Wales' best guitarists
Did you ever have arguments at school about who was the best guitarist in the world? Maybe it's just me, but my friends and I debated regularly the relative merits of Slash, Brian May, Jimmy Page, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen. This was the 80s, so please excuse me.
Flicking through a charity shop purchase yesterday (Hugh Gregory's 1000 Great Guitarists, Balafon, 1994) I began thinking about Welsh masters of the six-string. Here's my selection:
Tony Bourge, Budgie
Now often overlooked, Cardiff's Budgie were some of the architects of British heavy metal, and their guitarist Bourge was central to their sound. From the late 60s until his departure in 1978, Bourge's riffing technique, sometimes recalling Rush's Alex Lifeson, became recognisable to the thousands of hard rock fans of the time. Budgie's influence spread across the world and musicians such as Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age), Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains) and Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) all list him as an inspiration.
Here's Budgie's signature tune, Breadfan, as covered by none other than Metallica.
Penygraig's Tich Gwilym, born sometime in 1951, was the guitarist for late-60s psych-rockers Kimla Taz, before embarking on a solo and session career. In 1989 he joined forces with Budgie's frontman Burke Shelley in the short-lived Superclarkes.
Here's a fantastic clip of Tich (on the left) playing with long-time musical partner Phil Miniaud at Cardiff's Royal Oak pub:
In 2005 Gwilym was tragically killed in a house fire in the city.
James Dean Bradfield, Manic Street Preachers
Criminally underrated, Bradfield has been the musical driving force of one the UK's best-loved bands for the last two decades. Leaving the lyrics to Nicky Wire, Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore have created instantly-recognisable melodies that make for classic songs.
Mixing fury and delicacy, James can riff like the best of them. Yes, it's been played a million times, but is there any better example of his grand vision than Motorcycle Emptiness?
Andy Fairweather Low, Amen Corner
Some in the know think that Fairweather Low's greatest work came not in his band's 60s heyday (think If Paradise Is Half As Nice), or in his 70s solo work, but in his session and backing band work with the likes of George Harrison and Eric Clapton in the 90s.
His performance as part of the multi-million-selling Unplugged (1992) for Clapton was especially praised. Since then, he has gone to work with people like Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and even Joe Satriani.
Dave Edmunds, Love Sculpture, Rockpile
Cardiff's Edmunds began playing in the 1960s local blues bands The 99ers and The Raiders but left Wales to join The Image and The Human Beans. But it was Love Sculpture then solo work that showcased his talents.
Edmunds' solo career was distinguished by his painstaking re-creation of rock'n'roll classics, and in his own studio taught himself to replicate the techniques of his beloved Spector and Sun classics.
Here's the frankly insane Sabre Dance by Love Sculpture, in which Edmunds plays with a psuedo-punky abandon that belies its 1968 date:
Phil Campbell, Motörhead
Pontypridd's Campbell has been the lead guitarist of Motörhead since 1984. He started playing at the age of 10, influenced by the classic guitarists of the 1960s and 70s. It was in Persian Risk that he came to the attention of Welsh gig-goers, then in 1984 he successfully auditioned for the British heavy metal champions.
Jeff Rose, Dub War
When I was a teenager, this Newport band were one of the rare British bands whose intensity matched that of the likes of Pantera or Machine Head. Insane rhythms that combined heavy metal with ragga, Dub War's music was a head-banging joy and it was Rose's riffs that powered it.
Singer Benji Webbe and Rose went on to form the internationally-successful Skindred, but for me it's Gorrit that remains their bruising highpoint:
Donna Matthews, Elastica
Unfairly lumped in with Britpop and weighed down by accusations of none-too-subtle appropriations of other bands' melodies, Elastica were nevertheless prime exponents of spiky 1990s indie punk pop fare, and it was Newport guitarist Matthews who really shines on their first, self-titled album.
Here's their crowning glory, Stutter:
Micky Jones, Man
Swansea's Man are one of the most convoluted bands in musical history, with seemingly dozens of members, but Micky Jones was a constant for their heyday in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In the words of Hugh Gregory: "...the main thrust coming from lengthy guitar duels between Jones and whoever else happened to be playing guitar in the band at the time." And in the words of music journalist Tommy Udo: "Massively underrated guitarist. Fluid, Jerry Garcia-tinged licks and Coltrane-like psychedelic improvisations."
Jones' style was progressive, but tempered with blues and country tones, an a keen sense of the dramatic, as shown on Blind Man from 1969's Revelation.
Dai Shell, Sassafras
Formed in 1970, Sassafras were a sort-of Welsh Fleetwood Mac/Eagles hybrid, with soaring west-coast melodies and a real roadtrip rock feel. Shell, a Cardiff guitarist of some note, was largely responsible for the tone of the band.
They toured America's enormodomes with the likes of Ten Years After, Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton, but never saw their sales match those of their headliners.
Incidentally, Sassafras held the record for the most amount of gigs in a year, with 332 days covered in one year in the early 1970s. They beat Slade by one.
Here's the breezy Moonshine, from 1975.
So there are 10 for starters. Others I could mention include Richard Parfitt of 60ft Dolls, Stu O'Hara of Acrimony, Jimbob Isaac of Taint, Myfyr Isaac, Glyn Knight, Mike Lloyd Jones of The Sunsets, Kris Roberts of Funeral For A Friend, Lee Gaze of Lostprophets, Chris Buck of the Tom Hollister Trio and Peredur Ap Gwynedd of Pendulum. But who else have we missed out?
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