“The journey through both discs of this compilation is a fascinating one, as it’s not often a band decides to highlight their early work in such a transparent way, particularly if their work is as amateurish as some of the tracks on here…”
Datblygu | 1982-1984: The Early Tapes
Datblygu, formed in 1982 by two school friends and inspired by the likes of The Fall and anything else coming out of their radios on John Peel’s show, are known as one of the most influential Welsh language bands of all time. With an obnoxious disregard for Welsh traditions (musical or otherwise) they developed an increasingly idiosyncratic sound that relied heavily on discordant improvisation and cheap equipment, which was then overlaid with vocalist David R. Edward’s seemingly anti-everything stance. The group’s lifestyle became increasingly shambolic as more members were recruited and drug use and alcoholism began dictating the band until they split in 1996 after David R. Edward’s second nervous breakdown of that decade. Through their career they defied expectation and ambition, and refused to be tied to a single genre. They tested the waters for many Welsh bands to follow, including Super Furry Animals, although no one seemed to swim as far out as Datblygu.
This compilation, however, does not present the later years of Datblygu, instead it represents a sort of hybrid of the band through a series of limited edition and lo-fi cassettes released during the initial two years of the group before they made their first jump to vinyl. Through two discs, released to coincidence with the second part of a documentary about the band, we witness them transform from snide school boys droning synthesisers and banging on anything they can for percussion to a far more mature, but no less dislocate sound. Their passion for what they are doing is obvious throughout and even from the beginning Edwards had a knack of entrancing listeners who didn’t necessarily understand all, if any, of the language (myself included).
Early songs like ‘Ble Mae Ymenyddion Defaid y Disgo?’ and ‘Problem Yw Bywyd’ are fascinating in both their budget naivety and also their ambition. Datblygu from the beginning were clearly trying to do something that was unmistakably different from everything happening around them, not just to stand out but also because they wanted to see how far they could push their anti-Welsh establishment standpoint in music (notably the band name means ‘Development’ after Edward’s mother, it’s revealed in the album’s sleeve notes, said their initial work was “a development on anything [she’d] heard in Welsh before”).
As the compilation moves on to its second disc the band become more and more self-assured in what they’re doing and begin developing a type of music that would become their hallmark. Instead of tightening the loose ends as most bands would do, Datblygu seemed to enjoy making things looser, which also meant noisier. By the last cassette on the disc the band had enlisted Patricia Morgan on bass and purchased a drum machine, finally cementing their sound into what most of fans of the band would recognise.
The journey through both discs of this compilation is a fascinating one, as it’s not often a band decides to highlight their early work in such a transparent way, particularly if their work is as amateurish as some of the tracks on here. However, I can’t help but think that most of the songs here would not appeal to anyone other than the more hardcore fans of the band. Therefore for anyone interested in the group, they’d be better off tracking down other releases (particularly The BBC Peel Sessions 1987 – 1993 compilation, which is one of the best of that type of albums available) and then perhaps returning to this compilation, as I think they’d find the music on here more rewarding that way around.