erasing clouds

Let them eat pie

by Sharon Marsh

There exists in St Louis two Welsh pubs in close proximity to each other. This is noteworthy largely because I've never been anywhere in the world that has Welsh pubs. Irish pubs yes, Scottish pubs yes, just plain pubs in abundance, but Welsh pubs? Even in Wales they just have, well, pubs. This gives them an interesting dilemma. What precisely would convey Welshness? In Irish pubs they nail fiddles and bikes to the ceiling, in Scottish pubs it's bagpipes …but Welsh? Vases of daffodils nailed to the ceiling? In fact, they decided to go with the occasional picture of a dragon, a Welsh flag and an intriguing menu. It seems St Louis firmly believes that the Welsh eat pie. And lots of it. Which finally answers the well-used football chant 'who ate all the pies' - the Welsh did, evidently. What these pubs neglect to capitalise on is the one thing the Welsh are the most famous for. No, not coal mining, no, no, not Ivor the Engine…music! Singing in the hills and valleys, the Welsh male voice choir, Aled Jones, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Shakin' Stevens…and, since the turn of the 90s, a whole lot more….

Back when the only way to be in the charts was to be 'mad for it', have a bowl cut and be a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets, four wee lads from Blackwood, South Wales, arrived in London dressed like a Clash record sleeve. They were fans of Guns 'n' Roses and Kylie Minogue. They wrote punk-style songs about existentialism. They were completely unfashionable in every way and by the turn of the Millennium they played a sell-out gig to 60,000 adoring fans. Along the way they managed the kind of triumph in the face of heartbreak and despair that would make Hollywood would sell its soul for the film rights - if it had a soul to sell. As Roddy Frame once sang 'Taffy's time's gonna come one day, it's a loud sweet voice and it won't give way'. And he was right. The Manic Street Preachers paved the airwaves for a small but tuneful rebellion.

So what brought all this about? I'm not sure but my best guess is hard work and determination. Nowadays it's perfectly acceptable to see the likes of the Stereophonics, Catatonia, Feeder and the Super Furry Animals in the charts. Let's not forget that these bands have been around for a lot longer than infatuated music journalists care to mention. Feeder were trying to do rawk (with a 'w' apparently) for about 10 years before they were suddenly the best new thing in town. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci were proffering other-worldly tunes and charming audiences at gigs long before most people worked out how to pronounce their name. Yet suddenly we have an era where Welsh-only language albums are coveted by the music press. Where Cerys from Catatonia could sing in a Welsh accent and, instead of being treated like a novelty act she is actually raved about.

So how far can the Welsh go with their bid to revitalise the charts? When the Manics beat Pete Waterman's baby Steps to the number 1 slot with a song about the Spanish Civil War the world undoubtedly witnessed one of the most surreal moments in pop history (in fact Steps seem to be a target for this, having controversially lost a Brit Award to twee Scottish band Belle and Sebastian) and hardly anyone batted an eyelid. Have we become so accepting of the Welsh invasion? I hope not. After years of being the underdog the last thing they need is complacency. The one thing (apart from origin) these bands all have in common is fiery determination to succeed, and fire needs fuel which will not be found in bland acceptance. Love them or hate them, it doesn't matter as long as you react. We're probably a long way from seeing Welsh beat poet Patrick Jones hit the top 30, but don't rule it out. The Welsh have slowly filled a hole in the world of popular music that most of us didn't even know was vacant. I hope they continue to be different, controversial and difficult to pronounce for a long time. And those who don't approve? Let them eat pie...

Issue 6, July 2001 | next article

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