An English speaker’s guide to 10 of the best Welsh language bands

Euros Childs. Picture by Ella Mullins (CC BY 2.0)

Sam Coates

Everyone knows Wales is the land of song and has ridiculously talented bands of all kinds.

Pretty much everyone will have one Welsh band that they love, be it the Super Furries, Manics, or even Charlotte Church (only her newer stuff, mind)?

But unless you’ve investigated the other side of Welsh music – the Cymraeg side of this world – you’ve really been missing out.

Discovering Cerddoriaeth Cymraeg (Welsh Music) was the most rewarding part of starting to explore my own Welsh identity as a teenager, and it almost happened accidentally.

Aged 12 I found myself in bottom set for Welsh, taught by a teacher who had absolutely no ability to keep the class under control. Chairs thrown around the classroom were a regular event, and half the students didn’t even pretend to listen to his lessons.

So I decided, for reasons that had little to do with an appreciation for the language, that I’d work my way up to top set.

In doing so, I fell in love with the language, and took up the chance to join the school’s trip to the Urdd’s Glan Llyn activity centre in Bala.

This was my first time in this part of Wales and opened my eyes to a world that existed outside the capital, and Barry where my family is from.

I wanted to see more, so I convinced my family to go youth hostelling in Bangor and Borth for our summer holiday. Then, when looking around one of the castle gift shops, I picked up an album by the folk band Gwerinos.

Around the same time I was attending a youth club where one of the leaders played in bands, and he introduced me to Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. From there on there was only more to explore

So here are ten artists that are an essential starting point for discovering Welsh language music.

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci

Rightly considered back in the 90s as child prodigies, I don’t think I’m going too far in calling them the Beatles of Wales.

Although never superstars, most contemporary Welsh artists interested in the local scene will cite them as a big influence.

Their mix of sugary melodies and noisy experimentation was something not really going on in English language music in Wales at the time.

The band constantly switch between Welsh and English, often mid-song (as the Patio Song, below, demonstrates), making them a good starting point for the listener who would like to have at least some idea what’s going on!

I was very lucky to catch them live at St David’s Hall in 2005 before they parted ways, but most of them remain active. Frontman Euros Childs seems to be constantly releasing new albums.

Y Cyrff

When I first heard this band they sounded to me like the Husker Du of Welsh music. Best known for their punk anthem “Cymru, Lloegr a Llanrwst” (below), parts of the band later went on to form part of Catatonia.

Influenced by bands like The Clash, any punk fan will enjoy their lo-fi, melancholic sound.

Start with: Self-titled compilation.

Datblygu

Born under the fire of Thatcherism and trailblazers of the punk movement, titles like “Dim deddf, dim eiddo” (no statue, no property” and Cân i Gymry, a satirical take on the long-standing S4C show, give you a feel for their politics.

Start with: Self-titled compilation.

Sibrydion

Formed by two members from Big Leaves, who were contemporaries of the Furries and Catatonia, this is really fun melodic rock. But only deemed worthy of recognition by the Guardian when they released their English album Campfire Classics.

Start with: Jigcal

Maffia Mr Huws

Hailing from the talent factory for bands of Bethesda in Gwynedd, Maffia were apparently a super group in the 80s, though you’d never know it growing up in English.

You have to dig deep to find anything in English about these guys online, but English record labels were initially interested in the band, likening their sound to The Police.

Unlike all the band on this list so far, they’ve reformed to play occasional gigs, including the 2017 Eisteddfod.

Start with: Self-titled compilation.

Yr Ods

This indie band sprung out of Aberystwyth University in 2006, although all of the members come from near Bangor in Gwynedd. They have played at Glastonbury, Radio 1’s Big Weekend, toured Germany and, as you can see below, are a big hit at the Eisteddfod.

Start with: Llithro

Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog

An experimental folk band from the Llyn peninsula, this band have more overt American influences than many Welsh bands, but are clearly building on the foundations laid by the likes of Geraint Jarman.

I always feel a bit wistful when hearing Lle’r Awn I Godi Hiraeth? – like a lot of English speakers I’ve got a partial understanding of hiraeth, but this pensive song makes me wish my journey to understanding the whole language was further along!

Start with: IV

Ysgol Sul

This band sound focus-grouped especially for my own taste. I was so excited to hear their lo-fi, shoegazey tones last year since they remind me of cult band Pavement. Their latest EP (in English) clearly had The Smiths in mind when writing.

Start with: Huno EP

Band Pres Llaregub

This is slate village brass bands meets hip hop, and they achieve something pretty magical. After covering the entire of Super Furry Animals’ Mwng album, they’ve released two albums of their own packed with fantastic collaborators including Alys Williams. This is the most upbeat band you’ll find on this list.

They’ve been electrifying Welsh music festivals and selling out shows with a sound almost too funky to believe given their influences and roots.

Don’t miss their cover of Gwreiddiau Dwfn, which intersperses Penrhyn Male Voice Choir to pull off a real tearjerker.

Bwncath

I’ll be honest, Spotify’s Discover Weekly helped me with this one. But Elidyr Glyn’s captivating vocals quickly had me hooked on their blend of rock and contemporary folk.

Start with: Self-titled first album

Do you have any suggestions? Post them below.

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36 Comments

  1. Out of interest (and because I want to follow answers to this fascinating article), does the title of this piece (An English speaker’s guide…) suggest that your efforts to get out of the bottom set of Welsh failed?
    No suggestions though I am afraid, other than to add a mention to my old uni friend Neil Rosser (a’i fand wrth gwrs).

    • Hi Angharad. Well, I did Cymraeg at a school known for not teaching it well at least until you take A levels. I wasn’t able to do A level so lost what I knew. I’m now far ahead of where I was in school after a year of re-learning but there’s obviously a long way to go, and my teacher friends tell me teaching has improved a lot in the last 15ish years!

      • Keep at it! It’s well worth the effort. And really as you immerse yourself in the language, for example via music, things sink in without you noticing, if you’re doing your bit to learn in other ways.

  2. Benjiman L. Angwin

    Try Brigyn

  3. Women make a huge contribution to the Welsh language music scene, something that this list fails to acknowledge.

  4. Not a genre I often listen to, I must admit (I’m more a William Mathias and Daniel Jones man), but I must put in a mention for Gwilym Bowen Rhys’s two ventures, Y Bandana (what I would call traditional guitar-led pop) and Plu (gentler music sung with what I believe are his two sisters).

    If we’re allowed to delve back 20 years or so then Huw Chiswell is my all-time favourite Welsh pop singer. I defy anyone to listen to Rhywbeth o’i Le (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKEKcMN0z5c) without a tingle down their spine.

    • [Hi Lowri, as you haven’t posted any evidence to corroborate this claim I’m afraid I’m going to have to delete it in case it is defamatory. If you feel this is unfair please get in touch – Ed.]

      • It’s unfair in the sense that people get away with things they shouldn’t because they’re protected by institutions and people that make money from them.

        Otherwise, I don’t have video of these things happening and I doubt anyone would feel they’d gain anything by coming forward.

        If you’re interested in looking in to it yourself then I’d be willing to send you the information about it.

        • Hi Lowri. I certainly concur that this should be investigated. Unfortunately unless anyone is willing to come forward there are no hard facts to discuss here or elsewhere. Feel free to send information through the contact button above and it will be looked at. Thanks – Ed

  5. Where’s Anhrefn?

  6. Back in the late 70’s early ’80s a few of us surprised our Welsh teacher, by saying we regularly watched a Welsh language programme on BBC Wales which had the bands of that time on. I remember the names of Crys and Ceffyl Pren and being a teenager myself at the time there was a girl who headed up a rock band and part of the reason we kept tuning in, being typical delinquent adolescents. We didn’t speak Welsh at all, but this was a programme at that time, that worked. Can’t remember the name of that programme or much else.

    Surprised in terms of current stuff that Yws Gwynedd hasn’t got a mention yet, but certainly seems to tick the right boxes currently.

  7. Llywelyn ap Gwilym

    Great article! Some familiar names and others to explore. My 2c would add, in no particular order:
    Yr Eira
    Swnami
    Ows Gwynedd
    Y Cledrau
    Mr Phormula
    Mei Emrys
    Dafydd Iwan
    Candelas
    Super Furries (for Mwng)

    Take a listen to the C’est Bon (Yws Gwynedd) playlist on Spotify

  8. If you like rock – go for Y Reu or Y Ffug (also known as FFUG) , I Fight Lions, Masters in France, Mattoidz or We are Animal

    Folk – Al Lewis Band, 9bach (won bbc best folk album few years ago), Public Broadcasting Service and Lisa Jen Brown of 9bach have a song ‘You + Me’ which shows how beautiful it is to sing in Cymraeg & English. As mentioned in artice, I think Bwncath’s album is one of the best of any language for many years, Elidyr Glyn’s tone is so unique.

    Pop – Kizzy Crawford

    Indie / Electro – Cadno (similarities to Dolores O’Riordan of Cranberries) , Casi Wyn – she’s played SXSW in Austin, Texas and is a star – I would check out a session that she did with other musicisans called Clwb Cariadon – Sesiwn Unnos – Un nos means one night, so 5 musicians were placed together for one night and they created these songs….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOacPL9YQz0 unbelievable talent. Omaloma – Aros o gwmpas.

    Rap – Mr Phormula – Ed Holden – the first Welsh speaking artist to perform at the MOBO’s – in Cymraeg. Tystion is my favourite rap Cymraeg – anti establishment and great lyrics.

    My favourite bands are Incubus, Deftones, Rage Against the Machine, Super Furrys – but this golden age of cerdd Cymraeg makes you realise the variety that’s out there, and gives you hope for the future.

    And let’s not forget Wales probably has more classical trained singers per capita than anywhere in the World. They’re all performing in the top Opera houses of Europe and most of us wouldn’t even know.

  9. Gwenith Owen

    WH Dyfodol, Gwenno, Casi Wyn, Crash Disco, Plyci, Ty Gwydr, Pop Negatif Wastad

  10. Although I am glad to see an article like this, I think we need to be honest with ourselves.

    Our musical tastes are very varied. – I love the bands you show, but many learners and English speakers from different backgrounds will like totally different sounds.

    This list is more the 25-50 year old demographic ‘guide’ … I am 30 years old but love Welsh language based choir/folk/ electro / hip hop/ rock / pop rock etc….. also I love alternative bands like 9bach – and as a commentator said above there are lots more women bands out there, but I respect your personal taste.

    Mwynhewch! Enjoy 🙂

  11. I really enjoyed this……………………it didn’t masquerade any politics

  12. Glyn Roberts

    My nominations – ‘Y Niwl’ by Y Niwl [The Mist] (original instrumental-only tunes by Shadows-influenced rockers from Caernarfon); ‘Tir A Golau’ by Plu [Feathers} (beautifully sensitive blood harmonies and super lyrics from two sisters and a brother); ‘Dere Mewn’ by Colorama (aka Carwyn Ellis and Friends) – a diverse album covering a range of genres, and ‘Bendith’ by Bendith – an absolutely superb themed album written and led by Carwyn Ellis in association with Plu. Mwynhewch!

  13. Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog are delightful. Curated some great bands at Green Man’s Settlers Stage last year too.

    Rheinallt H Rowlands were a great band too. Can’t think of many better gothic, baroque pop bands. Their Bukowski LP is brilliant

  14. Some Welsh songs I like: from my childhood Chwarae’n Troi’n Chwerw by Caryl Parry Jones and a few other Caryl songs, maybe more ‘middle of the road’ than pop. A few Edward H Dafis songs, Ysbryd y Nos and Breuddwyd Roc a Rol, for example. Y Cwm by Hyw Chiswell – I’m not a big fan of the other song of his mentioned above. One particular song by Beganifs.
    More recently Sebona fi by Yws Gwynedd, Dere Mewn by Colorama (also mentioned by a poster above) , Anifail and Llwytha’r Gwn by Candelas
    Maybe not really pop, but Anfonaf Angel and Hafan Gobaith have been very popular in recent years.

    Anyone who’s interested in the 80s scene can watch this documentary on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxXyOda7lXI

  15. Great article, really helps open up what is available in Welsh that is otherwise difficult to get into as an English speaker. It’d be great to have more articles like this.

  16. ejcorbett2013

    Thanks for this list. I’m looking for new music. Yes, to Plu and Huw Chiswell. I also love Brigyn. Cerddoriaeth Cymraeg yw’r gorau!

  17. I found Welsh language music to be a great help when I was learning the language. I spent many a happy hour attempting to translate the lyrics so I could better understand the song. I spent quite a bit of my hard earned on cassettes, LPs and latterly CDs. most of which I’ve now ripped to mp3 format so they can now reside on my phone. Surprisingly no one has mentioned Geraint Jarman a’r Cynganeddwyr whose output was quite prolific, or Steve Eaves a’i Driawd/Rhai Bobol. Both are still producing/performing. Steve Eaves should, in particular, inspire learners of Welsh, as he himself learned the language. There are of course, a host of other bands to keep an eye out for, though most are now part of history. Melys was a particular favourite of mine, and from the late 20th century we have deliciously wacky bands such as Y Cynghorwyr with songs like, ‘Oes Gan Arch Ted Moult Hardwood Surround’ or ‘Ystlymddyn’, which is a real hoot. I don’t think that any of Y Cynghorwyr’s songs were at all serious, but the band were so obviously very talented both musically and lyrically. Another band worth a mention is ‘Bob Delyn a’r Ebillion’ which most are probably aware of.

    Another performer now largely forgotten is Bryn Fôn in his guise as Sobin a’r Smaeliaid. Immensely popular in his time, around the late 80s/early 90s, and included the anthem that got him into trouble, Meibion y Fflam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdnuIKIJbZQ He was arrested when police, desperate to quell the holiday home arson campaign found some wires in a wall on land owned by Bryn Fôn precisely when the song was at it’s most popular. It was a crass move by the authorities, but it probably did a lot to make the son even more popular, and the cause, whether people agreed with the arson campaign or not, aware of the issues behind it, and that they were far more than the simple, black and white, anti Englishness that Plaid and the rest of the establishment would like us to believe. The song, with it’s very politicised lyrics stops short of anything like incitement, but does pose questions as to why there is an arson campaign in the first place. It was this kind of popular culture that gave Plaid Cymru sleepless nights, and showed them up for the spineless appeasers they are.

    I often think that we are far worse off now that Welsh language music has become so politically sanitised, and no longer poses challenges to both those moving here or those born and bred here. We had that period popularly known as Cool Cymru at the end of the 20th century, just as the Assembly was getting off the ground. Whatever you may think of this kind of thing, it was a period when young people, for perhaps the first time, felt comfortable in expressing, with pride, a Welsh identity. Since that time, anything largely Welsh seems to have been diluted, and now we may have Welsh language music, but it’s largely been completely devoid of any political edge. We need more music that reminds us of who we are, and the political context we live in. Sobin a’r Smaeliaid may have been the nearest to pop music that has existed in Wales, and it was genuinely popular, as much of it appealed to an audience of ordinary young people, a section of the Welsh population largely ignored and abandoned by the likes of Plaid Cymru and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg who seem more interested in creating comfortable middle class jobs for themselves than fighting for the interests of ordinary Welsh people. There are exceptions, of course, none more so that Neil McEvoy, but most of the rest seem content to replicate the comfy status quo. Perhaps we need Welsh language music to once more question who we are, and perhaps satirise our Dic Siôn Dafydd politicians.

    • In recent years, Gwenno Saunders, Chroma, Adwaith, Y Ffug, Cpt. Smith, Brython Shag and many others have released political material, and CyIG continues to be a major promoter of Welsh Language Music, often getting nominated as promoter of the year at the annual Selar awards. I don’t recognise your comments at all, to be honest.

  18. Really glad a couple of you have mentioned Gwenno Saunders already.

    I would also highly recommend her sister Ani, who produces a particularly electronic brand of Welsh language music that I can’t get enough of.

  19. Great Article, Diolch! (Bookmarked! 😉

  20. Very good article, but I have no idea why it’s in News rather than Opinion.

  21. Eos Pengwern

    I can’t think why I didn’t mention Anelog in my earlier post, but since nobody else has I’ll mention them now. Their track Siabod (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLeEnX4wYds) is the alarm track on my phone; equally good to go to sleep to or wake up to.

  22. The two that should be on any 2018 list (IMHO…), would be
    1) Candelas – probably the biggest band there is at the moment.
    2) Endaf Emlyn – not because of the Pobol y Cwm jingle obviously!

    Might not make everyone’s list, but Lleuwen Steffan would be on my top ten list – also in the Breton top ten list as well I suspect!

  23. any Welsh speaking south Walian bands on the list or are they all gogs….sorry north Walian 🙂

  24. Rich Starkie-Roberts

    The Alarm or (for the Welsh Releases) Yr Alarm – I know most of the band’s output – certainly in recent years has been in English, but there have been a few Welsh Language releases – Newid, and Tân spring to mind.

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