Some of you may know, most of you reading this probably won’t, I write a weekly column in Welsh for Herald Gymraeg, which is an insert in Wednesday’s Daily Post every week. When I first started to contribute for Yr Herald Gymraeg I was writing about Pop Culture, that is Welsh Pop Culture with references to Pop Culture in general.
What I found from feedback was that my audience at the Herald were not really interested in Pop Culture and gradually I shifted the emphasis to writing about Welsh History and Archaeology and suggesting places the readers could visit. So it may have been a walk up Tre’r Ceiri or it could have been a thumbs up for Ty Mawr café in Rhyd Ddu. The response was universal – keep writing about the history and ditch the Pop Culture.
Now I was (and am) more than happy to do this because I consider my job to be a communicator. Gone are the days of deriving pleasure from writing columns purely to wind up the conservative Welsh Establishment as I used to do in the 80’s for Y Faner under the editorship of the brilliant visionary Emyr Price. In my Faner days I was just doing Julie Burchill in Welsh, writing about drugs, sex, being gay, anything to wind them up. Price never once edited. As I said a great great man, one to whom I owe a huge debt for allowing / encouraging me to start my writing career.
Another great visionary, the writer Jon Savage, originally an inspiration and now a close friend, always reminds me that our job is to communicate. I keep this in mind every time I write.
(By the end of this article it’s definitely gone Savage/Morley/Parsons/Burchill all over again – that’s the problem, writing about Welsh Pop Culture – it make you want to rant).
Now then, to get back to the Herald Gymraeg, Tudur the editor was discussing with me recently that the Pop Columns are important, and although I agree with him, I remain un-convinced that the readership actually want them. But maybe now and again, if I have the energy, I can do the odd Welsh Pop Culture column for them, in the hope that someone somewhere get’s something from it ……
So on 23 January 2013 this came out, and here I will attempt a translation, not literal, but to capture the essence of the piece. Google Translate creates a cut-up, mash-up, hip hop style piece of text. It would probably be great set to music, but it makes no sense. So I have to translate ……….
The piece sought to lob cultural hand grenades, throw arguments at the wall, the Welsh Media Wall, the Welsh Speaking Wall, the Welsh Pop Culture Wall. Whether anything sticks, well that’s not my initial concern. The challenge is to write the damned thing. I opened the piece with an explanation as to how difficult this is to write. One, it’s hard to even care. Two, it sucks the energy out of any functioning human being. Here we are in 2013 and we still have to fight and argue for Welsh Culture. We are not allowed (the peace) just to create. Having said this I think we now have to just go and create, we have to create in order to destroy as it were.
The gist of this concerns the setting up of the Welsh Collection Agency, EOS and the so called “dispute” involving BBC, PRS and EOS. Now my initial argument is from a DIY point of view. Those of us who grew up in that period 1979-1983 so wonderfully captured by Simon Reynolds in “Rip It Up and Start Again” should get this.
The whole idea in 1979, indeed the whole point was to write your own fanzine, start up your own Label, form your own bands using the diagram of the 3 chords in Sniffin Glue. In 1979 DIY for me was about living in Mid Wales and being able to form a Welsh Language band without being a musician, without having ever being to the Eisteddfod, without owning an Edward H record and without living in a Welsh University Hall of Residence (make that a Welsh Language Hall of Residence – only two of them, Pant y Celyn and JMJ).
Technically this is Post-Punk, but with a Punk attitude. This was our catalyst and our way in to (destroy/challenge/change) a Welsh Culture that seemed at the time to be a combination of redundant, elitist, irrelevant, un-sexy, and so on and on and on ……….
So full circle to 2013, having had the Welsh Underground (Datblygu, Cyrff et all) and Cool Cymru, all revolutions in their time, it seems totally appropriate given the technical revolution that we have had, and that we are in, that we should now be considering the possibility of a Welsh Collection Agency rather than the PRS “monopoly” as part of the whole new business model. Back to DIY if you like.
I think most music managers would be immediately attracted to looking at new business models, see if we can make these things work, have more control. We also remind some people here that Devolution has happened and surely the whole concept of Welsh Copyright having to be registered in London would have hit somebody’s radar sooner or later. (Not the Welsh politicians apparently).
So that’s the starting block.
Now then the issue about royalty payments for Welsh Language repertoire get’s a bit tricky at this point. Sure it has value. Without Welsh Language repertoire both S4C and BBC Radio Cymru could not function as well, would not reflect Welsh Culture and would basically be doing a poor job of it …..
The difficulty for many of us in the left-field sector is that the bulk of the payments have always gone to bad MOR Welsh acts, half-hearted Country songs with more than a dodgy guitar solo, the bad ones even have a sax solo included. Like Boy George said “Like Punk Never happened”, like the Henry Priestman song “Did I Fight in the Punk wars For This ?” So the argument goes like this – sure I support the principle of EOS 100% but not to reinstate the status quo.
To quote Strummer “let’s phone up Robin Hood and ask him for some wealth distribution”. In order to sustain creativity and the recording process, the whole Welsh Language Music Scene has to benefit from all this – not a dozen or so MOR acts.
There was a piece recently in Golwg about Ifan Dafydd having over 60,000 hits on Soundcloud for a Welsh dance track – cool, but none of this is sales, so if the records no longer sell, can somebody like Dafydd make a living from live gigs ? The argument comes back to this – the PRS payment helps us all, and maybe for bedroom boys doing dance tracks it’s one way of getting a few $$$$ back into the pot.
I am reminded of Datblygu lyrics here, a song about the last Communist in Europe, it’s all very cinematic and David R Edwards, but it feels like we really have reached a point where we need wealth distribution. Sure we can go underground (again) but very few get to hear / listen. I don’t want to be elitist and part of a mutual appreciation society – I want to communicate. Sometimes underground is good, other times it needs to be on S4C or the BBC – why not ?
The other bits of the piece were about “Popeth yn Gymraeg” – we need the whole range of Welsh Pop Culture to be given a chance, a level playing field. We also need high quality and high standards – not always – but certainly it needs to be there.
Maybe it’s something to do with turning 50. I want Andrew Marr and Jeremy Vine in Welsh. I want a reformed Adam Ant in Welsh and I want Yr Ods, Colorama and Gwenno on daytime Radio Cymru. Play some pop music. Enter the C21st. I’m not right. I’m not wrong. I just feel short changed. We’ve been sold a lot of bad guitar solos for a long long time and we now have an opportunity to raise more questions, throw more mud at walls – before the status quo comes back with a vengeance. EOS will fail if that’s all it achieves – because the most creative will be forced to give up, sing in English, go underground or just do what most Welsh Language acts do – form a mutual appreciation society.
My argument – take any school in Wales – let’s go to Syr Thomas Jones in Amlwch and see how many pupils have even heard of Yr Ods ? They’d probably quite like them if they got to see them live but let’s not kid ourselves that the time is right for a magazine that hardly anybody can even find can hold a “Noson Wobrwyo” [Awards Ceremony] which has any real meaning. The time is right for changes and a huge surge of creativity not complacency.