On 22nd January 1994 the NME’s Single of the Week was “For Tinkerbell” by Catatonia. What made this Welsh band different from others previously featured in the NME (Manic Street Preachers, K-Klass etc.) was that “For Tinkerbell” was taken from the EP “Catatonia” which was originally marketed independent rock scene in Wales as a Welsh-language single containing two English tracks. Even though the welsh tracks “Dimbran” and “Gyda Gwen” were firmly established on Radio Cymru playlists, they went ignored in the NME’s review of the single, but it was the first time that music trendies who buy music according to what the NME recommend were exposed to Welsh-language pop music.
When Catatonia’s second EP, Hooked was released in July 1994, the welsh; track “Difrycheulyd (Snail Ambition)” was mentioned in the NME’s single reviews, though not favourably. “‘Difrycheulyd” we can safely assume, is Welsh for ‘rather inadvisable and indulgent third track that the world can comfortably live without” (NME, 09/07/94). Despite this, “Difrycheulyd” was the only track from the “Hooked”EP which was regularly played on Radio Cymru.
There seemed to be a difference of opinion and attitudes towards Catatonia between the Welsh and the wider music scene in Britain. Catatonia’s Welsh tracks remained largely ignored by the British music press, while their English tracks were ignored by Radio Cymru even though the EPs were probably more widely available in Wales than they were in England.
Welsh-language music and musicians have never really been taken seriously by the music press, dismissed as “quaint” or “olde-worlde” etc. When I spoke to Iestyn George (editor of the NME) in 1993 asking why no Welsh-language bands were covered by the NME, I was told that there would be no reader interest and that ‘Welsh Rock” was Mike Peters from The Alarm going solo and Anrhefn performing in Bratislava. When interviewed for Welsh magazine “Golwg” in April 1995 he admitted that Welsh music was now fashionable. “I believe that we as a nation are more sophisticated than we were perhaps ten years ago. People don’t look on us as ‘hicks” as they used to, even though we do get patronised terribly” (Iestyn George, translated from “Golwg” 13/04/95).
There seems to be a shift in attitudes towards Welsh music, even in the Last 18 months. The NME even stated in a live review of Welsh band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci on 1st April 1995 that “this year Wales just might become the world capital of cool”. Much of this swing in attitude seams to have come about in the wake of critical acclaim received by Gorge’s Zygotic Mynci in the NME and Melody Maker.
All three singles released by Gorky’s since June1994 have been favourably received by the NME – “The Game of Eyes”/”Pentref Wrth Y Mor” (“Village By the Sea”) was Single
of the week on 3rd December 1994, their latest, the “LLanfwrog EP” was Single of the Week on 18th March 1995, while Merched yn Neud Gwallt Eu Gilydd” (“Girls Doing Each Other’s Hair”) was No.10 in the NME’s Top Turn-ons of 1994, and even appeared n the NME Writers Top 50 Singles of the Year 1994. Theire debut album “Patio” was re-released in February 1995 to favourable reviews, including NME and Vox.
“Patio” means ace pop tunes in Welsh… Anyone for lo-fi, prepubescent, Welsh-language punkadelica?” (from Vox, March 1995).
The 8th April issue of the NME included Gorky’s first major interview in the British music press, in which Ted Kessler Writes “They” re no longer dismissed as quaint weirdoes who make poor Mercury Rev-type mush in Welsh, they’re now known purely as miners of something fresh and lovely of their own. It’s a Welsh thing” (NME, 08/04/95).
While the success of Gorky’s and Catatonia within London and the British music press highlights what Welsh bands have to offer the industry, it seems to have ruffled a few feathers within the closed community of the Welsh Rock Scene in which both bands were allowed to nurture and develop. Under the headline “Catatonia: Conquering England…but what about Wales?” Golwg reporter Meleri Wyn James attempts to describe the fate of new bands and music fans in Wales now that its two Great White Hopes have seemed to desert their Welsh audience.
Catatonia seem to be the worst offenders. Having joined MRM Management in London shortly after the release of “Hooked”, their last two singles were curiously absent of Welsh tracks (“Whale”/”You Can” on Rough Trade Singles Club in August 1994, and “Bleed”/ “This Boy Can’t Swim” on Nursery Records in early 1995) and their last tour visited no Welsh venues. A recent two-album deal with Warner Bros subsidiary Blanco Y Negro means that Catatonia may never record in Welsh again.