Datura – Gratus et Optatus (2016)


Anno Domini MMVI (In the year of the Lord 2006), Nynke Glazema, Tom Haage, Francesco Scafidi and Lies Sommer formed the Dutch band Datura. Their aim was to bring authentic medieval music to life, wearing the right clothing and each playing the instruments typical of the time:

Nynke : viella* and vocals
Tom : Spanish lute, flute, shawm* and vocals
Francesco : davul*, darbukka*, tambourine, saz* and vocals
Lies : harp, hurdy-gurdy, shawm and vocals

They studied the old manuscripts on the subject: songs collected by King Alfonso the 10th of Castilia y Leon (1221-1284); songs of devotion collected in the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat; the red book of the monastery of Montserrat around the 14th century; and the most famous collection of them all, the Carmina Burana.

The fruit of their studies were recorded for the first time in 2012 with Fieke van den Hurk, and collected on a magical disk-like mirror. A ‘mirror’ they called Alpha et Omega. The songs on Alpha et Omega were partly recorded in two churches and Fieke used the acoustics in there to her full advantage, therefore giving the listener a feel for the sounds of old medieval times. When minstrels would grace the courts and castles of medieval lords and kings. When their music would fill the big halls during elaborate dinners. Where the nobility would stride elegantly in couples to the sound of the music. They strode, because hopping and dancing was for the common people. That´s how Alpha et Omega feels when you listen to it. Elegant, sophisticated and well crafted. A real view into the noble courts of the 12th to the 15th century.

In 2016 Datura visited Fieke in the studio again. From the first notes it’s clear she gave Datura a different sound on Gratus et Optatus. More direct. Where the first album was for the nobility, this ‘magical mirror’ is meant for the common people. It invites you to dance and stomp and sing along. We are not looking into the medieval world anymore. We are right in it! In the midst of it. The travelling musicians are right there in front of us, on the market square, playing their first song Bacche Bene Venies. With Bacchus, the god of wine, standing next to us, giving us another glass. Bacche Bene Venies is a cheerful uptempo drinking song, coming from the Carmina Burana, that gets us listeners going straight away. A musical party to get our skirts swirling and our feet flying off he ground.



The second song, Winder Wie Ist Nu Dein Kraft, is a ballad composed by the 13th century Bavarian minnesinger Neidhart von Reuental written in old German. I quote from the booklet: “He turned away from the refined ethos of courtly, romantic love and wrote in a sarcastic but quite comical manner, mostly about the lower classes.” In this case the song is about the advantages and the disadvantages of marriage. It has all the goodness of a Datura song. Beautiful harp playing by Lies Sommer, a lovely violin solo and last but not least the wonderful combination of their voices. In this case of Nynke Glazema and Francesco Scafidi. Both have really strong voices and they work so well together. One of my favourite songs on the album.

La Rosa Enflorece is just as beautiful. This time Datura visits the courts of Andaluz, in a time when the Moorish courts ruled there. Also a time of the Medieval idea of convivencia (in English coexistance), the idea that all religions can live and work together in peace. Something we ‘modern’ people could learn something from. The song indeed has an Arabic feel to it and is sung beautifully by Tom Haage. He puts so much emotion in this love song. You feel a real sense of longing for a long-lost love.

Riu Riu Chiu is a cheerful uptempo song. Here all the voices of Datura blend together so well, driven by Francesco´s cheerful percussion. The fun shawm tunes makes this song into a real crowd-pleaser. Branle Des Chevaux is another fun dance song. In the booklet it is explained that this song should be danced in a horse-like manner. Well, you can definitely hear that in this instrumental song.

Dei Patris Unice is an a cappella song by all Datura members. Alle psallitte cum luya is also often sung a cappella by Francesco and Tom during the live shows. But in this case it’s given a beautiful intro solo by Anne Dekker on her viola da gamba*. The melody is taken over by the shawm, before the men bring out their impressive a cappella harmonies and canons. Another personal favourite!

The instrumental song Virgen Santa Maria takes us back to the Moorish courts ruling parts of 13th century Spain and Portugal for the second time, as Datura play this Galician song with Moorish style improvisations. Especially Tom’s intro on the Spanish lute is particularly lovely.

Schoonlief is a ballad based on a song found in ‘Het Antwerps Liedboek‘, a songbook from the city of Antwerp. Now a Belgian city, it used to be part of the Netherlands in the 16th century. As Datura describe in the booklet, it is a song with cheeky lyrics. A young man from a poor family tries to conquer the heart of a young noblewoman. Not one dirty word is said…., but for those who listen the message is clear enough!
The song itself is a duet between Tom and Nynke. Again those voices blend so well together. I also have to mention the lovely intro, a duet between harp and viella. Or the interlude, another duet, this time between Anne Dekker’s viola da gamba and Tom’s flute. To end it, we get a last beautiful flute and viella solo. Datura’s best song on Gratus et Optatus!

Alas, we get no time to dream about strong handsome young men or beautiful noblewomen. The shawms shake us up for a cheerful Virelai (a type of old French rhyme, the others being the ballade and the rondeau) called Douce Dame Jolie. I know this song in many versions, most of them instrumental. And I have to say that I really like this vocal version. Another cheerful dance song for the common people to jump on, or for the nobility to strode. Just what takes your fancy.
We keep on dancing with Zou Een Meiske Gaan Om Wijn (Should a girl go out for wine). A fast uptempo song with almost a rock feel to it. It gives a fair warning in it’s lyrics, which is explained by Datura in their booklet. Almost every song gets an extensive explanation about its history and subject, making it really interesting to read it all. I happily used a lot of that knowledge in this review.

Gatus et Optatus ends with three more songs. Two ballads, Belle Qui Tiens Ma Vie and Je Nus Hons Pris, a song written by Richard the Lionheart, ending with a last happy dance song, the Danse Moresque.
All in all Datura did way more than just record a piece of history on this CD. They really brought the old medieval songs to 21th century. The music has the same cheerfulness and energy as many a Pagan folk band we can see on the big fantasy festivals. It is as much part of our history as the old Celtic myths and music. It will make a fine musical soundtrack for a wonderful Balfolk night. And I’m sure it will appeal to those who like the classical and eastern influences of a band like Cesair. So if you see them announced, go pay them a visit. Enjoy their music, their spirit and afterwards get one of those magical silver mirrors. Or better yet, buy them both!



– Cliff


– Studio photo’s courtesy of Datura
– live photo courtesy of Andre Willemse



* some explanation of the different instruments:

– A viella is a medieval violin. similar to the modern one. It has a somewhat longer and deeper body and 3 to 5 strings.
– A shawm is a wooden double reed wind instrument, that ends in a flared bell, somewhat like a trumpet. It also sounds a wee bit like a trumpet. Nowadays there are often bagpipes added to the shawm to make it even stronger/louder. Corvus Corax and In extremo are well known for making this version of the shawm popular.
– A davul is a type of big drum carried in front of the player.
– A darbuka is a small goblet formed drum you play with your hands. It looks like a small djembe. It originates from the middle eastern region and eastern Europe.
– A saz is a Turkish guitar that looks a bit like a lute.
– A viola da gamba is a string instrument that looks a wee bit like a cello but is actually a relative of the guitar, most popular in the renaissance and the baroque era. The bow is also held differently than a cello’s. You hold it like you hold the bow of a nyckelharpa.



Harmony Glen – Live at Elfia (2018)



I love live albums. They capture that moment when the creative spirit of the musician meets the energy of the crowd. And when that connection is there, a band will feed off the energy to give their very best. It does not always happen, but every time when that connection ìs there it gives me goosebumps. I’ve been to several concerts where that electric energy was there between the band and us, the crowd and I remember them to this day. To catch something like that on a CD is just magic! When I heard that Harmony Glen was releasing a second live CD/DVD, knowing the cool positive energy they bring to the stage, and hearing that it was recorded at Elfia one of the bigger fantasy festivals in Holland, I was really looking forward to this CD. Did it live up to my expectations? For a big part it did, a very big part. But I’ll come to that later.

Harmony Glen has become a household name at medieval- and fantasy festivals all over Europe and even North America. Dressed as a steampunk band their shows are [quote]: “An Irish folk extravaganza!”[unquote] and as their biography is right on the nose, I will quote it a bit more: [quote]: “Harmony Glen is a Dutch feelgood-folk group founded in 2005. The music is based on Irish-Celtic folk but regularly sounds from all over the world get woven in. The goal of the band is to stand out not only through their music (which is a mix of traditional and original songs and tunes) but through their stage presence as well. Harmony Glen’s shows have been described as ‘a powerhouse of Folk’ and people who attend can’t seem to stand still as the energy is always on a maximal level.”[unquote]

Until now they recorded 6 studio and one live album called Live In Bremen. So Live At Elfia is their second live album and already their 8th CD overall. Quite an impressive discography. Most of the songs on Live At Elfia are taken from their latest studio album Start Living Today, so people already owning Live In Bremen don’t need to worry, there are just two songs that appear on both CDs.

The artwork of Live At Elfia looks stunning. That alone makes buying this album worth all its money. Niels Duindam did a wonderful job on it. The Liner notes accompanying the songs are something special. I’m not gonna give anything away but they are seriously hilarious. And with Hans-Heinrich Breuer of Heiners art they got themselves a quality photographer who made absolutely stunning pictures during the show. They not only grace the CD/DVD artwork, but we were also allowed to use them in this review. So a big thanks to Hans-Heinrich. But reviews are supposed to be about music, not photographers, so let’s put that silver disc in the player.

After the intro tape, that is sadly recorded a somewhat dull so it kinda loses its impact, Harmony Glen kicks off with Dave’s Lament which flows over in Slieve Galleon Breas. Dave’s Lament is a really nice instrumental piece. It is carried by a catchy melody played by the flute and violin. Driving bass lines and strong drums give the song some ‘oomph’, making it a really cheerful dance song, especially when halfway through the song the band picks up speed, turning it into a lovely Irish jig.

This is a major trademark of Harmony Glen. Take a simple but really catchy violin or flute tune, get the rhythm section under it so it becomes a lovely dance song, play variations on the first theme, maybe mix in a second theme and let the song pick up speed halfway through. Almost all instrumental songs on Live At Elfia are build up like that and quite a few vocal ones as well. The Phoenix, for instance, is built around a nice violin line by Mike Bruinsma, with Dominique Bentvelsen putting some really cool bass lines under it.

Wasting Time starts with a laid back violin melody by Mike, quickly joined by Gilian Hettinga on flute. Just crack open a can of beer, lean back and let yourself be drifted away into a lazy summers evening. Mary And Thyme again starts with a lazy summer festival tune, this time by Gilian and now it is Sjoerd van Ravenzwaaij on banjo who leads the band into a much faster pace. Just listen to that crowd join in halfway through the song. Easily one of my favourite songs on this CD.

Lazy Sunday also has that same build, this time I can pick up on the drums of Niels Duindam. He really adds that ‘Oomph’ I was talking about. All of these songs just ooze out a laid back summer festival feel. Just try playing them one after another, it’s impossible to sit still.

A different kind of instrumental song is Stardazs. Mike Bruinsma gets his chance to shine with a lovely delicate violin melody, only to be interrupted by Dominique Bentvelsen. Probably he got a bit bored and therefore throws in his best Darth Vader impression on his double bass. Mike is not flustered and keeps up his tender violin lines… ending it… …with a bit of the Star Wars theme! Stardazs keeps being like this, moving violin solo meets Star Wars theme meets eastern European uptempo gypsy tune. Halfway through the song the band really starts goofing around, making me wish I was reviewing the DVD instead of the CD, but just as easily they pick up the frantic pace of the gypsy solo again. Without dropping a beat! You can hear years of practise and playing together right there.

As I said earlier Dave’s Lament flows into Slieve Galleon Breas. We hear the second trademark of Harmony Glen, Sjoerd van Ravenzwaaij. Together with Dominique Bentvelsen he is the positive vibe of the band personified. One minute he is a clown playing with the audience, the next a gifted singer with a warm powerful voice. A pleasure to listen to. On Slieve Galleon Breas Sjoerd unleashes all this positive energy. He is clearly ready to make it the best gig ever. Maybe he has a bit too much energy actually. On stage Sjoerd uses a headphone as a mic, and the microphone is a wee bit to close to his mouth to handle all this energy without a slight distortion. A problem that keeps popping up during the whole CD. Especially with the announcements and cries during the songs to get the crowd going.

Putting that point aside, Sjoerd really has a good voice. It’s warm and powerful with just the right amount of sandpaper in it to make the Irish folk sparkle. Two of my favourite songs on the album are sung by him. Someone To Dance With and Caledonia are beautiful ballads. You can hear Sjoerds warm voice in all its glory. You can also hear how nicely Nienke Bijkers soprano blends in with his voice. In a ballad those two really work well together.

This also brings me to an aspect of Live at Elfia where unfortunately I have to be honest: the female lead vocals. Nienke isn’t a powerhouse soprano. Her voice is more of the fragile angelic kind. On the studio albums she weaves delicate melody lines together that are like intricate lace. It reminds me a lot of Joan Baez’s voice. (For younger readers who don’t know her, check out the old Woodstock albums.) When she takes the lead on stage in The Golden Vanity or Cecile En Lazare I keep asking myself if a brittle voice like hers really works together with the uptempo powerfolk that the band unleashes on stage. I personally don’t think the tempo and the power really work for her voice, but listen to those songs and judge for yourself. The issue I’m driving at starts later on in the CD with the songs Hold On and Black And White. I don’t know if Nienke was out of breath, could not hear herself that well or was losing some of her technique trying to keep up vocally with the power of the band behind her, but especially in the highest parts she sounds shaky, uncertain and at times she really misses the higher notes. It’s a shame really, because straight after Hold On Nienke starts Rest My Little Son singing a capella and suddenly she sounds like the vocalist we hear on the studio albums. Her voice becomes fuller, she regains her technique and is hitting every high note on the head. It makes me wonder how a live album in a more balladesque setting would work for her. Listening to the studio albums I think it would suit her voice much better.

But that’s my only point of critique with Live At Elfia. The band finishes strong with the crowd favourite Engel, a Rammstein cover. I’m still amazed at how much power an ACOUSTIC folk band can produce. It really sounds as heavy as Rammstein themselves. Impressive! Commander Keen is the last of the catchy instrumental folk songs, full speed from beginning to end this time with Gilian starting it on pipes. The ballad Caledonia is a beautiful ending to a CD which is overall very enjoyable. Harmony Glen is the ultimate feel-good festival band and they prove it here.

Now the question is: “Would I buy the CD myself?” Honestly? Knowing that 50% of the fun of a Harmony Glen show is Dominique, Sjoerd and Mike goofing around with either the crowd or each other, I would straight away go for the DVD. Entertainment guaranteed and you get a free CD extra! 🙂





– Cliff

– Pictures courtesy of Hans-Heinrich Breuer of Heiners art


Sunfire – Sunfire (2017)



There is this Dutch saying: ‘all good things come fast.’ But I don’t think even Satria Karsono would have dared to dream that he would be rocking the Winter Castlefest stage with his own band Sunfire, only 10 months after doing his first solo concert as a support act for Thundercrow.
Nor would he have expected that ALL the major Dutch fantasy festivals would be queuing up to book his band for the 2018 season. Whether you will be visiting Elfia, Zomerfolk or Castlefest, there is no escaping the western folk sounds of Sunfire. And you might bump in to them on a lot of other Dutch festivals as well. 2018 is starting to look like a break through year for this young band.
Sunfire already visited the CeltCast living room and the song Yoyo was our February 2018 monthly marker . So it’s high time we finally introduce Satria’s music in a CD review.


We first picked up on Satria Karsono’s music when he released the mini CD Endorphine under the artist name Satria Sunfire in 2014. It is a beautiful 6 track album that showcases Satria as a gifted singer-songwriter and guitarist. His style can be described as laid back acoustic music, with a warm soulful voice and good lyrics, reminding me a bit of Jack Johnson. It kinda feels like friends sharing life stories while drinking good wine around a campfire.
Endorphine was brought out as a download album only. Although officially no longer promoted, you can still find it in the archives of the good old internet if you want to.

In February of 2017 Satria did his first solo performance at the Thundercrow release party, for their CD Drop It. He played old material from his Endorphine Mini CD and gave us a taste of the new songs that were released on Sunfire soon after. This is his first -and for the time being only- full length solo CD. Satria recorded it with the help of old friend and sound engineer Berend de Vries. But even before officially releasing Sunfire, Satria already told us he wanted to bring a band together to promote the CD and work on new material.
In the summer of 2017 Sunfire did some small shows as a full band for the first time, with Satria on vocals, guitar and percussion; Berend de Vries on (solo) guitar and Michel Beeckman on bass.



The final piece of the Sunfire puzzle fell into place when Sophie Zaaijer (Cesair, Shireen) added her violin skills to the American folk sound that was already starting to emerge within the band. The four of them adding yet another unique sound to the already so vibrant fantasy folk scene. Alternative Western folk.
Back to the CD. Reading about the short but rapid development from Satria Sunfire as a solo artist to Sunfire as a band, it’s easy to think that Sunfire the solo CD -are you getting confused already?- is just an intermediate stop, building up to the Western folk style the band have now. But that wouldn’t do the album any justice. No justice at all. So let’s talk music!

After the intro called Intro, a short soundscape kinda thing with fragments of songs from the album setting the mood, the CD kicks of with Live Today. The first chorus, with it’s single acoustic guitar and Satria’s soulful vocals, is still how I remember him from Endorphine. But the start of the second verse changes the whole sound. Daphyd Sens and Rob van Barschot (Thundercrow, Omnia) join their friend and former band mate to give the sound a cool almost Australian groove. But it’s the ’70’s electric guitar with a cool lo-fi effect on it that makes the song sound old and rugged, almost desert like. A guitar sound that reminds me a wee bit of the Shadows or more recently Edwyn Collins. To be clear. Edwyn Collins is a pop &rock and roll singer, while Satria Karsono’s solowork is singer-songwriter material with bluegrass and alternative country influences. The reference is only to illustrate that Satria and Berend used a similar guitar sound to give the Sunfire album a modern and yet old feel.

This specific lo-fi sound is actually a blueprint for the whole CD. In my eyes, Live Today is also a bridge between the singer-songwriter Satria Sunfire I heard on his first mini CD and the Western folk band that Sunfire has become today

That same electric guitar starts the second song Sunfire. Satria wrote this song on an early morning, while he was sitting on his balcony watching the world wake up below him. And you feel it. The melody reminds me a lot of My World, a song by Tim Kay, that Jamie Oliver used for his Jamie at home series. It has the same laid back, comforting feel to it. Here the singer-songwriter in Satria shines, with some impressive harmonies in the later part of the song. It’s impressive to hear how high Satria’s voice can reach. Guitar and vocals, you really don’t need more to have a beautiful song.



The third song, Ghost, takes us across the water to the great plains of America for the first time. With the tender slide guitar notes, the native American influences, the flute and the lyrics reminding me of native American medicine men taking on their totem animals to fly over their native land or glide through the night like a mountain cat. It is a beautiful homage to these proud ancient people. Again with stunning vocals and harmonies building up a impressive climax.

With Dirty James we stay in the good old US of A. In bluegrass country to be precise. This song, based on a laid back banjo riff, is the first one I heard that comes with a lyrics health warning . Don’t listen to those lyrics while you are eating. Not unless you’re on a diet that is. It will kill your appetite in seconds. Trust me.
But, all fun aside, it’s a cool song which shows the witty side of Satria’s songwriting skills. I’m secretly hoping he will include it in his live set again one day. Because the song is really funny and I’m actually interested what Sophie could do with the violin in it. I have this odd feeling it would be pretty surprising.

The next song I wanna pick out, Find Your Home, comes closest to the uptempo alternative western folk Sunfire is playing now. In an interview Satria told me where he wanted to go with his music. In the fantasy scene we focus a lot on European folk. Be it the Eastern European or the Celtic version. But the emigrants to America also took that music with them. In the south it evolved in what we now call country music. In the east, under the influence of the Irish and Scottish emigrants it turned into bluegrass. And it is this ‘American folk’ that Satria wanted to explore with his band Sunfire. Find Your Home has that cool uptempo western folk feel that we now know to be the typical Sunfire style.

With A Smile For You and Little Rascal we come to the deeper emotional part of the album, where Satria really proves to be a gifted singer-songwriter.
Both songs are ballads. A Smile For You again has those native American influences I mentioned in Ghost. He reaches deep inside to express the emotions that he feels seeing people hurt within these lyrics. Real goosebumps. In Little Rascal Satria shows that he isn’t afraid to put delicate subjects into his songs. It’s a homage to all the women who have lost a child before birth. Something that is not talked about a lot. A hidden grieving that he managed to put into words. Soothing. Sung as a warm embrace for everybody who had to go through this experience.

Mr Whiskers is the ideal song to follow up on all those emotions. It’s a witty bluegrass ballad about an old stray cat in a dirty old ghost town somewhere in the deep American countryside. Putting the odd smile right back on your face.

Yoyo, Celtcast’s February Monthly marker, is a bit of an odd one out on the album. With Daphyd Sens and Rob van Barschot joining in again on Slidgeridoo and percussion, it has this Australian beach feel again that we started out with on the album with Live Today. Ending our visit to the American plains and ghost towns.

Immortal then totally closes the circle on this album. Again a soundscape kinda song. Let´s say Pink Floyd meets the shadows in the Australian desert, with Satria putting his electric guitar skills to good use. Odd, eerie but beautiful. Closing a CD that opened a whole new musical world to me. A world of bluegrass, alternative country and americana, mixed with the singer-songwriter i’m more familiar with. A world that the band Sunfire is going to open up even more for us. As we speak the band is writing and recording new material for the upcoming CD, due to be released some time in the summer. I was allowed to listen to a short preview and believe me, it is gonna rock your socks off. So I’ll finish this review about the ‘old’ solo work of Satria ‘Sunfire’ Karsono with a preview of the new alternative Western folk band Sunfire. And their first single Jordan.



– Cliff
– photo’s by Cliff de Booy



Gwendolyn Snowdon – Three Strand Braid (2018)


The first two sentences I wrote while listening to Three Strand Braid for the first time were: ‘The music feels like a warm soothing blanket.’ and ‘She is an amazing storyteller!’. Now that I’ve spent about a week listening to Gwendolyn Snowdon‘s first solo album, I know those lines sum up this whole album quite nicely.

‘Wait a minute.’ I hear you ask ‘Did I just hear you say storyteller?’

Yes. Although we are talking about a Folk album, I am sure I have been listening to a book filled with small stories. It has taken me overseas, it told me stories of lovers lost, It told me tales of ‘naughty girls’ and men young at heart, it gave me moments of laughter (you just have to listen to the lyrics in Little Duke Arthur’s Nurse) and a tear of melancholy. Twelve stories found a place on Three Strand Braid. Four English songs, four Dutch and four Irish. I will explain why that is after I introduce Gwendolyn a bit more.

Gwendolyn Snowdon was born in 1980 in Haarlem, the Netherlands. At the age of 10 she started learning guitar, soon followed by vocal lessons. Nowadays she plays bouzouki, Indian harmonium, bodhran and guitar , but her main ‘instrument’ is her beautiful voice. The first band she joined was called The Dutch Lemmings, a Celtic Folk band, inspired by traditional Folk music ánd the energy of the, then quite new, fantasy folk scene. (you can see a photo of them playing at the Midwinter Fair in 2012 on the right)
At the moment Gwendolyn is one of the main vocalists of the Celtic Folk band Finvarra. With this band being a bit less active and Gwendolyn having a bit more time on her hands, the idea grew to record a first solo album. One person to encourage her was Omnia frontman Steve ´Sic´ Evans-van Harten. Two and a half years ago Gwendolyn started collecting songs she loved for her album. With her father being Dutch and her mother being half English/half Irish, she had the idea to explore her own roots through music and that is how the concept for Three Strand Braid was born. Four English songs, four Dutch and four Irish, braided together to form one Folk CD. You can see that concept come back in the cover art of the album as well. A lovely painting made by Lisa Falzon.

During the recording of Three Strand Braid she worked closely with sound engineer and producer David Groeneveld. He was also responsible for the recording and production of Finvarra’s first CD. Finvarra bandmates Patrick Broekema and Corné van Woerdekom were quite willing to help out with guitar, tin whistle, mandolin and violin parts. Other musical friends to help out were Kelten zonder Grenzen / Datura / Ball Noir‘s hurdy-gurdy player Lies Sommer, Perkelt‘s recorder player Paya Lehane, David’s brother Melchior Groeneveld on guitar and of course former The Dutch Lemmings member and long time ‘partner in crime’ Coca Román (now Kelten zonder Grenzen) on harp.

The first song on Three Strand Braid really sets the mood. It is a beautiful interpretation of Sandy Denny´s The North Star Grassman and the Ravens. Sandy Denny is the late singer of the English 70’s folk band Fairport Convention. Gwendolyn tells in the informative booklet that she adores Sandy’s music. She thinks this is one of Sandy’s most beautiful songs. While researching The North Star Grassman and the Ravens on the internet I found a moving version of it on YouTube with Sandy Denny herself on piano. I don’t know íf Gwendolyn and David saw this specific performance, but if they did, it could well have been the starting point for their version. It starts really small with David accompanying Gwendolyn on piano. The warm blanket I mentioned at the start. But it builds up to a powerful ballad with violin, drums, strong backing vocals and of course Gwendolyn’s own voice in all it’s glory. A wonderful tribute to her musical hero.

The second song is a Dutch one called Te Haarlem in den Houte. It’s a medieval song that tells the story of a boy who wants to spend the night with a ‘naughty girl’. Gwendolyn introduces her first guest soloist: Datura / Kelten zonder grenzen / Bal Noir‘s Lies Sommer on hurdy-gurdy. The start is definitely medieval. The clean classical vocals, the drum rhythm, the hurdy-gurdy sound of Lies are all things I know well from the Dutch medieval band Datura. But as the song builds up it suddenly goes Celtic. Especially the hurdy-gurdy solo pulls it right into the Celtic Folk sound. Nolwenn Leroy‘s version of Tri Martolod comes to my mind while listening. Indeed a braid of two strands in one song.

Logically the third song then has to be Irish. Gwendolyn picked another musical hero of hers: Irish Folk singer Christy Moore. From his huge repertoire she choose I wish I was in England, an up-tempo ballad about a love found and lost again. Gwendolyn and David kept this as a pure Celtic Folk song driven by a catchy mandolin melody played by Finvarra’s Patrick Broekema. You just can not get it out of your head after you heard it. For a short moment the name Amy MacDonald flashes by when I hear the guitar intro, but that soon passes. Gwendolyn has her own singing style. A style that comes closest to Sandy Denny. With that addictive mandolin hook this is a fun, cheerful song with a melancholic story. Pure folk.

Johnny Rau is a song by the Dutch band Törf, sung in local dialect. It’s followed by Little Duke Arthur’s Nurse. This traditional, originally recorded by English 50’s/60’s Folk singer Frankie Armstrong, tells about a young man who wanted to get ‘naughty’ with a nurse… and what then happened that night. A medieval story at it’s best.
By now it’s clear that Gwendolyn is a storyteller. The songs that she selected have two things in common. They had to have a beautiful composition… and a good story to tell. Needless to say that Gwendolyn is a good storyteller. And she has a wonderful partner in producer David Groeneveld. With his Pop music background he manages to give every song that something special it needs to get the story across. This particular song starts with a keyboard intro as Clannad or Enya could play it. You feel the mist flow over the English hillside, while young Johnny is travelling out on this fair May morning. But where Clannad would keep this mystical sound going, David pulls the sound right back to the pure singer/songwriter Folk that is the core of this album. Adding splashes of backing vocals left and right to keep the music fun and interesting.

Lovely on the Water and Willow’s Song are two more beautiful ballads. Willow’s Song has a wonderful, almost creepy violin rhythm in there, that reminds me a wee bit of how Kate Bush uses it in her music. The original song is part of the soundtrack of the British horror movie the Wickerman. Gwendolyn and David, in their arrangement, managed to give the music an eerie, ghostly feel. Gwendolyn’s versatile voice easily flows into a eerie melody line as well. Her voice here is a mix of Gwendolyn herself (she just has her own style that is instantly recognisable) and Loreena McKennitt. My personal favourite on the album.

One day before the official CD release, Gwendolyn was the guest in a CeltCast ‘Living room session‘. Hearing her talk about how important the friendships she made are to her, it was obvious there couldn’t be a first solo album without the help of Coca Román. And here she is on De Harpspeelster. Gwendolyn found this song in an old Dutch songbook and Coca composed a beautiful harp tune to accompany it. The harp melody sounds a wee bit Eastern, especially with the choir coming in at the end. Gwendolyn’s music really manages to trigger my imagination. Here it is making me drift into a Chinese landscape, on a hill with golden rice fields below me in the sunset as the music fades out. (Although it being a Dutch song, it should probably have been a Sawa in Indonesia.) But not for long. Clean guitar chords pull me right back to the bright green fields of Eire.

Quiet Land of Erin is a song full of longing, the longing of the Irish people abroad for their homeland, the emerald green Isle of Erin. Gwendolyn is at her very best in this former CeltCast ‘Monthly Marker’. You feel the longing, the sadness and melancholy of this story. Again, David Groeneveld surrounds her voice with just the right sound. Clannad meets Gwendolyn Snowdon. Another firm favourite on the album.

On The Next Market Day the last of Gwendolyn’s guests appear. Perkelt’s Paya Lehane plays the beautiful lead melody and solo on recorder, a type of flute. The song itself is a medieval love story. In most versions it ends with a marriage, but Gwendolyn leaves it with an open end. The arrangement itself reminds me of Omnia’s version of The Well. Especially with the solo that Paya composed. A beautiful magical tune that would capture any traveller’s heart.

The Parting Glass is a fitting end to Three Strands Braid. Gwendolyn, with the help of her friends, has made a beautiful CD. Well rooted in the Celtic Folk traditions, but with the surprising Dutch songs, the Pop influences of David Groeneveld and the cool variation in song choice on the whole, it also is a really fresh album that keeps on giving. Having said that, what makes this CD really stand out in the crowd is Gwendolyn Snowdon herself. Her voice is amazing and she has the skills to use it to its full potential. Sometimes it´s crystal clear, like a modern Joan Baez, sometimes eerie and mystical like a Dutch Loreena McKennitt. But most of the time she uses that melodic Irish accent as a female Christy Moore. I know I compare Gwendolyn with some big names here, but I really feel her voice has that quality. But, the biggest compliment I can give Gwendolyn is that she sounds like herself! All the names mentioned in this review are pure references to help explain the music. In the end Three Strand Braid is a 100% pure Gwendolyn Snowdon. And I love it!!!!

– Cliff


Fotocredits:

– Picture of ‘The Dutch Lemmings’ during the 2012 Midwinter Fair and
– Pictures taken during the ‘Calling in Spring’ festival 2018 courtesy of Kees Stravers

– Gwendolyn Snowdon promotional picture courtesy of Wen Versteeg Fotografie


KNEP – Bestioles (2016)


Two talented young musicians, one playing nyckelharpa, the other guitar. Sometimes it doesn’t take more than that to make a beautiful album. The Swiss duo Emilie Waldken and Pascal Rüegger, together known as KNEP, did just that and we at CeltCast are more than happy to introduce their music!

Emilie Waldken studied classical violin, after which she was introduced to the nyckelharpa and Scandinavian music and it was love at first sight. In her own words; ‘the discovery of the nyckelharpa was key in my life.’ She eventually went to Sweden to study Swedish folk music on the Eric Sahlström institutet.

Besides KNEP she plays in the medieval/fantasy band Skoga Obscura which she founded. She also does a lot of solo performances and teaches.

Pascal Rüegger studied music on the Zürcher hochschule der kunste in Zurich. He also went to Sweden to study Scandinavian folk, although his focus was more on dance. He now gives workshops in traditional Nordic- and Balfolk dances. He is also busy with quite a few jazz- and theatre projects.

Together Emilie and Pascal form the duo KNEP. Their first album Bestioles came out on the 13th of February 2016. When asked how KNEP was formed Emilie said: “It was a bit before heading to Sweden that Pascal and I met during a Balfolk ball. First we jammed, slowly a common repertoire was created and one day we stepped on stage and KNEP was born. So our duo is really a classical violinist having a passion for Scandinavian folk fiddling and nyckelharpa who met a jazz guitar and bass player and them ending up together! We like to stick to the Scandinavian style, using the tradition we both studied as much as possible.”

(The complete interview we did with KNEP can be found here)

With both Emily Waldken and Pascal Rüegger loving Swedish folk-, Balfolk-, classical- and jazz music, it’s no surprise that KNEP’s sound is indeed a blend between Swedish Traditional music, Balfolk and classical chamber music with a splash of jazz.

On Bestioles you’ll find 11 lovely folk songs. Introducing us to different types of Scandiavian traditional music and some balfolk too. Five of the songs are Polska’s, one is a Circassien Circle. There is a Waltz, a Scottish and two Mazurka’s. Five songs are traditionals, Pascal wrote four and Emilie has five to her name. For the fast mathematicians, yes that adds up to more then eleven, but some songs are actually two tunes blended together. Something you will surely notice reading the song-titles. All arrangements are by Emilie and Pascal. The latter is also responsible for recording Bestioles.

The first song MCP + La verte shows all the duo’s strong points. It starts with a jazzy rhythm played by Pascal on guitar and he is soon accompanied by Emilie’s nyckelharpa. Although the first time I heared the music I mistakenly thought it was played with a octavharpa. Not true Emilie told me. Her nyckelharpa has a 4-row keyboard, which explains the deep almost cello like sound on this (and other) songs. As the nyckelharpa’s melody on MCP + La verte is in the range of a cello, you would expect these two combined compositions by Pascal to be melancholic, but they are not. It’s actually a cheerfully played Polska, especially the second part La verte.

The second song Chévrefeuille (French for Honeysuckle) is a composition by Emilie. This song is still evolving when they play it live with Emilie adding new parts to it on a regular basis. Again, a nice cheerful song, with Pascal on low whistle. The composition has a lot of variations on the main theme and changes in tempo, keeping it interesting until the last note.

Polska från Dorothea starts with a lovely nyckelharpa intro from Emilie, with Pascal´s guitar joining in. Both instruments blend into a beautiful, gentle piece of music. By now it’s clear that both Emilie and Pascal are excellent musicians. Although all songs are instrumental, you don´t miss vocals. As is to be expected from well composed classical music, the instruments themselves are the voices. In the artwork Knep tells that this Polska has been among their favourites for a long time. It could well be my favourite too.



Celle-ci is a Mazurka. It´s also a solo piece for guitar and it´s beautiful, starting real small, delicate and tender. The song shows how beautiful classical acoustic guitar can be, when played by a skilled musician. Another personal favourite of mine.

The uptempo Le Troll du Chateau de Joux + The Gallowglass brings us to another Balfolk dance classic. The Circassien Circle dance. At this point I noticed another strong point of the CD. Its variation. I am taken from dance tunes to delicate solos. One moment the guitar will lead the way, the next song the nyckelharpa takes center stage. From open chords to rhythm, from Polska’s to a Waltz, the songs are never the same. I really have to compliment KNEP on the song choice and the placement of them on the album. It is so well balanced, so well thought out that it keeps being interesting.

Not all songs are Swedish folk inspired. Suka-fiol is a Waltz Emilie wrote when she heard about the Suka, a special fiddle from Poland. Maybe it sounds Polish, maybe not, but it’s definitely a nice Balfolk song.

Eikelandsosen is a solo piece for nyckelharpa. And here I have to compliment Pascal on his recording skills. The whole album is recorded with minimal usage of effects, giving it a direct, pure and honest sound. In this song it works so well. You can really hear all the ‘clicks’ of the nickelharpa keys being touched. If you close your eyes you can just imagine Emilie sitting next to you, playing you this wonderful instrument.

The last song I want to mention is L’autre Route, a delicate duet between guitar and nyckelharpa. A worthy end to this beautiful album. Bestioles nicely fills in the gap between Balfolk, as played by the likes of Finvarra, and Baroque style chamber music. It’s not an album that will make you jump and run through your house dancing. It’s an album you want to play to calm down and forget the stress of the day. It leaves you feeling positive and relaxed. A great value nowadays.

– Cliff


– Concert photo’s courtesy of Kees Stravers.
– Band portrait courtesy of Knep.








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