Ryland Teifi is a Welsh, BAFTA Cymru Award-winning actor and an award-winning singer/songwriter.
He has a BA Honours in Welsh Literature and Welsh History from Cardiff University. Born in 1972, he lived in Llechryd by the river Teifi in Ceredigion (Cardigan) until he was eight when his family moved to the village of Ffostrasol. His father was a founder of the Cnapan Festival so he grew up steeped in Celtic music amongst others.
As an actor he has starred in numerous TV series on the BBC, ITV, S4C and TG4 including Pen Talar and Cardiff and, most recently, Hinterland and the film The Library Suicides. He has also performed in theatres all over the world including the Abbey Theatre, Theatr Clywd and The West End in London.
As a musician and singer/songwriter he has worked with artists as diverse as Bobby and Liam Clancy, Catrin Finch, Bryn Terfel, Ray Thomas and Rodrigo y Gabriela. His current project is Waters Wide a theatrical show celebrating Irish, Scottish and Welsh culture. He lives in the Gaeltacht area of An Rinn (Ring) in County Waterford with his wife, actress and singer, Róisín Clancy, and their three daughters Lowri, Cifa and Myfi.
Extract from Ryland Teifi in conversation with Shevaun Wilder
Shevaun: 'To begin at the beginning' what was your background in Wales like?
Ryland: On my mother's side there were farmers and carpenters. Carpentry being a big thing, my great-grandfather, Tom Thomas, was known as one of the great craftsman of West Wales and he used to make the bardic chairs for the Eisteddfod. On both sides there was music. On my father's side, it was very much the love of singing, from hymn singing to classical singing to great singers like Nat King Cole and Paul Robeson which flows into the idea of folk singing, the songs of the people really. So, we grew up with that.
Shevaun: Was there any Irish influence back then?
Ryland: Later my father, especially, and my mother were interested in Irish music. They started a festival in West Wales called the Cnapan Festival which became one of the biggest Celtic festivals in Europe, and that segued then into listening to Irish music; The Clancy Brothers and The Chieftains. We had The Dubliners twice, The Fureys, De Dannan and Dervish. The Festival started in 1985 – at the time there’d be 10,000 people coming to a small village. Oh, it was crazy, it was a mad festival! It was fantastic as a teenager, growing up with that. We'd actually camp at the festival although we lived over the road. It was amazing!
Shevaun: Did you meet The Clancys at that time?
Ryland: I didn't meet The Clancys until I met my wife, Róisín, in Dublin in 1996. I was doing a show in the Dublin Theatre Festival based on an old Welsh myth called Tailesin. Róisín had a week's work in the theatre I was working in and that's how we met. I remember the first night we properly met, we sat at a table in Dublin Castle, where the Festival Club was, and we just spoke for hours and hours. It all started from there. Later on, I met the family: Bobby Clancy, Róisín's father, and Moira.
Shevaun: Did you go back to Wales when your show was over?
Ryland: Yes, I should've bought a boat back then, I would have saved myself a fortune! We used to come back and forth for about a year on the ferry, either from Holyhead or from Fishguard to Rosslare or Dublin. In the end we decided, 'One of us will have to move.' So I said, 'I'd love to come to live in Ireland, I've always had a love of Ireland.'
Shevaun: So, when did you first visit Ireland?
Ryland: My parents had big social groups of friends in West Wales who were quite Irish-centric, Celtic mad, loving the craic and the music. They'd go to the Fleadh Cheoil and all of this was regaled when they came home so, when I was seventeen, five of us went to the Fleadh Cheoil in Sligo.
Shevaun: Another gorgeous part of the country...
Ryland: Ah, fantastic, Yeats’ country, of course. And I remember, somehow, we wangled our way over and we landed in Dublin and went to O'Donoghue's pub. We had some sing-song session that night and then progressed the morning after to Sligo on an old bus. We had one of the best weekends of our lives, it was just seminal.
Shevaun: So, you really fell in love with Ireland quite early on?
Ryland: Yes. I remember sitting round a campfire in Sligo during the Fleadh Cheoil and seeing this young fella, about my age, playing the banjo and I could totally understand where it was coming from – it was natural, it wasn't contrived, it wasn't put-on, it wasn't supposed to be anything but what he was doing. It was all expression. And, you know, my eyes were opened at that point and I fell in love with Ireland.
Shevaun: What did you feel were the affinities, the deep-down affinities between the music and the culture of both countries?
Ryland: I think I've always been quite romantic and a bit of a dreamer, and I always saw Ireland as an extension of Wales or it could be with the music. I just fell in love with all of that. I loved rock 'n' roll, I loved popular culture but this was something that was close to me and I imagined Wales in that way.
Shevaun: So Wales and Ireland, in a sense, lived as much in your imagination as in the reality?
Ryland: I think so – still do, in some ways.
Shevaun: A place of your own construction...
Ryland: I suppose so, 'the deep heart's core' Yeats would call it; we are all imagined, in that sense, I think. Living in a place like Ireland now, of course, there are realities where sometimes I think, 'Well, I did have some rose-tinted glasses on there.' But I would say the same about Wales – that's the reality.
Shevaun: And when did you move to Ring?
Ryland: Well, we moved back here five years ago. This is the family homestead, although the Clancy family lived in Carrick-on-Suir, Róisín's mother's family owned the pub through the trees there, called Mooney's Pub. It was a very famous pub with about six, seven generations of women running it. It's a very matriarchal, strong, feminine area here, very powerful, gregarious female characters in Róisín's family. We have three daughters and they're in that tradition now. The pub was frequented by The Clancys first, then, of course, The Dubliners and The Fureys would come down and people would camp in the fields. Róisín says when she was growing up, you couldn't get in the door between May and October.
Shevaun: So a very, very similar background to you... that's amazing, doing the same thing in these mirror places. Despite having a family here now, though, is there ever a time when you feel homesick for Wales?
Ryland: The keyword there is probably family, wherever your family is that's where your home is, and your heart is, consequently. Listening back to the songs I wrote on the last album one day, I was thinking, 'God, this is almost like a concept album because there's a central character and he's talking about longing all the time or travelling or solitude.' But I don't feel a yearning for Wales now, I just think of the fifty miles of water to West Wales. And I always think, looking out at Dungarvan Bay and the Comeragh Mountains, to the north-east or to the east, that 'that bit of water, that's where I'm from.'
Shevaun: Is that what inspired the title for your new show?
Ryland: Yes, you’ve caught us at an exciting time because it’s like we’ve come to a crossroads and it’s culminated in this show called Waters Wide. It incorporates not only, music, song and dance but also the oral traditions of poetry and storytelling from Ireland, Scotland and Wales that will, hopefully, appeal to the world. I think a lot of Irish and Celtic culture – like jazz, I suppose – doesn't belong to the inherent culture anymore, it's like it's a world thing. I don’t think if we'd stayed in Wales we would have ventured this way.
Shevaun: So it’s an expression of what’s been happening with you in parallel with your life?
Ryland: Yes, yes, exactly. I find it's like an evolution, I definitely am Welsh but I feel very close to being Irish because my girls are both and they have that pluralist sense about them. At the end of the day, we're people of the world and the world is smaller. There's a place for everyone – our similarities and our differences – and that's what makes it interesting.
Shevaun: Speaking of your girls, is it true they speak English, Irish and Welsh?
Ryland: Yes, they do. Well, my first language is Welsh so when we lived in Wales I'd speak Welsh to them, and they had English and a bit of Irish that Róisín was giving them. When we moved they picked up Irish quickly and left me in their wake. (Laughs.) And it's funny because with Myfi, the youngest now, when I'd be picking Myfi up from school here – coming out of school after speaking Irish all day – I'd say something in Welsh, because it's just natural for me, she’d say, 'Dad, there's no Welsh here now, it's Irish.'
Shevaun: And she’d say that in English?
Ryland: Yes, that's the conundrum. However, she will turn round when my parents are here or on the phone and start speaking Welsh to them!
Shevaun: So how's your Irish now? (Laughs.)
Ryland: Go raibh maith agat, Shevaun, for that one! I'm absorbing quite a bit, not to the point where I'm speaking it, but I'm finding myself understanding a lot more as we go along…