Test Dept. With Brith Gof
From Brith Gof: Goddin
It begins with a fragment of poetry.
Gwyr a aeth Gatraeth gan wawr ...
Men went to Catraeth with the dawn,
Their fears disturbed their peace,
A hundred thousand fought three hundred
Bloodily they stained spears,
His was the bravest station in battle,
Before the retinue of Mynyddog Mzvynfawr.
(From Y Gododdin, Jarman 1988)
Y Gododdin is one of the earliest surviving examples of Welsh poetry, transcribed in the twelfth century but commemorating an event in the sixth: an elegy for slain heroes and a eulogy of their excellence and bravery as fighting men.
The land of the Gododdin (the Votadini of the Romans) lay around, and to the south of, Edinburgh in Scotland. Sometime towards the end of the sixth-century AD, a small warrior-band mounted one last, suicidal attack from that region against the Anglo-Saxons who were already consolidating their occupation of much of present-day England, in the period of upheaval, contest and reorientation that followed the collapse of the Roman world. Fuelled by heavy drinking, three hundred met one hundred thousand in battle near Catterick in North Yorkshire. Inevitably they were slaughtered almost to a man. One of the few survivors was the poet Aneirin himself. His hundred stanzas celebrate the heroic disaster: the Gododdin and their exploits are remembered in this one epic.
Y Gododdin wears the aspect of a genuine relic of a long forgotten strife, a massive boulder left high on its rocky perch by an icy stream which has long since melted away.
(Brith Gof: Gododdin programme notes)
The language of the court of the Gododdin chieftain Mynyddog Mwynfawr was a form of proto-Welsh known as Brythonic spoken at that time down the western seaboard of Britain: a shared ancestry meant that the Gododdin could call upon brethren from Wales to join their cause. Y Gododdin records the assembly of warriors, a year of riotous preparation and training and the final, fateful conflict. But there is no linear narrative here. Instead the sequence of events is revealed in a fragmentary manner, as the exploits of individual heroes and groups of fighters are lauded and extolled. Whilst tonally familiar, much of this remains elusive and obscure to the modern Welsh ear.
The decision to make a performance based on Y Gododdin came at the conclusion of a long series of productions, collaborations and training schemes organised by Brith Gof and based upon the theatrical animation of Francisco Goya's eighty etchings The Disasters of War and their captions (see Goya 1967). Thirteen major pieces of work, staged from Norway to Hong Kong, were inspired by the same graphic source. Gododdin was to be the penultimate manifestation. But the impetus to create the performance came with the darkest days of'Thatcherism', a time when Margaret Thatcher herself proclaimed society dead. We had long harboured a desire to work with Test Dept, a group of industrial percussionists - 'a skinhead gamelan' - with several Scots members, whose own spectacular performances and collaborations - with such unlikely partners as the South Wales Miners Choir - had marked them as amongst the few authentic voices of artistic dissent and opposition. But together we resisted the temptation to create a didactic and hectoring piece of agit-prop theatre. Neither did we want to make some 'period' dramatisation of Y Gododdin with the music as a kind of congruent backing for the events of the epic. Of course, the metaphorical implications of the poem were self-evident. But in deciding to create a large-scale work, at the limits of our ability to achieve it both technically and physically, we aimed to echo the folly of the Gododdin, the small struggling with the impossibly greater. We wanted to constitute political theatre as sophistication and complexity, elaborating dramatic material and detail in all available media simultaneously, to work with the friction between the sensibilities and procedures of theatre and rock music and with anachronism.
1. Sarff (Entry of the Warriors)
2. Gwŷraaeth Gatraeth (Prologue)
3. Arddyledog Ganu (Heroic Society)
4. Glasfedd Eu Hancwyn (Beserking)
5. Trichant Eurdorchog (Journey)
6. Yn Nydd Cadiawr (Battle)
7. Truan Yw Gennyf Fi (Lament)
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