The History of Popular Welsh Music

Music is forever changing. The introduction of dub step artists and underground drum and bass into the Top 40 chart would have been unheard of a few years ago, but, in a few years, these sounds will be a style pertaining to our generation. The music of certain years and decades can really personify and help identify a certain era; from the swinging sixties, to the disco moves of the seventies, we've all heard our fair share of ballads, pop hits and rock anthems. And Wales is no exception.

Long gone are the days when Welsh music consisted of celtic folk and village choirs only.

For such a small nation, Wales has reared a pretty impressive group of talented musicians, some of which have gone on to represent us internationally, with successful careers across the globe. Let's see how we managed to get from Shirley Bassey to Goldie Lookin' Chain in a couple of decades with my timeline of the major events in Welsh music history.


It all kicked off with Shirley Bassey in 1957 when she had a hit with debut single 'The Banana Boat'. The Cardiff born singer is one of the best known Welsh performers of our time as well as being named, 'one of the most popular female vocalists in Britain during the last half of the 20th century.'

Christopher Fowler

Amongst her numerous hits, she also famously recorded the theme songs to Bond films, 'Diamonds are Forever', 'Goldfinger', and 'Moonraker'.


1965, saw Welsh musical hero Tom Jones for the very first time. He joined Bassey on the music scene in this year with his first (and still very well-played hit), 'It's Not Unusual'. This song arguably is his trademark tune, and really paved the way for his future career. Since his early beginning in 1965, Jones has gone on to sell over one hundred million records across the globe, and was even knighted in 2006 by the Queen for his services to music. It was recently released that he will release a new single with White Stripes front-man Jack White.


This year saw the introduction of Wales' very own, and first, record label 'Sain'. The word in Welsh means sound, and is pronounced like the English word 'sign' - so a very fitting name don't you think? Over the years it has recorded for some of the biggest Welsh names including Catatonia and Elin Fflur, and their catalogue is the largest of Welsh music in the world. It distributes its products throughout Wales and other Celtic countries, and is a hugely successful business to this day.


Onto the seventies now, and in the haze of disco balls and flares, Welsh singer and comedian Max Boyce was introduced. He first burst onto the scene in 1974 with his debut album 'Live At Treorchy'. The album was a mixture of comedic poems and songs which helped kickstart his long and successful career. He was linked to the Welsh rugby team throughout his career, with his work very popular with rugby crowds. He continues to be a Welsh star and recently appeared on a special St. David's Day programme on BBC 1.


The eighties saw another extremely successful Welsh artist in the form of Bonnie Tyler. Her biggest hit 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' was released in 1983 and was hugely popular, making her the first and only Welsh artist to reach the top of the US Billboard Charts. Her huge hair and gravelly voice dominated the eighties and nineties, and she has a long list of accolades and awards under her belt including being nominated for a Grammy on three occasions. Check out her hits on her Last.FM profile here:  


'Merry Christmas Everyone'! No, I'm not going insane, I know it's only March. But this was the title of popular Christmas chart topper by Welsh rocker Shakin' Stevens. The rocker, real name Michael Barratt, waved the flag of success for Wales in 1985 when he released this classic, and went on to become the UK's biggest selling singles artist of the eighties.


Of course you do. That's the unmistakeable sound of The Manic Street Preachers', who formed in 1986 in Wales' capital Cardiff. The band released ten albums with the last in 2010 entitled 'Postcards from a Young Man'. They rose to fame in the nineties and reached the number one spot three times.


I think it would be fair to say that the nineties in Wales largely belonged to rockers the Stereophonics. The successful group formed way back in 1992 with front man Kelly Jones on vocals. The band received critical acclaim for their first album, Word Gets Around, which was followed by a successful world tour.

The band continued to chuck out hits in the years to come, and continue to be a popular band in the UK today.

Ten years later, controversial act Catatonia saw fame for Wales. The band had their break through in 1998 with warbling hit 'Mulder and Scully', led by front woman Cerys Matthews  who now performs as a solo artist.

The band continued with hits 'Road Rage' and 'Strange Glue', and were known as an alternative indie act.

After a few turbulent years for the band, they finally split in 2001, but their anthemic hits are always remembered in popular Welsh music history.


So to today, the 21st century, and Welsh music is as apparent as ever. With rock bands like Losprophets, Funeral for a Friend and Bullet For My Valentine on the scene, as well as Cardiff indie rockers Kids in Glass Houses on the up, it seems there is no stopping Welsh talent.

But it's not all rock, Welsh drum n bass DJ High Contrast (who knew he was Welsh!?) is also becoming largely successful in the UK Chart scene.

As well as classical veterans Charlotte Church, Bryn Terfel and Welsh sweetheart Katherine Jenkins, it seems that we really do have a talented bunch of musicians in our midst.

And while the style of musicians such as High Contrast and Goldie Lookin' Chain do differ somewhat to the classic Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, and Duffy there is no denying that Wales has continued to churn out talent over the past fifty years.

Let's hope that this continues and that the Welsh hills will still be alive with the sound of music (pardon the pun) in decades to come!

Thanks for reading my brief history of Welsh music. Think I missed anything major out? Let me know below!

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