Hen Ogledd

Com­pelling cos­mic pop and sci-fi synth folk from a pan-British quar­tet fea­tur­ing Richard Daw­son

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“Iwas think­ing about Fun Lovin’ Crim­i­nals when I was writ­ing it,” says Richard Daw­son. “I thought, ‘This is my big chance to have a pop hit.’” The idea of Daw­son aim­ing for the charts might sound far-fetched to those who know him as the free­wheel­ing Ty­ne­side bard whose shaggy-dog blues made his re­cent al­bums

Peas­ant and Noth­ing Im­por­tant so com­pelling, but as one quar­ter of Hen Ogledd, all bets are off.

Daw­son’s mer­cu­rial touch is all over the group’s de­light­ful third al­bum, Mogic, a mind-bend­ing col­lec­tion of cos­mic pop that draws on the an­cient sagas of Celtic Bri­tain and home­spun dystopian sci-fi for a sur­real se­ries of cau­tion­ary tales. along­side Daw­son, who sings and plays var­i­ous in­stru­ments, Hen Ogledd fea­tures the ac­claimed welsh harpist Rho­dri Davies, who formed the group with Daw­son in 2013, as well as scot­tish synth player and singer Dawn Both­well, who joined in 2016, and sally Pilk­ing­ton, the new­est re­cruit, on vo­cals and key­boards.

what started life as an im­pro­vised dal­liance be­tween Daw­son and Davies has blos­somed, via their ex­per­i­men­tal sec­ond al­bum Bronze, into some­thing ap­proach­ing a con­ven­tional band – al­beit one that sel­dom plays to­gether given the dis­tance be­tween Davies in swansea and the oth­ers in New­cas­tle. “we can’t or­gan­ise reg­u­lar re­hearsals,” says Both­well. “But I find that ex­cit­ing be­cause you end up talk­ing about ideas more, and when we do get to­gether it’s in­tense and fun.”

af­ter years of chal­leng­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions, it was Davies who

pro­posed a new di­rec­tion for Hen Ogledd. “He won­dered what it would sound like if im­pro­vis­ers made a pop al­bum,” says Daw­son. “I’m al­ways try­ing to pull it to­wards com­po­si­tion, like an ar­gu­ment, so I was pleased he sug­gested that.” Mogic’s songs swoop sweetly through the un­canny val­ley, set­ting a tone of cur­dled op­ti­mism as the group pan for gold in the data dump of 21st-cen­tury cul­ture. “sky Burial” muses on the na­ture of our dig­i­tal selves – “Guar­an­teed

im­mor­tal/Life­time, a por­tal,” sings Pilk­ing­ton – while “Ethel­dreda” imag­ines a ro­bot as the queen of the Old North, the an­cient re­gion cover­ing north­ern Eng­land and south­ern scot­land from 500aD–800aD that gives Hen Ogledd their name.

“‘Ethel­dreda’ was in­spired by sophia the aI ro­bot,” says Pilk­ing­ton. “I spent a lot of time watch­ing videos of sophia and be­ing com­pletely blown away. she has th­ese fa­cial ex­pres­sions that are meant to be the most re­al­is­tic ever but make her even more ter­ri­fy­ing.”

The no­tion of “mogic”, too, seems fit­ting for Hen Ogledd’s fan­tasy realm: a made-up word for a made-up world. “Mogic is the con­tra­dic­tion at the heart of ev­ery­thing,” says Daw­son, who ad­mits he en­joys not be­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion in this act. “It’s think­ing about the con­fla­tion of time, of robots and witches in space­ships, or a cave­man in a fu­tur­is­tic city a mil­lion years from now on some dis­tant planet.”

For a record that ex­plores the way tech­nol­ogy can al­ter re­al­ity, Mogic’s pre­vail­ing mes­sage is one of pos­i­tiv­ity. “we hope it’s a strong but friendly an­ti­dote to a lot of the things that are go­ing on in the world at the mo­ment,” adds Daw­son. “I’ve al­ways felt we were in a tug of war in Hen Ogledd, but it’s a very friendly tug of war.” piers martin Mogic is re­leased on Novem­ber 16 by Weird World records

Hen Ogledd: (l-r) Sally Pilk­ing­ton, Richard Daw­son, Dawn Both­well, Rho­dri Davies

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