DIM A RADIO DATBLYGU
by Colin B. Morton
"We sang in Welsh with all the US/English influences because it had to be done. I didn't like the fact that Welsh music was seen to be male Voice Choirs, folk music and all the clichés. I suppose that I wanted to modernise Welsh Language culture. Welsh is a language with unlimited potential but I didn't appreciate a lot that was being manifested in it. I tried to change things, Hundreds of people saw the point so I'm glad I bothered. –letter from David R Edwards to CBM, July 2001.
FOREWORD: Although I am a leading rockologist, there is a perfectly reasonable, slightly short of up-to-date, chronology of Datblygu here http://www.landofsong.net/datblygu/biog.shtml so I won't have to bother with all that Rock Family Trees type of crap.
There is plenty of stuff on Welsh history, too. Look it up: http://users.comlab.ox.ac.uk/geraint.jones/about.welsh/ with perhaps special reference to the part about "Welsh knot", AKA "Welsh Not" which can be summed up as corporal punishment in schools for the act of speaking your native language.
I will instead write about how I, a non-Welsh-speaking Welshman, became one of those people that "saw the point" and consequent experiences with DATBLYGU, with appropriate interjections from special guests.
DATBLYGU- they tried to change the world by singing in their native language
You know what they used to teach me in school when I was eleven? Fucking LATIN that's what. A language that no bugger speaks anywhere on Earth. You could opt out of it after a year, and most everybody did, but it just goes to show the wholesale contempt in which the educational system held Welsh back then.
I could learn a language that no-one speaks, on Earth, ever....but not my native tongue.
This was how I grew up. Welsh, I was told, was beneath contempt, a "joke" language. Deader than Latin. There were half a million people using it every day not a hundred miles away. But I wasn't supposed to know that.
I carried on believing this, as one does, for years and years. Somewhere in those years, in and around the seventies, some people starved themselves, and tragically failed to blow up Prince Charles, in order to get Welsh put on an equal footing with English. Which eventually happened, by act of parliament.
My non-Welsh-speaking existence was consequently and subsequently disturbed by the occasional Welsh-language TV programme. Yes even li'l ol' irrepressible satirist me had the full Babylonian Brainwash Thing going on, boys and girls.
I believed Welsh-speakers were nought but deluded folksy elitists on a par with Flat Earthers and the Tory Party.
(I didn't believe they all habitually spoke English except when an English-only-speaker was present, whereupon they instantly and psychically lapsed into Welsh. Quaint as this belief is, it is even now all-too-common amongst the English and the non-Welsh-speaking Welsh. I don't think I was ever that stupid).
CBM: Are you a Welsh nationalist?
DRE: I wish to see greater self-determination for Wales, but on the other hand I don't believe in countries. I am an internationalist rather than a nationalist.
In my defence (and pausing only to ask whatever became of Esperanto now that the Internet's here), the Welsh-language media at the time offered up little to contradict my sad and clichéd view of Welsh as a mere waste-of-time pursuit. The entire Welsh media seemed just a vast conglomeration of clichés, harps, trout streams, ladies with conical hats, and like that there.
And as far as I could see, Welsh rock music offered nothing but Welsh equivalents of things that had been already done by people in other lands: here's the Clash done in Welsh, here's some reggae done in Welsh, and so on. It all seemed rather patronising and twee.
CBM: Was there anyone on the early Welsh rock scene that was doing anything similar to you?
DRE: There wasn't anything that you'd be unaware of. There was a scene round Anhrefn Records, which Datblygu was part of.
TAFF MAN TIME: Joe Strummer seeing the Sex Pistols. On Earth.
Cometh the time, cometh Datblygu. Sometime in the mid-80's I attended a gig in Newport Stow Hill Labour Club. Someone (memory fails) hadn't turned up. We got Datblygu instead. I was quite frankly astonished, in that "everything-I-know-is-wrong" kind of way.
Do you like it when that happens? I like it when that happens.
"That's what every (Anglo-Welsh Datblygu fan) says...that Datblygu made them aware of their own language for the first time. Welsh Welsh speakers, well a lot of them just didn't like Datblygu..." - Emyr Gwyn Williams of Ankstmusic Records.
There was just David R. Edwards on singing and Patricia Morgan on bass, with a clunky drum machine and a keyboard type thing. Dave would turn the thing on and off, sing over the top, occasionally stabbing prolonged notes on the keyboard. It was funky as all-get-out, Mr Edwards' commanding voice flying out over it all. I remember nought save the glorious "Casserol" –possibly because I knew what the title meant.
I know what the song means now as well. It is about gay TV-presenters making a casserole, and Mr. Edwards doesn't care about their sexuality he just wants to know what is in the casserole. It has since all come true. . FACT: the basspart to "Casserol" can be played entirely on open strings, in case there are any musicologists reading this. "Casserol" soon appeared on a scruffy little EP called "Hwgr Grawth-og" (some of which may well still be available on vinyl 7"-make enquiries with the author at firstname.lastname@example.org) which John Peel began to play to death, which factor in turn led to Datblygu changing the world, or at least the part I live in.
As mentioned above, there had been people singing rock music in Welsh before. But it was just as, in the case of Louis Armstrong, people had actually improvised jazz solos before but no one had made it into a convincing art form. This Datblygu music was not someone singing the Welsh equivalent of something English or American in order to prove that "hey hip young people's music can be done in Welsh as well..." This was rock music that sounded as if it could and should only be in Welsh.
This is hardly an extravagant claim. Who sung rock in English English as opposed to American English before J. Rotten? Hardly no-one. Who sings rock in French? There probably is somebody, but I ain't heard of them. Thus, I prove my point.
DRE: Plastic Bertrand was French.
CBM: He was Belgian. All the famous French people are Belgian. Jacques Brel, Magritte...
DRE: Was Serge Gainsbourg Belgian?
CBM: No I think that's the exception that proves the rule, he's actually French.
It was also as far ahead of the game in avant-rock as anyone was in the eighties (which is admittedly not saying much, what with the eighties being largely a decade when wank-music ruled the roost, especially in the UK).
Though there were hints of Joy Division, The Fall, and others, it didn't really sound much like anything.
DRE: We were a product of our time and the eighties were a horrorshow. I cheered up a lot when Thatcher left. There isn't a Conservative government. There is far less to react against. Times are much better.
CBM: I'm thinking that people forget how bad the eighties actually were.
Sometimes, there was trouble. Datblygu were actually banned from Bangor University for racism, after an unprecedented number of complaints... from both English-speakers and Welsh-speakers.
PM: Most of these complaints were from people who misinterpreted what David was saying as anti-English when it was blatantly anti-Welsh.
CBM: You used to get a bit nasty to the audience, why was that?
DRE: It was sort of... get them before they get you, it was nerves I suppose.
CBM: It was very entertaining though, it was like Sinatra, the fact that he was a complete gangster bastard added a dimension to what he was singing. It had that kind of effect.
DRE: Well the thing was I meant it, from being fucked up in the head from doing those jobs. When I said something like "thank you very much for coming, shut your fucking mouths" that was me letting off steam from having to work. But I'm glad if people enjoyed it....
CBM: But I suppose it was part of what made the music so powerful, the fact that it was being made by someone doing a fucked-up job.
DRE: I used to do teaching with a hangover, I never did it while drunk, but I reckon it could be done.
CBM: You don't do much of anything anymore?
DRE: No. I've been told I'm unsuitable for work. When I used to work, I was ill all the time, and I used to unleash the tension of it in my music. Within the lyrics anyway. Nobody wanted to employ me for five or six years, I could have papered the walls with rejection slips. I don't see how anyone who's done a day's work in their lives can fail to be left wing.
As Datblygu were garnering some kind of a rep, what with being played on John Peel and getting in the Festive Fifty and all, they got booked into Eisteddfodds. Bastions of Welsh Traditionalism, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci got into trouble a few years ago when, on objecting to being told that they would have to sing entirely in Welsh, they sang entirely in English.
WERE YOU LIKED AT EISTEDDFODSS?
DRE: We wouldn't play the main field, it was sort of on the fringe of the festival which was OK. We didn't play on the main field very often, and when we did we weren't liked.
David R. Edwards refuses to translate his lyrics into English. This is not mere obstinacy, as the fact is that his lyrics do not translate. They contain interlocking puns and double-meanings which simply do not carry over into English. Indeed, they do not work if they are considered entirely in Welsh as some of these puns are bilingual.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT PEOPLE CRITCISING WELSH SPEAKING BANDS LIKE SUPER FURRY ANIMALS FOR SINGING IN ENGLISH?
DRE: Super Furry Animals are great and castigating them is silly. Bands should perform in whatever language they like. There's nothing wrong with singing in English. It's out of choice that I don't do it myself.
Due to some politically-correct legislation, a certain amount of broadcasting by Welsh-language station S4C has to be in Welsh. This upsets a deal of non-Welsh speakers (and I can hardly blame them, as they have been sold short in exactly the way their Welsh-speaking counterparts had been 100 years before). This had one fabulous advantage:
PATRICIA MORGAN: Back then, you could get on on TV farting provided you could fart in Welsh
DRE: We did well on the telly, and we made videos, we just used to do that to make the money to release an album.
Welsh-speaking bands of any calibre were thin on the ground, and Datblygu were now gaining some fame as they were championed by John Peel and had made it into his listeners' "Festive 50." So there we'd be, sat in Wales watching some teatime pop show, and mid the massed faux-Welsh-Kylies, faux-Welsh...we would be met with the unlikely diversion of David R. Edwards imploring Carol Thatcher to minister to him orally.
Over the years Datblygu expanded: Datblygu could now consist theoretically at least, of Dave and anyone who was in any other Welsh band. Few was the Welsh-speaking rocker who would not drop everything and come a-runnin' when the Datblygu-signal shone in the sky.
The last Datblygu gig I saw (back in 1994) the band consisted of two drummers, a didgeri-doer (?), keyboards, electric mandolin, guitar, miscellaneous percussion.
Three of them doubled on bass, sometimes all at once.
DRE: That was all about expanding, about changing. That is what it is all about, you see, every album should be different. I just kept on doing it and when I had no more to say I stopped.
The legacy of Datblygu is formidable. Virtually every Welsh-speaking band you can mention, from the pastoral far-outness of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals through to the Public-Enemy-in-Welshness of Tystion to the recently split Top Of The Pops-friendy Catatonia, all have cited Datblygu as a major influence in one way or another. David Edwards has gone from being banned from speaking in Welsh on Welsh radio to rumours of his re-emergence being met with an overweaning enthusiasm by the exact same media. Recently a half-hour programe, Beti George's People, was devoted entirely to conversation interspersed with his favourite records. Frank Sinatra, The Fall, Beefheart, and Leonard Cohen. I saw him once announce a song as being "this is like Frank Sinatra with his arm full of heroin...." When it finished, he dedicated it to "all the babies walking round with AIDS".
DRE: Before I met Pat I thought that all music started in 1976. She introduced me to Nick Drake and things like that, before that I'd thought that Punk Rock was Year Zero- it was through Pat I found out about Leonard Cohen.
CBM: What do you listen to now?
DRE: I listen to old records, I still listen to the Fall, still listen to Peel. Nothing has really grabbed me for a couple of years now. I don't know if it's because I'm getting old....
CBM: No I don't think it is, I think it's like... my parents didn't like the music I liked because they didn't understand it, but I don't like today's music because it is easily understandable, predictable.
DRE: Yes I tried listening to garage and drum and bass, but it's all too predictable. I like listening to material with meaningful lyrics and good tunes-whether it's jazz or the Fall. I can't stand some aspects of modern dance music and I find some traditional Welsh stuff like "Cerdd Dant" and male voice choirs tedious. Aspects of opera I find difficult to listen to. I like watching horse racing and cookery programmes.
DRE: It was just something I did, it was like smoking, it was like breathing. It has struck a chord in whatever way be it the music or the singing or the language I'm glad. I said all I wanted to say, you see.
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