Meic Stevens, 77, is a Welsh national treasure. A purveyor of a unique and predominantly Welsh language psychedelic-inflected pop music, Stevens is widely and colloquially known as the “Welsh Bob Dylan”.
Meic’s influence on Welsh music is difficult to articulate, yet intimately felt in contemporary Welsh music and heard in the records of musicians like the Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci.
It’s this renowned and revered status that led to a backlash after Stevens made allegedly racist comments while on stage at the Gwyl Arall festival in Caernarfon last weekend.
Some attendees walked out of the show, while others stayed. One of these people was a singer from Caernarfon called Sera Owen, who walked out with her partner after she heard two people clapping Steven’s comments.
Other attendees, however, took to Twitter and Facebook to articulate their concerns. Nobody quite expected what happened afterwards. Some of the tweets and posts began to go viral and spill over across onto other platforms.
A thread erupted on Facebook within which Meic Stevens was called the Welsh Morrisey. Given Morrisey’s swell to the alt-right, it’s certainly no compliment.
Meic Stevens subsequently denied that he had made racist comments, only confirming to the Daily Post that he made an “observation” about different “ethnicities”. He also said that he was not “against Muslims”.
Stevens told Golwg on Tuesday, again, that he was not racist, and that he occasionally has seen a Muslim school bus in Cardiff.
However, on Thursday night, a Soundcloud track of his recorded comments was linked by Meic Stevens’ official twitter (which was set up that day). It appears to have been edited with the clip starting mid-sentence.
Here’s a transcript, translated from Welsh to English, of the audio file from the now-deleted tweet:
“What do you think happened now? We – we sort of – I’m sure they think that the people who live in this country – well, half of the people who live in this country aren’t from here anyway these days. They come from every – y’know.
“On the bus from, from – um, picking up the girl up from school, you know, down in Cardiff. Well, there were about four or five or six, uh, white people on the bus. The rest – the bus was crammed, you know – were all coloured people? Mostly Muslims/Most were Muslims, you know.
“I live in Cardiff, well, I know Cardiff but, but that’s what I see you know, if you say something about it, they call you bloody racist, you know? But I’m not bloody racist, I just say what I see, with my eyes.
“And… well, Christ, Canton! Shy Welsh people like to live in Canton… but most of the people who live in Canton are Muslims! (laughs, starts to strum guitar, some people cheer) There are about, about uh (stutters over those people cheering) there are about 3000, uh, Welsh speaking Welsh, no, less than that, 2000 Welsh speakers and then 3000 English people, like we called them … Yuppies!
“I lived in Conway road because it was cheap to live there! £122(?) to rent a flat in the early ’70s you know.”
There are two problems here: The first is that by mentioning the people on the bus directly after saying that “half the people who live in this country aren’t from here, anyway” he implies that the people on the bus weren’t “from here”.
There are 45,000 Muslims in Wales according to the 2011 census and nearly half of whom live in Cardiff. Most of those people on the bus would have been Welsh-born people of colour, but his comments seem to suggest that they aren’t Welsh.
The second problem is that as he discussed the population of Canton, he creates a false dichotomy, of the Muslim on one hand and Welsh speaking Welsh (‘Cymru Cymraeg’ in the original Welsh) on the other.
It denies the complex, rich and multi-layered textures of Welsh life and Welsh faith. It suggests that you can be a Muslim or a ‘Cymro Cymraeg’, but not both.
What’s most bizarre is that Meic’s management (presumably behind the twitter account and the SoundCloud) decided to release the audio thinking that it showed his comments weren’t racist.
In doing so, they’ve made things much worse.
Stevens’ fall from grace has now been exacerbated in ham-fisted attempts of damage control in the public eye.
He’s already had performances pulled. On Wednesday, Wales’ leading music festival Green Man confirmed that they had taken him off the bill. Not too long after, Sesiwn Fawr became the second festival to take Meic Stevens from their line-up in Dolgellau after his comments last weekend.
I was sent this message by Meic Stevens’ son Bryn:
“Dad meant no harm from what he said, he’s grown up and lived through Cardiff developing into a multicultural City and to him he was simply making an observation on how things have changed.
“There was no malicious intent, and he has paid the price by having gigs cancelled that him and many others(including myself) have been working on for many months now.
“I’ve never seen him treat anyone differently due to their ethnicity or background, so please try cut him some slack because he’s a normal human being who makes mistakes just like the rest of us.”
But this is only the latest event in the Welsh creative scene in recent history that has led to feverish conversations on racism, white supremacy and racial inequality: Tiger Bay Tales, the NTW Welsh writer controversy, Aberaeron Carnival, Eisteddfod 2018 and a newly published piece by the Wales Arts Review, to name a few.
They have held the gaze of the Welsh public. Racism, like a doppelganger, emerges as a spectacle, a playing ball to be used and deployed when needed and swept under the carpet when too uncomfortable.
Meic Stevens’ comments, and the conversation that has ensued as a result, is a landmark moment for conversations on race in the arts in Wales, a moment that will be looked back on for years to come.