Lost in Translation: A Welsh Language Record Rundown

Rhy Jones of welsh-speaking folk-horror tinged hauntology band, Wermod, runs through some of  the most curious welsh-language records. Words by Rhys Jones.

The Welsh musical landscape, like it’s topographical counterpart, is beautiful and vast Yet different as it hasn’t been fully documented, there are still blank spots on the map for the music connoisseur to circumnavigate.

For non-Welsh speaking audiences the surface has been scratched by the audio curators at Finders Keepers Records with two expansive editions of the Welsh Rare Beat Series and the Galwad y Mynydd compilation. Whilst Richard Morton Jack’s stellar reissue of Meic Stevens’ Welsh only 45 back catalogue, as well as his 1972 opus Gwymon has shed more light on the “Welsh Bob Dylan”

Included here is ten lesser spotted but never the less, stellar Welsh language releases that span genres by default, or even creating micro genres in the process. These ten tracks are examples of Welsh language releases and in many instances interesting first releases of musicians that have remained mainstays in the Welsh music scene. The labels featured include the better known Sain and Wren releases, and also introduce many a reader to smaller labels like Afon, Gwawr and the Welsh pop precursor Welsh Teldisc.

It should be mentioned that there is a wealth of interesting non Welsh language bands from Wales that would warrant further investigation. The Quincy Jones championed Eyes of Blue, Quicksand, and Man from the Dawn Label. James Hogg (A Swansea band that backed the Tebot Piws and Heather Jones on some adventurous Sain releases) The Mountain Men (who’s article in Record Collector has been an interesting ongoing debate on original pressings.) But for now, let’s cut through the language barrier to bring to you some un-comped slate mine psychedelia, fragile folk and downright uncategorizable sounds from this side of Offa’s Dyke.

Awelon Haf ‎ Cwm Tawelwch, Welsh Teldisc (1970)

A curio cover culled from the Disk a Dawn BBC series translated by political activist, former Plaid Cymru chief and Sain records founder Dafydd Iwan. Here translating Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” into an eerie pastoral masterclass sung with sinister character from an unidentified Swansea Co-ed ensemble, named the Summer Breezes, but this track will put a chill down your spine. Although there is no date (or indeed any information on this release) this is believed to be Welsh Teldisc’s last release and Dafydd Iwan has no recollection of the session other than it was one of numerous jobs he took for the BBC’s premiere welsh pop show. For those who wish to delve deeper, Welsh Teldisc is also the home of Huw Jones’ first release (Cymru’n Canu Pop), a pre Bara Menyn Heather Jones debut, and Social poet Eirwyn Pontshan lively recorded conversation with Dafydd Iwan.

Y Cymylau, Wren records (August 1972)

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An interesting Debut from Ammanford sisters Pat and Linda Morgan and school friend Catryn. This talented trio were a popular fixture at the Urdd youth camp and regularly placed highly in local Eisteddfods. They won at the national on their home turf a year previously. The whimsy and wise, beyond their years lyrics, of Linda compositions Clomen (Dove) and Dewch lan i’r Awyr (Come up to the sky) and sparce accompaniment could pitch them to a Welsh language answer to Wendy and Bonnie. While as an interesting side note, Pat Morgan became one half of the John Peel championed Datblygu. Whose cold wave backings and thought provoking lyrics have inspired many a band,  Welsh or otherwise, and are still going strong.

Rod Thomas a Lyndon Jones, Wren Records (1972)

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This Duo comprised of two seasoned Swansea session men and occasional members of Max Boyce backing band, that crafted four sublimely ambitious tracks to this one shot on Wren. Featuring nimble guitar work, and the heavenly backing vocals from Mid Walian songstresses Y Diliau, this EP (like many in the list) have bizarre reference points, none so much as Josef and ode to composer Sir Joseph Parry, composer of hymn Myfanwy and the Welsh language’s first Opera Blodwen. Each track inspires, especially Cana Gan (Singasong) that undoubtedly has traces and melodies that would subliminally inspire the works of Mid Walian bands Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Radio Luxembourg decades later.

Ann Morris, Wren Records (1970)

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“We are all transmitters of Life” goes Christina Clarke’s back panel hype of the enigmatic songstress Ann Newton Morris. The cryptic description only adds to the perplexing Miss Morris, along with Wren Studio mainstay’s Roger Gape on double bass and John Tyler on feather light drums, that create an existential folk aura that would give Linda Perhacs a run for her money. “Machlud,” the EP’s opener sets the tone that radiates throughout this seldom seen recording, still shrouded in mystery to the handful that know about it.

Rhian Rowe Cariad Coll, Afon (1974)

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The lesser spotted of two releases from Rhian Rowe, her debut was on Wren. A Can I Gymru 1976 Winner and former Mis Asbri, a Welsh language music magazine. This release on Mid Walian Micro label Afon was also home of the Welsh Rare Beat 2 comped glam rock stomper “Gŵr Bonheddig” by Chwys and power pop misfits Talcen Crych (featuring Alun Lenny, father of regarded Welsh visual artist Mared Lenny).

Among the small output Afon released (a label that was small but ambitious) this mournful spectral folk gem with its Hawaiian sounding guitars and heart melting harmonies. Cariad Coll’s (Lost Love) lo- fi charm is infectious and was re-introduced to a new generation of listeners when the Intro was used by Welsh language Hip Hop band Pep Le Pew on their sophomore album Un Tro yn y Gorllewin.

Cleif Prendelyn A Oes Heddwch, Lleisiau (Recordiau Adfer) 1975

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The sole long-player featured in this list is LLeisiau (Voices ) released by Adfer in 1975.

The Welsh language group Adfer (‘restore’ translated to English) was both a cultural movement and a business venture from 1970 to 1987. It’s manifesto was based on the aim of securing a viable Welsh heartland (YFro Gymraeg). Through its limited company Adfer bought and renovated properties for local families in Welsh-speaking communities. Among their numerous cultural endeavours was this private press. A compilation with D.I.Y aesthetics (much like the movement.) LLeisiau featured a slew of established Welsh language talent from Meic Stevens, to John Gwyn (Bran) and also featuring forward-thinking bands Bili dowcar…more on them later.

The track in question is “A Oes Heddwch” by Cleif Prendelyn (actually Cleif Harpwood from Welsh juggernauts Edward H Davis.) A rough, recorded in one take, track with a ferocious drum solo and rattling fuzz tone throughout. With it’s varied style of recording and outsized record sleeve (many cut and taped by their owners to fit in record boxes) LLeisiau is a fascinating example of the Welsh language’s music live scene in the mid 70’s.

Bilidowcar a’r Gwylanod, Gwawr 1974

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Speaking of Bili dowcar a’r Gwylanod (Cormorant and the Gulls) Their only single came out on Gwawr, an Anglesey based label that released a slew of 45’s by the popular duo Toni a Aloma. (Now based in a B&B circuit in Blackpool) Gwawr certainly had an interest in bands named after birds. The other non Tony and Aloma release was the debut of Bran (Crow) featuring Tube producer John Gwyn and Nest Howells (mother of singer Elin Fflur and Race Horses drummer Gwion Llewelyn)

But back to Bili, who were a duo Ronw Prothero and Eurof Williams who formed the band whilst studying at Aberystwyth University. For their first jaunt to the recording studio they were augmented by drummer Steve Golding who threw an everything but the kitchen sink approach to recording, that featured a Vangelis inspired Moog intro, power pop moves and even proto punksnotty ness. This musical magpie style serves as an interesting precursor for the musical direction the Super Furry Animals would take.

Trobwll Y Taith, Recordiau Buwch Hapus 1979

Usually bundled in with the NWOBHM when this single is mentioned (and that is not often) This Swansea based rarity has more of a floating prog flavour, with great mellotron created flute whirls and low end bass. Trobwll (Vortex) was the brainchild of Richard Morris, who cranked it up to 11 with his next band Crys. Morris also became a proficient producer for some of the heavier Sain releases (Y Diawled, Maffia Mister Huws) in the early 80s but here is a true one off in the Welsh language music canon.

Elwen Pritchard, Sain 1975

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A lesser spotted release from Bodfford born Elwen Pritchard, winner of 1973’s Seren Asbri award and was no stranger to radio and television appearances. For her sole release on Sain, she was joined in the studio by Multi instrumentalist Hefin Ellis (of Edward H Dafis) and the Roberts Brothers (Dafydd and Gwyndaf) who had recently joined Bran following the departure of original drummer Keith Snellgrove.

Along with these seasoned sain sessioners were the first appearance of fiddle player Rhian Jones ( latter of Careg Lafar) and Gwawr (Dawn) comprising of girls from Holyhead secondary school arranged by future Morriston Orpheus Choir conductor, and Head of Music at Holyhead, Alwyn Humphreys. Humphreys seems to have been channeling Ben McPeek era Bonnie Dobson and Beach Boys harmonies and everything in between (Melotron, mal nourished synths, low end bass) to create an individual pop gem.

Betsan Lloyd Y Diwedd, So So records (1980)

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Prestatyn born Betsan Lloyd recorded this minimal synth gem for Llanrhystud, Ceredigion micro label (an interesting audio concern run by Andrew Hawkey that’s play by his own rules release roster gave us the haunting work of Ian Strachan and Anthony Griffiths and xian folk compilation Bywyd Newydd)

However this hastily recorded ode to nuclear annihilation that competently channeled a Suicide / Silver Apples feel that meshed heavy drums and wobbly synths hybrid, with tasteful vocals. This debut was an established calling card for Betsan, who had an interesting career – from playing as a touring member of Bjork’s band, The Sugar Cubes, to Hanging out with Frank Zappa

With thanks to Ieuan Wyn, Charles Yorke and Dyl Mei from BBC Radio Cymru

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One thought on “Lost in Translation: A Welsh Language Record Rundown

  1. Well, that’s a first my song Cana Gan might have influenced the likes of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Radio Luxembuorg? It’s just pop isn’t it which I’ve been writing all my life(see http://www.theoccasionalsongwriters.co.uk to find English releases). Not from Swansea and nothing to do with Max Boyce other than appearing with him
    on Disc a Dawn a couple of times. We were from Pentyrch and Rhydyfelin at the time, now Pentre Eglwys a
    Ynysybwl. Just come out of retirement with a CD of my songs, see We Were Here First by Rod and Lyndon on Youtube. Hwyl, Rod.

    Like

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