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!
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.
This blog is also available in Welsh.