Culture

The official Wales team single that time forgot 

14 Jun 2021 6 minutes Read
The Dragon’s Army

David Owens

The year is 1985.

September 10, 1985 to be precise.

Wales are about to take on Scotland for a winner takes all prize of the World Cup in Mexico the following summer.

It’s 27 years after their maiden and (spoiler) only appearance at a  World Cup – in Sweden in 1958.

Even back then Wales were well overdue qualification for another major tournament. (Yes, I know we got to the quarter finals of the Euros in 1976, but it was only played in a tournament format from the semi-finals onwards)

Anyway, I digress.

That ‘85  team, managed by Mike England, was brimful of players with star quality – Neville Southall, Kevin Ratcliffe, Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Mickey Thomas, who all lined up in a crucial World Cup decider against Scotland at Ninian Park on September 10, 1985.

Everyone was hoping there wasn’t a sense of deja vu playing the Scots, who controversially scuppered Wales’ chances of qualifying for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, when villain and hate figure for Welsh fans, Joe Jordan, famously handled the ball and a penalty was awarded against Wales in a 2-0 loss to Scotland at Anfield.

The programme for the Scotland game

Hopes were high that Wales would march triumphantly towards the World Cup.

Although, as we now know, it didn’t quite work out like that.

Wales drew 1-1, losing out to another harsh handball decision and with it hopes of qualifying for a major international tournament.

Scotland may have secured the point they needed, but it was a tragic evening for the Scots, their manager Jock Stein collapsing pitchside at the final whistle and dying in the treatment room at the stadium.

So confident were the Football Association of Wales that their boys were going to make it to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico that they commissioned an official single.

Way before the Manic Street Preachers and The Alarm would pen official Wales’ football songs, there was “Wales – The Dragon’s Army’.

Released in 1985, with the Wales squad pictured on the cover, it was the FAW’s attempt at emulating the sort of team singles put out by England and Scotland. But hopefully sounding a little less painful on the ears than the combined dirges of the likes of  England’s lamentable 1982 effort ‘This Time (We’ll Get It Right)’ and Scotland’s musical car crash, 1978 ‘Ally’s Army’.

You may never have heard of the single and to be honest you wouldn’t be the only one.

There is very little information available about the record online.

Van Halen

It is also very much a single of its time. The intro is so ‘80s, with its ‘Jump’ by Van Halen synths, that it conjures up images of big hair, leg warmers, Walkmans and massive video recorders.

Listed under the style: ‘Novelty’ on music database Discogs – it certainly would have been for those long suffering Wales fans if the team had actually qualified for the World Cup.

Released on Spartan Records, the song includes a rousing chorus of:

“Here we go, the Welsh are singing, here we go again

“Here we go, always winning, here we go again

“Here we go, the Welsh are singing super Wales we’ll sing

Here we go, the Welsh are singing here we go again.”

It also includes what sounds like a synth motif of ‘Men In Harlech’ that runs throughout the song.

The credits to the single listed on Discogs read:

Arranged By – Keff McCulloch

Bass – Kevin Dunn

Guitar – Keff McCulloch

Keyboards – Keff McCulloch, Paul Clement

Lead Guitar – Ray ‘Taff’ Williams

Lead Vocals – Gary Pickford-Hopkins

Producer – Ray Levy

The team brought together to record the song includes a couple of prominent Welsh musicians.

Singer Gary Pickford-Hopkins was a singer from Neath, who came to prominence in the ‘60s with Welsh band Eyes Of Blue. He is best known as co-lead vocalist with Ashley Holt on two of Rick Wakeman’s most successful solo albums ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and ‘The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table’ Sadly, he died aged 65, in 2013..

Ray ‘Taff’ Williams is a legendary Welsh guitarist who was also a member of Eyes Of Blue with Gary. In an illustrious career Ray has played with a string of famous names, including Bonnie Tyler, Frank Zappa and Black Sabbath.

The song was arranged by Keff McCulloch, who is famous for his work re-scoring the Doctor Who theme in the ‘80s.

In 1987, he was employed by producer John Nathan-Turner to arrange the Doctor Who theme music for the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. The theme, which drew on the original, was used for three years until the series was cancelled by the BBC in 1989.

I managed to track Keff down to his home in Sydney in Australia, where he was (understandably) shocked to receive an email from a journalist asking him about a track, which he readily admits he’d forgotten about.

“Wow! THAT came out of the blue!” he responded via email.

“I have very few recollections of this apart from the fact we recorded it at the Chocolate Factory Studios in South London. (Obviously no longer there).

“Spartan Records folded, I think, in the 80’s from memory though I see there may still be a distribution side to it on the web. Not sure.

“I haven’t heard from Ray Levy, the producer, in 30 odd years so I don’t know where he is and I have no recollection of the writer, either.

“Ray and I did loads of projects together.

“It was great to see the cover again. I did recognise it as soon as I opened it.

“I do vaguely remember some people, maybe some players, from the Welsh FA but, my goodness, so long ago.

“I was asked by Ray Levy to help out. We did so many projects at that time.

“Sorry I can’t be of more help, David.”

So, there we have it. A rarity in every sense of the word.

Whatever you think of the song, at least it wasn’t one of the ideas that the FAW had at the time and shared with me by an FAW insider.

“I seem to recall that (then FAW general secretary) Alun Evans told me it (the Dragon’s Army single) was done for the 1986 World Cup. He also told me that there was another one with Windsor Davies on it just saying “Wales, Wales, Wales” but that could have been earlier when Ain’t Half Hot Mum was a big thing on TV.”

Thankfully, I think we got off lightly there.

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