. This song is a good example of Welsh verbal ingenuity; although not in strict cynghanedd (a metre unique to Welsh), it does contain a great deal of free alliteration.”

Pushed for even more geekery (you know how we like our tradfolk geekery on this website), he added, “I changed it from 2/2 to 6/8, and the guitar tuning is DADGAD. I just nicked the scale from a pentatonic Ethiopian mode called the tizita (which is very similar to the aeolian that the original is in).”

So, now you know. Geekery satisfied.

To find out more about the work of Cynefin and Owen Shiers, head to cynefinmusic.wales.