John Roberts a’i deuluFe gyrhaeddodd Abram Wood ‘Brenin y Sipsiwn’ a’i deulu o Loegr tua 1730, a nhw oedd y llwyth Sipsi cyntaf i ymgartrefu yng Nghymru yn unig, a hynny yn y Gogledd. Daeth y tylwyth mor fawr a changhennog nes i’r ymadrodd ‘Teulu Abram Wood’ ddod yn enw cyffredin ar Sipsiwn fel y cyfryw. Yr un fath â Sipsiwn dros y byd, roedd teulu Abram Wood yn gerddorion o fri. Canai Abram y ffidil, ond nid oedd yn delynor. Yma yng Nghymru y dysgodd y Sipsiwn ganu’r delyn. Dysgodd John Roberts ganu’r Deires gan ei ewyrth Archelaus Wood, ŵyr i Abram, oedd wedi dysgu gan Richard Roberts, Caernarfon (disgybl ei hun yn ei dro i’r enwog John Parry Ddall, Rhiwabon).
Roedd John Roberts o waed cymysg, hanner Sipsi a hanner Cymro, ac roedd yn hynod falch o’r ddwy ochr i’w linach. Roedd ei fam, Sarah Wood (wyres i Abram Wood) wedi priodi â Chymro o Bentrefoelas, John Roberts Lewis, hen filwr o frwydr fawr Waterloo. Fe briododd John â’i gyfnither Eleanor Wood Jones, merch Jeremiah Wood (‘Jerry Bach Gogerddan’) ac fe anwyd teulu mawr iddynt.
Daeth John Roberts yn delynor ac impresario enwog yn ystod y 19eg ganrif, ac yng ngarddwest farddol Glan Geirionydd yn 1886 fe’i hurddwyd ef gan Gwilym Cowlyd yn ‘Telynor Cymru’. Byddai bob amser yn arddel cerddoriaeth Gymreig a’r Delyn Deires yn arbennig, a chyda’i feibion niferus, fe ffurfiodd y ‘grŵp gwerin’ cyntaf o’r enw The Original Cambrian Minstrels i berfformio ar draws Cymru a’r Gororau. Byddai ef a’i feibion yn cystadlu efo cryn lwyddiant yn yr Eisteddfodau o bryd i’w gilydd, ac yn derbyn croeso yn nhai’r bonedd i berfformio yn aml. Roedd nifer o’r teulu wedi perfformio yn Llanofer, cartref Gwenynen Gwent, a fyddai bob amser yn gefnogol iawn i’r Delyn Deires a cherddoriaeth Gymreig. Un tro, fe berfformiodd John a’i saith mab ac un nai ar naw telyn o flaen y Frenhines Victoria yn Neuadd Palé, ger y Bala, ar ymweliad ganddi i Gymru yn 1889. Ymgartrefai John a’i deulu yn y Drenewydd yn 1850, a dyddiau Sul byddent i’w clywed yn canu ar strydoedd y dre, neu yng ngwesty’r ‘Bear’ gerllaw. Yn ystod y gaeaf byddent weithiau yn canu ar lannau Hafren i drigolion y dre gael sglefrio pan fyddai’r afon wedi rhewi. Ond yn ystod misoedd yr haf, byddai eu gwaed Romani yn deffro, a byddent yn codi pac, gyda’u telynau mewn cert tu cefn iddynt, i grwydro’r wlad i berfformio. Cysgent mewn pebyll neu ysguboriau, gan bysgota yn ystod y dydd, a chanu eu telynau fin nos.
O safbwynt cerddorol, Telynorion Cymreig arferol oedd y Sipsiwn, a arferai’r grefft o delynori yr un fath ag y gwnâi eu cyd-Gymry. Ond mae un agwedd ar eu crefft sy’n bwysig i ni heddiw ym myd y Delyn Werin Gymreig, sef bod ganddynt ddull arbennig o ddehongli a chwarae alawon dawnsio ar y delyn, agwedd na welir fawr arni gan delynorion Cymru heddiw. Yn yr alawon dawnsio hyn y clywn yr ysbryd gwyllt, tanllyd a gysylltir fel arfer gyda’r Sipsiwn, y ‘tân-gwyllt’ hudolus, cymhellol, neu’r ‘Enaid’ fel byddai teulu Roberts yn dweud!
Fe basiwyd y dechneg arbennig yma ymlaen drwy genedlaethau’r teulu mewn traddodiad llafar di-dor i lawr hyd at or-wyres Telynor Cymru, Eldra Jarman (née Roberts). Byddai bob amser yn falch iawn o nodi mai hi oedd y chweched (os nad y seithfed) genhedaleth o deulu Wood/Roberts i ganu’r delyn. Fe ŵyr nifer ohonoch, mae’n siŵr, mor ffodus ydym, na ddiflannodd yr alawon yma marwolaeth Eldra yn 2001. Yn hael iawn, mi basiodd yr alawon a thraddodiad teulu Roberts ymlaen i ddwylo (yn llythrennol!) Robin Huw Bowen, prif delynor gwerin Cymru heddiw ac un o sylfaenwyr Clera, sy’n adnabyddus am eu chwarae.
John Roberts and his family
Abram Wood ‘King of the Gypsies’ arrived from England with his family around 1730, and they were the first Gypsy tribe to settle only in Wales, in the North, to be precise. The family grew so large, with so many branches, that the phrase ‘Teulu Abram Wood’ (‘Abram Wood’s Family’) became a common name for Gypsies in general. Like Gypsies all over the world, Abram Wood’s family were renowned musicians. Abram himself played the fiddle, but he was not a harpist. It was here in Wales that the Gypsies learned to play the harp. John Roberts learned from his uncle Archelaus Wood, a grandson of Abram, who in turn had learned from Richard Roberts, Caernarfon (who was himself a pupil of the famous John Parry Ddall of Rhiwabon).
John Roberts was of mixed blood, half Gypsy and half Welsh, and he was highly proud of both sides of his lineage. His mother, Sarah Wood (a grand-daughter of Abram Wood) married a Welshman from Pentrefoelas, John Roberts Lewis, a veteran of the great Battle of Waterloo. John then married his first cousin Eleanor Wood Jones, daughter of Jeremiah Wood (‘Jerry Bach Gogerddan’), and they produced a large family.
John Roberts became a renowned harpist and impresario in the 19th century, and during the bardic festival held by Glan Geirionnydd in 1886, he was invested by Gwilym Cowlyd with the bardic name ‘Telynor Cymru’, literally ‘The Harpist of Wales’ but probably it was a slightly more romantic attempt to translate the title ‘Cambrian Minstrel’. He always professed and promoted the importance of Welsh music and the Triple Harp in particular, and with his many sons he formed the first actual Welsh ‘folk group’ called The Original Cambrian Minstrels to perform all over Wales and the Borders. He and his sons competed with much success in Eisteddfodau now and again, and they were often welcomed to the houses of the gentry to perform. Several members of the family played at Llanofer, the home of ‘Gwenynen Gwent’ (Augusta Hall, Lady Llanofer), who always supported the Triple Harp and Welsh music.
Once, John along with seven of his sons and a nephew played on nine harps in front of Queen Victoria at Palé Hall, near Bala, during a visit she made to Wales in 1889.
John had settled with his family in Newtown in 1850, and on Sundays, they could be heard playing in the streets, or in the Bear Hotel in the town. During the winter, they would sometimes play on the banks of the Severn for the town residents to go skating when the river had frozen over. But during the summer months, their Romany blood would awaken, and off they would go with their harps in a cart behind them, wandering the countryside to perform. They would sleep in tents or in a barn, fishing during the day, and playing their harps at night.
From a musical point of view, the Gypsies were Welsh Harpists, practising the art of harping just as their Welsh compatriots did. But there is one aspect of their craft which is important to us today in the world of the Welsh Folk Harp, that they had a special way of interpreting and playing dance music on the harp, an aspect of playing that is hardly ever seen from harpists in Wales today. It is in these dance tunes that we hear the wild, fiery spirit normally connected with the Gypsies, the magical, compelling ‘fireworks’, or the ‘Soul’ as the Roberts family used to say!
This special technique was passed down through the generations of the family in an unbroken oral tradition, finally to Telynor Cymru’s great-grand-daughter, Eldra Jarman (neé Roberts). She was always very proud of noting that she was the sixth (if not the seventh) generation of the Wood/Roberts family to play the harp. As many of you certainly know, how lucky we are that these tunes did not disappear with Eldra’s passing in 2001. With such generosity, she passed the tunes and the Roberts family tradition into the hands (literally!) of Robin Huw Bowen, our leading Welsh folk Harpist today, and one of the founders of Clera, who is well-known for playing them.