Gwilym Bowen Rhys – “Ben Rhys”.

   Hey people! 🙂 

   I was listening to this song this morning and was wondering how come I don’t remember ever posting it on here in the song of the day series. But I checked and I indeed have not shared it before, as weird as it is. I say it’s weird because, well, I have obviously posted a lot of Gwilym Bowen Rhys’ music, both solo and with the bands he’s played and sung with, and this song seems to be one of his more popular/successful ones, also it was the first song from his solo album that I happened to come across when my faza on him was starting out, when I was already familiar with Plu and Y Bandana. It’s also a really good song and a very interesting one because it’s just about as folky as it gets while at the same time having this sort of bluesy and indie feel to it that I think can make it very accessible for those who perhaps aren’t necessarily as muchh into folk as Bibiels are. So this finally had to happen at some point. 

   This song was written by Gwilym together with his mum – Siân Harris – and it tells the story of his great-great-great-grandfather, Ben Rhys, who was a coal miner and died tragically in the Cymmer Colliery explosion in South Wales in 1856, from his point of view. While it was included on Gwilym’s 2016 debut album O Groth y Ddaear (From the Womb of the Earth), enthusiasts of Welsh-language music could have heard it two years earlier already, because he also sang it at the Cân i Gymru (Song for Wales) competition in 2014. It was his second time taking part in it, he also competed with the song Garth Celyn in 2012, which he co-wrote with his mum as well and which is also written from the perspective of a historical figure. The translation comes from Gwilym’s website. 

    My name is Ben Rhys, a man and a collier
And a pure Welshman under my dirty shell,
One of the ants of the pit in the centre of my valley
And I mine in the darkness day in day out
Yes I mine all my days to put bread on the table,
Labouring for hours in this underground furnace
Yes, I work under hardship
And sweat in the darkness
Just to earn mere pennies
Doing my duty as a father and husband

One mid-summer’s dawn I descend into the pit
And the humid walls close in about me
Under weak and fragile beams and my candle’s naked flame
I leave the light of day for the last time
Yes I leave the light of day unconscious of my fate,
The lack of air overwhelming and pressing on my flesh,
Yes, I’m choking from the gasses
Amongst the deafening beating of hammers,
The beating of picks, and my heartbeat quickening in my breast.

My name is Ben Rhys, I was a man and a collier
And a pure Welshman under my dirty shell,
A man, father and brother, one of four in a grave,
And the grave is one of twenty that are open,
Yes the grave is one of twenty that are open in my valley
And the widows are lamenting and the children are weeping, Repressed under the master’s feet ,
Masters who only want to fill their pockets,
And that flee from justice, an injustice to this day.