Sarah Hill travelled to Waffle Coffee Shop in Canton, Cardiff to witness an exhibition celebrating one of Wales’ most influential pop acts, Datblygu.
It’s difficult to think of another Welsh band with the same kind of following as Datblygu. Formed in Cardigan in 1982 by poet David R. Edwards and T. Wyn Davies, then joined in 1984 by multi-instrumentalist/composer Patricia Morgan, Datblygu became the most influential band of the decade, if not the history of Welsh pop.
An exhibition celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Datblygu is well-deserved; that the exhibition was the idea of Waffle owner Victoria Morgan, sister of Datblygu member Pat, gives it an added dimension that a museum couldn’t offer. Rather than putting Datblygu – and the idea of independent, underground Welsh pop – under glass, this is very much a community exhibition. With the help of her sister’s considerable archive, Victoria recently started dotting the walls of Waffle with albums, cassettes, and singles; press releases, postcards and pictures. Waffle is not a large space, but one can imagine the walls covered floor to ceiling with ephemera before summer’s end, largely due to the devotion of Datblygu’s fans, many of whom have been offering to supplement the exhibition with items from their own collections. A community effort indeed.
And this is the point about Datblygu. Dave Edwards’ lyrics uncovered a shared generational feeling of disillusionment and hopelessness caused in no small part by the Thatcherite machinery. Edwards’ place on the margins of Welsh society, and at the outer edge of Wales, gave him a vantage point from which to declaim his poetry, straight into the belly of the beast. And needless to say, Datblygu had a strained relationship with the Welsh establishment. But John Peel loved them. On the Waffle walls are the rather endearing postcards he sent to Dave Edwards, as well as the hand-written track-by-track guide to pronunciation and meaning that Edwards sent Peel as PR for their album, Pyst (1990).
Sitting in Waffle for a late breakfast en famille last week I got a sense from Victoria that she hadn’t expected the kind of response her exhibition has had. Within a week of starting the Datblygu Trideg Facebook page she had over 300 friends, not all of them Welsh-speaking, and not all of them in Wales. In fact, the Facebook page acts as a kind of exhibition annexe, with pictures recently posted of Datblygu ‘tags’ around Cardiff – lyrics on lamp posts, Edwards’ picture on a phone box by the Admiral Napier on Cowbridge Road East. But the real deal is to sit in the café under the benign gaze of Dave Edwards, Datblygu video clips playing in the background, and educating a much younger generation of Welsh-speakers, such as my two daughters, as they eat their sausages on toast, about their cultural heritage and the power of popular music to affect change and inspire hope.