The non-Welsh speaker’s guide to Welsh language pop music
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, but 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.
Things were different in the new classroom. I’d really fallen 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 are 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 four artists to get you started, who were to me 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.