Chat with Iolo Whelan of Jamie Smith’s MABON

Jamie Smith’s MABON:  Concerts, changes and the new album.

I posted my first article about Jamie Smith’s MABON in May 5,  2010. Back then the band were known as Mabon. They  appeared in  posts as it is hard not to notice them. Everyone  was either tweeting about them or just posting status updates with youtube videos of the band.

The music is a mix of all the influences from the seven Celtic nations. That is why apart from being a Welsh band , they officially label themselves as playing  original, Interceltic, world music. To quote from the band: ” it draws inspiration directly from the traditional folk music of the Celtic countries. This is not Welsh music, nor Scottish or Irish; this is Interceltic music, a true exploration of forms and styles found in Celtic music and their forging into something bold and new.”

It is interesting to observe how this band continue to grow in their sound. After three albums(one is  alive concert)  they are working on the latest album. It is an honor to catch up with Iolo Whelan the drummer and official spokes person for the band to gather thoughts that very few know about yet. I am glad to know one thing and that is(sound of trumpets)……the name of the new album!

Band members

Jamie Smith – Accordion, Oliver Wilson-Dickson – Fiddle, Adam Rhodes – Bouzouki, Matt Downer – Electric & Upright Basses, Iolo Whelan – Drums and Percussion: Calum Stewart (special guest) – Flute & Pipes

Iolo interview answers for The Celtic Music Fan, May 2012.


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What’s the best part about touring with the band?

We are very fortunate in this band that we get to travel: as well as touring in the UK, which I love, we’ve also traveled in Europe, Canada, Australia and Mexico.  When we travel, we meet so many wonderful people, and see so many amazing things.  I always feel when you visit another country as a working musician, you see a very different picture than if you were a tourist.

As a brilliant example, I remember the first time we went to Poland: we were in the country for less than 24 hours, but by the time we left, I felt as though I had had an amazing insight into Polish life, Polish culture, Polish people’s lives, which will stay with me for ever.  It’s the same everywhere we go.

And apart from the travel of course, there are two obvious but very important things which I love about working in this band – the friendship and the music!  Playing with great musicians who are also your friends makes any performance a joy.

Tell us about the new project you are working on at the moment.


For us, this year is all about our new album, Windblown.  We were preparing  new material in the winter, and we’re recording it over spring and summer ready for an album release tour in the autumn.  Our last album was recorded live, so it’s a while since we were in the studio, and it’s interesting to see how things have changed.

The biggest change is the inclusion of songs in our repertoire now as well as the established instrumental aspect.  I was interested to see how the two things would sit side by side on the new album: and I think because we treat our songs the same way we treat our instrumental material, they form one unified collection very well.

We’re very excited about the way it sounds so far and can’t wait to get it out there for our friends and fans!

Has there been a change in the traditional Welsh music scene recently and what are they?


I think if there is a change in the traditional music scene in Wales today, it is a new confidence amongst musicians and bands.  I feel that more bands are happy to do their own thing and chart their own course.

Some are returning to the roots of the music and further exploring that material at its oldest sources; some are still mixing traditional material with rock and pop influences; others are exploring new realms of fusion with a broader palette of genres.  Our approach is to work without a specific niche or brief, and to make music as we fancy, taking in different influences from all the great music we hear, and seeking whatever sound we enjoy in our own original music.

Maybe that confidence in the Welsh folk scene is reflected in the appearance of more Welsh roots bands on the world music stage: Jamie Smith’s MABON, 9Bach, Calan, Burum, Catrin Finch and others are appearing more often on international stages now.  Indeed, I think some of these bands receive more attention on roots and world music platforms internationally than they do in Wales – maybe with time that will change too!

How do you define the music of Jamie Smith’s MABON and what are the things we will be expecting from the band this year in terms of concerts and collaborations, if there are any?


We describe our music as original, Interceltic, world music.  Original because, even though we work in a roots field and with trad music influences, our music is mostly composed by our accordionist and lead vocalist Jamie Smith; Interceltic because our primary influences are the cultures of all the Celtic nations; and world music because we do not feel we need to restrict ourselves to that field, and because our brand of original roots music sits so well on a world music stage.

Our main focus for this year is our new album, as I mentioned, and while that keeps us looking inward for a while, we will also be featuring several new and established collaborators on the recording.  Old friends Calum Stewart and Will Lang will contribute on wooden flute and on bodhran respectively, but our friend and recent collaborator Tom Callister will be guesting on the album too, as well as some other very special musicians yet to be revealed.

We’re hoping, after some festival appearances this summer and our album launch tour in the autumn, to be taking plenty of bookings for 2013’s festival season.  Hit our ‘Like’ button on Facebook or bookmark the concerts page of our website, and you can you can keep an eye out for a gig or a festival near you this year, next year and beyond!

You are the skins man and what can you tell us about the drums that we don’t know yet?


I often say that mine is the best seat in the house for any concert, but a Jamie Smith’s MABON concert in particular provides really interesting challenges.  For me, I feel my task is to support the melodies and the songs without getting in the way.  The sound of the accordion, fiddle and bouzouki is so full that it can be easy for the bass and drums to distract from that fullness, without adding anything special in its place.

So I tread a fine line between lifting the music and spoiling it, and I enjoy having to make those decisions from one moment to the next: I hope I get it right enough of the time!  There are many challenging roles out there for a drummer, but I’ve been doing this gig for twelve years now, and it’s still constantly stimulating, and fresh and somehow different every time.

One of our most faithful long-term fans told me last year that he can listen to us play a piece of music which he’s heard countless times before, but will hear something new or different in it each time he sees us perform – that gives me great inspiration for every concert we play.

You can buy albums of the band here:

Today in the Celtic world….

New album from an American harpist!

Congratulations to harpist friend Scott Hoye for releasing the album called Black Rose today! Listen and buy the album here:


3 Replies to “Chat with Iolo Whelan of Jamie Smith’s MABON”

  1. Good interview! I think they’ve grown so much since you first exposed me to their music. I love their blend of Celtic, Folk, Welsh, and of course that little taste of the modern. I really love Jamie Smith’s Mabon! I wish they would trail to the States, but at least get their flavor of Welsh music here, and of course on YouTube.


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