Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Welsh Wednesday #1

I've threatened to do this but now is the time. Influenced by JC's Saturday's Scottish Single series[1] I hereby announce Welsh Wednesday where I present a track by a Welsh artist each Wednesday (clever, eh?) or thereabouts.

I've already featured a number of Welsh tunes on here in some form or another (14 at last count) so while I'll try and avoid the artists I've already mentioned for the time being, I am effectively wiping the slate clean. So there will be more by Catatonia, the Manics, Future of the Left and the Joy Formidable to come, but to start with, a group I haven't done yet and a song you may be familiar with...

Stay by 60 Foot Dolls
Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, the centre of the UK music scene in the mid-90s was neither London nor Manchester. It was Newport. That's Newport in the former county of Gwent, South Wales.

I wasn't living here then, but I was aware of the place. Partly because I had paid a visit to the legendary live music venue TJs when I was working with Naked i, and partly because of the incredible music that was coming out of the town[2]. Newport was the centre of 'Cool Cymru', the Welsh division of Britpop, and one of its top bands was 60 Foot Dolls.

Founding members Richard Parfitt and Michael Cole met in 1992 through Parfitt's colleague at a local pizza restaurant. She was also Cole's girlfriend at the time. Her name was Donna Matthews and a couple years later she was in a band herself. They were called Elastica; you may have heard of them! Anyway, Huw Williams of the Pooh Sticks became their manager, they released their debut single Happy Shopper and landed a number of prestigious support slots. By the time 60 Foot Dolls' debut album 'The Big 3' hit the shelves in 1996, they had a US record deal with Geffen, a UK top 40 single (Talk To Me), and one of the most popular Peel Sessions ever. The album was almost universally lauded and the band was even mentioned in the House Of Commons as an example of the flourishing Welsh music scene.

The world was their oyster, so naturally they blew it. A massive world tour in support of the album resulted in alcohol problems and internal strife. They never toured again. A second album, 'Joya Magica', was released in 1998, but it flopped. The band split soon after. Another example of 'what could have been'.

Since then, the only thing of note any member of the band has done is perhaps best forgotten; Richard Parfitt discovered Duffy. This is an almost unforgivable act. However, I'm willing to overlook this indiscretion if only for the fact that Stay is one of my favourite Welsh tracks. It typifies the Dolls at their peak; a biiiig sound with an even biiiiiigger melody and a humungous riff. It may have only reached #48 in the charts, but by golly 'tis a choon. Dare you not to hum it.

    [1] Or to put it more accurately, I've rather blatantly stolen his great idea (though I like to think of it as more of a homage...)
    [2] Newport was given city status in 2002, becoming Wales' fifth[*] city and its third biggest.
    [*] In 2012, Wales gained a sixth city - St. Asaph (pop. 3491). It isn't the smallest - that honour goes to St. David's (pop. a mere 2000), the smallest city in the UK.


    1. A great idea and a series I very much look forward to: I've always liked some Welsh music ...

    2. Looking forward to this series - I've a sneaky Welsh band featuring tomorrow. Scheduled before I saw this post ,, honest!