Published: 22/03/2013 15:24 - Updated: 20/03/2013 15:29

Welshman Al minds his language

Al Lewis
Al Lewis

FOR his first visit to the Highlands, North Wales singer-songwriter Al Lewis expects to feel quite at home.

"A lot of people keep telling me that the Highlands are like Wales on steroids," he said.

"I can see a lot of comparisons between the Highlands and where I’m from, but there’s also a niceness about playing in places not a lot of acts seem to visit. People seem to appreciate you more."

He also sees a similarity between the north of Wales and the Highlands in their distance from the countries’ biggest cities, though the north Welsh do have an alternative urban magnet.

"Often North Walesians feel more connected to Liverpool and Chester — people often say Liverpool is the capital of North Wales," he said.

"They are closer and there are a lot more similarities than we have with Cardiff. Also the accent is quite different in the south. It’s like comparing a Geordie and a Cockney, though one side of my family is from Cardiff so I know that area quite well."

However, raised in a Welsh speaking area, Lewis’s first releases were in the Principality’s native language.

Early success came when he co-wrote "Llosgi (Burning)" on the televised "Song For Wales" competition, winning the songwriters category and coming second overall, and followed it up with two Welsh-language albums recorded with his band.

However, his last two albums, "In the Wake" and "Battles", have been in English, though he is by no means turning his back on his native tongue.

"I’ve been putting a couple of Welsh songs into the gigs I’ve been doing in England and it’s been interesting seeing the reaction," he said.

"Obviously people there know about the language and know that they speak it, but they don’t realise that people sing and perform in it."

Moving into singing and writing in English, however, seems a natural progression.

"That’s also a reflection of where I am in my life," he pointed out.

"I’ve been living in London for the last six years because I feel that’s where I need to be to progress my music, so it makes sense to write in English, but my new album ‘Battles’ is my first one where I’ve put a Welsh language song on it to see what the reaction is like and so far it seems to been pretty good."

The Best Male Artist for two years running in the BBC Radio Cymru Awards, Lewis, who has recently finished a run of dates supporting Tanita Tikaram, has found himself mixing with some well established names, including recent Inverness visitor Cerys Matthews, finding himself not only supporting her, but joining her live on stage to duet her Catatonia hit "Road Rage".

"She must have caught wind that I’d done a Catatonia cover, so at the gig she came up and asked if I fancied singing ‘Road Rage’ with her. It took me about two seconds to say yes — it was a fantastic experience," he said.

The two have also sung "Road Rage" together when Lewis guested on Matthews’ BBC 6 Music show, while his songs have also been picked up for broadcast by Sir Terry Wogan, Janice Long, Dermot O’Leary, Steve Lamacq, Tom Robinson and Bob Harris.

However, Lewis is all too aware that picking up national airplay is just another step in building a music career.

"It’s a very long journey, especially now with the music industry has gone," he said.

But is it tougher for a solo artist than a band?

"You know, I was thinking about this the other night," he said.

"I think it probably is harder. There is a collective side to being in a band, you have a wider social circle so you can get friends along to gigs and bands probably have more appeal for venues because they can get people up and dancing."

• Al Lewis appears at the Old Bridge Inn, Aviemore, on Wednesday 27th March, Hootananny, Church Street, Inverness on Thursday 28th March, The Woodlands Centre, Stornoway, on Friday 29th March and the Arch Inn, Ullapool on Saturday 30th March.

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