It was my national saint’s day on 1 March – St David’s day. Now unlike certain other attention seeking Celtic nations I could mention, we Welsh folk don’t make a big fuss about it, you know parades, big foam hats in the shape of our national beverage*, that type of thing. Nope, those of us who remember just wear a daffodil in our lapel and hum the tune to our national anthem** on the train ride into work, secure in the knowledge that we are the Chosen Ones and our rugby team is the greatest. Do not worry, we understand your jealousy, we’ve been living with it for millennia now and we don’t blame you for it.
Now this got me thinking about some of my favourite Welsh artists, so I thought I’d unleash a couple of my favourites on y’all. Hugely intelligent though I am^, I can’t detect any single thread running through them all, unless it is that by growing up in a side line away from the mainstream media centres^^ it can enable artists to follow their own muses a little more, be themselves a little more, occasionally be a little odder than they’d otherwise be. Oh and there’s Tom Jones too.
In general Wales was always a huge heartland for metal, certainly in the 80’s. What is possibly sociologically more interesting though is the effect that my parent’s generation and peers had, hippies moving into the countryside in search of self-sufficiency and a utopia born straight out of the works of William Morris. Those tie dye roots definitely sent shoots through to the surface in the music of all manner of interesting whimsical types like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, who were from my home town. Add in a punkier, meaner scene around some of the more industrial places like Newport and all life is here, but Welsher.
This is by no means a definitive list or any attempt to pull off anything as inherently and incipiently wanky as a ‘Best of Wales’, just some fun:
Dylan Thomas: Under Milk Wood. Stand aside for Big D. This is the Richard Burton version from 1954, easily one of my most played LPs ever and if you can’t lose yourself in the sublimity of the opening few minutes then you have no poetry in your soul. Sorry. Gains bonus points for featuring ‘an all Welsh cast’ – oh yeah, we complete! I can, if called upon when sufficiently in my cups, recite big chunks of Under Milk Wood, doing all the voices too. True story.
I Was A Teenage Gwent Boy*^. I Inherited this beauty from my brother and I love every inch of it, from the angel on the cover^* to the picture of all the bands together on the back – Merseybeat style. Here are 11 blasts of indie/punk/rock/weirdo tunes all united. Only two bands here went on to do much else, Novocaine and 60ft Dolls and even then, not too much else. There are a couple of really great moments here, my fave being Tearooms of Babylon ‘H.P Lovelace’ – which was just inspired oddness. I own a good few Welsh compilations and this gets the nod over them all for its consistency.
Budgie Best of Budgie. Sheer, twisted excellence. This is great, conventional power trio rock consistently approached from a very oblique angle indeed. Burke Shelley really should be knighted – never mind his incredible riffs (Breadfan!!), this man gave us the titles ‘Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman’ and ‘In The Grip of a Tyrefitter’s Hand’.
Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci The Blue Trees. Psychedelic, country, indie, pastoral excellence on a mini-LP. I always loved the fact that Gorky’s were bilingual and would happily sing in either English or Welsh depending entirely on which sounded better for the song – something that they ran into trouble for with the Welsh language crowd at one point, screw ’em. This is from 2000 and not their mad, shifting best, but possibly their most relaxed.
Manic Street Preachers Gold Against The Soul. Our biggest and best at the moment and a band I’ve grown up with, one gig of theirs being a very early date for Mrs 1537 and I. I love their intelligence, irreverence, righteousness and dignity in the face of adversity. Out of all their LPs, I picked this one because no-one else, band included, seem to like it much at all. It isn’t all good but any LP that opens with the rock blast one-two combo of ‘Sleepflower’ and ‘From Despair to Where’ is a winner for me. Huge bonus points are gained for calling a track ‘Nostalgic Pushead’ too.
Super Furry Animals Radiator. A great, strange and vastly inventive double LP, which seems to be worth quite a bit of cash these days. Again, another defiantly bilingual band of cleverclogs, this was such a huge step up from their debut. Real invention just drips from the grooves here, personal favourites being ‘Bass tuned to D.E.A.D’ and ‘Mountain People’. I’ve been finding new things in this disc since 1997.
Tom Jones Live At Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas. Bought for the cover alone – this is precisely how I’m going to live once that lottery win is in the bag. The chit-chat with the crowd is great, Tom is in full sex panther mode throughout. What surprised me, in my ignorance, was just how great some of this music was. Forget the Vegas schmaltz, this man had a VOICE. Just stick ‘I (Who Have Nothing)’ on and marvel at the power. Just try not to chuck your dinner up if you accidentally listen to ‘My Way’. The man was our Elvis.
I’m sorry if you’re not Welsh too. Try not to blame yourself, it’s probably not your fault.
638 Down (again!).
PS – I didn’t even mention a lot of other folk I own wax by such as Man, John Cale, Dub War, Catatonia, Bullet For My Valentine, 60ft Dolls, Goldie Lookin’ Chain, Badfinger and Helen Love.
*possibly because, rather unusually, we don’t have one. True story.
**Delilah by Tom Jones, since you ask.
^as well as easily being the modestest person in Europe.
^^back pre-internet, when such things were remotely relevant.
*^for all you foreign types, Gwent is a county of Wales.
^*an image stolen by the Stone Roses for the cover of Love Spreads Around (they were recording in Wales at the time this LP came out). Oh, allegedly, or something.