National Identity versus Commerce: An Analysis of Opportunities and Limitations within the Welsh Music Scene for Composers and Performing Musicians

I have a new Journal article coming out in the next week which discusses some askpects of the Welsh Music scene. It will be published in the Journal ‘Popular Music History’ – a short abstract copied below.

This chapter intends to explore current issues surrounding the opportunities and limitations inherent within the Welsh music scene, for composers and performing musicians within the popular music industry. It is apparent that Wales currently presents a number of prospects to obtain exposure within national boundaries, with BBC Radio Cymru, Gwyliwch Y Gofod, Bandit, Sioe Gelf  and Gofod  all being indicative examples of Radio and TV specifically targeting Welsh talent. Indeed, Welsh music and artistry has long been internationally prevalent through popular artists like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey during the 1960’s, rock bands such as Man, Budgie and Badfinger during the 1970’s, The Alarm and The Manic Street Preachers emerging during the mid and late 1980’s, and Super Furry Animals and Catatonia during the Brit Pop influenced Cool Cymru  period of the 1990’s. However, it could be argued that many of these artists compromise their Welsh identity by singing in English, with Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Super Furry Animals and Catatonia being particularly interesting examples of ensembles originally part of a Welsh-speaking scene during the 1980s–1990s, who were later to perform their music in English, often for commercial imperatives. As outlined by David Owen, Welsh speaking bands such as Crumblowers and Ffa Coffi Pawb“realised if they were ever to make a successful career they would have to sing in English” (2006) – this is a politically contentious decision facing Welsh-speaking ensembles to this day. The financial imperative to gain exposure outside of Wales can be considered more important of late, due to the recent reductions in Performing Rights Society (PRS) royalty rates, a factor which has made it significantly more problematic for musicians to operate professionally within Welsh boundaries. This chapter investigates the sometimes opposing political, commercial, and nationalistic pressures on Welsh musicians to sustain a living. Furthermore, it considers how these factors can potentially affect their Welsh identity, a term which was identified by Hill (2007) as being inherently problematic. After documenting a brief contextualisation of the history of Welsh popular music and its dialogic relationship with the construction and portrayal of identity, the chapter will proceed to outline how opportunities and threats are impacted by this construction. It argues that both the government and the music industry need to negotiate the gray area between economics and cultural authenticity, leaving musicians free to portray their ‘Welshness’ as they see fit.  The necessity for a unified industry that facilitates musicians to exploit their intellectual property rights inside and outside of Wales is also emphasised as an important factor regarding the capacity of the Welsh music industry propagating employment for its workforce.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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