Four-CD retrospective of one of Wales' most influential Welsh-language bands
One of the most respected Welsh-language groups of the 1980s and 90s, Y Cyrff brought a sense of event to the scene right from their genesis as school kids in 1983. This 38 track box set compilation catalogues their complete musical output, and recalls an ambitious new wave band, some of whom would go on to bigger things. Llanrwst in the 1980s, as mentor Toni Schiavone writes in his accompanying booklet, was a musical and social hotbed. The small Gwynedd town was even declared independent at one point, if only to illustrate its strong spirit; this spirit is echoed on Y Cyrff's signature song, Cymru, Lloegr A Llanrwst (track one on the Yr Atgyfodi EP). It's a fast-paced indie song, sitting between REM and Billy Bragg - all twanging guitar, bubbling bass and huge singalong chorus. Its anthem status for the Welsh-language scene comes as no surprise.
Being 1989, the musical climate in the UK as a whole was changing, but Y Cyrff's sound was very much rooted in a post-punk / indie sound that had risen out of the tempering of punk's more oikish elements in the early 1980s. The acoustic guitar tracing through the songs on Yr Atgyfodi, at time recalls American cult heroes Sugar as well as more typically British types such as Teenage Fanclub.
Their debut EP, Y Testament Newydd from 1987, indicates a certain lack of depth and confidence, and it must be born in mind that they were still barely out of their teenage years. Defnyddia Fi is a startling and epic monster though, with chiming minor key guitar and occasional chopped up riffs that recall Johnny Marr's more basic but effective moments.
1991's Llawenydd Heb Ddiwedd brought more developed, complex songwriting to proceedings, but they weren't able to break through the glass ceiling and split up soon afterwards. There are intermittent moments of excellence on this set, but too much seems to be merely making up the numbers. Nunlle and Seibiant are enjoyable, fast-moving scratchy indie pop songs, but Y Cyrff seem to have run out of ideas a little. It's worth going to the singles and b-sides CD then. Senglau A Traciau Byw kicks off with the beer-keg party punk of Anwybyddwch Ni (think The Undertones kicking it with the Dead Kennedys), and follows with some more brilliant pop nuggets (and some of more select taste!). Trwy'r Cymylau, Cadwyni and Hwyl Fawr Heulwen stand out.
Mark Roberts and Paul Jones went on to form Catatonia of course, but some of their best work is in the joyfully clattering teen-rock of post-punk Welsh-speakers.
Words: James McLaren