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Revisit: Cerys Matthews sings Calon Lân on anniversary of writer’s birth

23 Jan 2024 2 minute read
Daniel James & Cerys Matthews

Stephen Price

The writer of Calon Lân, Daniel James was born on this day (23 January 1848) and his words were brought to life spectacularly by Cerys Matthews in 2002, with accompaniment from harpist Elinor Bennett.

The performance was her first solo live set since the break up of Catatonia.

Daniel James was born on 23 January in 1848 in Treboeth, Swansea. He began his working life at Morriston ironworks, and afterwards worked at Landore tinplate works.

Daniel James began to write verse and assumed the bardic name Gwyrosydd (probably meaning “place of privets”). He later found work in Tredegar, Dowlais Ironworks, Blaengarw, and Mountain Ash, where he spent 20 years.

Welsh favourite

“Calon Lân” (meaning ‘A Pure Heart’) began life as a Welsh hymn, the words of which were written in the 1890s by Daniel James and sung to a tune by John Hughes of Penybryn, Pembrokeshire.

Whilst originally written as a hymn, it has become firmly established as a rugby anthem, associated with the Welsh rugby union, being sung before almost every Test match involving the Welsh national team – though more likely to be heard sung at matches involving the Welsh football team in recent years.


The Welsh singer agreed to perform three songs for veteran comedian Max Boyce’s St David’s Day TV special, which was recorded at the BBC’s Cardiff studios on Sunday 6 January 2002.

Cerys sang Welsh ‘Calon Lân’ along with ‘Bachgan Bach O Dincer’, as well as Ivor Novello’s ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’, for a small studio audience picked from a local college.

She was backed by harpist Elinor Bennett – who has previously played with Cerys on the TV show ‘TFI Friday’ and on an earlier Catatonia album track called Bulimic Beats – and banjo player Les Morrison.

She agreed to appear on the programme after meeting producer Chris Stuart, who wrote the music to the soundtrack of Welsh children’s programme ‘Sali Mali’.

He said: “She was fantastic – she chose completely unexpected songs and made each of them her own. I think the audience realised they were witnessing something special.”

And comedian Max added: “I could not have hoped for a better guest. I am a huge admirer of Cerys and always have been.”

‘Max Boyce’s St David’s Day’ was broadcast on BBC 1 Wales on 1 March 2002.

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Alan Thomas
Alan Thomas
5 months ago

A nice article but I though I’d just mention Landore is an anglicisation of Glandŵr.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
5 months ago

Well done Cerys! There is something of a dispute as to where this glorious hymn was first written. Daniel James was an accomplished poet and apparently would write something in exchange for money, or often beer. His favourite pub was the Kings Head in Treboeth (still open) where he had his own corner – this pub is just one that claims the honour. Up the road and the Welcome Inn (still open) also claims the honour and just to cloud things, there is a house in Brynhyfryd, once a pub many years ago, that also claims the honour. And then… Read more »

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