David R Edwards – affectionately known as Dave Datblygu – has been arguably the most influential figure in Welsh counter-culture for the last forty-odd years. His sad passing this week, at the age of 56, has evoked an outpouring of tributes. Here, Wales Arts Review, brings together the memories and eulogies of those who knew him, played with him, met him, and admired him from afar, including Gwenno, Elis James, Huw Stephens and many others.
Gwenno, musical artist
Like Doris Lessing’s great quote about books finding you, much the same can be said about music too. For an artist who painted the most vivid picture of what it was to grow up in Wales during the 1980s and 1990s, I’m pained to say that Datblygu were a band who first appeared in my life in my early twenties when a new century had dawned, and it was not a moment too soon. What David R Edwards’ words gave me, perfectly complemented by Pat Morgan’s deliciously pointed music, was an urgency with which to confront why I was, and that I existed at all at a time when I felt at my most invisible.
To be able to articulate the truth about your community and your society as well as yourself takes real genius, but to make the listener feel like it is their own catalyst for the change that they have always dreamed of becoming is nothing short of a miracle, and a measure of art at its most powerful.
We mourn not only a great artist and a generous and kind-hearted soul, but one of us, a part of our community, where every single person matters, their work so integral to our own and our sense of self-worth. Like so many musicians making music in Wales today I owe a great deal to David R Edwards and his sharp wit and cutting commentary, and it was a huge honour for Rhys, Garmon and I to put on Datblygu for their first gig in twenty years as headliners of our Gwŷl CAM 2015 at Wales Millennium Centre. All 500 of us audience there that day were as nervous as the band themselves, and as they came on to the stage to play their set of a perfect fifteen minutes I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to witness such overwhelming intimacy and love between performer and crowd. It was a very special day, to get to celebrate our heroes in the now. Diolch i ti Pat am greu y tirwedd sain i David gael rhannu ei enaid, a diolch i ti Dave am fynegi’r gwir ar ein rhan.
Elis James, comedian
One of the many advantages of bilingualism is that it doubles the amount of languages you can enjoy music in. But only one lyricist has ever made me gasp with awe. David R Edwards.
Dave’s way with words was absolutely extraordinary, and twenty-five years after I first discovered his music, his songs still make me marvel. He was a cultural commentator, really, and with a different background and a different life he could have ended up on late night television, lifting a BBC2 review show into must watch territory by hurling invective at the other panellists who deep down know he’s right. Prior to discovering his music I had never heard anyone criticise Welsh-language popular culture in Welsh. I’d heard it criticised by monoglot English speakers, of course, in a chip creating exercise for my narrow adolescent shoulders, but never by anyone with a background like mine, who chose to express these doubts and observations about Wales, in Welsh.
Dave had a prodigious knack for articulating the nascent issues I had with the country I grew up in as a teenager into coherent arguments, and all expressed with a snarling delivery that was utterly thrilling. There was a tendency for the alternative scene’s political bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s to stray into piousness, but love songs such as Y Teimlad displayed a humanity that many of his peers lacked. The sheer depth of his intellect also meant that his political work never stooped to adolescent sloganeering, each song was a perfectly realised manifesto. They should be taught at school.
It’s difficult to quantify charisma of course, but Dave could have powered the national grid with it. I would like to thank Dave, and Pat, of course, for the music of Datblygu. Because it changed my life.
Gwenllian Anthony, Adwaith
It’s hard to put into words how important Dave has been to myself, Adwaith and to Welsh music as a whole. His powerful and truthful words about growing up in Wales and specifically West Wales have been a source of light for many people. He made living in Wales bearable.
Datblygu has always been there for us. His words are as relevant now as they were thirty years ago. There are not many artists or bands I can think of that have created songs that stand the test of time. Decade after decade. His words and their music are timeless and forever relevant. I can safely say we would have never started making music if it wasn’t for Datblygu. They’ve directly and indirectly influenced us in our music, in our lyrics and in our attitude.
Choosing a favourite song of theirs is a very difficult task. ‘Casserole Efeilliaid’ was the first song I ever heard and it has been one of my favourites ever since. Then you have ‘Can i Gymru’ which is just lyrically genius (not that his other songs aren’t) but somehow this really struck a chord with me.
He has always been so supportive of our music. From doing our first set of demos with Pat, to our debut album. He’s always been there. I’m going to miss bumping into him in Carmarthen (usually in or around the Tangled Parrot). I’m going to miss chatting to him. He was always a breath of fresh air to talk to. Caring, supportive and wise but also direct and sometimes brutal. Every time, he would say, ‘keep putting your middle finger up to the Welsh music scene’ and I keep those moments very close to my heart.
Clare Marie Bailey, photographer
I first saw Datblygu in 2016 at All Tomorrow’s Party curated by Stewart Lee in Prestatyn. I was hypnotised by David’s off-kilter stage presence, complete with a Lidl carrier bag. At that time, I was working on an arts conference in Caernarfon and thought David would make an interesting guest, so my colleague Jasmine and I made contact by letter. David wrote back with a wonderfully lyrical, handwritten letter full of cryptic allusions headed up ‘Derby Day!!!’. He explained that ‘long journeys are concepts I attempt to avoid’ and suggested instead that we go to him in Carmarthen. We exchanged more letters where he spoke about his time at primary school, the education system, how his appendix burst at fifteen, the 1980s and Thatcherism. He said, ‘Mrs Thatcher said that there was no such thing as society — only individuals. She was right, I’m an individual, I refuse to conform’.
We set a date to meet. David’s formidable reputation for being outspoken and acerbic meant I was anxious about how he would be. When he opened the door with a generous ‘Hia Cariad’, I was at ease. He was as warm and welcoming a person as you could hope to meet. Totally unpretentious, humble, and thoroughly engaging; I liked him immensely. I was struck by how sensitive and gentle he appeared and how he seemed both ahead of time and outside of time — charmingly unbothered by current obsessions like the internet. About the video for the song, ‘Ugain I Un’, he said: ‘I believe it’s available for viewing on modern technology’.
I took some pictures, and he liked my vintage cameras, commenting that audio recordings are like ‘photographs in sound’. He had the gravitas of someone who had lived intensely, advising that, ‘there are two problems with money: too much or too little; I’ve experienced both’. He advocated living simply and in his own way: ‘the best thing I’ve ever done was throw my wristwatch in the river and sell my Ford sierra for cash’. As he went through his treasured vinyl collection, he pulled out Frank Sinatra’s, ‘My Way’, a favourite of his. I said, that’s you David, you’ve done it all your own way. He smiled.
He wrote several more times and he made a long journey to Bangor. I remember a true individual, utterly authentic who was so warm and giving towards me. He didn’t have to be, but he was.
Matt Gray, The Darling Buds
For two decades in Newport our small but perfectly formed punk rock and indie scene revolved around two things: Rockaway Records, the indoor market stall run by Simon Phillips, and his very adjacent gig promoting arm, Cheap Sweaty Fun. He got all the cool records we were after, then when those same bands came around, he made sure he got them to play here. It worked very well. Gigs were way more of a scarcity then than they are now and each one was, in its own way, to us, a major event and unlike these days bills were deliberately and stubbornly eclectic. Thanks to Simon, CSF was a broad church and opened the minds of most of us nominally blinkered, hardcore punkers.
Around 1985, records started arriving in the shop through the post via a local contact, by Welsh speaking bands with, to us, unpronounceable names. This was a complete culture shock. Newport, despite being for a long time, due to geography, a very multilingual place, had very little exposure to the actual Welsh language.
And so, we were suddenly hip to groups with names like Yr Anhrefn, Elfyn Presli and Traddodiad Ofnus.
Particular favourites were David Edwards and Pat Morgan’s duo group, Datblygu. They had a cool awkwardness, opting for minimalist drum machine beats and simple repetitive keyboard or bass riffs, which was the perfect backdrop for David’s singing. If ever there was a way of expressing a language as music and poetry, purely by its basic sounds, David did it in spades.
January 1985, with their label mates Yr Anhrefn, they inevitably travelled South East to play in Newport. Playing on the floor in front of the stage at the pokey labour club which played regular host to these events, both stood hunched over their instruments, choosing to leave their long overcoats on. They looked like they weren’t stopping, but it was as cool as hell, and at times almost scary. We had no idea what he was singing about but whatever it was, he blydi meant it and it was mesmerising. From ranty monotone poetry through to almost nursery rhyme melodies we laughed, got angry and cried in all the right places, all just down to the wealth of tone and expression in David’s voice. To us, the words in and of themselves meant nothing, but still they meant everything.
Ani Glass, musical artist
When someone has been so influential, no matter what path they have taken on any given walk of life, it can be easy to forget the person behind the persona. But Dave was of course a son, a partner, and a friend to many, and so first and foremost our thoughts must be with those closest to him at this difficult time. And sadly, often enough it takes someone’s passing for us to truly appreciate a person’s contribution, but I’m not quite sure whether it is true in this case. Dave’s work alongside Pat as part of the group Datblygu — his unwavering words challenging mainstream mediocre Wales — changed the cultural landscape of this country forever. Together, they helped to steer Welsh-language left-field popular culture off the beaten track, and took us to a more honest, if not a darker place at times, but always with wit and humour — and for that we are all indebted. Diolch i ti Dave.
Huw Stephens, DJ and presenter
David’s words had the power to stay with you for a lifetime. When you listen to Datblygu, you have to let yourself go completely, let David’s words wash around in your head for a while, for them to make sense. His deep west Wales dialect was unlike anything I’d heard before, and some of his phrases have stuck with me my entire life. Yet some of his lyrics cut straight through, and some not only make me smile but laugh out loud when I hear them now. The song ‘Am’ is a good example. Upbeat and positive in its musicality, it slags off so much about Wales, even turning in on itself in the duration of the song. It opens with the line, ‘Am y geiriau crap fel Cnapan’ (For the crap words like Cnapan). A line so inherently Welsh, so depressing and so dry, it’s a wake up call that says; strap yourself in, I have a lot to say in the next three minutes.
Dave’s legacy is immense. He breathed new life into a Welsh scene that was at times too small, insular and reliant on cliches, even amongst the alternative world. Peel’s patronage of him brought him cult status; yet the reality was he was too much for the Welsh establishment, too honest, too critical and too non-conformist. That’s why he was ignored for so long.
That was also what made him so special of course. His recorded work with Datblygu and volumes of poetry, from the earliest recordings right up until the final album, capture an evolving (the clue is in the name Datblygu I guess), challenging, very clever kind of art.
I met him a handful of times when I interviewed him for BBC Radio Cymru, filmed him for the film Anorac, and chatted to him onstage at the Llandeilo Literature Festival. He was a sweet, caring man, who would tell me about his love for the music of crooner Jim Reeves, new bands like Adwaith and shows he enjoyed on the radio. His greatest gift I think was honesty. He wrote about the mundanity of life, and in it there was a real beauty. His refusal to play by anyone’s rules made Datblygu a real one off. We’ve lost a very special man.
Fflur Dafydd, novelist and screenwriter
I remember thinking my mum was pretty cool when she came back late one night with a Datblygu record signed by Dave R Edwards as payment for a lift home. He’d signed it: ‘I Menna, mae dy lygaid fel jems’ (For Menna, your eyes are like gems). It was such a passionate dedication that I thought they must be having an affair, but I later realised Dave saw traits in people that went unnoticed by others (especially their moody teenage daughters).
Growing up in West Wales, I was somehow always aware of the great Dave R Edwards. Many of us recall him as an enigmatic wild-haired trainee teacher who paced back and forth in the classroom in his long dark coat, and when we later discovered him performing at a gig, we were stunned that a man who shied away from asserting authority had such a commanding presence on stage. We had never heard such acerbic, laconic lyrics before, and we were enthralled and inspired by his rage against the ennui of Welsh cultural life.
In recent years, I often saw him walking up and down Priory Street in Carmarthen, where my daughters attended a nursery group. Having always been too starstruck to approach, I eventually plucked up the courage to say hello and to tell him how much Datblygu had meant to me as a young woman and musician. He was truly appreciative, and we had a fascinating conversation about his track ‘Nos da Sgum’, which contains some of my all time favourite lyrics of his: ‘it was like watching snooker on a black and white television’, a nod to his trainee teacher days. As I listen to that same track again now, I feel thankful that Dave R. Edwards showed us all how to adjust the picture; not to settle for the dull monochrome, but to strive for splendid technicolour, always.
David Wrench, Audiobooks
Growing up in Wales as a teenager in the 1980s could be a confusing time. Much like it is now, the country and culture was under attack from the Conservatives. I went to a Welsh-language school, where the prevailing notions of Welshness revolved around Eisteddfods, Cerdd Dant, Clog Dancing, Rugby, and a whole load of other stuff that I just didn’t have any interest in. I wanted a culture I could identify with, and this certainly wasn’t it. I pretty much stopped speaking Welsh because I didn’t think it held any cultural value to me personally.
But then I heard John Peel play Datblygu. It was a revelation. Here was someone making cutting edge art and putting into words how it felt to be an outsider in Wales. All told in the most beautiful poetic language. Finally some culture in the Welsh language that spoke to me. I started speaking Welsh again, and even started singing in Welsh.
I moved school and my Physics teacher was Gorwel Owen, who both produced and released the Datblygu albums at that time. He gave me some copies of their records. I must have played Pyst a thousand times. It is one of the greatest records of that era in any language. A masterpiece. The same goes for Wyau and Libertino. Three utterly incredible albums. They deserve to be regarded the world over as classics. Recent Datblygu releases have been amazing too. Great voices like David R Edwards’ transcend language. I can listen to L’Histoire de Melody Nelson and appreciate its majesty without speaking French, and when I play Datblygu to non-Welsh speakers (which I often do) they nearly always get it. He was the real deal, you can hear it in his delivery.
On the few occasions I met Dave, he was warm and funny and generous of spirit. When he personally asked that I remix ‘Maes E’ I was so honoured and nervous. I was terrified pressing ‘send’ in case he didn’t like it. I was so hugely relieved when he loved it.
Dave’s passing is a huge loss to music, and to Wales. If Welsh culture is to thrive, it needs people like Dave who challenge the popular notions of Welshness, who criticise the establishment and who stir things up.
I have no doubt that David R Edwards’ legacy will grow and grow. My thoughts are with those who he was close to.
Siân Harries, comedian and writer
I still remember where I was when I first heard ‘Can i Gymru’ by Datblygu. Elis James and I had gone on one of our weird late night drives to Castell Coch and he told me he had something I had to listen to. The minute those notes clanged from the cassette, I just sat there laughing with delight after every line. Because I’d never heard anything like it: this person was critiquing Welsh-language culture through the medium of Welsh — my Cardiganshire Welsh — and was doing so in a way which was both accurately scathing and hilarious. I immediately made El put it on again. And again. By the time we got home I was an avid fan.
Dave’s lyrics are as exhilarating as watching someone smack a tyrant in the mouth. ‘Can i Gymru’ lets rip into a certain group of middle class privileged Welsh speakers who hold influential roles within Welsh culture and a snobby, exclusive attitude towards those they don’t deem ‘properly Welsh’. As a first language Welsh speaker who attended Welsh medium schools and performed in every Eisteddfod and Gwyl Cerdd Dant going, even I’d been subjected to this cultural gatekeeping and his lyrics spoke to me on a level I didn’t know was possible. He was using the Welsh I personally knew and loved — poetic, visual, funny, beautifully informal — to slate those who believed it was theirs alone.
No other song has had this effect on me since. Dave’s style of writing influenced my comedy in that it made me also want to be brave and make truthful, funny observations and I know his influence reached beyond Wales too — the first time I met Stewart Lee, we spent an hour in a London pub corner discussing Dave Datblygu. I’ll still play his songs when I need to bolster myself with courage to speak out and use humour to punch up against the establishment. What a talent he was. A true Welsh poet.
Ynyr Morgan Ifan, Rogue Jones
You could argue that making music in the Welsh language is counter-culture in itself, so to be counter-culture within that counter-culture is quite a thing.
We as Welsh speakers tend to be reluctant to judge and criticise our institutions and traditions because we’re all aware of the fight that went into establishing a lot of them. But I think the fact that he was brave enough to be the challenging voice that pointed out our hypocrisy and made fun of us has made the language and our culture so much richer and more robust.
I had a wonderful chance encounter with Dave about two years ago. I’d recently moved from Cardiff back to Carmarthenshire and was having some doubts about whether we’d done the right thing, leaving all the wonderful musical, artistic and cultural elements of the capital behind (although, I assume by now these have all been demolished and turned into luxury flats). I was on the bus into town to work when on the outskirts of Pen-bre, on came this lumbering figure with rattling plastic bags. I offered my seat so he could stretch out a bit and started chatting.
No one has ever enjoyed the X11 Llanelli to Carmarthen more than I did that day. We chatted music, football, politics, and he was kind, funny and opinionated, completely clued-up about the current scene (avid listener to Rhys Mwyn’s amazing Monday night show) raved about Adwaith, slagged-off a few others and after digging up the confidence to reveal I was in a band I was delighted and relieved that Rogue Jones were on his good list. We sat on the bench by the bus station and had a coffee before finally going our separate ways. I was never happier to be so late for work.
Since then, I have always kept an eye out for him as I pass that bus stop. A guardian angel in a The Fall t-shirt carrying a plastic bag of bottles. And I think he will become that figure even more now that he’s gone — the guiding light for Welsh alternative artists. His work (with Pat and Wyn) has almost become a shorthand for the Alternative Wales — look at the bands, labels and online platforms named after their songs and albums. And I realised recently that the TV series I direct for S4C, Curadur, essentially has Dave as an imaginary and unwitting Executive Producer. His spirit of rebellion, bravery, humour and willingness to highlight injustice were there through Datblygu’s entire discography; those last two albums are incredible — angry, beautiful, contemplative and hilarious. The way he spits ‘Paid bod fel Robat Arwyn — Ych a fi!’ has me in stitches every time.
I hope he knew how much he means to us.
Henry Widdicombe, founder of the Machynlleth Comedy Festival
As someone who came to Wales as an eighteen-year-old student and stayed, at forty-one I still feel hugely unqualified, and like it’s not my place, to talk about Datblygu. But what I can say is that to this day it still feels like I’ve been let into a wonderful secret. A world of music that I wouldn’t have accessed had I not ended up here, mixing with the people I have. Datblygu have on more than one occasion been almost a byword for me knowing I’d like someone. To have them come up in conversation and my Welsh friend have a flame of excitement in their eyes as they talk passionately of their love for them would often be all I’d need to understand we were on the same wavelength. Being a non-Welsh speaker there was an additional layer of discovery to the music too. To hear ‘Can i Gymru’ I could recognise certain words and get the gist of what it was about, but to really understand it as the withering state of the nation address took an extra layer of work. To enjoy a song, only for that enjoyment to be enhanced further when you learn what it is actually about is not a common experience, but feels absolutely entwined with my experiences of listening to Datblygu. I know Datblygu will always belong to my friends more than me, but that’s okay. I’m just pleased to have been let into the gig and allowed to stand at the back.
Nerys Williams, poet
For David R Edwards – ‘The last Communist in Europe – (too Skint to go to Cuba)’
Unlike many writing eulogies for David R Edwards, I never met ‘Dave’ Datblygu. In my mind he always retained the formal R. of his middle name, resonating with The Fall’s Mark ‘E.’ Smith. The music he created with Pat Morgan and T. Wyn Davies has literally travelled with me. From West Wales to Stirling, Brighton, Berkeley, Dublin and now Kells, the cassettes and albums have always been carefully packed ready for their next home. I remain a Datblyguevangelist. Dave’s mordant and black humoured lyrics taught me to love my first language. ‘Here, listen to this,’ I urge my friends, ‘this is a Welsh-language genius’.
It is no secret that Datblygu first found their followers outside of Wales. As a teenager from 1987 onwards I attended gigs where many of the Welsh-speaking audience did not get Datblygu. The adulation of Dave in Wales has been very much a belated affair. I am certain David R Edwards would curl his lips with bemusement at any overt hagiography.
I first encountered Dave’s lyrics as an insert in the compilation EP Dyma’r Rysait which was an Artists For Animals compilation. The profits of this record were used to produce Welsh animal rights literature. Half of my family were dairy farmers and as a vegetarian, anti-vivisectionist, anti-foxhunting teenager, I could sometimes feel a little out on a limb. The iconoclastic nature of the lyrics were immediately clear to my sixteen-year-old self. Datblygu’s vignette on this EP Brechdanau Tywod, (Sand Sandwiches) detailed a schoolteacher’s boast about eating snails and frogs in Brittany. The song linked Welsh idiom to creativity, not atrophy. Welsh dialect became wry play. Dave refuted any sense of right or ‘proper’ Welsh. For him the language was a vivid playground full of errors and aberrations- not to be belittled as ‘bratiaith’ (or second-rate Welsh). This was liberatory.
I have followed Datblygu reverentially through their albums Wyau, Pyst, Libertino, Porwr Trallod, more recently Cwm Gwagle. It is important to reflect on the collaborative impetus to Dave’s compositions. Working with Tŷ Gwydr and Llwybr Llaethog his aphoristic lyrics and pointed social critiques became wedded with ambient, dub and dance music.
Eventually Wales caught up with Datblygu. Wales recognised them as avant garde trailblazers. We might know David R Edwards now as a prophetic shaman with a wicked sense of humour. He saw Welsh ‘parch’ or culture of conservatism for what it is.
For me whenever I hear ‘Kristion yn y Kibbutz’ I will be transported back to Dec 1987. HTV are experimenting with a Welsh-language version of The Tube, a short-lived programme called StÎd. The television studio is full of post-industrial objects. We have been bussed up from Carmarthen. I catch a look of incredulity on the floor manager’s face as the synth starts playing discordantly. Dave ignores the audience of kids mooching around and concentrates on his lyrics, Pat strums the guitar and T. Wyn Davies makes the keyboard keen. Pure bliss.
Esyllt Sears, comedian
I was going to open this tribute to David R Edwards by apologising that I came to Datblygu quite late. But in fact, listening back to their music today, I realised that this was never really the case.
I thought it was because, from the late ’80s and beyond, I was living the life that they poke fun at in Cân i Gymru — the harp lessons and the private tuition and using bilingual plates as a learner driver and having a good degree in Welsh — all the things we thought were massively anti-establishment (i.e. the English establishment) at the time, but which became part of a cosy Welsh establishment instead.
In fact, one of my ear worms to this day is ‘Santa a Barbara’. It reminds me of my first ever boyfriend. We both shared a massive love of Welsh-language bands and I vividly remember being super tuned in to the scene in order to impress him. He probably wouldn’t remember but we both had the compilation CD, Ap Elvis (1993) which included tracks by Ffa Coffi Pawb (who later became Super Furries), Catatonia (who were unknown outside Wales at that point), and Gorky’s. I bought it because of these bands but the first track on there is by Datblygu and it never failed to hit me between the eyes.
Ironically enough, all the bands I thought were trailblazers at the time were massively influenced by Datblygu. So, whether you think you’re a Datblygu fan or not, if you enjoy Welsh popular music, by default, you already are.
Dave’s voice is unmistakable and can transport you back to key moments in your life, but it’s his poetic ability to question what we accept as the norm in Wales which transcends. We don’t question or poke fun at Welsh culture, Welsh expectations or Welsh rituals enough and we really should. It is thanks to Dave that I often take that leap.
Peredur ap Gwynedd, Pendulum
It was an honour to play with Datblygu back in the nineties. I remember the thrill I got when Dave, one of my heroes, asked me to play in the band. Those are some of the best gigs I’ve ever played. No gig was ever exactly the same, with Dave leading and conducting us from beginning to end.
The first time we played together was for a John Peel session at the BBC studios in Maida Vale. I remember walking into the studio, and looking up at the plaque on the wall above the control room window: ‘Bing Crosby made his last ever recording in this studio in October 1977’. Cool! I think we recorded four songs in total, and when the time came to mix, the engineer asked how we wanted to mix it, Dave told him: ‘be creative’. By the look on his face, I don’t think he’d been asked to be creative before, he seemed to enjoy himself anyway. When the session got played on the radio, I remember feeling so happy. I was on John Peel’s show at last. All because of Dave.
I was also lucky enough to play Datblygu’s last gig before Dave’s long hiatus. The band consisted of Dave, myself, my brother Rheinallt on bass, and Aled Richards from Catatonia was on drums. We hadn’t rehearsed, Aled had never played with us before, so we improvised the whole set. Imagine a cross between Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine and Led Zeppelin. We even went into ‘Kashmir’ at one point, while Dave, lying on his back, spat out his lyrics. It was one of the most intense, most amazing, craziest gigs I’ve ever played. All because of Dave.
Honour, privilege, thrilling. The three words that come to mind when remembering playing with Dave. We’ve lost a genius, the dearest of men, one of the greatest.
I never got a chance to thank him.
Ifor ap Glyn, National Poet of Wales
I don’t remember my first meeting with Dave, but I do remember introducing him to Pat. It was 1983 — or maybe ’84? — and I sang with an obscure indy band. One night we had a gig in Clwb Ifor Bach and Pat Morgan turned up with a friend. We got talking, and when the bar closed they came back to our flat; we drank more and listened to music. I had a copy of Datblygu’s first cassette; Pat loved it and wanted to know more about the band. As it happened they were the support at our next gig, the following night, in the Llwyngwair hotel in Trefdraeth. Pat asked if she could hitch a lift in our van to the gig. Of course! And the following evening I introduced her to David. The rest, as they say, is history, and that’s my small footnote in it, as Pat went on to become a crucial collaborator in so much of what Datblygu achieved.
Fast forward to 2016, and my last meeting with Dave. We’d both been booked for a literary festival in Aberteifi. I went to listen to Dave taking part in a panel discussion about songwriting, with Richard Jones and Lowri Evans. He still gripped the mike in his fist and held it tight to his mouth so none of the words escaped. We spoke afterwards and the years fell away. He gripped my hand and surprised me by not releasing it until we finished speaking. He’d just got his flat in Caerfyrddin. We talked about doing something together, twenty-five years after the release of ‘Maes E’. He thanked me for introducing him to Pat.
There’s a wonderfully savage proverb in Welsh — ‘a fynno glod, bid farw’ (whosoever seeks praise -die first). It’s a warped humour which David would have appreciated, because although his influence as a songwriter and musician has been recognised, he never had his due as a poet. On his last album, Cwm Gwagle, he was still a master of surreal wordplay (‘bwrw Julius Ceser’) and still spilling out wonderful images like ‘penne clwc o wacter’. He tapped deep into the imaginative resources of the Welsh language, but with a searing originality, as he critiqued Welsh society and the world beyond. We needed you. I just wish we’d said it more often.
In 2014, David R Edwards, along with Datblygu bandmate Patricia Morgan, spoke to Sarah King in a revealing interview. You can read the whole interview here.
You can read Simon Tucker’s tribute here.
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