'Cancelled' Welsh hymns on mental illness and addiction resurrected by singer

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In a cultural revival that delves into the heart of Welsh heritage, folk singer Lleuwen Steffan has unearthed a trove of hymns that were once shunned by all-male committees, reportedly due to their candid exploration of issues such as mental health and addiction.

Steffan's discovery, made while working in a museum archive, has sparked a resurgence of these forgotten verses, breathing new life into 50 historic chapels across Wales.

Steffan recounts her discovery of the missing hymns, stating, "I knew that they were not in the current hymn book. I checked the older editions and spoke to experts on Welsh hymns and indeed they were not in any of the older hymn books either."

The recordings, originally captured by historian Robin Gwyndaf, offer a glimpse into a bygone era, revealing hymns that had been excluded from hymn books over the years.

"There were committees who would choose what hymns would go into the hymn books," Steffan explains. "These were the unchosen ones, the cancelled ones, if you like."

A number of the hymns date back to the 18th century and were passed down through the generations. Steffan says that she felt particularly called to their emotive words because, "They're conversational and the lyrics feel so current."

Further describing the rediscovery of the hymns, Steffan remarks, "Many of them are about addiction, mental illness, the dark side of the psyche." She highlights one hymn that poignantly addresses alcoholism, portraying it as a transformation into consuming the divine.

While such subjects were once considered too taboo for communities to discuss, churches are now thankfully more open and proactive, often hosting recovery groups for survivors of abuse, depression, or addiction.

Despite initial scepticism from her peers, Steffan felt compelled to share these hymns, sensing a profound connection to their message. She describes them as a treasure that refused to be ignored, ultimately shaping her musical journey. She reflects, "Many of my peers thought, why is she doing hymns? Right. It's not exactly cool but they have changed my life in music. They wouldn't leave me alone."

The revival of these hymns, under the banner of the Tafod Arian/Silver Tongue tour, coincides with concerns over cuts to cultural institutions in Wales, underscoring the significance of preserving and celebrating the nation's heritage.

Steffan's commitment to honouring the legacy of these hymns extends beyond performance. She has reached out to descendants of the original singers, ensuring their involvement in the project. During her renditions, she harmonises with the archival voices, creating a sense of continuity and shared experience.

Elen Elis, the artistic director of the National Eisteddfod Wales, lends her support to Steffan's endeavour, recognising its significance in reconnecting communities with their cultural roots. She anticipates the evolution of these solo performances, as they continue to resonate with audiences across Wales.

As Steffan's chapel tour brings these once-cancelled hymns back to the people, it serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring power of music rooted within ordinary parishioners to confront, heal, and uplift.

In a time marked by societal challenges, the revival of these forgotten voices offers a beacon of hope, inviting reflection and dialogue on issues that remain as relevant to the church and our communities today as they were generations ago.