Being dubbed the “Welsh U2” could have been a blessing for Glyndŵr. Instead, it was more of a curse.
Bartleby Davies formed Piddletop as a traditional Welsh folk outfit in Swansea in 1983. Two acoustic guitars, fiddle, tin whistle, tabor—the usual. The lads played pubs, local festivals and the like, without any great aspirations beyond that. But when Irish group U2 evolved their angsty post-punk sound with The Unforgettable Fire in late 1984, guitarist Danny Griffiths (who later adopted the one name moniker “Ogee”) decided to splurge on an electric guitar and delay pedal; after a few weeks of experimentation, he felt like he had cracked the code. Hand drummer Cecil Hughes caught the fever and invested in a proper drum kit (he previously had played a stripped-down set with punk-rockabilly outfit Flathead, but had gravitated toward the tabor because it was highly portable and he could be last in, first out at gigs). Fiddler Denny Roberts borrowed an electric bass guitar from his mother-in-law (Polly Evans, former lead singer for seminal ‘60s psych rockers Fur Business). Whistler Martin Morgan, who also played some piano (and, ultimately, synth), stuck around to see what might happen. After gigging some original material locally, the band (renaming itself Glyndŵr—after, of course, the legendary Welsh revolutionary) went into the studio in April 1985 to record their take on the type of atmospheric rock championed by their brethren across the Irish Sea.
The results were spotty. The album had some of the U2 vibe and soundscape, but Davies’ cryptic lyrics (most actually pilfered from a volume of pastoral 19th century Welsh poetry that had been clumsily translated into English) and understated speak-sing delivery lacked anything like Bono’s passion and charisma. (Davies did begin sporting a tinted monocle in performance, which ironically some later ribbed Bono for copying.) And because Morgan stumbled on an affinity for the Welsh bagpipes (a set of which had been hanging on the studio wall as decoration), virtually all of the album tracks included at least one jarring pipe interlude (often joined by Griffith on trumpet, an instrument he had once played as part of a teenage trad jazz combo).
The album (Rebel—the verb, not the noun) had some local airplay in the south, but generally sold poorly. Picking up on Griffiths’ not-so-original guitar sound, a local music journalist quipped in one of the few reviews, “Who do these guys think they are—the Welsh U2?” The nickname stuck, and thereafter at the few gigs Glyndŵr played before breaking up, the crowds would often chant “Welsh U2! Welsh U2!” and yell out random titles from Boy and War that they expected the band to cover. Glyndŵr was accommodating, but Davies’ 1.5-octave range was severely limiting, and Roberts’ insistence on playing slap bass (in his words, in order to “put some funk into it”) was an unwelcome departure. Toward the end, the band was playing fewer and fewer originals, until they essentially became a third-tier U2 tribute band. (There were four such outfits in greater Cardiff alone.) It was a sad ending for an ambitious group named after a warrior king.
After disbanding in late 1986, the members went their separate ways. Some stuck with music; others found new interests. Davies joined a trad jazz combo and found his niche covering Chet Baker. Ogee and Morgan formed a Hall and Oates tribute that had moderate success until grunge hit. Roberts took up model railroading with a vengeance, and Hughes became a squab rancher.
After recovering her bass from her son-in-law, Polly Evans reformed Fur Business. Their sixth studio album, Thyme Travelers, won the BRIT award for Album of the Year.