My Music DNA: Welsh Harpist, Bethan Nia

A Welsh harpist who wowed at Glastonbury Festival after she met boss Michael Eavis by chance on a train will release her stunning debut album on June 21st 2021.

Ffiniau by Bethan Nia is already being hailed as a modern folk classic – the album that will turn the Pontypridd mum into a world music star.

But, as a struggling relative unknown, how on earth did she get to play the coveted Avalon Stage at Glastonbury – not just playing her own show, but also guesting live onstage with The Levellers in a barnstorming set that has gone down in Glasto folklore?

Bethan Nia plaed Glastonbury Festival alongside The Levellers

“Michael Eavis was sitting in my seat on a train,” she grins. “He moved as soon as he realised, sat opposite me and we got talking. To be honest, it’s hard not to recognise him! After he discovered I played the harp for a living, he asked me to play at the opening of his village hall, which he had given money to for its renovations, which led to a gig on the Avalon Stage at Glastonbury Festival. I couldn’t believe my luck, that such a giant gig had fallen into my lap.”

Bethan entranced the crowds with songs and tunes that would later appear on forthcoming debut album Ffiniau…  And they’d already received a seal of approval from The Levellers’ singer & guitarist Mark Chadwick.

Bethan Nia’s debut album Ffiniau will be released l on June 21st 2021

Bethan recalls, “I found another tent, and I was tuning up my harp when Mark Chadwick walked in. He seemed really interested, so I played him a Welsh song and he said, ‘Wow, that was amazing!’

“I asked him if he’d like a go and taught him a Welsh folk tune. I had trouble getting my harp back from him! That’s when he asked me to join The Levellers on stage that night. It was sensational. What an incredible experience!”

Bethan’s bilingual album Ffiniau (it’s Welsh for ‘Borders’) is produced by REM’s studio whiz Charlie Francis and explores the boundaries that exist between people, languages and worlds.

Bethan reveals her music inspirations to Andy Howells.

What was the first song that made an impact on you?

Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I first heard it when I was 3 years old, when a theatre company visited my school.  I still remember the impact of that song. It had a profound effect on me. I was struck by the beauty of the melody and the dreaminess of the lyrics. It could be a Welsh folk song in many ways. It has that sense of hiraeth which resonated deeply with me.

What was the first single /download you bought?

This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush.  She’s such an influential artist to me. This song just breaks my heart and, growing up, I used to play it on my record player repeatedly. It’s a song of hope in dark times. When I became a mother, it held more relevance to me. A timeless song.

What was the first album you owned?

First Of A Million Kisses by Fairground Attraction.  Eddi Reader became one of my favourite female singers via that first album. I saw her perform at Celtic Connections when I was performing there too, and she was singing the songs of Scottish poet Robbie Burns. Her voice and emotional delivery are exquisite.

What’s your constant go to track?

Daniel by dream-pop artist Bat for Lashes. Such an exhilarating and innovative track. I do my own little dance to this song (ha, you might see it on TikTok one day!) There’s a lot of mystery, mysticism, and darkness in Natasha Khan’s writing. She’s such an original artist.

What’s your constant go to album?

Two Horizons by Moya Brennan (singer with Irish folk band Clannad). I love the subtle electronica she uses on this album – mixing her harp playing, beautiful voice and Celtic sound with modern production techniques and the album is based on the journey of a harp, which of course appeals to me.

Who’s your latest music discovery?

Taylor Swift’s album Folklore and it’s follow-up, Evermore. I never really listened to her before these albums, but really got into her during lockdown. Great storytelling and evocative songs!  I’ve just noticed all these choices are by female artists. I guess that’s because they resonate with me and I’m always looking to be inspired by other female artists’ work.

What’s your own track that best defines you as an artist?

I think it would have to be Beth Yw’r Haf i Mi (What Is Summer To Me). A song from my forthcoming album Ffiniau (Borders). This song epitomises where I am in my musical journey. I love the production on this track. The song is full of melancholy and hiraeth (yep that word again!) with driving beats and strings enveloping my harp and vocals. It blends Welsh folk with contemporary production, which is what I’m about really. It reflects my musical influences as well as my love for these old, heartfelt, beautiful songs of unrequited love, which we do so well in Wales! Our songs remind me of the Portuguese ‘Fado’ music – all passion and longing. Almost operatic.

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