Ben Bach the Balladeer

Collections / music - Posted 03-07-2023

I recently had a very pleasant task as a volunteer, which was to listen to records of Ben Bach singing folk songs and try to transcribe them. Ben was a native of Mathry in Pembrokeshire – Ben Phillips to give him his real name, but he was known as ‘Ben Bach’. He had a lovely and clear voice and sang in the Pembrokeshire dialect and was famous, apparently, for having a bit of fun with his audience.



It was necessary to preserve the dialect when transcribing, which was a challenge at times – a few ‘dishgled o dê’ and ‘dwêd da thre‘. About thirty songs – a lovely little one about the cuckoo that was long in coming – “oerwynt y gaeaf a’m cadwodd yn ôl” (“the cold of winter that kept me back”); a Welsh version of ‘Deuddeg Dydd o’r Gwyliau‘ (‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’); some sad songs, some funny, love songs and some ballads. I was in fits of laughter while listening to ‘Y Ladi Fowr Benfelen’ with its very suspicious double entendres!



Images (L-R): Ben Bach and co-workers, taken 1910; Ben Bach, taken 1953


My favorite song was ‘Pentre Mathri Lân’ Ben sang to the tune ‘Johnny Comes Marching Home’, which describes many Mathry residents in a humorous way, for example:

Ma Jo siop ardderchog yn i le, hwrê, hwrê,

Yn gwerthu shwgwr, sebon a thê, hwrê, hwrê,

Sim raid i chi dalu am fîsh ne ddou

Ond diwedd i gân yw ‘pei yp mei boi’.

Hip hip hwrê-i, pentre Mathri lân.”


Apparently the intention of the transcription was for school children in Pembrokeshire to learn some of the songs – so that the words and the dialect are memorized and kept by the next generation – an excellent idea! I’m sure Ben Bach would love it.


Gwenno Watkin

NLW Volunteer


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