Popular Welsh music in the 1960s

60's pop stars, Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey

Last updated: 05 December 2008

A starting point as good as any: from the success of Tom Jones 'n' Shirley Bassey to beyond...

Ah, the 1960s. The time of naked hippies, the lunar landing and cheesecloth trousers. Man's greatest achievements in the decade have been well documented. But what was the state of Welsh music at the time?

Tell Laura I Love Her was a number one hit for Ricky Valance in August 1960. Sadly Ricky (real name David Spencer) would prove to be the archetypal one hit wonder: he'd never trouble the charts again.

Despite the dominance of two names in Welsh pop during the 1960s -Tom Jones Shirley Bassey - the hills and valleys were alive with the sound of pop throughout the country.

Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey

The best known Welsh performer in the early 1960s was Shirley Bassey. Since the 1957 release of her debut single, The Banana Boat Song, she'd been a hit performer, and she was about to be joined by another giant of popular Welsh music. October 1964 saw the release of her performance of Goldfinger, the theme to the James Bond film.

Just four months later, in February 1965, Tom Jones burst onto the scene with the number one hit It's Not Unusual. The instant classic was to become Tom's trademark, and heralded the beginning of an enduring career.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a Welsh performer was taking music into hitherto uncharted territory. As a founder member of The Velvet Underground, John Cale would prove to be one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

Writing and performing with Lou Reed would often be fractious and volatile for Cale, and their partnership ended after 1968's White Light, White Heat album, but it gave Cale the platform for a successful solo career that continues to this day.

In the latter part of the 60s pop music changed, and R&B, rock and psychedelia became more fashionable. Amen Corner came from Cardiff, and scored their first hit in July 1967 with Gin House Blues. Their biggest sellers were the following year's Bend Me Shape Me and 1969's (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice. The latter hit marked the first time a Welsh group got to number one in the UK chart.

Mary Hopkin
Mary Hopkin

Two acts from Wales had connections to those giants of 1960s music, The Beatles. The first was Badfinger, who formed in 1968, were championed by Paul McCartney, and signed to Apple in 1969.

The other was Mary Hopkin. Born in Pontardawe, Mary released several Welsh-language albums before an appearance on Opportunity Knocks caught the attention of Paul McCartney.

He signed her to Apple and produced her first single, the traditional song Those Were The Days. It reached number one in Britain and America; Mary was just 18 years old at the time.

Other acts from Wales with their roots in the 1960s include Swansea's Man, Dave Edmunds and Meic Stevens, all of whom are still going strong today. And the Sain record label, founded in 1969 in Cardiff by Dafydd Iwan and Huw Jones with a £500 loan from businessman Brian Morgan Edwards, provided a launchpad for many burgeoning talents and quickly became Wales' leading record company.

But perhaps the best thing about Welsh music in the 60s was that so many artists would go on to further and greater success in the 1970s and beyond...


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