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Mountain People

When I was a boy, and I’m probably going to give my age away here, there were only two Welsh singers: Tom (big bloke, big nose, big voice, medallion) and Shirley (classy, sassy, like a cultured foghorn with perfect enunciation). Now Sir and Dame respectively. I was wrong, of course, because soon I found out about Mary Hopkin and Shakin’ Stevens and Bonnie Tyler. So that’s at least five then.

Nowadays Welsh singers and bands are all over the place, releasing cutting edge albums and appearing at all your favourite venues and, with one or two exceptions that we might talk about later if you behave yourself, it has become very apparent that Welsh music is an assurance of quality and quirkiness.

My own particular Welsh awakening came courtesy of John Peel (who else?) when, at some point in the mid 1990’s, he introduced me and many others to Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci’s ‘Patio Song’, a tender beauty that still fills me with joy. Off I skipped to my most nearest music store (Brotherton’s in Bishop Auckland if memory serves) and handed over my hard-earned for a copy of the glorious Barafundle and never looked back. My desire for additional Welshness, and a loyalty to Creation Records sown by Teenage Fanclub, led me inevitably to Super Furry Animals’ Radiator and beyond. Over 20 years later (I know, I can’t believe it either) both of these albums still rank alongside the best of the music that the CD age of the 1990s threw our way. Both had songs sung in Welsh, both are equally capable of being loud, both of being thoughtful and hypnotic. Both bring joy with their big-hitters and with their hidden gems. In fact, do yourself a favour, get out your headphones, go to your CD collection if you still have one, and listen to Barafundle and Radiator right now, preferably in a darkened room. Wallow, if you will.

In many ways these two bands formed the blueprint for the best of contemporary Welsh artists, encouraging them to embrace influences from the far-flung shores of ambient, glam, prog, folk, pop, psychedelic and electronic music with equal enthusiasm. No genre is out of bounds, no influence is left unturned.

All of which leaves Welsh music in rude health, safe in the combined capable hands of the likes of H. Hawkline, Cate le Bon, Gwenno, Meilyr Jones, Yucatan, Yr Ods and various assorted former Myncis and Furry Animals. Some sing in Welsh, some in English, some in both. Gwenno sings in Cornish as well, which to someone like me, who has barely managed to master one language, sounds like showing off.

I have a theory, unproven but plausible, that this fine body of musicians and many more of their countrymen and countrywomen feel that it is their collective duty to make amends for the dad-rock crimes of Stereophonics in general and their godawful racket that is ‘Have a Nice day’ specifically. Here’s the best example of “life’s not fair” that I can muster on this subject; as I type, the aforementioned ‘Have a Nice Day’ has been streamed 28,490,969 times on Spotify while Yr Ods’ infinitely preferable ‘Gad Mi Lithro’ has a comparatively paltry 17,048. I blame Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq for this sorry Stereophonic-centric state of affairs. And Simon Mayo. And Ken Bruce and Zoe Ball.

I feel I may have digressed a little there and I need to return to the reason that I’m currently waxing lyrical about all things Welsh, the atmospheric glory of Adwaith’s ‘Gartref’ and its nightmare accompanying ‘fideo’, which is equal parts Sia and David Lynch. Adwaith are Hollie, Gwenlllian and Heledd and they make music that’s impossible to pigeonhole in two languages, it’s bright, clever, uplifting and, in the case of ‘FEMME’ (and maybe some others that I can’t understand because I don’t speak Welsh) funny and on the money at the same time.

Whether Adwaith can take their place alongside the many other Welsh greats remains to be seen, but they’ve certainly made the kind of strong start that suggests that it’s possible. Like most of the acts mentioned above they handle glorious pop and subtle poignancy with equal aplomb and they’re definitely a group to keep an ear out for.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to Lovekraft. I’ve got a hankering for ‘The Horn’.