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.
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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.
Women make a huge contribution to the Welsh language music scene, something that this list fails to acknowledge.
Please name them.
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
There are people coming forward and hard facts being discussed elsewhere. I meant coming forward to you.
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… Read more »
Are you thinking of Rhiannon Tomos? There’s a few videos on YouTube if you want to re-live your delinquent adolescence.
That’ll be her – just watched a you-tube clip, just to be sure.
Great article! Some familiar names and others to explore. My 2c would add, in no particular order:
Super Furries (for Mwng)
Take a listen to the C’est Bon (Yws Gwynedd) playlist on Spotify
*Yws Gwynedd – sori!
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 /… Read more »
WH Dyfodol, Gwenno, Casi Wyn, Crash Disco, Plyci, Ty Gwydr, Pop Negatif Wastad
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… Read more »
I really enjoyed this……………………it didn’t masquerade any politics
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!
Beth am Calan? 😉
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
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… Read more »
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.
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!
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… Read more »
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.
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.
Great Article, Diolch! (Bookmarked! 😉
Very good article, but I have no idea why it’s in News rather than Opinion.
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.
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!
any Welsh speaking south Walian bands on the list or are they all gogs….sorry north Walian 🙂
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.