Kicking the strings: a magical duo brings mythical music to Cardiff

Splott is full of talent, as we know, but one Splott lady is half of a duet with a difference!  Tinc y Tannau (pronounced Tink er tan-eye ) produces a luscious mix of beauty and mischief combining two voices and two Bass Viola da Gamba (yes, your guess is as good as mine!).

Photograph by Michal Iwanowski

Photograph by Michal Iwanowski


Splottlander Sianed Jones and Ailsa Mair Hughes sing and play the violas at the same time. Together they conjure up rich four part harmonies and rhythms that are intoxicating on these ancient resonant instruments that can be bowed or strummed like a guitar. Tinc y Tannau perform playful improvisations, original songs, 16th century pieces and unusual settings of ancient Welsh poetry.


Tinc y Tannau came about after Sianed asked Ailsa to be a deputy for her on a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Cymbeline during the 2016 season.  Sianed was asked to sing and play the Bass Viola da Gamba, an unusual combination!  As the year went on, both Sianed and Ailsa fell in love with the instrument and by the end of the season decided they wanted to carry on working together and formed Tinc y Tannau.

Drawing was made by
Maria Hayes

The duo has been well-received, with their Premier Show at the 2016 Storytelling Festival at Aberystwyth Arts Centre garnering this amazing review by Sam Robinson:


“Somebody, I think it was Gustav Mahler, once said something along the lines of ‘maintaining living tradition means tending a flame, not worshipping ashes’. Some might deem it blasé to open a review with recourse to so bold a statement, and they would generally be correct, but this occasion is, I feel, a deserving exception. Tinc Y Tannau, meaning ‘the kick of the strings’, are Ailsa Mair Hughes and Sianed Jones. They play Bass viola da gamba, a deliciously obscure cousin of the cello, whilst singing, it has been said, in the manner of some elemental Brythonic yoiking, if you can imagine such a thing.


“Their set ranged across a startling territory of original material, ancient Welsh poetry, a lullaby scribbled in the margins of the oldest written poem in Britain, and a number of improvisations springing from various wells, including the very visions that surrounded us in the Arts Centre gallery; visions from the otherworld of Welsh mythology made flesh in paint, ink and charcoal. This is a rare sound that both inspires and utterly silences; my mind flowered in thought whilst my heart was washed, lulled and lifted in the woven swell of strings and voice.


Photograph by Michal Iwanowski

“Their wild sound is a teaching-voice from the salt-marshes of our past; it is the shockingly gentle song-cry of the hounds of Annwfn; it is the starlings bristling into murmuration down under the pier; it is the sound your heart wants to make sometimes; and it is something yet unsaid. It is a-roving-about, and yet is deeply rooted in its place. Their re-imagining of tradition allows our imaginations to at once soar about and plunge deeply into life. This is precisely the kind of song we need to be listening to in a time as fragmented, urgent and playful as the one we find ourselves in, so that we might feel our feet firmly upon the earth, with hearts full of daring.”


One of the duo’s highlights was dragging their Bass Viols half way up a mountain on the longest day at summer solstice to welcome the sun back at winter solstice close to a roaring fire.  Sounds pretty close to perfect!

The girls are setting up a UK tour for September/ October 2018 and Cardiff is definitely going to be one of the gigs. They are going into a recording studio in March so you never know this might be the beginning of a full length CD release!


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