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Da i Be? (Good for what – how many millionaires are in jail?)

12 May 2024 8 minute read
Llwybr Llaethog – John Peel Sessions, 1987 + 1989, ANKST Records

An appreciation of Llwybr Llaethog by the late Emyr Glyn Williams

Holi dy nain
Holi dy daid
Ni yw’r hogia gorau
Rap Cymraeg!

(Llwybr Llaethog, 1985)

‘Let us not be romantic. When oppression is lasting it may destroy a culture completely. Culture needs a public life, the free exchange of ideas: it needs publications, exhibits, debates and open borders…)
(Milan Kundera)

Pawb i ddeffro! Rwyf yn caru y Llwybr Llaethog. I love Llwybr Llaethog more than other Welsh language band I have known and worked with over the last forty years.

They are single-handedly responsible for inserting rap, hip-hop, house, dub reggae, political cut and paste and sampling directly into the heart of a thousand-year-old Welsh language music culture.

These revolutionary early tracks are culturally charged missives are as righteous as they are rhythmic can be found on the singles Dull Di-drais (1986) and Tour de France/Yo! (1987) on Anhrefn Records; and start an unbroken decade long run of genre-defying and quite musically brilliant albums and singles that Chant Down Babylon! on labels such as Side Effects, Roir, Concrete, Ankst and Neud Nid Deud.

This music is politically conscious and streetwise – think Tŷ Haf Jac, Gyfundrefn Gyfalafol, Rhywbeth Bach yn Poeni Pawb and Dull Di-Drais – and has global resonance.)

Yo! by Llwybr Llaethog

Unique sound

Llwybr Llaethog created a narrative for themselves that was unique – a sound, a voice, a presence, an energy that turned the tables on Welsh reality at exactly the right time and place along popular music’s recorded timeline.

When we talk about the late eighties and the time of these Peel Sessions the band exist for me back then in opposition to the malign forces of neo-capitalistic liberal conservatism which was politically and historically on the move.

Llwybr Llaethog, with their music, were fighting the forces that wanted to possess, dominate and silence all our individual identities – erase our wonderful differences, stamp upon and destroy our works and messages.

But that couldn’t happen as long as bands this vital are making music.

MAD! by Llwybr Llaethog

Experimenting

Their existence and legacy needs to be rediscovered, revered and recovered as being one of the great Hip-Hop stories never told from the freedom years of dance music from 1984 to 1994.

In Jeff Chang’s definitive Hip-Hop history ‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop’ he refers to these kinds of stories as ‘Dub Histories’ where the music is made by those hidden from view, dubbed out of the stories they themselves are telling – blinded visions from the new rasta poets.

Here is the original article – unable to make themselves fit into anything conventional – no rules surround their music – it is about experimenting – music alive in the real world – 4/4 is the only loose rule allowed!

The rest is free – theirs is a music that resists on all levels – sound, language, technique, delivery and message.

On their records, and you can also catch it on the Peel Sessions, you can hear country and city, live and electronic, political truth and social change – the truth loud and clear.

Albums and singles that were dragging Welsh culture into the heart of a dying record industry, only to be ignored and rejected precisely for being the perfect vehicle for dance music’s original message of variety, justice, openness and joy

‘If dance music culture was as open as it likes to think it is, then Llwybr Llaethog would be Number One’ (The Catalogue)

But fate played its hand and the promised utopian future of independent music once more became the domain of the endless one-trick pony boys of the safe world of major labels, Label-me safe and find me in the record racks, all correct and filed under the narrowest of descriptions – safe to sell, safe to stock, safe to once again rejoin the old record bandwagon.

But at the time of these sessions in 87-90 Hip Hop still hadn’t leapfrogged Rap Music to become the 100% urban lifestyle choice of the whole wide world.

Maybe all of this seriousness is unnecessary.

Maybe we don’t need too much reality when we discuss this band. Maybe we don’t need to know too much after all – with legends like Llwybr Llaethog a few facts will suffice…

Slate capital of the world

First of all, I love Llwybr Llaethog because they came from Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Hailing from a place that was once the slate capital of the world that now, in the 21st century, finds itself redefined as a radical and pioneering new green self-sufficient kind of town fighting the devastating effects of post-industrial capitalism – head-on!

It is one of the poorest places in the UK. Home to 4,000 people dealing with the highest fuel poverty burden in the whole of Wales – left behind, fucked over undoubtedly – but never defeated or broken down – never!

Things are hard here but like Detroit’s abandoned industries and factories the place still remains as beautiful as the original dream dreamt by first generation of Welsh language speakers who imagined themselves to be the most imaginative and self-sufficient of all the mountain peoples when they rocked up to the place.

A community that still works feeding off workers’ roots, co-operative economics and at heart relies on a progressive heart that wants to see an open place being re-born to the beat of the Llwybr Llaethog sound..

As The Tribune said (the only serious and widely respected left wing periodical left on this rancid right wing Brexit island) of the place – ‘this town possesses a socialist imagination – ‘if it is possible to imagine a socialist idea of “home”; then “Blaenau Ffestiniog” is it.

Hip-hop basics

Secondly, I love Llwybr Llaethog because they understand the Hip-Hop basics when and where it mattered – the sound and the context (according to Simon Reynolds ace ‘Bring The Noise’ book).

Sonic spectrum

If you have no grasp of the low end of the social and sonic spectrum – then get out of the room! It is crucial to HipHop and Rock to have that BOOM!! – THE BOLLOCKS.

London dropped House in 1987 in favour of groove and the North went harder and Llwybr Llaethog went back Westward to Wales.

Back to Welsh Wales as electro bass came in to bridge the link between hip hop and rock. And in came the riffs – riffs were bread and butter to John as he spun riff after riff into his Peckham Park mixes creating huge, cavernous and slow fat beats for dancing.

They were too dark for the ‘hardcore nation’ of Rush, Pulse and the Pirate Radio Posses and not hardcore enough with their innovative city ghetto pop dance music that also allowed them to swim deep in the black psychedelia of dub reggae – the urban alternative to the ghetto city Celtic menace.

As is the notion of the epiphany – the realisation that this is it!!!! The epiphany came in 1984 for Llwybr Llaethog when John Griffiths visited the USA and was forever changed seeing DJ Red Alert at work on his decks – ‘in downtown’s tiny art-rammed sweatboxes, whites were watching young brown and black b-boys go off to throbbing afro-latinized versions of soundtrack music from spaghetti westerns – the nightclub become a communal sacred space, a space to watch the rules become liquid and peer into possibility – no segregation and everyone joining in.

The beginning of breaking down racial barriers, then the beginning of worldwide understanding. DJ Red Alert and Jizzy Jay were there playing the records next to Afrika Bambaataa as he planned Planet Rock’s assault on the world and The Message was around the corner…

‘Hip Hop music and records would soon take over the world’
Jeff Chang, ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’

Da! by Lawyer Llaethog

Making records

I love Llwybr Llaethog because of the records they made, (DA!, BE?, PAM?, MEWN DUB, LL.LLvsMCDRE, FYDD Y CHWYLDRO, MAD!, MAGNETIC, MERA DESH, DUB CYMRAEG); the records they owned (Tackhead – ‘Mind at the end of a tether,’ Keith LeBlanc – ‘Major Malfunction,’ Prince Far I – ‘Under Heavy Manners,’ Mark Stewart and the Mafia – ‘Learning to live with cowardice,’ Wham! – ‘Everything She Wants,’ Keith Hudson – ‘Pick a Dub’), and the people they worked with – all the Welsh legends who knew which bell to ring in Grangetown to get John and Kevs to the party…in their turn they all came to record…Super Furry Animals, Gwenno, Geraint Jarman, David R. Edwards, Datblygu, Tystion, MC Seilfar, Y Kontia, DJ Jaffa, Ninja Taf, Harvinder Singh, Mr Phormula, Lleuwen Steffan, Li’l Miss, Elliw Iwan, Dafydd Iwan, Tich Gwilym, Sian James, Cofi Bach a Tew Shady, MC Pendafad, Ceri C, Gai Toms, Delyth Eirwen, Rheinallt H. Rowlands…ac eraill……

Finally I love Llwybr Llaethog because we walked the milky way together x

If the rumours are true and this will be the last Ankst release – then I couldn’t be prouder. The best band, the best music, the honour is all ours xx

Hwyl Fawr Ankst xxxx

Llwybr Llaethog: the BBC John Peel Radio Sessions is now available from good record shops everywhere.


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Richard Huw Morgan
Richard Huw Morgan
4 days ago

Great words from a great human about two other great humans that make great music. Diolch Ems, Diolch John Gedru, Diolch Kevs Ford.
x

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 days ago

Tanygrisiau and Llan Ffestiniog…

Peabody’s Tenement Tunes …

Last edited 4 days ago by Mab Meirion
Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
4 days ago

Great article by a wonderful person who did so much for Welsh language music, and about a great duo. I remember buying Llwybr Llaethog’s Da! in the summer of 1988, the first vinyl to be played on my new system in my student bedsit. There must be something in the slate of Blaenau Ffestiniog. a place which for me is the essence of a defiant, assertive Cymreictod that isn’t either hostile or superior. Far more needs to be done to make people, especially young people in the schools of Wales, aware that there is a vibrant and vital culture in… Read more »

Last edited 4 days ago by Padi Phillips
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 days ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Something in the slate indeed: Rog’s Conservatoire in Llan and the Slate Rock Concert in the Quarry, nature provided a great electrical storm that night for a light show…you need a long memory…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

No one mentions Bran these days, they were cutting edge…

or a concert upstairs in Llan Neuadd where an international line-up led by Daf from Penrhyn, featured a Palistinian drummer, a Jock on bass, a West Countryman on guitar…’they had to turn the power off at the mains because those boys weren’t stopping’

Anyone out there at Rog’s memorial in the Pub !

Like I say long memory gives perspective…

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