Popular Welsh music in the 1980s

The Alarm

Last updated: 05 December 2008

Welsh music gets still more diverse, but hits a creative and commercial stride...

In many ways the 1980s was the decade that style forgot. The mullet, shoulderpads and Spandau Ballet were all fashionable. But, amid yuppies, rollerdiscos and Margaret Thatcher's terrier-like grip on the nation's sensibilities, it wasn't all bleakness. Oh no!

Badge saying I Love The 80s

1980 was the year in which the Young Marble Giants' minimalist post-punk album Colossal Youth was released. It's perhaps not the most famous work of the era, but it became an influential release for many aspiring musicians. In his journals Nirvana's Kurt Cobain listed the record as one of the 10 which changed his life, and SFA's Gruff Rhys has namechecked the band as a formative influence.

But everyone knows the 80s weren't particularly cool, and the roll call of Welsh artists attempting to assault the charts shows we were doing our bit in the principality. Shakin' Stevens - known to his mum as Michael Barratt - escaped the confines of the Cardiff suburb of Ely to become the world's premier hip-swivelling rock 'n' roll throwback star. His hits, which included the smashes This Ole House, Green Door and Merry Christmas Everyone, still raise a cheer today.

Bonnie Tyler
Bonnie Tyler

His success was mirrored by Swansea's wailing foghorn-like singer Bonnie Tyler. Although she scored her first hits in the late 70s, she's best remembered by the immortal hits Total Eclipse Of The Heart and Holding Out For A Hero.

OK, so maybe he wasn't strictly speaking a pop star, but it seems appropriate here to mention Aled Jones. The boy wonder scored a massive international hit with Walking In The Air at the close of 1985. Though his records continue to sell monstrously well, he also became a successful actor and TV presenter.

The Bangor-based punk band Anhrefn (Disorder) played an important part in the promotion of Welsh language music in the 1980s and beyond. Indeed, with their music and the material they put out on the Recordiau Anhrefn label, they are often cited as a major catalyst for the upsurge in popular music in Wales in the 80s and 90s. Along with David R Edwards' legendary group Datblygu, they helped inspire a new wave of contemporary Welsh language groups.

Both Anhrefn and Datblygu took a confrontational approach inspired by punk. Datblygu were the more experimental of the two, and were championed by John Peel. Equally remarkable were futurist hip hop pioneers Llwybr Llaethog, who released their debut single Dull Di Drais in 1986 on Recordiau Anhrefn.

No stranger to confrontation himself, John Cale spent the early part of the 1980s raising merry hell in the studio and onstage. However, after celebrating the birth of his daughter Myfanwy in 1985 with a bottle of wine and a gram of cocaine, he had a metaphorical change of heart and took some time out from the music industry. He finally re-emerged in 1989 with Words For The Dying, which featured the poems of Dylan Thomas read over orchestral music.

The Alarm were one of Wales' biggest success stories in the 1980s. Mike Peters' U2-influenced combo found fame in 1983 with their single Sixty Eight Guns. They built up a loyal army of fans before calling it a day in 1991.

Tom Jones and the Art Of Noise
Tom Jones and the Art Of Noise

Oh, we nearly forgot to mention Tom Jones. Well, in truth the boy from Treforest had quite a quiet time for the most of the 80s. Until, that is, he recorded A Boy From Nowhere from the musical Matador, and teamed up with Art Of Noise for the massive smash cover version of Prince's too-funky pop gem Kiss.

Both successes revitalised what was previously a career slightly on the wane. But bigger things still would come for Welsh pop in the 1990s.


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