The Stranger in Swansea

Looking at the cover of Tom Fitton’s new EP, The Marsh Road and Other Tales, you would be forgiven for thinking that Tom’s self-penned lyrics would transport you on a Sunday afternoon stroll with picnic basket and merlot in hand. The journey, however, is quite different.  Listeners are transported to one of the most treacherous massacres in Scottish history, a horrific mining disaster, and a Nordic romance.

And that’s the genius of it. Tom has a distinctive vocal that some of the best storytellers would envy: an Adam’s Apple that makes you stand to attention and listen as each narrative unfolds.  Couple the tales with some beautiful guitar melodies, and some of the most brutal actions in history are turned into music that is both calming and delicate. But who is the new man on the Welsh folk scene? And where do his tales come from?

“I’m still a bit of a stranger in this land,” confesses Tom, 37, who, despite living in Wales for 33 years, still doesn’t feel totally assimilated in his Swansea city, a former Viking trading post.

This is perhaps fitting, since his track, The Marsh Road, is a “thinly veiled” love song – written for his strong-minded Swansea wife – and features a local Celtic lass who longs for someone other than Welsh “mam’s boys”.

This stand out track features a Nordic man arriving on her Welsh shore and the couple’s paths cross in what is a gorgeous five minutes of play.

Perhaps Tom was the handsome Norseman his wife was looking for, albeit actually hailing from Cheltenham.

Tom moved to Mid Wales from the spa town at the age of 4, and has inhabited Swansea for the past 15 years, but as all young stars start out, Tom’s first dabble with music was more Art Attack than Aerosmith.

“As a kid, even before having a guitar of my own, I was stretching elastic bands over empty boxes to make guitar-like things,” laughs Tom.

“I’ve been playing the instrument since my late teens, initially inspired by the Grunge boom of the late 90s, which led to discovering the classic rock which had inspired those bands.”

But interestingly, Tom didn’t grow up in a family of morris dancing, rapper stepping, annual Sidmouth-goers, and had a much more gentle journey into the world of folk.

“The interest in folk music was fairly accidental, and an organic process. I’d always been more interested in putting musical ideas together  – rather than learning other people’s work.

“The types of harmonies and textures which please me have always had an acoustic or folky flavour, meaning I sought out music with a similar feel,” explains Tom.

“Although, despite being very much folk, I think you can hear a little Zeppelin in my playing and writing.”

After discovering a whole-lotta-love for the genre, an ambitious Tom then decided to take his passion one step further, and climb the stairway to a rather more degenerate place than heaven – the rowdy pub bar.

“I’ve been performing since my late teens; however, until recently, this was as a guitarist in bands fronted by other people. I’ve only been performing solo for last two years or so.

“There are plenty of horror stories from the ‘bad old days’ when I played in pub covers bands, usually involving drunk punters,” smiles Tom.

But the beer bellies and two pints of lager lads were all worth putting up with, as Tom finally took a chance to go solo – and curbed an unusual maternal instinct of being the band organiser – alias ‘mum’.

After making a rough live recording of his music in early 2014, called ‘A Quick Live One #1’, Tom heard the work of Rob Lear, which inspired him to put together “a more polished product”.

And what a good job he did.

Tom’s album takes us through the darker periods of history, and with the nerve to pen three out of four tracks on his EP, the storyteller allows us to immerse ourselves into a world where health and safety does not exist, and where whole communities are left to perish as the result of bloodlust and rivalry.

East Wheal Rose features the famous Cornish mining disaster, which took place near St Newlyn East on 9 July 1846, when an usually heavy thunderstorm caused the nearby streams to become deadly torrents, entering the mine and drowning 39 men.

Meanwhile, Murder in Trust focuses on the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe. This ugly tale of betrayal contrasts with Tom’s soft vocals, as the carefully crafted track tells how members of the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were brutally murdered by the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot, captained by Robert Campbell of Glenlyon.

John Dalrymple, Secretary of State, was looking for an excuse to exterminate the clan, claiming they had not pledged allegiance to new monarchs, William and Mary.

Women and children died of exposure, and a memorial still stands at the site to commemorate the hideous betrayal.

However, it is comforting that these events are remembered through the medium of music, with Tom taking inspiration from his travels across the UK.

“I picked up the idea for East Wheal Rose whilst on holiday last year. We visited the Lappa Valley where the mining disaster occurred, while Murder in Trust was born of a visit to Glencoe.

“Meanwhile, listening increasingly to folk music and especially playing at folk clubs inspired me to add some traditional material to my repertoire.

“The Blackest Crow is often sung in American bluegrass settings, and appears to have come from a broadside that pre-dates the colonising of the Americas.

“Since I started singing it’s been featured on the Transatlantic sessions sung by Julie Fowlis and Tim O’Brien has also recently recorded it.

“I do like the sentiment and use of language in the song; you can really get your teeth into the tune when it lifts on the third line of each verse.”

There is always something particularly haunting about hearing lyrics which have been passed down from father to son, having seen wars and change, and birth and death, and this is no different in The Blackest Crow.

What particularly gives you goosebumps are the gorgeous harmonies produced by Tom and his talented friend Carol Edwards, who provides the backing vocals for each of his tracks.

The intrepid Tom has also produced a video for The Marsh Road, although like all good historical dramas, the music video is not shot on location.

“The actual marsh road cut across the start of the Gower peninsular between Gowerton and Lougher and is now known as a handy shortcut prone to flooding so not ideal for a video shoot” laughs Tom.

“However, the name has always struck a chord with me and I thought it deserved using in a song.

“The video was shot at Parc Le Breos in Gower, and the stone structure I’m unceremoniously sitting on is an iron age burial mound! ”

But fast forward past iron age sites, Viking longboats, warring Clans and coal covered faces, and Tom Fitton looks to be a class act about to freshen up the folk world. What’s most revitalising about Tom is that while many folk artists revive old songs, this storyteller is not afraid to pen his own lyrics about the trials faced by our ancestors. He is also a reminder of why folk music is so enjoyable: far from the typical chart ‘he-loves-me’, ‘he–loves-me-not’ playlist, folk lyrics give people access to the past, take you on a journey and make you stop and remember times gone by. Tom’s lyrical journalism, giving a folk song to events in history which may have no musical record, make his album a must buy for anyone looking for something original and different. So, head on down to the album launch tonight: it’s time for a story.

Focus on: Clocs Canton

Lynda Edwards, of Clocs Canton, tells us more about the side…

“Clocs Canton started in 1986 after they were formed by a dancer from a side in Yorkshire called ‘Yorkshire Chandeliers’.  The dance style is North West morris, which is danced with Garlands and waivers, and we wear leather clogs with wooden soles.  The dances are more regimental than cotswold and use straight lines and angles with a marching beat to the music.  The dances come from the North West of England and have names like ‘Lancashire Processional’ and ‘Peover’ (a little village near Knutsford, Cheshire). The tradition of wearing clogs whilst dancing evolved because the mill workers wore clogs as normal day wear to work. They would dance in their breaks with the clogs tapping the beat on the floor, and sounding and moving like the mill machines.” 

Why is it great to be a member of Clocs Canton?

“Clocs Canton are a friendly dance side; we socialise outside of morris and go to Concerts like Bellowhead in November, as well as going on theatre trips. We also go to The Cricketers Pub, Cathedral Road, for a drink after practice. We dance well and enjoy ourselves when we dance out; people always say we are constantly smiling and look like we are enjoying it. The kit is very unusual for ladies North West as it is in the welsh colours of red, white and green and we wear trousers.  We have been called, ‘dancing deckchairs’, ‘garden gnomes’, and Santa’s Little Helpers’.  We like our kit but if anyone wants to join us, and wishes to have a skirt instead of the trousers, we have a nice red and white striped number.  We go to some lovely places and it’s great way to keep fit and make new friends.”

What’s in store for the side in the upcoming months?

“In the winter months we concentrate on practising for the next dance season which traditionally starts with Upton Folk Festival on 1 May.  We aim to teach new members a few dances to confidently perform in public.  We chatted with the lovely people at Tesco briefly, and Christmas and St David’s Day were mentioned so we shall see – obviously dancing at Tesco would be good for us and the store.  Our next dance out is the Heath Ceilidh spot on 21 February.

Tell me about yourself…

“I personally belong to Clocs Canton, Cardiff Ladies and Full Moon Morris, so I have a wide knowledge of tradition and styles.  I have been dancing since I was 19 when a friend who was going out with one of the Cardiff Morris Men dragged me along to a Cardiff Ladies Practice – she left and I carried on.  Cardiff Ladies are currently 40 years old and Clocs Canton are coming up to their 30th year.  It is not just a hobby, for me it has been a way of life, like an extra family of good friends to share the good times and the bad.  I will always be grateful for my introduction to the world of morris dancing and long may it continue.”

Clocs Canton practice in Tesco Community Room, Western Avenue, on Thursdays. 

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Every little helps: Tesco is the new practice venue for Clocs Canton

It’ll be two for one for shoppers at Tesco, as customers can grab a basket of goodies before checking out the clog dancing.

North West morris side, Clocs Canton, were left up the aisle without a shopping trolley when the scout hall they practised in could no longer be used due to electrical repairs being carried out.

But, in Tesco’s finest moment, the Western Avenue supermarket has provided the side with a good-sized community room boasting a wooden floor, air conditioning and tea and coffee facilities.

Clocs Canton member, Lynda Edwards, 59, said, “We have only had one evening at Tesco and already the girls are talking about how handy this will be for shopping or the odd pint of milk!   

“The room itself is lovely; just perfect for our needs – we ‘ve already had a new person join us for her first night last week.”

Clocs_Train2             clocs

However, Clocs Canton’s struggle to find a practice room has raised alarm bells for those wanting to start a new side or move practice venues.

Lynda explains, “To run morris as an evening class is a good idea but it is an expensive way to learn and unless you get ten people to sign up for it the class is a non-starter. 

“We are totally self-funded and the only money we earn is either by passing a hat round on tour or from fete and function bookings. The average cost of hall hire is £30 for two hours, which is reasonable, but it would quickly eat up our limited funds.”

Indeed, as well as facing economical issues, Lynda discovered that the traditional homes of morris sides also appear to be hard to come by.

“Local halls are becoming run down and closing, as they are too expensive to upkeep, while community halls are reasonably priced at £12 per hour, but they are in great demand.”

 “A couple of pubs also said we could use their lounge bar for free as ‘no-one goes in there’ but these are carpeted with low ceilings and lights, so they are not really suitable. Maybe pubs could be persuaded to rejig their non-used rooms and make them usable for local music and dance groups – they could at least make some money from the extra custom this would bring.”  

And with church halls and art centres also fully booked, the lack of venues certainly raises concerns for both new born and existing sides.

Since many teams pride themselves on having no membership fee, this could prove unfeasible if cheap or free venues cannot be found, while the amount of time taken to find a suitable room may mean loss of practice nights.

It appears that sides may well have to stay abreast of this potential problem.

In light of Clocs Canton’s recent problems, Folk Cardiff would love to hear your views. Should morris sides be concerned about this trend? Is the answer to have a small membership fee? Or is the lack of venues all just a passing phase?

Please post any of your thoughts on WordPress and Facebook, and stay tuned for the next news post featuring some unusual folky wall art!


Hello, and a very warm welcome to Folk Cardiff, your go-to for everything folky in the city and its surrounding area. Here, you will find notifications about local folk dance teams, the best music concerts and ceilidhs, as well as historical talks and exhibitions. Not only that, but Folk Cardiff will be jingling your bells and bringing you up to date with the latest news and issues surrounding Cardiff’s folk scene.

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