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BRAN (BRÂN)

Prog Folk • United Kingdom


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Bran (Brân) biography
BRÂN were a Welsh band who began life as a marginally progressive folk-leaning act and moved steadily toward a more conventional sound as they shifted lineups numerous times during their five-year existence. Mk4 of the group recorded a third studio album in 1978 shortly before they fractured with the departure of founding member John Gwyn. The band was noteworthy for recording solely in Welsh, a characteristic that surely endeared them to their countrymen but undoubtedly limited their commercial potential.

The band's early lineup included vocalist/keyboardist Nest Howells, whose angelic voice cemented the band's sound well inside folk territory in their early years. She would depart after the second release, when the band would abandon any pretense of progressive music with a heavy guitar attack that has been referred to as "crotch-rock" in their waning years.

Gwyn would go on to a career in television and soundtrack music, while a handful of the remaining members would reform as the mainstream rock band MAGGS, and two eventually formed the boogie-rock act LOUIS AR ROCYRS. Remnants of the earlier BRÂN including Howells would resurface as the prog folk act PERERIN. Nest Howells would also give birth to Welsh pop singer ELIN FFLUR.

BRÂN were a band whose claim to progressive status is largely limited to their first (and some of their second) studio releases; while they would end up as a decidedly conventional band, those first recordings and their ties to PERERIN merit some attention in the annuals of progressive rock.

>>Bio by Bob Moore (aka ClemofNazareth)<<

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BRAN (BRÂN) discography


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BRAN (BRÂN) top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.76 | 4 ratings
Ail-Ddechra
1975
2.46 | 3 ratings
Hedfan
1976
1.05 | 2 ratings
Gwrach Y Nos
1978

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BRAN (BRÂN) Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Gwrach Y Nos by BRAN (BRÂN) album cover Studio Album, 1978
1.05 | 2 ratings

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Gwrach Y Nos
Bran (Brân) Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

1 stars Well, the Welsh band Brân managed to hang on in the late seventies long enough to crank off a third studio album before disappearing, but this is definitely not a case of ‘third time’s a charm’. Unlike the original and highly engaging work their offspring Pererin would record around the angelic voice and playful keyboards of Nest Llwelyn (nee Howells), this album is nothing more than bland and faux-enthusiastic cock-rock. Granted, the Welsh language vocals make for a mildly unusual deviation from their international contemporaries such as Triumph, the Babys, and I suppose the Bay City Rollers; but there is nothing either progressive or appealing to make this album even slightly of interest to any serious modern music lover.

Howells had left the group by the time they entered the studio to record this tripe (in late 1977 I believe), as had everyone else associated with the band other than guitarist and founder John Gwyn, who would provide nearly all the vocals in her place (bassist Louis Thomas backs on a few songs). Nest would reappear with Pererin and a fresh lineup a couple years later, leaving in their wake by the time they faded away four great studio albums including the timeless Welsh prog folk masterpiece ‘Haul Ar Yr Eira’.

This ain’t that album, nor is it anything close. A track-by-track breakdown isn’t necessary or even worthwhile. Suffice to say there are an awful lot of shreds, heavy riffs and mindless testosterone lyrics on pretty much every song. That’s about it. The title track is a feeble attempt at something ballad-like, but even that degenerates into whining electric guitar noise and repetitive two-part male vocals interrupted by tired-sounding guitar solos that fail to hold the song for anything approaching its six-minute length. Otherwise every track sounds almost identical. The other six-minute tune (“Tramp”) follows the same pattern as “Gwrach Y Nos” but doesn’t even bother with the languid opening. This is so far away from the band’s sound on their first two albums that I’m a bit surprised their management and label bothered to issue it under the Brân name.

I’m kind of disappointed since I’ve been waiting for a long time to hear the last Brân album after being somewhat taken by their modest and modern Welsh folk debut ‘Ail-Ddechra’. This thing doesn’t do anything for me, and it won’t do anything for you either, unless perhaps your idea of a classic prog folk band is April Wine or something. Not likely. And not surprising that half the band (drummer Bryan Griffiths and rhythm guitarist Len Jones) would end in up a hack blues-rock cover band (The Road Rats), schlepping their wares at county fairs on the European oldies circuit. I’ve no idea what happened to Gwyn, but I think I read somewhere he got into the movie production business. If this is the best he could do on his own without Howells, that’s probably just as well for all concerned.

If you are even remotely curious about Brân, check out ‘Ail-Ddechra’. You will undoubtedly be taken by Nest Howells’ near-operatic vocals and tender keyboards; when that happens, pick up anything by Pererin and you will surely be glad you did. But don’t bother with this thing – there’s a reason it is nearly impossible to find today and has only been reissued a couple of times on dubious Eastern European and Japanese labels. One star and not recommended.

peace

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 Ail-Ddechra by BRAN (BRÂN) album cover Studio Album, 1975
2.76 | 4 ratings

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Ail-Ddechra
Bran (Brân) Prog Folk

Review by toroddfuglesteg

2 stars A prog rock folk band singing in Welsh is not the usual fare. Unfortunate, the excellent colourful Welsh folk music tradition has been bypassed on this album and been replaced by some pretty generic 1970s pop/rock. What a shame ! This album winds it's way through some horrendous bad trying-to-be-commercial pop/rock tunes. The sound quality is pretty bad throughout.

.....Then there is a couple of sunrays in the form of the two closing tracks Y Crewr and Breuddwyd. Both of them dominated by some wonderful female vocals on the top of some progressive folk tinged melodies. Very good stuff indeed. The rest of the album is horrible. Bad sound and bad tunes...... with the exception of those two tracks. This is not a recommended album, I am afraid.

2 stars

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 Hedfan by BRAN (BRÂN) album cover Studio Album, 1976
2.46 | 3 ratings

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Hedfan
Bran (Brân) Prog Folk

Review by kenethlevine
Special Collaborator Prog-Folk Team

3 stars While Brân's sophomore effort is not as strong as their debut overall, having abandoned almost all folk inspiration in favour of hard acidic rock already past its time, it does contain a couple of their best tracks,

Clearly the winds were shifting, and even several jazzier and countrified tunes seemed half hearted. Not surprisingly, they remained most appealing when staying closer to their melodic origins, in the lovely ballad "Dyddiau Dwys", and the masterful closer, which possesses the same spine-tingling hallmarks of PERERIN's ultimate songs, particularly in the lead guitar outro and the alternating quiet and more assertive sections. The best of the rockers are "Dewch Ynghyd", which has a rudimentary RUNRIG style to it (and predates RUNRIG's recorded works), and especially "Hapus Awr", which works in fits and starts from anticipatory strummed electric guitar to catchy hard rock tune, with the voices fitted to the underlying rhythms rather than the reverse.

In spite of mounting evidence that Brân was decomposing into barely recognizable remnants at this point, their ability to wrench every emotional essence out of the best cuts manages to salvage a 2.5 star rating that I can only round up.

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 Ail-Ddechra by BRAN (BRÂN) album cover Studio Album, 1975
2.76 | 4 ratings

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Ail-Ddechra
Bran (Brân) Prog Folk

Review by kenethlevine
Special Collaborator Prog-Folk Team

3 stars A Welsh group playing rock music or a rock group playing Welsh music, or some combination thereof? The answer in the case of Brân, seems to be "yes". Their debut was a battleground of tired rock idioms of the 1970s and plaintive ballads from some other century's 70s, with the modern rock notching the win.

The identity crisis is apparent from the outset, with the rock and roll oriented "Y Ddôr Ddig', notable only for its oddly chosen mellotron backing, and is repeated in various guises throughout the album. Things get more interesting with "Y Gwylwyr", which combined both forces to some degree, as a catchy yet clunky riff is played off against Nest Howells' beseeching voice, and the somewhat less dynamic "Myfyrdod ". Among quieter numbers, "Rhodiaf Hen Lwybrau" evokes early CLANNAD at their best, but with Nest's own rolling piano replacing the harp, and "Caledfwlch" is slightly jazzier with added flute and gently acidic electric guitar.

The real highlights are the two final cuts. The haunting "Y Crewr " sports Nest's best vocals and warm electric pian, with more trippy distorted guitar. The piano dominated instrumental "Breuddwyd " shows that Nest has more than a little of an understated Wakeman in her. It's unlike anything the group ever did, and might also be the tune for which they are best known.

Brân remains most notable for its ties to the as yet unformed PERERIN than for their own material, and, even though their debut is a good album, its schizophrenia and general paucity of focused inspiration mean it is unlikely to achieve much regularity in your playlist.

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 Hedfan by BRAN (BRÂN) album cover Studio Album, 1976
2.46 | 3 ratings

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Hedfan
Bran (Brân) Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

2 stars Brân takes a major detour on their second album, veering strongly away from prog folk territory in favor of a clearly commercial approach to both songwriting and performing. Nearly every track on this album consists of simple, kitschy rock with gratuitous wailing and bluesy guitar riffs where acid folk noodling once existed, and precious little of Nest Howells’ vocals or delicate piano. Only one track manages to stand out here (“Dyddiau Dwys”), and even there the band resorts to studio gimmickry in the form of needless vocal echoing and a closing male accompanying vocal line that is both unnecessary and distracting.

And unfortunately the group follows that with their heaviest and most commercial track to-date, the hard-rocking, hair-swirling ditty “Ar Glem” which also serves notice that their brief folksy days are officially behind them. Howells trades in her piano for bleating and uninspired organ riffs that are mostly lost anyway in the blare of newcomer Dafydd Pierce’s unrestrained guitar improvisational jamming. The next track “Hapus Awr” makes a half-hearted and unconvincing attempt at leveraging Ms. Howells talents, but the net result sounds more like a Sniff & the Tears tune from around the same era (“Driver’s Seat – yeah…. Jenny was sweet…”). Bleah.

Once again the band tries to end an album on a positive note, but this time with “Miraeth” which might have actually succeeded were it not for the muddled attempt to overdub Ms. Howells with herself, a studio tack that ends up falling rather flat.

This is an obvious two-star effort, and a sad last-gasp for a band that started off with some very strong promise as a prog folk act. Sad to see it happen, but they wouldn’t be either the first or last to fall to the temptation of commercial success and the coming vapid sensibilities of the latter seventies and early eighties. Check out their debut for a much stronger offering; I’m sad to say that this one is for collectors only.

peace

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 Ail-Ddechra by BRAN (BRÂN) album cover Studio Album, 1975
2.76 | 4 ratings

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Ail-Ddechra
Bran (Brân) Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

3 stars Brân’s first album is the only one that really fits in the progressive folk fold; the ones that followed only became progressively more commercial-sounding, and by their third with the departure of keyboardist and angelic vocalist Nest Howells the group abandoned all pretense of being anything but a regional b- list contemporary Welsh rock band.

Too bad, because thanks almost exclusively to Ms. Howells (along with the songwriting and pretty decent of John Gwyn) the band showed some promise in the mold of groups like Mellow Candle or Fuchsia. I’ve read several places that the most excellent prog folk band Pererin had its roots in this group, but in reading the various album lineups for both groups the linkage isn’t particularly strong. Indeed, most of the members that remained in Brân by the time their third album released all ended up in very conventional and forgettable regional groups.

This album clearly demonstrates the two sides of the band, at times seeming to almost compete for attention. The opening “Y Ddor Ddig” is a rather simple and melodic pop-rock tune in the seventies mold of bands such as the Bay City Rollers or Greg Kihn Band; nothing progressive, just decent bar- band fodder. Ultimately forgettable.

If you give up after that one though you’ll miss out on Ms. Howells’ near-operatic soprano that fairly drips with rustic, bucolic resonance from the opening notes of “F'annwyl Un” through “Y Gwylwyr “ and “Wrth Y Ffynnon”. Each of these follows a similar pattern of simple rhythm, tasty electric guitar breaks and Ms. Howells plunking away on her keyboards (that sound like a spinet at times) and crooning blissfully. Not really the highest order of progressive folk, but the noteworthy guitar work and tastefully understated bass are just enough to keep things from passing as either traditional folk or pop.

The band actually makes an attempt at mixing their mainstream rock sensibilities with Ms. Howells’ inherently folk vocals on “Myfyrdod” to mixed effect. The guitar work and percussion are cheesy and quite dated, while Nest’s voice comes off awkward and disjointed and results in something that probably felt as unnatural to record as it sounds. Not the track to start with if you want to hear the best these guys had to offer.

Speaking of the Bay City Rollers by the way, check out “Mor Braf” and “Blodyn“ for other examples of that three-chord seventies spandex rock but once again unconvincingly peppered with Howells’ voice at oddly-placed intervals. The latter one sounds more like a tavern drinking-song as well, something I suppose every live band needs in their arsenal but which should be left off studio albums in my opinion.

But the good outweighs the bad here, and tracks like “Caledfwich” and “Y Crewr” with their ballad-like tempo and wispy flute are much more suited to her voice and make the off-kilter songs a bit more tolerable.

The closing “Breud Dwyd” is an interesting and beautiful composition that is undeniably the best track on the album and probably of the band’s career, indolent in a charming way with Howells’ classically- inspired piano solo and delicate organ bleats and a couple of mild guitar forays just pronounced enough to remind you this is rock you’re listening to. The interesting part of this song is that the band also recorded a more upbeat version with vocals, which was released both as a rare single and on a Welsh folk compilation album several years after their demise. Its one of the few times I’ve heard of a band releasing the same basic tune in such distinctly different renditions. Just a bit of trivia but cause for a couple minutes of pondering as to what their intent was.

Anyway, I like this album even with its unevenness and lack of any real masterpiece tracks. Overall I’ll say this is easily decent, though not quite outstanding. Three stars is fair, although I will only recommend this to seriously-hooked fans of progressive folk music since they are the group most likely to tolerate the three or four decidedly non-prog works here.

peace

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Thanks to ClemofNazareth for the artist addition.

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