Sunday, February 25, 2018

Mar* Songs: March of the Men of Harlech

Robin Huw Bowen: The March of the Men of Harlech


Dal Riada: Men of Harlech


There is an old saying, that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. That may prove true of our new theme as well. For the “in like a lion” part, let me start things off with the March of the Men of Harlech. This song dates from at least 1793, and came close to becoming the Welsh national anthem. According to folklore, the song first was written to rouse the troops during a seven year long siege that ended in 1468 with the besieged Welshmen winning the day. The song became popular after its use in the 1946 film How Green Was My Valley, and it was also featured in Zulu in 1964. That last version had lyrics that were written specifically for the film. There are several sets of lyrics, in both Welsh and English, starting with published versions from the early 1800s, but there is no generally accepted text.

Men of Harlech is most often performed in one of three ways. It may be sung by a male chorus or a solo singer; Charlotte Church may be the best know artist to record it that way. There are any number of recordings of arrangements for brass bands. I tend to think the versions for harp are likely to be truest to the original. Some of the instruments in a brass band did not exist in the 1400s, and it seems telling to me that an instrumental version for harp was the first published version, with the rival lyrics beginning to appear in print later. Robin Huw Bowen performs a version that may be close to the original sound. Warfare was a much quieter affair in the 1400s than it is now, and the strains of the harp within the besieged castle would have done much to boost morale if played this way. But solo harp is an acquired taste for the modern listener, so I have also included the fuller arrangement by Dal Riada. Here, the harp is augmented by bodhran and flute for a beautiful group sound that honors the feel of the original song.

Dal Riada should not be confused with the folk-metal group Dalriada. Dal Riada, with the space, is an offshoot of the folk group Idlewild, led by David and Carol Sharp. They only recorded two albums as Dal Riada, possibly because of the similarity of band names.

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