Exploring “Four Branches: Tales of the Mabinogi in Song” The 1st Branch (post 1/4)

This blog post will be the first in a series of four posts exploring my upcoming album “Four Branches: Tales of the Mabinogi in Song.”

Since my album is based on the four branches of the Mabinogi, I felt it appropriate to have four posts; the four posts, however, will NOT be strictly following each branch. This first post will be going over the first branch, the second will be going over the second and third branches, the third will be going over the fourth branch, and the fourth will be going over the Independent Tales included on the album.

With each post will be an accompanying video where you can preview the songs mentioned and hear me speak about them.

If you don’t already know, the Mabinogi is a collection of Welsh legend and myth.

In the first branch, we follow a down-to-earth, everyday prince named Pwyll.

Now I know many people who would be able to break the stories apart and find esoteric meanings in the tales. To me, however, they are entertaining stories with deeper connotations hidden throughout. That is not to say they are just fun old stories. They actually mean a lot to me spiritually, and it’s because of the Mabinogion that I began following a Druidic path.

This album is the Mabinogi through my eyes, ears, and mind.

The first 4 songs on the album are dedicated to the first branch alone. They are Face Changer, Catch Me If You Can, Badger in the Bag, and Pryderi’s Birth.

When you listen to Face Changer, it’s a very dark and mysterious sounding song, (I hope). The first line in the song is “Beware the hounds with the glowing red ears, no telling what they might bring.” This, I think, is a perfect way to usher you into the album and into the tales of the Mabinogi. There’s an air of mystery and danger with it, and clear imagery of “otherworldly” happenings with the red-eared hounds of Annwn.

In the song, Pwyll must journey into the Otherworld and take the face of Arawn, the Otherworldy King. He’s repaying a debt owed to Arawn by killing Arawn’s arch nemesis Hafgan. And when he succeeds, he is rewarded with gold and pigs (which we shall see come into play way later).

The journey into the Otherworld, to me, would be mysterious and dangerous (and ultimately life changing), hence the “mood” of the song.

This one actually took me a few years to nail, and it went through many rewrites and a much different sound, but I love how it turned out and can’t think of any way better to represent both the story and the introduction to the Four Branches.

The second song is “Catch Me If You Can,” and follows Pwyll on a journey of love. Quite a change of pace from the first song. This song is light and passionate and hopefully romantic, at least I hope so. He’s pursuing his interest in a woman named Rhiannon, whom Pwyll can’t quite catch up to. Her horse, even though it’s only ambling along, stays out of reach of Pwyll’s speeding steed, until Pwyll finally shouts. She stops and informs Pwyll that she’s been looking for him.

This is where the third song begins. At their wedding feast, Rhiannon is tricked away from Pwyll by a nasty dude named Gwawl. But Pwyll won’t give up. Instructed by Rhiannon, he takes a bag and tricks Gwawl to climb into it. Then, the beating begins. When asked what was in the bag, he said, “Oh, tis a badger!” And thus the first game of “badger in the bag” was played. And of course, Pwyll wins Rhiannon and they live happily ever after (for now).

This song is easily my favorite off the album, and for me captures the absurd, strange dreamlike imagery I find throughout the Mabinogi. It’s a fun story, so I felt compelled to make it a fun song. With a title like Badger in the Bag, how can it not be fun?

The fourth and last song of the first branch is Pryderi’s Birth. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage…right? Well, when Pwyll and Rhiannon have their kid, it’s randomly stolen by a monster, and Rhiannon’s maids quickly lay blame on the mother, saying she had eaten it. She’s punished by having to admit her crime to every guest of the city and carrying them on her back.

But the kid is not dead, and a stranger (named Teyrnon) finds him when he’s fending off the monster from his horse’s newborn foals. He and his wife raise him only to realize that it is, indeed, Pwyll and Rhiannon’s lost kid. They return him, and FINALLY they live happily ever after (for now).

This is another fun story, so it’s another fun song with tongue-in-cheek humor (“You were taken by some spell…and you ate the baby up! La la la la la la!”).

Oddly, Badger in the Bag and Pryderi’s Birth were some of the first songs I wrote out of the twelve on this album, and they remain some of my favorite.

Over all, the first branch offers us a wide range of moods, from mysterious, to light and passionate, to the downright fun. And this is where the first branch ends. I don’t know why I spend four songs on one branch when the second and third only get one song each…maybe I like the first branch more? Who knows.

We’ll delve into the second and third branches in the next post. Stay tuned!

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About paganbran

I'm a bard who uses my music and musings to spread ideas of Peace, Nature, and Stories. I walk a Buddhist path, and am a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, something of a strange mix that I've labeled "Bardic Dharma". I love reading and learning about any spirituality. I believe Peace is one of the most important ideals to strive for. We can't hold hands when we're pointing fingers.
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