Iconic Welsh Acts

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Join us as we celebrate some of the most iconic Welsh acts in music history.

1. Stereophonics

Formed: Cwmaman, Mid Glamorgan 1992

Personnel: Kelly Jones (lead vox & guitar), Richard Jones (bass, piano, backing vox), Adam Zindani (guitar & backing vox), Jamie Morrison (drums) & touring keyboardist Tony Kirkham

Described very succinctly by an Australian journalist as “classic UK rock delivered with whiskey vocals”, Stereophonics formed in the early nineties but it wasn’t until 2001’s Just Enough Education To Perform that they hit the big time. The band are known as a stellar live act. Their reputation has scored them headlining slots at festivals including Reading and Leeds, V Festival and Glastonbury.

Frontman Kelly Jones was from musical stock, his dad having supported Roy Orbison in the 1960’s. Kelly lived in the same road as original Stereophonics drummer Stuart Cable. Zephyr, an early incarnation of Stereophonics recorded their first demo in 1986. It would be over a decade before the release of their first album, a testament to how hard many artists have to work to achieve record deals and recognition. Following their signing to new label V2 in 1996, 1997 saw the release of their debut album Word Gets Around. A year later they won the Best New Group award at the BRIT awards and played to 10,000 fans in the grounds of Cardiff Castle. To date, the band have released 10 studio albums many of which have been certified platinum in the UK. Their greatest hits Best of – Decades in the Sun is 4x platinum.

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2. Manic Street Preachers

Formed: Blackwood, Caerphuilly 1986

Personnel: James Dean Bradfield (lead vox, lead guitar), Nicky Wire (bass, lyrics), Sean Moore (drums, percussion)

The Manics have drawn influence from a range of genres over the years including punk, glam and alternative rock all the while retaining their leftist political stance. These principals together with the use of alienation as a common theme throughout their music have cemented their cult status. The band was formed in Blackwood in 1986 by Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield and rhythm guitarist Flicker. Richey Edwards, the designer of the band’s debut album artwork replaced Flicker and became co-lyricist. Myths and conspiracy theories about Richey’s 1995 disappearance are a source of intrigue surrounding the band. An enigmatic highly intelligent person, his lyrics are poetic and stand the test of time. In a reference to the band’s authenticity, he cut ‘4real’ into his arm during an early interview with then NME writer Steve Lamacq.

Despite vowing to split up following the release of their debut album, Generation Terroritsts, Manic Street Preachers have released 13 studio albums. They have won numerous awards including best British group at the BRITS twice and are a multi-platinum selling act in the UK.

3. Sir Tom Jones

Origins: Treforest, Pontypridd 1963

Sir Thomas John Woodward AKA Sir Tom Jones was born in 1940. Nineties kids will recall how Tom was loved by The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s Carlton but he is best known for his MASSIVE voice and ability to perform a variety of genres from Country to Gospel. The son of a coal miner, at the beginning of Tom’s six-decade spanning career he won the 1966 Best New Artist Grammy award. He was influenced by soul, blues and rock n roll legends like Little Richard, Jackie Wilson and Elvis Presley. He was spotted performing in South Wales working men’s clubs by London based manager Gordon Mills.

Tom began performing in Las Vegas regularly in 1967. Members of the audience would frequently throw underwear and hotel room keys at the stage. Two years previous he had met his idol Elvis Presley at Paramount Studios. Their friendship would endure for the rest of Elvis’ life. Variety show ‘This is Tom Jones’ ran from 1969 to 1971 broadcast both in the UK and US. His popularity has endured thanks to his undeniable charisma and powerhouse vocals. Tom is now a judge on The Voice UK.

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4. Dame Shirley Bassey

Origins: Tiger Bay, Cardiff 1953

Dame Shirley Bassey was born in 1937 and is world renowned for her powerful voice as well as singing the themes to three Bond films. Kanye West sampled her vocals from ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ for his 2009 track ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’. In 1959 Shirley became the first Welsh person to get a single to no.1 in the UK charts.

As a child Shirley’s voice was so powerful in the school choir that she was made to sing from the corridor. She began performing and touring professionally in 1953 capturing the attention of impresario Jack Hylton and later – thanks to a TV appearance – record producer Johnny Franz. She released ‘Burn My Candle’, her first single with him in 1956 aged 19. Its suggestive lyrics saw it banned by the BBC. She debuted on American TV with The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960. Three years later she would perform for President Kennedy at a gala celebrating his first year in office. She performed at the Queen’s 50th Jubilee Party in 2002 and the 60th Jubilee in 2012.

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5. Funeral For A Friend

Formed: Bridgend 2001

Personnel: Matthew Davies-Kreye (lead vox), Kris Coombs-Roberts (guitar), Gavin Burrough (guitar), Richard Boucher (bass), Casey McHale (drums)

Often referred to as one of the landmark emo records of the 2000s, Bridgend post-hardcore band Funeral For A Friend’s debut album Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation (2003) was certified gold and three of its singles hit the top twenty. They recorded seven studio albums together and bowed out in 2016 with a final sold-out performance at Forum in London.

Named after a Planes Mistaken for Stars song, Funeral For a Friend didn’t put a great deal of thought into their name as they imagined only playing a few shows. They won Kerrang!’s Best British Newcomer award two years after forming. They have supported Iron Maiden and Linkin Park as well as performing at Reading and Leeds Festivals and Download.

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6. Kids In Glass Houses

Formed: Bridgend 2006

Personnel: Aled Phillips (lead vox), Joel Fisher (lead guitar), Iain Mahanty (rhythm guitar), Andrew “Shay” Sheehy (bass), Philip Jenkins (drums & percussion)

Inspired by Glassjaw’s lyrics “not throwing stones at you anymore” from their song ‘Tip Your Bartender’, Bridgend friends Aled, Iain, Philip, Joel and Andrew named themselves Kids In Glass Houses. Even in their unsigned days the band received strong press coverage from the likes of Kerrang!, NME, BBC Radio 1 and XFM.

Kids in Glass Houses played their final shows in 2014. Following the announcement of their split, vocalist Aled Phillips told Rock Sound ‘It was an amazing career, whether we made money or not, it’s been an extremely gratifying thing. One we will not forget.’

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7. Gruff Rhys

Origin: Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire 1988

Born in 1970, Gruff Rhys is the the Super Furry Animals frontman as well as the co-founder of electro-pop outfit Neon Neon. a filmmaker, author, composer, producer AND solo musician… and breathe! Neon Neon were nominated for the 2008 Mercury Prize and he won the 2011 Welsh Music Prize as a solo act. The son of poets with a shared passion for retaining Wales’ distinct identity through culture, rights and language, Gruff’s debut album Yr Atal Genhedlaeth is entirely Welsh language. His cousin is Radio 1 DJ and promoter Huw Stephens.

Alongside performing and songwriting, Gruff also scores films. He won the 2015 BAFTA Cymru award for Original Music for scoring Set Fire to the Stars. He released Babelsberg, his fifth studio album in June 2018 on Rough Trade Records. Pitchfork said of it, Gruff has ‘always been political, but he’s never sounded as spiteful as he does on this satirical portrait of the United States in 2018.’

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8. Catatonia

Formed: Cardiff 1992

Personnel: Cerys Matthews (lead vox), Mark Roberts (vox & guitar), Owen Powell (guitar), Paul Jones (bass), Aled Richards (drums)

Although they formed in the early nineties it wasn’t until the release of International Velvet (1998) that Catatonia had major chart success. This album spawned the mega hit ‘Road Rage’; Cerys Matthews’ instantly recognisable Cardiff accent soundtracking many a car journey, school disco and night out. It was claimed that Mark had met Cerys whilst she was busking in Cardiff. They started talking when he offered to replace her guitar string, but this was later exposed as fictionalised to attract media attention. In reality they had met on the Cardiff music scene eventually beginning a romantic relationship. This relationship would form the basis for much of their songwriting.

Their name was inspired by Aldous Huxley’s ‘The Doors of Perception’ (1954) and Cerys’ experiences working in a mental health facility. Cerys has released nine solo studio albums. She regularly presents for TV and radio including BBC 6 Music and BBC Radio 2.

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9. Super Furry Animals

Formed: Cardiff 1993

Personnel: Gruff Rhys (lead vox, guitar) Huw Bunford (lead guitar, vox), Guto Pryce (bass), Cian Ciaran (Keyboards, Synths, occasional guitar, vox) Dafydd Leuan (drums, vox)#

Super Furry Animals are a psychedelic rock band from Cardiff. Given that they’re known for being one of the most innovative bands of the nineties -regardless of nationality- its no surprise that the Super Furries have been nominated for the Welsh Music Prize. In 2014 NME wrote that ‘there’s a case to be argued that they’re the most important band of the past 15 years.’

Alongside the likes of Catatonia, The Manics and Stereophonics, Super Furry Animals are considered as part of a 1990’s renaissance in Welsh cultural output. Its members all departed from techno outfits to join the band. Their debut release was EP Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (In Space), in 1995. It holds the Guinness World Record for the longest EP title. The band were spotted by Alan McGee, the boss of Creation Records, which was home to Oasis. They decided to record their first album in English, to some consternation from the Welsh press. In 2000 they would release Mwng, an album entirely in the Welsh language.

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10. Feeder

Formed: Newport 1994

Personnel: Grant Nicholas (lead vox, lead guitar, piano). Taka Hirose (bass, backing vox), touring members: Dean Deavall (keys, backing vox), Tom Gleeson (guitar, backing vox), Geoff Hollroyde (drums)

Feeder are a rock band from Newport in South East Wales. They won two Kerrang! awards (Best British Live Act in 2001 and Best British Band in 2003). ‘Buck Rogers’ is without a doubt their biggest song memorable for the ‘its got a CD player’ line. Despite the tragedy of drummer Jon Lee’s death a year after the release of their breakout commercially successful album Echo Park, Feeder continued bringing Skunk Anansie’s Mark Richardson on board.

In 2009 Feeder took the decision to temporarily refer to themselves as Renegades, which would be the name of their next album. They played new material under the name to avoid playing a set list of their hits.

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Written by Laura Thomas

Social Media and Marketing Executive at Vocalzone. The Simpsons, The Wicker Man (original!), real crime shows, metal, punk and the new punk (grime)