The call of the sea and the magnetic pull of home run through Bryn Terfel’s latest album for Deutsche Grammophon, Sea Songs, set for release digitally and on CD on 2 February 2024. Sir Bryn, who is marking his 30th anniversary as a DG artist this year, is joined on Sea Songs by a storied line-up of guest artists, including Sting, singer-songwriter Eve Goodman, baritone Sir Simon Keenlyside, the Cornish singing sensations Fisherman’s Friends, and traditional Welsh folk band Calan, in a programme of romantic sea shanties, spirited sailor songs and maritime folk tunes. “These songs are numerous and with an astonishing variety of tunes, many of them exceptionally beautiful, dramatic and memorable”, says the great Welsh bass-baritone.
Sea Songs was recorded in the intimate space of Acapela Studios in Pentyrch, near the Welsh capital Cardiff. Its songs come from the coasts of Wales, England, Ireland, Shetland, Brittany and far beyond, shining a light on words and music that helped generations of sailors face fair and foul weather. The album traces the strong ties that bind together the seafaring communities of different nations and celebrates their shared musical traditions. All tracks are newly arranged by Patrick Rimes.
“I cannot begin to explain how incredibly thrilled I am to return to the shanties and folk songs of the sea,” notes Bryn Terfel. “A North Wales farmer’s son who has always been rather obsessed with the 360-mile coastline of Northern Wales – Porthmadog, Pwllheli, Nefyn, to name but a few places that were always my safe harbour away from the daily routine: fishing, swimming, boats and ropes and all things nautical with days out at sea capped off with a welcome glass of whisky or rum at close of day. The call of the sea is strong and so too is the call to the folk songs of my homeland.”
Sea Songs contains a rich selection of Welsh maritime favourites, including the lyrical “Ar lan y môr” (a duet with Eve Goodman), sea shanty “Mae’r gwynt yn deg” and “Fflat Huw Puw”. Several of these were either collected from the oral tradition or freshly invented in the 1920s by scholar and songsmith J. Glyn Davies. Many of his songs of the seas were later published in his popular collection of children’s songs, Fflat Huw Puw a Cherddi Eraill (Huw Puw’s Barge and Other Poems).
Some of the pieces chosen for the album have absorbed the flavour of local cultures on their travels and gained new lyrics along the way. One such is the ancient broadside ballad “The Green Willow Tree”, of which numerous different variants exist on both sides of the Atlantic, especially in the north-east of England. A well-known native of that part of the world joins Bryn here to give a spirited version of this murderous tale – none other than Sting. The duo are aided and abetted by the fabulous fiddle playing of Calan’s Patrick Rimes.
Other highlights from around the seven seas include the well-known shanty “Drunken Sailor” (with Sir Simon Keenlyside); Bahamian folk song “Sloop John B” and “The Wellerman”, a ballad of New Zealand origins (both with Fisherman’s Friends); the hauntingly beautiful Breton-language song “Me ’zo ganet e-kreiz ar mor”, another duet with Eve Goodman, with accompaniment from Bryn’s wife, harpist Hannah Stone; the equally beguiling “Unst Boat Song”, sung in the ancient Norn language that was spoken in Shetland until well into the 19th century; and the ever popular “The Irish Rover”.
“It was an absolute joy to add sea songs from other countries to those of Wales and to sing in multiple languages,” says Bryn. “My heartfelt thanks to Deutsche Grammophon for allowing me to realise a project that means so much to me.”
Sir Bryn Terfel reached a global audience of more than 400 million people earlier this year when he sang at the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla and again in the concert held the following day at Windsor Castle – the only artist to perform at both events. His 2023–24 season includes returns to the Wiener Staatsoper as Dulcamara in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, to take the title role in Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer; recitals at the Sala São Paolo, Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, Washington D.C.; and a revival of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd for Opernhaus Zurich.