Four Branches

Four Branches: Tales of the Mabinogi in Song is an album exploring the stories of the Four Branches of The Mabinogion.

For the last few years I’ve written song after song, and it wasn’t until 2014 when I realized I had enough songs to tell almost all of the Mabinogion. I knew I had to put them together in an album of some sort!

In the grand tradition of folk storytelling, this album tells the story of the Mabinogion through my eyes, and I try to tell the tale in a way similar to how I view it. View this album as a sort of telescope through which you will experience the stories of the Four Branches from a Bran Cerddorion perspective!

Some of the songs are somber and haunting, like Face Changer, Bran’s Head, and The Owl and the Eagle.

Some are more romantic and mellow, like Catch Me if You Can, Invocation of Blodeuwedd, and The Awen.

Others, however, stand out to me as the backbone of the Four Branches, the tales that tell strong stories with superb imagery. These stories, to me, are what the Mabinogion is all about. The stories they tell are filled with oddities and absurdities that make you laugh, grin, and shake your head in a mixture of amazement and a sense of “What did I just experience?” They’re wacky and “out there,” and in the end just plain fun.

These stories I try to capture in the same fun, wild moods in such songs like Badger in the Bag, Pryderi’s Birth, Steady Hand Lion, Pigs Pigs Pigs, and, Good Day to Hang a Rat.

Together, I hope the songs blend together to create an audio painting of one of my favorite stories. Together, the songs bring together what the Mabinogion looks like to me.

10 of the 12 songs on the album tell the tale of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, but I couldn’t stop there. I had to throw in just a few more from the uncollected independent stories included in some translations of the stories from the Mabinogion.

All lyrics by Bran Cerddorion

Lyrics from Four Branches:

Face Changer

Beware the hounds with the glowing red ears
No telling what they might bring
Far into the woods can they hear
followed by the otherworldly king

Down in the woods where the mist runs thick
Comes a man on a horse out from the mist
The red eared hounds will be driven away
The otherworldly king here to take your face

chorus
Face changer, face changer
Behind the mask you shall ask
What deed do I do
for a stranger, a stranger
Hold steadfast dear young lad
Face changer

A land so different from your own
For now you’ll call it your new home
A face so different, not your face
But for now you’ll wear, tis your fate

chorus

A deed, a payment, a splash of red
To defeat Hafgan, you’ll pay your debt
At dawn on that day the water runs swift
Spear against spear upon the bridge

chorus

Today you make your own fate
When the foe, bleeding out, is carried away
You gain your face back again
Your feet shall kiss the earth of your homeland

chorus

In flock and in gold your debt is repaid
For the deed carried out over a year and a day
A bond of friendship between Arawn and you
For this you shall be known as Pwyll Pen Annwn

chorus

Catch Me If You Can

Sitting on this silent hill of visions
I see a lady all in white
Who is this goddess riding by?
Is this to be my future wife?

Two days pass to no avail
She stays just out of reach
But I ride on, determined and relentless
My heart is now hers to keep

chorus

She says
Catch me, catch me if you can
For I am the lady Rhiannon

Her noble steed’s steady canter
Might as well be a thunder bolt
My own horse tires much too quickly
Attempting such a foolish pursuit

But still I cannot stop, still I cannot quit
For just one word with this maid
Such an apparition must be from heaven
For my heart for her love does break

chorus

My heart cries out, I beg and shout
You’re much too fast, please wait
Your beauty and grace fills me so
I’m convinced that this must be fate

She stops and turns, smiling eyes
She says, “I have an errand to do,”
Pray tell what errand is so important?
She says, “I’ve been looking for you.”

chorus

Badger in the Bag

chorus

There’s a badger in the bag
There’s a loser to every fight
There’s a badger in the bag
When lovers reunite

What happens when true love
Is ripped apart to shreds?
When Rhiannon’s tricked from Pwyll
A thing we all do dread

But crafty is the heart
whose love cannot wane
With not but a bag and Rhiannon’s plan
Pwyll shall have his love again

chorus

In beggar’s guise Pwyll fights on
To trick the awful Gwawl
Who stole his wife and ruined his life
Destroyed it one and all

The open bag, a foolish plea
He begs for the bag to be full
Gwawl agrees and fills it up
But it’s he who is the fool

chorus

When the food is all used up
A full bag it is not
Not all the treasure and all the gold
Could fill that bag up.

To bring an end, Gwawl climbs in
But still there is more room
The bag pulled up over his head
Vengeance is coming soon!

chorus

When asked what was in that bag
Pwyll then told a lie
“Tis a badger in this old brown bag”
And Rhiannon was again his wife

So who was that badger in the bag?
Twas a badger, but not that kind
Just a sorry old man who’d try his hand
At stealing Pwyll’s own wife!

chorus

Pryderi’s Birth

Pryderi was a fine young lad
A fine young lad was he
But they say that his birth
was the strangest ever seen

Pwyll and Rhiannon gave birth
To a bouncing child
And afterward Rhiannon slept
If only for a while

A monster snatched the baby up
As the mother snoozed along
Her maids thought quick and covered her
Up in the blood of a dog

They said “my lady, we did try
“Everything to wake you up
“But you were taken by some spell
“And ate the baby up.”

As punishment for her crime
Rhiannon could not wait
She carried guests and visitors
From the palace gates

Meanwhile in a another part
Of the blessed land
A man’s own horse’s newborn foal
Was snatched up by a monster’s hand

Being not a coward, then the man
Chased the demon in haste
Where he found the horse’s newborn foal
He also found a babe

His wife and he they raised the child
To be a boy of grace
The fine young lad he did grow
The likeness of the king’s face

They realized their mistake
And returned the fine young lad
To his rightful mother queen
and to his dear old dad

Pryderi was a fine young lad
A fine young lad was he
But they say that his birth
was the strangest ever seen

Bran’s Head

A giant you may be
And a king at court
Your sister’s hurt
Breaks your giant heart

Off and married
Erin’s king
Your sister’s calls
On a black bird’s wing

There’s something to be said
of a brother’s rage
No ocean can soften
No iron cage

And away you go
across the sea
Death’s at hand
A tragedy

Matholwch’s men
Too scared to fight
They lead you on
into the night

Across the river
Runs the Irish
He would be a leader
Let him be a bridge

A fo ben, bid bont (X4)

War is hell
So they say
The Morrighan’s bells
Start to play

A poison spear
Speaks Bran, your name
Your head cut off
To live another day

You sister’s woe
Her heart quakes
To think the two islands
She herself did break

Her son dead,
your brethren too
Only seven remain
To carry you

A warrior’s soul
A giant’s head
Buried deep
So the stories read

But at what price
Do we pay
To keep our home
To keep it safe

Good Day to Hang a Rat

I’m one of four, I stand on this hill
I watch my world collapse
My neighbors gone, The world, it seems
It’s a good day to hang a rat
It’s a good day to hang a rat

We were the saddlemakers, The makers of the shoes
The shield makers, too
But the world turned on us, The four lonely friends
But then there were only two…

A magical castle, The magical mist
Some wizardry stole my friends
Left all alone, Tending my fields
I felt this was the end

My fields of corn, My fields all gone
Stolen by some thieves
I watch and I wait, Stayed up way late
To see what I’d see…

Against all odds, I watched as my grain
Was stolen by some rats
I ran and I chased, And trapped one of them
Just one rat, slow and fat
It’s a good day to hang a rat

The gallows I built, Out of matchsticks
Tired of this game
A minstrel he came, Tried to buy the rat
To lessen my shame
But I said it’s a good day to hang a rat

A priest he came, Tried to lessen my shame
and offered gold for the rat
And a bishop he came, Pleaded for the life
Of the rat, flow and fat
But I told him it’s a good day to hang a rat

Desperate he was, The bishop on knees
Begged for the rat’s life
Why should I deliver such mercy
He said: the rat is my wife

This bishop, it seems, Knew some wizardry
And had kidnapped my friends
A trade would be fair, The rat for my friends
And this game could end
It’s a Good day to trade a rat

Vengence is sought For Gwawl, It’s thought
For the badger in the bag
The shame, it’s gone, A battle finally won
A good day to trade a rat

Pigs Pigs Pigs!

One fine day Gwyidon says
Our Lord Math’s feet lie in the lap
of the one you love, Oh Gilfaethwy, don’t you sigh!
For her love you shall have!

“Listen, listen,” says Gwydion
“Pryderi has some pigs,
Wondrous creatures our lord shall want,
The pigs of Annwfn.”

And so such words reached the king
And again Gwydion guessed right
Lord Math sent a dozen men
To fetch the pigs by night

And he sang Pigs, pigs, pigs
Such wondrous, magical pigs
Pigs, Pigs, Pigs,
Big, glorious, wondrous pigs!

In guise of bards and minstrels fair,
With magic cloaks and wigs
They traded trinkets of trickery
For a hundred pigs

But when Pryderi realized
That he had been robbed
He grabbed his horse, grabbed his men
To reclaim his hogs

And he sang Pigs pigs pigs!”
my glorious, wondrous pigs!
Pigs pigs pigs!
My glorious, wondrous pigs!

But Gilfaethwy and Gwydion
Reached their homeland first
Where Math was warned of the oncoming storm
And Pryderi’s blood thirst.

A battle was had, the loss it was bad
Pryderi fell dead
Gilfaethwy, all the while,
Gained Goewin’s maidenhead

Enraged and hurt, Math their lord
Turned GIlfaethwhy into a deer
Gwydion, also, met this fate
And like this they stayed for a year

And Math sang “Pigs! Pigs! Pigs!
Disgusting, dishonorable pigs!
You’ll become deer for a year!
You nasty, dishonorable pigs!

And when they returned after a year
A child they brought along
But Math wasn’t done having his fun
He turned them into wolves

Pigs! Pigs! Pigs!
Disgusting, dishonorable pigs!
The disgrace you brought, you’ll both be dogs!
You nasty, dishonorable pigs!

And when they returned after a year
A child they brought with
But Math wasn’t done having his fun
He turned them into pigs

Pigs! Pigs! Pigs!
Disgusting, dishonorable pigs!
For the dishonor you brought, you’ll both be hogs!
You nasty, dishonorable pigs!

The three sons of Gilfaethwy the false
The three faithful combatants
Bleiddwn, Hydwn, Hychdwn the Tall
But you two are still just pigs

Pigs! Pigs! Pigs!
Digusting, dishonorable pigs!
You’ve paid the price, and I’ll be nice
But you two are still just pigs!

Pigs pigs pigs!
Such wondrous magical pigs!
Pigs pigs pigs!
Big glorious, wondrous pigs!

Steady Hand Lion

Dear young lad, little one
Why do you have no name?
Your mother’s words, a hateful curse
No name till the end of days

Gwydion, your ol’ uncle
Grins a grin to say
Never fear, dear young lad
She’ll soon give you a name

So off to your mother’s court you ride
Disguised as merchant folk
You offered her shoes so nice
She could never say no

Distracted by your craftsmanship,
Your sling on a wren it lands
Mightily impressed she says,
“Hey, that lion has a steady hand,”

chorus

Steady hand lion
Lleu Llaw Gyffess
Steady hand lion
You have a name at last

Enraged your mother shouts and screams
“A name you might now have
But no weapons you’ll have unless given by me
No weapons for this lad”

But Gwydion, your ol’ uncle
Grins another grin
What she speaks are nasty words
But you’ll have your weapons

Off to your mother’s home you ride
Disguised as minstrels fair
Your bardic ways do you play
Music to her ears

But a phantom foe in ships do sail
But only magician’s farce
Your mother tricked, you prevail
For she lends you a sword.

chorus

Steady Hand Lion
Lleu Llaw Gyffes
Steady Hand Lion
You Have Weapons at Last

Steady Hand Lion
Lleu Llaw Gyffes
Steady Hand Lion
You have a name at last

Outright hatred fills her being
She casts her final words
“Never will you ever marry,
a woman, forever cursed!”

But Gwydion, his crafty ways
With his magical powers
Conjures up the most beautiful woman
A woman made of flowers

chorus

Steady Hand Lion
Lleu Llaw Gyffes
Steady Hand Lion
You have a wife at last

Steady Hand Lion
Lleu Llaw Gyffes
Steady Hand Lion
You Have Weapons at Last

Steady Hand Lion
Lleu Llaw Gyffes
Steady Hand Lion
You have a name at last

Invocation of Blodeuwedd

Blodeuwedd
Flower Face
Queen of Spring
Awake

The Owl and the Eagle

The owl and the eagle
Once lady and man
The owl and the eagle
Now both are damned
Now both are damned

Fly, fly eagle
Sitting in the tree
Fly, fly eagle
Fly down to me
Fly down to me

Fly, fly owl
Your petals withering
Fly, fly owl
Fly on lonely wing
Fly on lonely wing

Fly, fly eagle
Rotting Flesh and Damned
Fly, fly eagle
And become a man
And become a man

Fly, fly owl
Your loyalty, it wanes
Fly, fly owl
Your true love is slain
Your true love is slain

Fly, fly eagle
Sitting in the tree
Fly, fly eagle
And to you I will sing
To you I will sing

Derwen a dyf rhwng dau lyn
yn cysgodi’n dawel awyr a glyn
oni ddywedaf i gelwydd
o flodau Lleu y mae hyn.

Derwen a dyf mewn maes uchel
nis gwlych glaw, nis tawdd gwres
cynhaliodd ugain dawn
ar ei brig Lleu Llaw Gyffes.

Derwen a dyf dan lechwedd
noddfa tywysog hardd
oni ddywedaf i gelwydd
fe ddaw Lleu i’m harffed.

Fly, fly eagle
Rotting Flesh and Damned
Fly, fly eagle
And become a man
And become a man

How Culhwch Won Olwen

There was a man, a very brave man
Culhwch, cousin to King Arthur
He loved a maid, a beautiful maid
Olwen, a giant’s daughter

Off to the giant’s court he rode
Her hand in marriage for to ask
The giant laughed and said no
Unless you complete these tasks

Impossible, impossible were these tasks
Herculean and hard to swallow
But Culhwch vowed the giant’s daughter he would have
And the tasks he did follow

Obtain the shears from betwixt the ears
Of the boar of the name Twrch Trwyth
But no hound can hunt him but one very special hound
The hound of the name Drudwyn

But alas no man can tame
Such a great and might dog
But the man, lost and hidden
The man by the name Mabon

But Culhwch, the man, the very brave man
And the men of King Arthur
Traveled the land in search for the man
Mabon, the son of Modron

By the word of the bird, the stag and the owl
The eagle and the salmon
They tracked Mabon, a prisoner
And alas they found him

And the hound was obtained, and the hunt, it was on,
But the boar of Twrch Trwyth
Would not be caught so easily
And in his wake he left death

They chased and they chased that demon all the way
From ireland to Wales
From Cornwall to hell they still fought on
They knew they could not fail

But Culhwch’s love for the giant’s daughter
Was too great to ignore
The war went on, the battle was won
They cornered that boar

And alas the boar, it died,
And the shears were obtained
And they won the giant’s daughter
For a deadly shave.

The Awen

Ceridwen, light the fires
Boil the cauldron, invoke, inspire
Brew the Awen, Brew it well
You have a story to tell

The hare, the hound
The salmon and otter
The wren, the falcon
The grain of wheat, the black crested hen
Run, boy, run

Taliesin
You drank the Awen
Share it with me
Share it with me

(C)2015  by Bran Cerddorion