Louder Than War’s Ioan Humphreys interviews cult Welsh band Datblygu the week their astonishing new album Porwr Trallod is released (Ankstmusik Records).
Below is a truncated interview with Pat Morgan and David Edwards of the band Datblygu conducted on 05/12/15. Over the course of over an hour we discussed issues including the air strikes on Syria, David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Kurt Cobain, the issues surrounding teaching and speaking the Welsh language, popular music and my 13-year-old daughter’s taste in music.
You could not meet a nicer couple of people with an artistic integrity and an intense love of their art. It was a pleasure. x
LTW: Thank you so much again for letting us interview you. For the uninitiated into the world of Datblygu, could you please give a potted history of where you came from?
David: We formed in 1982 with my school chum Wyn Davies. Pat joined in 1984 so we were a threesome for about 10 years with guest appearances from people along the way, but it has always been Pat and Me. We released a series of cassettes to begin with, then some compilation LPs on Anren. This got some attention from John Peel in the late 80s and things snowballed from there. We did 5 Peel sessions and he would always play 3 or 4 songs from each album. Very handy for the time!
Pat: You had done two cassettes and through a mutual friend of ours, I started getting an interest in Welsh music and I listened to a cassette (of Datblygu) and…. Davids voice! It just made a connection… to a point that there was no looking back. That was it. Like a road to Damascus thing. It sort of changed my life really!
LTW: This has happened to lots of people!
Pat: There is David from Cardigan with THE VOICE and the words and the whole delivery and the way… it sounded like nothing else I had ever heard. So I just had to make contact.
David: Wyn asked her to join the group then.
Pat: I played the bass guitar already in a bondage band (laughs) in Brecon!
David: And we told her, just turn up and plug in and play you know? Here are our songs and it just developed from there.
LTW: What is behind the name Develop (Datblygu)?
David: Well Datblygu means Progress, Evolution and Development all in one word, see? When Wyn and I started off we didn’t have much equipment. No drum kits or fancy equipment, but what we did have was a 4 track tape recorder. The old porta studio. So we would potch around, borrow instruments and then my dad bought me an organ when I passed my O-levels and Wyn got a drum machine and a synthesizer and that is how we started. And I played these demos to my mother and she said, “Well that’s a development from what I have heard from the Welsh language before… it’s completely different… so why don’t you call yourselves Datblygu?” So that’s what we did. It was my mum that came up with the name.
LTW: Brilliant. So shoot forward to 2013 if that is okay, as this is when, I am ashamed to say, I first heard of you!
Pat: Don’t be ashamed (laughs)!
LTW: I got friendly with the guys who run Tangled Parrot in Carmarthen and I saw pictures of you David, perhaps on your own – I can’t remember, on Facebook playing an in store gig for Record Store Day?
David: We were both there. Oh I think I probably read some lyrics out or something? Something like that.
LTW: Yes. So I went away and researched Datblygu, listened to your music and thought, what have I just missed? So you came out with Erbyn Hyn (‘By Now’) in 2014 after. Why 20 years?
David: Well I had been ill. I had been busy for years up and up until 1996, just when all the cool Cymru thing was taking off with Super Furry Animals being in the charts, who were influenced by us, and I just went a bit crazy I suppose and…
Pat: Have you seen the cover of Erbyn Hyn? (Pat looks for album in piles of CDs) This is just to show you what it was like being in Datblygu then.
David: (showing LTW the Erbyn Hyn CD cover with a photograph of a very young David running and looking quite crazed!) That’s me in 1993 with Gorkys Zygotic Munci and we were playing in London and when we got there I thought this was cool.
Pat: It was a St David’s Day celebration type of thing.
David: Once we got on stage, my microphone wouldn’t work so I decided to have a word with the… (sound engineer).
Pat: Have a word!? Someone started taking photos.
David: I was trying to strangle him.
Pat: Did you actually put your hands around his throat?
David: No. He managed to get away. But security carried me away from the premises after one song.
Pat: We were on stage at the time, you know, playing the song, and David was outside and they wouldn’t let him back in! But that what was he was like in those days. It was wild and not easy going.
David: And in ’96 I got sectioned under the mental health act. And I was in and out of hospital then for a period of about 15 or 16 years. Then gradually things got better and I got back on my feet again and back in the studio to do some stuff, you know?
LTW: So I couldn’t make CAM15 last year. Tell me – what was playing live like?
Pat: Oh it was great. It was exciting. It was a risk because… we don’t have a lot of technology when we play. I had a CASIO organ that I bought in a junk shop and I didn’t know if it was going to hold up for the whole performance! And the synths, and I bought a new drum machine. So it was those three main things and a piano.
LTW: So you felt quite exposed?
Pat: Yes, exposed. David had to concentrate on the lyrics and getting the song out.
LTW: And you have the lyrics on a stand in front of you?
David: Yes, most of them, some of them I had memorized the older ones. The newer ones – I couldn’t be bothered, so I read out them on the lectern.
PAT: And I had to do everything else!
The gig was a triumph where the duo played tracks from their new release, as well as selected tracks from their back catalogue, in particular some rarer stuff from their Peel Sessions for hardcore fans.
David: We have to make it interesting for ourselves to make it interesting for other people I think.
LTW: Very much like The Fall do isn’t it? They never play a greatest hits set. It is always stuff from their newest album.
David: Yes absolutely. That is the only way to be I think.
LTW: So Porwr Trallod then. You have great reviews with Buzz magazine giving you 5 out of 5 and LTW giving you 9.5 out of 10. You must be happy with the response so far?
Pat: Oh God yes.
Pat: And actually it’s the first time since actually recording something I am able to listen to again without thinking, “I would change that”, you know? So this time, it is complete, it’s done and we are happy with it.
LTW: It does feel like a compete album to be honest.
David: It is like a painting really – that’s all it is. But with music and lyrics.
LTW: Your voices are as much an instrument as the electronic instruments you use.
Pat: Yes, and they are mature voices. Full of experience, history and life.
LTW: So, Stewart Lee and ATP. How was that and how did it come about?
David: Pat is sorting that out.
Pat: I will have to do the music! We don’t do loops, as in play a few bars and repeat, repeat, repeat, as that is too easy so we like to take a few risks. So part of the excitement is the risk, and a lot of it is composing and playing and recording first time with David, and it’s down.
LTW: So these will have to be re-created pretty carefully then?
Pat: David is pretty good with the audience to be fair! (laughs) He knows how to handle an audience which makes it a hell of a lot easier for me. All I have to do really is keep the whole thing going as a platform for his lyrics.
David: Well it’s a long trek to Prestatyn and I don’t like travelling much. We’ve played all over England and Wales, but we have never been on tour as such.
LTW: Well, is this the start (of a new tour)?
David: No. No. No. We limit ourselves to one, maximum of two a year. We’ve turned down half a dozen proposals this year. Clubs in Brighton, London. They sound quite interesting! Preston, we would like to visit obviously, but it would take the fun out of it…
Pat: It’s a lot of stress on you.
David: I am more relaxed nowadays than I was years ago. I used to get hammered with drugs and alcohol before I went on stage in order to face the audience. I was so frightened of myself and their reaction. But now, in CAM15 I had a little brandy and water on stage with me and sipped it. I wasn’t drunk or anything. Touring – if I had to play the same songs night after night to audiences it would kill it for me and I think that is why some rock and pop groups have such a short life span, and we have been going for nearly 34 years you know?
LTW: Now I don’t want to compare you to anybody, but with Young Marble Giants, you are coming from the same minimalist, DIY stable?
David: Yes, Alison Stratten and the Moxham brothers.
Pat: Yes, their sound!
LTW: I see you coming from that stripped sown, vulnerable, not-much-going-onstage sort of way? And again, playing one gig a year?
David: People make the effort then to turn up and concentrate.
LTW: Again, I don’t want to compare you alongside acts, but at the moment, Sleaford Mods and Ghostpoet are producing politically charged spoken word work like yourselves. And John Cooper Clarke is around at the moment. Is this a good time for your genre of communication? And the way that you both deliver it. Your bile? You spit some of the lyrics out.
David: Well I ‘mean it them man’, you know? John Lydon, you know? It’s not a fake performance. People ask me is there a difference between Dave Edwards and Dave Datblygu, you know? As if Dave Datblygu was some sort of on stage persona like Alice Cooper, you know? (Laughs)
Pat: No he doesn’t keep a snake.
David: And I don’t play golf.
We had a long discussion about recording track and ideas on phones, bouncing back ideas etc and bringing them to the studio. This lo-fi way of constructing ideas and songs works perfectly for them, but they still bring them together in a ‘proper’ recording studio and mix the way the band want.
David: A bit of lo-fi and a bit of hi fi! My lyrics fitted perfectly with your piano, you know?
LTW: You don’t write together?
Pat: No, it’s a sort of telepathy. We don’t have to be together to make it work.
LTW: Just to come back to influences a little and who influenced you in the past – I get the Velvet Underground a bit.
David: Not a big fan of Velvet Underground, but Pat is. Certainly John Cale on ‘The Gift’. It’s the Welsh accent
LTW: Who is influencing you now?
Pat: I don’t think we use other people’s sounds or anything to make what we do, as we do our own thing and it has to sound like Datblygu, and that is a different genre altogether!
LTW: I agree!
David: The last record I bought was a Frank Sinatra CD last week, but we don’t sound like Frank Sinatra.
We chatted for ages on influences, politics, bands, my family, TV and basically anything and everything to do with music, life and what makes bands tick. The Fall. The reluctance to tour (they will maybe play Cardiff within the next 4 years!) I also mentioned that Stewart Lee apologised profusely to me via email for not having the time to ask them his own questions. They brushed it off. Everything is absolutely on their own terms and that is so refreshingly a good thing. We said our goodbyes and Pat’s parting words to me were, “Welcome to the world of Datblygu”. Do you know what? I can’t think of a better place to be at the moment to be honest!
Datblygu will perform live at the writer/comedian Stewart Lee curated ATP Festival which is taking place on the 15th – 17th April 2016.
All words by Ioan Humphreys. More writing by Ioan Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.