State of the Welsh Music Industry – The Land Of Song

I am currently writing a book chapter for Ashgate on the advantages and disadvantages of the Welsh music industry. Interestingly, there was a ‘Welsh Music Day’ on BBC Radio Wales on March 1st (St Davids’s Day), and selected links can be found below. Jason Mohammad’s show was particularly interesting – with a short synopsis being found here. The music industry part of the show featured Pete Lawrie, Tony Etoria, journalist Simon Price and Meltdown’s Paul Clarke. This was preceded with a discussion  about Welsh Culture, including the differences of Irish and Welsh culture, with a specific discussion around the global pervasiveness of St Patrick’s Day compared to St David’s.  One of the main concerns of the Welsh Culture discussion focused around what I would describe as an ‘essentiallist’ depiction of what it means to be Welsh, where Mountains, Rugby, Poetry, Coal Mines, Male Voice Choirs, etc are seen as depicting a stereotypical perspective of Welsh identity. This seems to be juxterpositioned against an ‘anti essentialist’ view on Welsh identity – where individuals can describe their identity according to what they are not (IE English). For many, being Welsh seems to focus around the language, with one guest stating that ‘its what makes us different from the English, the Irish, and Scottish’. Ultimately, it is probably a ‘shared experience and heratige’, which for some of a particular generation involves a combination of the above parameters.  As with other small nations that have been colonised, it it apparent that  tradition can be invented to compensate for factors of identity that have been taken away. For example in the case of Wales, the Acts Of Union was largely responsible for the current dominance of the English Language – so it seems logical to emphasise this as an anti essentialist ‘two fingered’ gesture.

The show progressed to move on to a music industry related discussion, with the loss of local venues such as The Globe and The Point being a particular point of concern. Other factors  included the need for an infrastructure (ie recording studios, record companies and venues) and the need for creative people to stay in Wales as opposed to moving to London. This is a particularly interesting point, with artists such as John Cale, Steve Strange, Scritti Politti all leaving for major music capitals. Indeed the above mentioned Pete Lawie had just moved to London 5 days prior to the programme’s broadcast, making this subject particularly ironic. Lawrie also noted that his forthcoming tour did not include a venue in Wales, as Cardiff does not have a mid size 500 – 1000 seater venue. This was a point raised during a recent SWN conference outlined below, and it seems that if many cutting edge young bands are to perform in Wales it needs to be rectified. Another  good point made concerning the state of modern Welsh music (as opposed to the essentialist view of Welsh music being Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey etc) is that it has been genuinely succesful in genres such as ‘popular classical’ (Catherine Jenkins, Charlotte Church, etc) and ‘Emo Metal’  (Lost Prophets, Funeral For A Friend, Bullet For My Valentine). It was also noted that although some venues have been lost or under threat, there are a number of venues to play in South Wales in particular. The loss of BBC Radio 6 was also deemed a problem as it was a station that championed emerging Welsh Bands. It was also noted that it was difficult to place a specific sound to Welsh Music – unlike sounds that have come from places such as Liverpool and Manchester (Madchester).

The Music Academy based at the ATRiuM in Cardiff held a seminar in 2008 which discussed the live music industry in Wales, and my original post and podcast can be found here. There were also two other podcasts, one featuring Scouting For Girls and another discussing the do it yourself business model.

In conclusion, the programme also discussed how the partially financed (via Radio Cymru, SC4) welsh language scene can lead to the ‘big fish in a small pool’ syndrome, in addition to restricting creativity by stipulating specific guidelines to get exposure. It was also suggested that a way of breaking down the traditionalist barriars outlined above is to get up and coming welsh acts like Pete Lawrie to perform at national sports events, as opposed to the usual –  Catherine Jenkins etc. Catatonia playing at the opening of the Welsh Assembly a few years ago is a good example of how non traditional musics can be used more traditional events – quite right.

I would appreciate any thoughts anyone has regarding points of interest I could include in the book chapter.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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