In 1984 one person started something that would have a major effect on Welsh music, Welsh attitudes and the way English people perceive the Welsh.
That forward thinking person set up Recordiau Anhrefn; first as a vinyl outlet for his own band, Yr Anhrefn, (releasing a green vinyl 7″ single), but more importantly to promote and release Welsh language music by bands who were not going to get any joy out of an archaic Welsh music industry and dismal Welsh media.
Rhys Mwyn (born Gareth Rhys Thomas), creator and mentor of Recordiau Anhrefn can lean back in his leather upholstered chair two decades on and bask in the knowledge that it was he who sowed the seeds that for a while made Cymru cool.
For without Rhys Mwyn 12,000 of us could not have revelled in the beautiful surroundings of Llangollen in 1998 as Catatonia and Gorkys Zygotic Mwnci played and we experienced just how far up the musical ladder Wales had climbed. No longer were we the butt of Aled Jones jokes. On that day it was the English holding the ladder as Catatonia, the Manics and the Stereophonics climb way beyond their reach.
Without Rhys Mwyn a young band from Llanrwst called Y Cyrff may never have got the chance to release 7″ singles, and be given the encouragement to pursue a career in music when all the odds were stacked up against them.
Without Y Cyrff we would never have Catatonia, no Mulder and Scully, Game On, Road Rage.
Having moved out of their caravan in Carmarthen, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci were capable of giving their crowd a collective tab of assassinated acid and take them on a trip to the far reaches of a mushroom field on the edge of the psychedelic city. This is psychedelia done the Welsh way; our way, no need to follow rules, let your mind write the music not the industry standards.
It would have been more financially viable for Catatonia to play the well trodden boards of Manchester Apollo or the Royal Court, but they, like so many of their countryfolk feel they owe their kin something. They know it is Wales and the Welsh youth who stuck by them in the dark days of sheep jibes and patronising Welsh TV. Catatonia know where their hearts are and where their home is.
In his review of the Llangollen show, Neil Crud poetically stated,
‘Not many songs make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, but when I, along with the whole of the audience sing the chorus of International Velvet, I will for every day wake up and thank Catatonia that they’re Welsh.’
Set up in 1983, Recordiau Anhrefn released compilation LPs and singles by the new crop of alternative Welsh bands ignored by the closed mentality of the Welsh media. The BBC website described Recordiau Anhrefn as a label;
‘…churning out what it called “dodgy compilations of up-and-coming left-field weirdo Welsh bands”. This enthusiasm is a trademark of the Welsh-language rock scene. In fact, throughout the Eighties any band that couldn’t get some sort of record deal would simply press their own vinyl and sell their records at gigs. The market for the music was small, but the bands made up for it with their have-a-go attitude.’
It was John Peel who probably spurred Anhrefn on to continue their cause as Rhys explained in a 2004 interview in Soundnation magazine,
‘In 1985 we put out a compilation album called Cam O’r Tywyllwch which featured Anhrefn, Datblygu, Cyrff, Tynal Tywyll and Elfyn Presli. As part of the ‘promotion’ I went to London with a plastic bag full of albums and spent the day going round NME, Sounds etc and at the end of the day I got over to Radio One. I was told that John was in a wine bar around the corner; as I entered the bar and caught Peel’s eye he greeted me with ‘You’re not a mugger I hope,’ which kind of says a lot about him. I explained about the compilation of new ‘underground’ Welsh-language acts and a couple of days later he played Rhywle Yn Moscow by Anhrefn, which at the time felt like we’d actually made it!’
People always made a big thing about this punk band that sang in Welsh, there was almost a novelty element to it, and the curious would leave the comfort of their armchairs behind and venture out to witness Anhrefn in the flesh. The majority who saw them for the first time were hooked, it didn’t matter that the language meant they couldn’t be understood, the message was in the energy.
The Crud Crew first encountered Anhrefn in 1986 at an open air gig on the fields of Rydal School in Colwyn Bay, they were supported by Bangor compatriots The Paraletics. Within six months the Crud Crew had become big fans of this Welsh language band and Neil would be arranging dodgy gigs for them in very dodgy pubs. Anhrefn is the Welsh word for the mess, disorder, shambles, which was quite fitting for the shows they sometimes had to endure at the hands of Crud!
‘I think we were thrilled to actually find a punk band in North Wales,’ said Neil. ‘And the fact that the week we saw them, Peel had them in session.’
John Peel certainly did, and the Welsh punks had four tracks Action Man, Dawns y Duwiau, Defaid and Nefoedd Un broadcast 4th August 1986, each with a narrated introduction by Sion, explaining to the English listeners what each Welsh song was about.
This Bangor based politically motivated punk band lasted ten years from 1983 and featured; Sion Sebon who played a right handed guitar, left handed and tuned uniquely so no one else could possibly play it. Sion’s brother, Rhys Mwyn was bassist and manager, Hefin Huws (drms) (ex Llwybr Cyhoeddus, Maffia Mr Huws and later of Branchala), and school teacher Dewi Gwyn (gtr) who formed the earliest stable line up with approximately fifteen others passing through the ranks. Anhrefn were recognised as the first Welsh band to break into an English speaking market, becoming accepted by speakers of both languages and the Welsh tongue was the most asked question in interviews, as Sion answers,
‘To us singing in Welsh is totally natural. We don’t think twice about it. But in another way we do think twice about it because we actually do it in Welsh. It’s the same as bands in Germany singing in German, French bands in French. It’d be a pretty boring world if everybody sang with American accents or whatever. It’s our first language, we speak Welsh to each other all the time, at work, at play, wherever. We think in Welsh. In Wales it’s a naturally bilingual society so it’s quite easy to swap from Welsh to English or from English to Welsh, even in mid sentence depending on who you’re talking to.’
Their prolific gigging (up to 300 concerts per year) both home and abroad brought huge underground success for a band who flatly refused to sing in English.
A TV appearance on Channel 4’s The Tube, hosted by Joolz Holland and Paula Yates on 23rd January 1987 helped boost the band’s profile in the UK, but Anhrefn found they were blacklisted by the NME who tried to snuff out popular bands who weren’t involved within the paper’s sphere of influence.
The lack of coverage by the NME and Melody Maker did little to thwart the burgeoning Welsh language scene, which was crucially involving English bands and attracting English followers. People quite often commented that they didn’t have a clue what the bands were singing about but who cares, the music and energy is great. Anhrefn had almost single handledly removed the Welsh language from the grips of the isolationists who wanted Wales for the Welsh and nobody else. If you in-breed long enough to have a family tree like a vertical line on a piece of paper you will eventually die of extinction. The Welsh language was suffering at the hands of those who felt it precious to defend by keeping it ‘in-house’. Anhrefn and those other like-minded youths knew the only way forward was to diversify and embrace outsiders, welcome them into the culture and take the message to the masses. The formula proved very successful and Cymru became cool and the Welsh language found a blossoming new life with more and more people in Wales wanting to learn it. Sion was always the vocal one when it came to politics and his thoughts on the old Welsh regime are very strong,
‘A lot of what Sons of Glendower say is total and utter shit. Total racist rubbish they say, “like throw the English out of Wales, don’t let English people into Wales”, and that’s a load of shit, because anybody should be allowed to go and live anywhere. But I mean, where we live there’s an Indian family moved in and they’ve been here for about five years, and now they walk in the traditional Indian gear, they do their Indian customs, they speak English and they speak Welsh, and they take part in Welsh affairs as well, so they’ve got three different cultures that they can use, and that’s brilliant, that’s how it should be. But you’ve people like the Sons of Glendower, and they tell them to clear off, they don’t want them there in the first place. Which is fascism. That’s some of their ideals, but the actual burning of a home, well, that happens in the north of England as well, it happens in Scotland, it happens in Cornwall, because local people can’t afford the houses. You get some rich bastard buying all the houses and local people haven’t got anywhere to live. So you can understand why they do burn the houses, but a lot of their other politics are total shit.’
The constant gigging continued at an exhaustive pace, from promoting their cause by playing in Belfast Primary Schools where 10-year-olds were moshing in front of them to touring another politically tense place in the shape of Spain’s Basque Region.
This heavy schedule with no financial reward innevitably took its toll and Hefin and Dewi amicably left the band (at different times) they were replaced by Dylan Hughes (formerly of Cyrff) and Sion Jones (ex Maffia Mr Huws).
Their debut album ‘Defaid Skateboard a Wellies’ came out on Workers Playtime records in 1987 as did the follow-up ‘Bwrw Cwrw’ two years later. The production on Defaid was a little thin, failing to show the explosive force they emit on stage, but the album sold well and hammered home the three-chord and no guitar solos method of songwriting. The crazed punk sheep on a skateboard as displayed on the front cover of Defaid was designed by Crud Crew member Jill The Ripper (who was thanked as Jill The Kipper on the sleeve notes!). The follow up was really two albums in so much that the A-side gave the listener better produced punk numbers, such as the single (on their own label incidentally) Be Nesa ’89, whereas the B-side found them dabbling in dub reggae with the instrumental Isaac Hunt and a reggae version of their very early Rhwyle yn Moscow track. The sleeve notes epitomised the bands’ overall attitude to life:
‘Buy happiness. Colour TV is happiness, video is happiness, new job and car is happiness. Bollocks. Where did this dream come from? We follow gladly and blindly. But the cost of happiness rises steadily. It’s getting harder for some to afford being happy.’
The statement sounded like it was lifted from the film ‘Trainspotting’ only Ewan McGregor was still a snotty schoolboy when this was written.
Neil Crud surmised,
‘I never know what Anhrefn really thought of us, the Crud Crew, did they think we were a laugh, just plain stupid or bullies even, as it was customary to at least empty a full ashtray over Sion’s head before washing it off with his own pint of lager. Then after scrawling ‘Anhrefn are wankers’ on the toilet wall, I’d have swung one of the band round by his ankles until he screamed for mercy. Of course you grow up and instead you talk about the new Ikea catalogue or Russell Grant’s gastronomic habits and hope no one writes about it. One thing that still comes up in conversation however was the fate of a famous microphone; in 1987 Cumi Pants and myself went with Anhrefn to watch them play in Bootle on 11th October 1988. We’d raided the off licence before they picked us up so by the time the Welsh punks were on stage, Cumi and myself were trolleyed. The song Action Man began and I jumped up to relieve Sion of his vocal duties and proceeded to make a complete tit of myself, dropping my pants, I firmly lodged the microphone between my arse cheeks and aroused the audience with my perfect physique and sphincter control. That very microphone is still in circulation today and over the years has been used (unwashed) by Cerys of Catatonia, Gruff of Super Furries, Big Leaves, Melys etc.’
1988 saw Anhrefn play with boyhood hero, ex-Clash frontman, Joe Strummer on the ‘Rock Against The Rich’ tour. Sion was asked if he thought it was slightly hypocritical that the organisers, the anarchist organisation Class War chose someone as rich as Strummer was involved with the tour,
‘We were quite surprised with Joe Strummer, he could have been a bloody pop star if he’d wanted to, but he wasn’t, he was totally OK, totally down to earth, no shit at all. The tour was good, there was good audiences, but I don’t know how many of the actual audience knew what the whole thing was about. There was one guy who introduced the bands, who would sometimes try to explain what it was all about, but the crowd would just be going “Strummer, Strummer, Strummer“. So I think a lot of the crowd were just there to see Joe Strummer because he used to be in the Clash, and didn’t really know what was going on, even though they gave out leaflets, most of the leaflets would be on the floor by the end of the night, because people were there to watch Strummer. It was a good idea.’
Peel invited Anhrefn to play another session which was aired on 11th September 1989 and featured a more confident band playing Edrych ar y Rude Bois, which was a stunningly superb version of The Ruts single Staring At The Rude Boys, followed by the second album track, Crafwr, the b-side of the self-released single Bach by Ben, and the outstanding cover of Welsh folk hero Geraint Jarman’s Gwesty Cymru.
Releases became numerous due to the high demand for recordings, particularly in Europe. 1990 saw a Dave Goodman produced cassette LP called Rhowch Eich Teitl Eich Hun with Gwyn Jones taking over on drums and Jamie Reid (former Pistols sleeve designer) doing the artwork. Translated into English it was called Fill In Your Own Title, and there was a blank where you could call it what you wanted. Anhrefn then released a single with Pauline Murray (formerly of early punk band Penetration) and also recorded with UK Living presenter Margi Clarke, breaking their non-English musical tradition. European labels were also productive and released Bwtleg Powerhouse 1.3.1990 (on Information Libre), Dave Goodman Sessions (on Incognito), Rhedeg i Bohemia Live (on Pro Art) and Dragons Revenge (on Lithograph).
Anhrefn played many times abroad, including Germany, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia and a 10 date tour of the Basque region.
It wasn’t for four years until the band got to record their third and final John Peel session. First broadcast on 21st May 1993 and repeated on 16th October they broke the Welsh only tradition by backing Margi Clarke who sang Clutter From The Gutter and Croeso I Gymru, although Sion was on Welsh vocal duties for Sut Fedrwch Chi Anghofio and Am Unwaith. The bizarre collaboration with Margi went as far as recording a single, a cover of the Cole Porter song Anything Goes.
Anhrefn had all but dissolved by 1994, the music was changing and they had rode the storm well through the dark years of the eighties only to find themselves heading into another one in the mid-nineties. They had achieved far more than they could have imagined and within five years they would be lauded as the main catalysts and influence behind the crop of Cool Cymru bands. Brothers Sion and Rhys had a little fuel left in the tank to release ‘Hen Wlad fy Mamau – Land of My Mothers’ on Crai Records (Rhys’ future employers) in April 1995. It also featured producer Ronnie Stone who aided the duo in creating a world beat collection of re-mixed Welsh folk music, samples and electronic sounds featuring Welsh singers Siân James, Lowri Ann Richards, June Campbell Davies and Elinor Bennett, Punjabi rapper Harvinder Sangha and African dub collective Zion Train. A far cry from the punk rock glare and as Sion admitted in a 1997 interview,
‘We’re mainly into club/dance music but we’re influenced by all sorts of stuff, bands like Prodigy and Leftfield, but also there’s the Welsh aspect. We sample traditional Welsh instruments like harps and violins and come up with quite a new sound.’
The itch that couldn’t be scratched got the better of Rhys and Sion once more and they formed a new band, Mangre in 2000. By their own admission they had nothing to prove and nothing to gain; as Anhrefn they’ve been there, done that and shagged the girl behind the T-shirt stall. They’re too old to get signed and the music doesn’t quite hit it off with the new young crowd, which left them in a purgatorial state of a band in search of an audience, but outwardly they didn’t care, they did it for their own kicks and would, if they so wished, invent an audience. The girl singers accompanying Sion’s vocal were supposed to create a bit of soul but the project never really hit it off, and although a fly-on-the-wall documentary was screened by S4C, the project fizzled out.
Under the guise of Hen Wlad fy Mamau (this time the title of the band, rather than the title of the release), came another album on Crai in 2001. Entitled ‘Anhrefn Post-Punk Post-House Post-Welsh’ it was an 18-track compilation of remixes, demos, live tracks and new songs, almost as if it was putting a lid on the past.
Nowadays you’ll find Rhys Mwyn working as an agent for ELO and a host of Welsh artists, he did head the Crai label for a few years and managed The Gogz as well as girl band TNT.
He is also writing his autobiography, initially to be published in his mother tongue in 2006, which he jokingly says is called, ‘Cumi Pants – The Truth.’
Interview excerpted from Northern Ireland‘s MERE PSEUD MAG #3 circa 1989 Transcribed 1/98 by Dan Sabater (firstname.lastname@example.org)
MSM: So is the Welsh language your first language?
Sion: Well before we went to school, at home we spoke Welsh. You pick up a bit of English anyway, we don’t actually remember but we probably did learn English as a second language. You don’t remember it because it just happens naturally in Wales, a lot of people speak Welsh and English.
MSM: A lot of people make a big deal about the fact that you sing in Welsh, but it’s because it’s your first language then?
Sion: To us it is just totally natural, we don’t think twice about it, but yet in another way we do think twice about it because we actually do it in Welsh. It’s the same as bands in Germany singing in German, French bands in French. It’d be a pretty boring world if everybody sang with American accents of whatever.
MSM: I read in a fanzine once that the National Front have given support to the campaign being waged by the Sons of Glendower on the grounds that it’s a nationalistic sort of thing. What is your opinion about all that?
Sion: There’s a lot of weird stuff going on with all that at the moment. I think over the last year the National Front have been trying to get organized again in the UK, and at the moment what I think they have been doing is that they have been trying to latch on to any group that they think they might get sympathy from. And so they’re doing it with all sorts of movements, trying to get in on it. Nobody seems to be taking any notice of that, thank God! Same thing with the Sons of Glendower, a lot of what they say is total and utter shit. Total racist rubbish they say, like throw the English out of Wales, don’t let English people into Wales, and that’s a load of shit, because anybody should be allowed to go and live anywhere. But I mean, where we live there’s an Indian family moved in and they’ve been here for about five years, and now they walk in the traditional Indian gear, they do their Indian customs, they speak English and they speak Welsh, and they take part in Welsh affairs as well, so they’ve got three different cultures that they can use, and that’s brilliant, that’s how it should be. But you’ve people like the Sons of Glendower, and they tell them to clear off, they don’t want them there in the first place. Which is fascism. That’s some of their ideals, but the actual burning of a home, well, that happens in the north of England as well, it happens in Scotland, it happens in Cornwall, because local people can’t afford the houses. You get some rich bastard buying all the houses and local people haven’t got anywhere to live. So you can understand why they do burn the houses, but a lot of their other politics are total shit.
MSM: Would you say then that you were broadly sympathetic or unsympathetic to them?
Sion: I can understand why they would burn down a holiday home, but that’s about the only thing of their policies that I can understand. But their other policies, like I said before, like not letting English people in are just shit.
MSM: So it is nationalistic in the real sense?
Sion: yeah, they’re trying to build up nationalism in a shit way.
MSM: Well, what do you think of Belfast and Northern Ireland?
Sion: We’ve only been here for about three days, I dunno it’s the kind of thing you could spend hours talking about. It’s almost impossible to say in a couple of minutes what you think about it. On the one hand, the first place we landed in was in Falls Road, and it’s the kind of place you hear a lot about, and when we landed there we thought “Bloody hell, this is the FALLS ROAD!” Five minutes afterwards we thought, “Uh, this is the Falls Road. We could be in Bradford or we could be in Manchester“. BUT, there was a different atmosphere in the whole place, and then the next minute you see the soldiers. So I think it’s going to take us a bit of time to think what we’ll have done in the next few days, to sort it all out. Obviously we all have our own opinions, but I don’t really think it’s up to some people from north Wales to say “Oh, I think this is what should be happening in Northern Ireland”, because we don’t know enough about it. We know what we think about it, but we would never bring out a leaflet saying what should happen in Northern Ireland. Not that it’s none of our business, I think it is because it’s to do with Westminster, and they are screwing us up in Wales as well., so in one way it’s our business and we should worry about it, we should care about it, but we shouldn’t be any sort of spokesman on behalf of it, because we don’t live here. In the same way that if some MP from Manchester said “Look, this is what should be happening with the Welsh language”, we’d think “Piss off”! What do you know about it? You’ve never lived here! How can you talk about it”?
MSM: Well what about CLASS WAR then, you went on the ROCK AGAINST THE RICH Tour with JOE STRUMMER. Anything to say abut that, any regrets or whatever?
Sion: No regrets, no. We were quite surprised with JOE STRUMMER., he could have been a bloody pop star if he’d wanted to, but he wasn’t, he was totally OK, totally down to Earth, no shit at all. The tour was good, there was good audiences, but I don’t know how many of the actual audience knew what the whole thing was about. There was one guy who introduced the bands, who would sometimes try to explain what it was all about, but the crowd would just be going “Strummer, Strummer, Strummer“. So I think a lot of the crowd were just there to see Joe Strummer because he used to be in the CLASH, and didn’t really know what was going on, even though they gave out leaflets, most of the leaflets would be on the floor by the end of the night, because people were there to watch Strummer. It was a good idea.
MSM: A lot of people, probably myself included, thought it was pretty ludicrous picking somebody like JOE STRUMMER for this tour (Blasphemy!-Dan/LARiot), someone who has made himself a lot of money out of the Rock ‘n’ Roll business, and for CLASS WAR to turn round and to start defending him, with crap like “If you’re going to be successful in the Rock industry, you have to make a lot of money”.
Sion: I think the problem that they had was that they wanted to try and raise money and get a lot of publicity. To do that they had to have somebody quite famous, and anyone who is quite famous is bound to have a little bit of dosh. But then again JOE STRUMMER probably has only got enough dosh to, I dunno if he has got his own house. He’s probably only as well off as a fairly low-paid teacher. I don’t think he’s really loaded, maybe he’s got his own house.