A proud corner of the UK with plenty of nationalism tucked in amongst its hilly backwaters, Wales has its own distinct music culture, and is responsible for a heady input into the UK scene considering its small population. The Welsh Dragon flies high in pop circles in the present day, and dates back to the times of the Beatles. The newly constructed Millennium Stadium -– a magnificent 75,000 capacity arena in central Cardiff –- has quickly become a core venue for stadium rock tours in the UK, too, bringing the best of world music to the capital, too. James Hendicott reports.
Small Town Boys Come Good: Stereophonics
From the moment they burst onto the UK indie scene with magnificent 1997 debut ‘Word Gets Around’ Stereophonics have been an arena-filling mainstay on the UK rock circuit, with lead singer Kelly Jones becoming the darling icon on more teenage girls’ bedroom walls than perhaps even the next star in our list, some 40 years ago. While their more recent efforts have underwhelmed critics (early album ‘Performance and Cocktails’ remains a staunch fan favorite), there’s no disputing the ‘Phonics toned-down stadium rock status.
The Living Legend: Tom Jones
Tom is not so much a Welsh singer as a cultural icon. As the man responsible for tracks like ‘It’s Not Unusual’, ‘Delilah’, ‘What’s New Pussycat’ and ample other anthems of welshness that receive a regular airing at any sporting event, the 69-year-old pop singer has been performing for nearly half a century, having grown to his current level of superstardom from the unlikely position of door-to-door Hoover salesman. By all accounts, an absolute gentleman, too.
Tragedy Can’t Derail This Rock Train: Feeder
Sharing a name with men who like to feed up fat women [Ed. note: you learn something new every day], these Welsh have built up a massive UK following. Their drummer’s suicide in 2002 led to a massive surge in popularity and sympathy, with a nationwide outpouring of emotion from rock fans reflecting in their legendary “first gig back” at Reading Festival and the melancholy tour that immediately followed.
Controversial Glam Rockers: The Manic Street Preachers
Controversy seems to be a theme for Welsh rock bands, and the Manic Street Preachers are the topic of many a late night party debate even to this day, having lost rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards (who was known to despise the band’s fame) in 1995, when he disappeared and never resurfaced. Thought-provoking lyrics and on stage shenanigans have often surrounded the band, too, with tracks like ‘If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next’ provoking ample political discussion. Not half as much as the endless student debate, though: “Whatever happened to Richey Edwards?”
They Can’t Be Serious: Goldie Lookin’ Chain
In fact, Goldie Lookin’ Chain are far from serious. A novelty act poking fun at “chav” culture in the UK, the band play a brand of sarcastic rap, and go down incredibly well on the UK rock circuit, where “chavs” are widely criticized. Using the catch phrase “You Knows It” and intentionally ludicrous clothing, many songs reference the culture of the band’s home town to Newport (South Wales); their biggest success came with the UK number three hit ‘Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do’.
Heartfelt Welsh Soul: Duffy
Plenty of favorable comparisons to Aretha Franklin accompanied Duffy’s rise to national fame over the last couple of years. A bit excessive, perhaps, but her soulful musings certainly have some weight to them, and she’s fast found herself flying the flag for the UK blues-pop scene. With accessible themes centering around relationships and love, her debut album ‘Rockferry‘ even grabbed a Grammy Award in 2008.
James Hendicott is a travel and music writer living in Ireland, and your guide to Celtic punk in Music+Travel Worldwide from Museyon Guides. More of his work can be found at hendicottwriting.com.