Welsh experimental folk-rock ensemble 9Bach emerged in the mid-2000s performing traditional Welsh folk music before eventually developing a distinctive and idiosyncratic style encompassing elements of world music, indie rock, jazz, and experimental pop. Led by the core duo of singer/pianist Lisa Jên Brown (known professionally as Lisa Jên) and guitarist Martin Hoyland, the band's name is a pun on the phrase "nain bach" which translates to "granny dear" in Welsh. After landing a deal with Real World Records, the group scored a critical hit with their second album, Tincian, which earned them a 2015 BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Album. Known for their complex arrangements and collaborative nature, 9Bach's third album, 2016's Anian, featured a guest performance from label owner Peter Gabriel.
A native Welsh speaker, Jên was born and brought up in the small town of Bethesda in the mountainous northwest of the country, where the language and traditional culture are strongest. While growing up with traditional music as part of the fabric of life, Jên was not initially a singer but an actress. As a teenager she was cast in the youth-oriented Welsh-language soap opera Rownd a Rownd, in which she performed for several years. She then moved to London, but was unable to find acting work and took a job in a lingerie boutique. One night in a pub, she met guitarist Martin Hoyland -- once a member of '90s indie rockers Pusherman -- when he accidentally spilled her drink. Despite this mishap, the two hit it off and started dating. They decided to form a band when he first heard her singing and was so enraptured by her voice that he broke out his guitar for the first time in two years to play along.
The pair recruited Ali Byworth (drums, percussion), Dan Swain (bass guitar), and Esyllt Glyn Jones (harp, vocals), who joined them to record their first album, 2009's 9Bach (Mirain Roberts joined later on vocals and percussion). Released through the Welsh indie label Sain, the album was composed entirely of traditional Welsh folk songs, but with a twist. Ditching the fiddles and fast tempos, the band kept only the melodies and dark, soulful lyrics, layering them with rock instrumentation and trip-hop-style beats. The album angered traditionalists but gained them a fresh young audience among fans of rock and electronic music, and also attracted the attention of Peter Gabriel's Real World Records, which signed the group and released their next two albums. Jên and Hoyland married and moved back to Bethesda, where she had become good friends with Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys, who coincidentally also hailed from the town; she sang on his 2007 album Candylion.
On 9Bach's subsequent albums, 2014's Tincian (Tinkling) and 2016's Anian (Nature), they almost exclusively composed their own songs. While continuing to be inspired by the Welsh tradition, they became progressively more daring in their musical choices, incorporating new instrumentation like hammered dulcimer and double bass, while elements as disparate as Greek rembetika, jazz, and experimental pop entered their sound. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of its release, 9Bach's eponymous debut album was re-released by Real World in 2019 with new artwork and a pair of bonus tracks. ~ John D. Buchanan