Y Mabinogi – The Second Branch – Open for pre-orders – Here’s the story of the album

So how did this all happen?

The first thing to do was to delve into the scholarly work that had been done on the Second Branch of Y Mabinogi. The background research, the exploring, finding books old and new, the familiar thud as they fall through the letterbox, then reading, reading, reading. I quickly found there were a lot of opinions on the origins of the Second Branch tales. Some suggested the entire tale was the story version of the poem attributed to the Bard Taliesin called the Preiddeu Annwn, or The Spoils of Annwn. Some said the tale originated in other Irish stories, some tried to break the tale down into the component parts and place them in Ireland and Wales. Some suggested historical Welsh figures as the inspiration for Bran. A fascinating time as those shady areas are suddenly illuminated with light, and I stepped in, to see what looked useful, and what might be a distraction. Eventually the books began to repeat themselves, and I realised it was time to move on.

By then the tale was very familiar and I began to see the moments in the story that would be best told through music and song. Again, not too many – I wasn’t writing a broadway musical here, this was a continuation of the work began on the First Branch, and I wanted that same feeling to blend into this tale. Eventually, once all Four Branches are finished, I want people to be able to listen all the way from Branch One to Four and feel they are hearing one story. What a night in that would be.

So I found the places where the songs would enhance the Journey.

The next stage was to write the spoken word parts. As with the First Branch I wanted people who had read/would read the current translations know that the story had been honoured, and nothing had been changed (no Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings/Hobbit alterations here), but the discoveries made by later researchers must also be placed within the tale, so the translations are honoured, but these are our versions of the story, for our time, with all we have learned about them since the 1300s when they were originally written down. So the tapping of the Mac keyboard fills the room, and I go off on a Journey, bringing in closer encounters with Taliesin, who was one of the survivors of the Great Battle, and decorating the tale with the findings of those Mabinogi scholars.

My good friend Kristoffer Hughes was once more my pronunciation coach, and boy did I need his help with this one. There were so many names. So I went through the text, highlighted the words and names I needed help with, and sent them off to Kris. A few days later audio files appeared in my Facebook Messenger inbox and there they were, all spoken three times so I could get my tongue around them. For this Englishman I will readily admit that some of those names were a challenge, but this is important to me. This recording would be around for many years, and I wanted them to be right. Also, when we look at some of the epic Bardic tales and poems they have lists of names, and they are there for a reason. So once more I am deeply thankful to Kris for his help and coaching.

In Spring the Beast from the East arrived. All traffic stopped, light aircraft from Shoreham airport was grounded. The house and the road outside fell silent. So on the day the snow fell deep and white, I was in my studio recording the spoken word for Y Mabinogi the Second Branch. One day, and it was done. Thank you Weather Gods.

Kristoffer Hughes travelled all the way from Anglesey to Sussex to record the Welsh spoken word as the Scribe opens this album, just as he opened the First Branch. He also spoke the words “He who is a Chief, let him be a bridge”, an important moment in the tale and I wanted that phrase in Welsh – I had no idea how I would use it at the time, but knew it would be needed, and it was. Then Kris was the first person to hear the spoken word story from beginning to end, before any of the songs had been put into place. All was well.

Now comes the songs.

This always takes longer. I knew what the songs would be about, but I had no melodies or lyrics. So I took them one at a time. I spent time thinking about the atmosphere the song needed to bring, what needed to be said, where they should end so the narrative would pick things up seamlessly. Lots of thinking, lots of singing as I walked along the riverbank with Oscar, lots of weird looks as I walked past people, not really noticing them, lost in the moment as the melody and song ideas began to come together. In the end I finished them all and thus the recording of the songs could begin.

I took a week where I had no distractions, nothing else disturbed me. I went into the studio, and recorded the songs. What an incredibly creative week that was! As I’ve said on the blog before there were no places for uplifting Damh the Bard anthems here. This was the soundtrack to a war. I needed battle horns, lots of drums, and epic scoring. It also needed moments of real emotion, of heartbreak and sorrow. This album took me to places I had never really explored, and I learned a lot during the process.

The folk singer Blanche Rowen agreed to sing on the album as Branwen. Just as when I first heard S J Tucker sing, and knew she had to be my Rhiannon, so Blanche was my Branwen. Blanche has a beautiful mezzo-soprano voice, is a Welsh speaker, and has that strength with vulnerability in her voice that Branwen needed. When I first heard Blanche sing on her two songs I confess, I cried, and that was absolutely the right response.

As I wrote the last song on the album The Birds of Rhiannon I realised that Rhiannon would once more be with Pryderi, and thus another Damh the Bard/S J Tucker duet finishes the songs on the album. SooJ’s performance on this song is heart-achingly beautiful, and once more she brought the nurturing and protective aspect of Rhiannon into the story with her amazing voice.

The moment when the songs are dropped into the spoken word is a magical moment. I cut the audio, create the space, drop in the mixed song, and then play that section through. Goosebumps. Every time. What you hear is exactly how they were placed. I changed nothing about them, and somehow they all worked. So the next stage was the mastering of the songs, and then the album was ready to mix down, and play to a few people. I invited members of my Druid Grove around, and a few other friends, made them all a cuppa, and they sat through the entire album. This was the ‘Beta Test’ night. I wanted to hear their criticism, I wanted to hear if anything jarred. When you are so close to a project sometimes things pass you by, so this was a really important night to me. I’m deeply grateful I have very honest friends. The story worked really well, but there were just a few tiny adjustments – the spoken word starting too early after a song, music beginning too quickly after dialogue, that kind of thing – so I made the adjustments the next day and that was the album finished. I bounced it down into audio tracks, and it was done.

Cerri then began the artwork and what an incredible job she has done with this album cover. In a way these Y Mabinogi albums are making me lament not just the decline of CDs sales, but the loss of vinyl. These would have made incredible gatefold album covers. Those who listen on streaming services will never see the inside of the CD booklet and cover she created. It’s a genius work of art. Those who buy the downloads will see the main cover, as a tiny jpeg on the screen. It really is a shame, but thus is the ‘progress’ of music consumption.

But here’s a thing.

When all four albums are out my plan is to create a beautiful box that all four CDs can slip inside. It’ll have Damh the Bard – The Four Branches of Y Mabinogi on the side with more great artwork on the front. A collectors piece. So maybe that will encourage more people to buy the CD, and thus enjoy Cerri’s work.

So the album is now finished. I have uploaded the audio and images to my music aggregator, and they are in the process of sending it off to iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, all the usual digital services. It’s be available there on the 16th November.

But the CD and download are already available to pre-order directly from my store on my website. If you pre-order either the CD or the download from me you will get an email on the 9th November, a week before it’s available anywhere else, that will have a download link so you can start listening to the album straight away, even while the CD is travelling to you by post.

As with the First Branch, if you can, reserve 1 hour 20 minutes just for yourself. Light a candle, pour a nice Single Malt (or whatever drink you like) sit down, and listen to the entire album in one go. Treat it like a movie, and let me take you on an epic Journey.

As ever, thank you, thank you, thank you for supporting my work, whether that is the music, the concerts, the podcasts, whatever. It truly is an honour to serve the community and be part of something that will, I hope, be there for many generations to come.

If you want to pre-order the new Y Mabinogi – The Second Branch album, you can do that my clicking this link right here.

I cannot wait for you all to hear it!

22 Comments

  1. Ann ingham October 23, 2018 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Thank you

    I am moved just reading the process and having heard one song so far

    See you on Saturday

    • Damh the Bard October 24, 2018 at 10:48 am - Reply

      Lovely! Yes, see you at the weekend!

  2. Diane October 23, 2018 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Good morning Damh, I am sitting here reading this blog on the blistery fall morning here in Mascouche, Quebec and I realize how much your stories have become a basic in my life. This blog has brought a tear to my eye but an anxious smile to my heart. Blees you for your bardic strength. Diane

    • Damh the Bard October 24, 2018 at 10:49 am - Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to write and leave a comment Diane. And for your kind words, that really means a lot to me.

  3. Gary Lazell October 23, 2018 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    I will be hitting the preorder in the morning once I’ve been paid.

    • Damh the Bard October 24, 2018 at 10:49 am - Reply

      Hurrah! Get that candle and cuppa ready 🙂

  4. Steve King October 23, 2018 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    Trying to preorder the CD Dave, with my debit card, but it won’t let me. Keeps telling me “Payment Error please try again in a few minutes.” I’ve tried again a few times now, it just repeats the same error message (I haven’t made any errors – I’ve checked and double-checked) and won’t try another until it is sorted out.

    • Lou Miller October 23, 2018 at 4:56 pm - Reply

      Steve, I got the same error. I’m going to try later via PayPal and see if that makes a difference.

    • Damh the Bard October 23, 2018 at 6:12 pm - Reply

      Try the link directly here. https://paganmusic.bandcamp.com

      • Steve King October 23, 2018 at 7:22 pm - Reply

        Exactly the same problem from that link unfortunately.

        I avoid Paypal, cancelled my account with them, after they ripped me off. I won’t go into details of that here.

        • Damh the Bard October 24, 2018 at 10:55 am - Reply

          Mmmm. I’m not sure what to suggest Steve. I don’t directly run my online store. I’ll have some at the OBOD Winter Gathering. Possible try with a different browser?

          • Steve King October 25, 2018 at 6:58 pm

            Good suggestion Dave – Firefox commonly doesn’t allow me to buy things online. Unfortunately, having just tried again on Safari it failed again, which I didn’t expect. Different error message this time (“Oops! We experienced a problem processing your order.) but same effective result.
            Never mind, I’ll get it somehow sometime! 🙂

  5. Lou Miller October 23, 2018 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    I paid via PayPal and everything worked fine.

    • Damh the Bard October 24, 2018 at 10:55 am - Reply

      Hurrah!

  6. Edward Bonthron October 23, 2018 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    Good Afternoon from Morgantown WV, USA! I cannot wait to get my hands on the second Branch. I think that I have been waiting for it since I heard the First all the way through the first time:) . It’s not that I am impatient so much as it is just that good! No pressure or anything 🙂 The First Branch was so good that you inspired me to revisit the written Mabinogi, which hasn’t helped my patience at all. As I prefer the CD version, I absolutely agree about the artwork as well.

    • Damh the Bard October 24, 2018 at 10:56 am - Reply

      Thanks Edward! So pleased you enjoyed the First Branch. It’s been such a pleasure bringing these ancient tales to audio.

  7. Sue October 23, 2018 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    I couldn’t make it through the First Branch. I found it slow and boring. I was very dissappointed

    • Damh the Bard October 23, 2018 at 11:05 pm - Reply

      …you can please some of the people, some of the time…

  8. terri October 24, 2018 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    wonderful to hear your process in making these epic albums for us to enjoy!!! i look forward with much anticipation to this newest one!!! blessings and peace to you and yours!! )O(

  9. Suzanne Evans October 24, 2018 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    Looking forward once again Damh to being transported back to Wales through the mists of time to enjoy the old tales as they should be experienced through the telling rather than the reading just as they were a millennia ago. I will light a candle and pour a glass of mead and sit with a box of hankies because I just know where this tale will take me. Thank you Damh and to Cerri too for her amazing artwork. I’ve pre-ordered and have listened to the thrilling prologue you know I could listen to Kristoffer Hughes all day long What a gift this will be for Samhain. Blessed Be Damh /I\ x

  10. The Fabled Hare October 25, 2018 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    I am very much looking forward to listening to this (and the first branch, for that matter) as soon as I have the money in my account to buy them with! I will attempt to find a moment where I can turn off the lights, build up a nice fire in the grate, pour an Islay malt of some sort, and have a good listen.

    Speaking of pleasing some of the people, some of the time, I initially feared I won’t enjoy the second branch, given the tone of some of the stories you have to tell; however it’s an important work, and in a funny way, I sort-of consider it my duty to listen to it. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve loved the rest of your music ever since I first encountered you at the very Witchfest (2009?) that later became the “As Nature Intended” album – so I should have every confidence in it being amazing! Plus, I loved reading each branch of the Mabinogion, anyway… and what I have read about the first branch album, combined with the “couldn’t make it through the first branch” comment above, suggests to me that both your first-branch and second-branch albums will light-up those areas of my brain that go crazy for prog-rock! So it’s eagerly awaited in tense anticipation…

    Regarding your comments about artwork… I am, strictly-speaking, too young to appreciate vinyl; however it’s always been my medium of choice. I grew up in the era of CDs, and even before downloads, I lamented that album artwork was all the worse for not having that lovely 12″ by 12″ canvas to show it off. There’s something much more aesthetically-pleasing about holding the physical medium in your hands, looking at the notes and lyric-sheets, the interior artwork, etc. Even playing a record is more enjoyable. It’s an event that you consciously do. You concentrate on the album and give it your attention. By doing that, you’re paying the artist more respect, and their work’s suddenly not just a background noise for what you were already doing. Maybe that’s why vinyl is seeing a resurgence. Even some new albums are coming out on vinyl again! In the absence of an LP, I buy the CD. If you’re lucky, you still get a shrunk-down set of lyric sheets and artwork.

    There’s something even worse than a lack of artwork about downloads in general – and it’s so ingrained in our consciousness, we don’t even realise it. It’s evident in the language we use (e.g. to “consume” “content”). To call artistic works “content”, is to cheapen them. They are reduced from the product of a brilliant mind, culturally-beneficial to society, to an inert filler. What a waste! Calling your album “content” is effectively saying your album is just there to kill time, nothing more. Similarly, to call a listener a “consumer” adds further insult to your work, by implying it’s also just a cheap, worthless throwaway commodity, to be used once then discarded! A fire consumes wood, and an animal consumes fodder: Once it’s gone, it’s gone. An album and its artwork, on the other hand, are not “consumables”, because we can enjoy them time and time again, for generations to come. This subtle change in mentality, arising from our choice of language, also eventually leads to loss of freedoms via broken concepts such as DRM (Digital Restrictions Management), but that particular hornet’s nest is best left for another discussion.

    Your artwork is so much more than “content”, and I’ll therefore always appreciate rather than “consume” it! I think buying the CD, (even if it subsequently gets ripped to a bunch of ogg/FLAC files to go on my phone), is a contributing part of that process.

  11. Garry John Watts October 26, 2018 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    I would hate to have any of my music as just streamed versions, who knows, one direct hit with a solar flare and they could be lost forever. I have my old prog-rock records still safely stored and vinyl is making somewhat of a come back so I have heard. Sadly the youth of today may never have the thrill and experience of album covers with their unique art and information, but then again their music is hardly works of art in most cases so the covers would likely be boring. As a child of the late 60s/70s I’m a bit bias and would probably suffer an heart attack if I heard Damh the Bard rapping!!!! When I got the First book, played it to my friend who has no interest in Druidry and didn’t know any ancient tales what so ever. He went very quiet and listened intently. He liked it immensely and made me promise to play it again later. I thought being mostly narrative he’d be bored by it but now he’s telling me when you have CDs out and has started his own collection. Once my finance can accommodate it I will order the second and any other CDs you create. I know for certain I won’t be disappointed…..so long as you don’t start rapping! Lol.

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