– or did we just fuck it up ?
I’m going to leave it to the great, late Tony Wilson to start off the proceedings, ever the Situationist and brilliant Regionalist, Wilson also knew how to give a good quote :
“Punk enabled you to say ‘fuck you’, but somehow it couldn’t go any further. It was just a single, venomous one syllable, two-syllable phrase of anger. Sooner or later someone was going to want to say more than “fuck you”. Someone was going to want to say ‘I’m fucked’. And it was Joy Division who were the first band to do that, to use the energy and simplicity of punk to express more complex emotions.“
So indirectly it’s Wilson that has inspired this piece of rambling thoughts, a psycho-geographic wander through the overgrown hedgerows and muddy back country lanes to this signpost point today, the Welsh cultural landscape (although they claim it can only be done in the Urban Landscape, Mike Parker has proved otherwise in ‘Real Powys’)
Wilson and Joy Division do have a cultural link, this is not all abstract thoughts / ranting of a wandering scholar, for it was New Order who headlined the inaugural No 6 Festival in Portmeirion was it not
– from Manchester to Gwynedd in about 34 years.
The Post-Punk Revolution (1979-83) of D.I.Y culture, fanzines and Record Labels of which Factory of course and neighbouring Zoo Records in Liverpool absolutely blazed the trail and not only entertained us in North Wales but informed us that we could indeed seize control, not so much of our own lives, but of our own culture.
Welsh Culture that complex mix of ‘Cymraeg’ which refers to the Language, and ‘Cymreig’ which refers to the place had, by my late teens, turned me off. Forgetting the clichés, which incidentally are pretty damned true, a generation of Welsh speakers had been left with what Gruff Rhys so accurately describes as the “Denim dinosaurs”. Punk had passed Wales by (mostly) and as we turned to the pages of The Face to read about Culture all we could do was wish for this in Welsh (yn Gymraeg).
This brings us back to Wilson, or Bill Drummond or even Geoff Travis at Rough Trade, it became possible by copying and learning from English Regionalism / Punk / Post-Punk Culture to re-invent Welsh Culture. This surely should be a subject for University debate and analysis
– but they do not do this kind of thing in Welsh Universities do they ?
The fanzine became the antidote to Pobol y Cwm. Simplistic maybe, hugely ineffective for sure, but slowly but surely the underground gained momentum. D.I.Y gigs became more common than Welsh Gigs organised by the established promoters of the day. No radio play really, only on John Peel, no media coverage to speak of
– it did genuinely grow from the ground up from the late 70’s to flourish in the mid – late 80s.
The Welsh Denim Dinosaurs had by this point given up on strumming guitars and had decided to jump on the S4C train (with good dollop of gravy added). None of these people had done more than go to Welsh Universities and played in poor Welsh bands but they now became Film Directors anyway or so they thought. I still to this day find this totally unbelievable, laughable and it is something that has never ceased to fill me with contempt
– and they wonder why viewing / listening figures are going down ? That has to be another psycho-geographic detour just to start dealing with all that stuff ……
The new Welsh bands of the late 80’s and 90’s morphed into the ‘Cool Cymru’ bands by the later 90’s and shook the World, everywhere really – except the Welsh Language World. True they by-passed the Denim Dinosaurs but end result was bi-lingualism which let’s face it meant the odd token song or album in Welsh. Welsh bands now sung in English and ever since Welsh Bands have been bi-lingual and largely non-political. Welsh people confuse Cymraeg and Cymreig.
Nothing changed, Can i Gymru [Song For Wales] continued and continues. The Denim Dinosaurs now claimed to have always liked “Ffa Coffi Pawb” but they still run the damned show, them or their offspring, but it’s the same cultural death sentence of average, narrow vision, amateur, un-inspired shite (mostly).
I was out with artist Iwan Gwyn Parry the other evening and we discussed the brilliant BBC 4 film ‘The Mountain that had to be Painted’ about Augustus John and James Dickson Innes who came up to paint Arenig in 1911. As far as I know this story has never been dealt with in Welsh. This is really my point, we are presented with too narrow a vision – what ever happened to ‘Popeth yn Gymraeg’ [Everything in Welsh] that was truly an inspirational concept…….. but it has been lost in translation ……
Whenever S4C are threatened with cuts, out come Cymdeithas yr Iaith to save ‘Achub S4C’ but we never seem to ask the question, what exactly we are trying to save ? Surely, surely we now need to talk about a Welsh Content Provider
– a multi-platform provider of Welsh Language content– the Age of the TV Channel is over – just like the age of Gwynfor Evans – it’s gone, redundant and as far as the youth are concerned – it’s another language. This argument also applies to BBC Radio Cymru, and most Welsh Language Media really …..
If we don’t expand the cultural horizons and increase choice in Welsh content then we will be fucked. It’s already apparent from Welsh Medium Schools that they successfully teach Welsh to the pupils but that they are increasingly disconnected from the Language as an everyday cultural medium.
Still the Denim Dinosaurs know best. Does this always have to be a Media argument. Well, the Media is highly influential. It’s Public Money. It’s their fucking job ! Blogging and YouTube are fine but it’s like the fanzines of the late 70’s why should there not be a radical democratization of Welsh Media ? The key is content, maybe viewer / audience generated content.
It has to be a radical change
– not about presenters and commissioning editors and facelifts – it needs a revolution which is in tune with my children who are 9 and 10 years old – they NEVER EVER watch S4C no matter how hard we try. It’s a full circle, my mother once tried to persuade me to watch a documentary on Edward H (before S4C) but I had already seen Debbie Harry on Top of the Pops, my life had already changed.
Recommended Reading :
Parker, M, 2011 ‘Real Powys’
Hauser, K, 2008 ‘Bloody Old Britain, O.G.S Crawford and the Archaeology of Modern Life’
Chamberlain, B,1987 ‘Tide-race’
Williams, J.L, 2008, ‘Michael X’
McIntosh, A, 2001 ‘Soil and Soul’