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Wales' best guitarists

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James McLaren James McLaren | 10:15 UK time, Monday, 16 April 2012

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.

Tich Gwilym:
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.

Here he is soloing for the company which supplies his axes.

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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  • Comment number 1.

    Graham Williams, by miles, .....flamenco on a strat.....genius. Clapton rates him in the top 3 in the WORLD !

  • Comment number 2.

    Agreed, Graham Williams, top, top guitarist and also a really nice guy to talk to, but also don't forget Ray 'Taff' Williams who can make that Blade of his talk!

  • Comment number 3.

    Great list of guitarists, nice to see younger guys get recognition as well!!!

    I'd throw another one in, Chris Fry from Magenta who has just put out a new solo album, check out this sampler:


  • Comment number 4.

    Dai Shell is from Merthyr; and what about Gruff Rhys's mentor Meic Stevens?

  • Comment number 5.

    I've floated on BBC message boards for years but never felt the need to sign up until now... done so just to second Chris Fry. The man is a virtuoso, great song / solo writer and has a good stage presence too. On top of that he's tutored many great guitar players I know, including Chris Buck who's mentioned in this list. Cracking guy, shouldda made this list.

  • Comment number 6.

    Richard Parfitt (60ft Dolls) is one of the finest guitarists I ever saw. Completely unique, very identifiable style. Has done session work for numerous people since the demise of the band. Very emotive style.

    Alan Holmes / Ann Matthews (Ectogram) again, unique and original. Egoless textures and exploratory sonics. Completely removed from the blues tradition and the self-indulgent machismo of much of the list above. Also, very under rated.

    Ritzy Bryan - The Joy Formidable: great, GREAT use of effects and textures. Sinuous and clever guitar lines. Brilliant, memorable riffs. Far, far better than she has received credit for (as a guitarist).

    Cate Le Bon - unique songwriter. Magical guitarist. I think it's too simplistic - too much of a gender stereotype - to say that women play guitar differently to men (i.e. it's not a Freudian thing, I don't think.]. But Ritzy, Cate and Anne play musically and without any particularly ego-driven pyrotechnics. I'd take that over technique for technique's sake any day.

    Andrew Falkous (Future of the Left / Mclusky): another with a unique 'style' / approach to his instrument. But, of course, the fact that he doesn't solo for 15 minutes, foot up on the monitor, boring everyone who isn't another guitarist witless, probably counts against him ;)

  • Comment number 7.

    How about Paul "Tonka" Chapman (from Cardiff) saw him live with UFO at the The Top Rank on their Mechanix tour in 1982.He has also played with D.O.A., GATOR COUNTRY BAND, GHOST, SKID ROW (replaced Gary Moore), UNIVERSE (welsh band), LONE STAR (welsh band), KIMLA TAZ (welsh band), CIRCUS CIRCUS WAYSTED & THE PAUL CHAPMAN BAND etc.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JvE13HaAjA This was actually in 2003.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooHSDg5kkw4 Here just after replacing Michael Schenker in 1980

  • Comment number 8.

    Let us not forget the brilliant John James, very underated guitarist, check him out on "you tube" !!!!!

  • Comment number 9.

    yes you have left a few names of the list, Ray Taff Williams, Brian Breeze and Graham williams, these three would grace any band in the world, and least we forget, they have played with some of the best mussos around

  • Comment number 10.

    Graham Hedley Williams should definately be on this list, it's criminal to miss him out.............

  • Comment number 11.

    Simple is best. Falkous or Richard Jackson from Novocaine. Its all about the tone!!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Dave is so right. And how evocatively the instrument is used.

  • Comment number 13.

    Gruff Rhys and Bunf. Richard James. John Lawrence. Brad from Gallops. Alun Tan Lan, for crying out loud! We have a surfeit of brilliant musical minds. We should just celebrate them in all their variety and glory.

  • Comment number 14.

    Can we Welsh claim Rene Griffiths as one of ours and add him to the list?

    Jeff Rose is a great call. I absolutely adored Dub War and it was his guitar that cemented the different styles they used to play.

    Falco's 'Arming Eritrea' guitar lick that (usually) kicks off a Future of the Left gig is a thing of menacing beauty

  • Comment number 15.

    Glenn Hyde from Merthyr was/is a fantastic guitarist. At a relatively young age formed The Pocket Devils with now actor Jonathan Owen and although remained unsigned got rave reviews from record companies throughout the UK, from there went on to briefly join The Stereophonics (Tragic Love Company at the time) and then went on to form another great band in Five Miles High. To hear a little of Glenn's playing have a listen to a little piece called Tin Lizzy from his YouTube page..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNrUsgAVFGs&list=HL1336574211&feature=mh_lolz

  • Comment number 16.

    One of the greatest Welsh (born in Cardiff) guitarists you've never heard of, for creativity, song-writing ability and longevity? Ian Devine.
    Ludus (late 70s/early 80s), Devine & Statton, Heb Gariad, Devine & Griffiths, Taffia.
    (Morrissey wanted him before he found Marr...


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