The controversy started in the August 21 issue of NME when Boris, a reader from Telford had a letter published in Angst! that expressed his unease at attending Stereophonics‘ Morfa Stadium gig in Swansea on July 31. He had, he wrote, felt intimidated by a crowd who, in his opinion, had been incited by the band to hate the English. The gig, he said, “bordered on fascism”.
While Boris considered it understandable that the Welsh were proud of their nationality, he wrote that the constant chanting of “Wales” throughout the day, singing a song “slagging off the English” and showing clips of Wales beating England at rugby “hardly does anything for Anglo-Welsh relations”.
The editor of Angst that week, NME Live Editor James Oldham, opined: “There’s a thin line between patriotism and nationalism, and the moment you start waving a national flag around you’re in danger of tripping over it.”
He also pointed out that race-related attacks in South Wales had risen dramatically of late, so such rabble-rousing was not necessarily in the best of taste.
The debate was instantly picked up by the media, with The Western Mail, Wales’ main local paper, BBC Radio Wales and national Radio 5 Live running stories on it.
The Western Mail immediately took umbrage against what it considered NME‘s anti-Welsh stance. In its August 28 issue, it pilloried NME and exclaimed: “Apparently it is not OK for the Welsh to be too vocal about their Welshness… Instead we should be more tolerant of our impartial, totally non-partisan neighbours… And we should rise above the fact that verbal Taffy-bashing is still such a popular pastime over the bridge.”
Elsewhere in the article, Dafydd Morgan Lewis of the Welsh language group Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg, said: “As far as I can see, these bands (Stereophonics and other compatriots such as Manic Street Preachers) are just displaying what every Welsh person feels – that they are proud to be Welsh.”
As NME went to press last week, Stereophonics had failed to comment on the situation. Constant calls to their press office have led to no communication whatsoever from the band, although a spokesperson took it upon themselves to speculate on their behalf.
The song Kelly Jones performed at Morfa – ‘As Long As We Beat The English’ – was used as part of an advertising campaign in Wales in the run-up to the Wales Vs England rugby showdown.
Whatever the Stereophonics‘ motives, the flag-waving and singing of anti-English songs at Morfa has sparked a huge reaction, as can be seen in this week’s Angst page.
NME contacted other Welsh bands for their opinion. Megan Childs, from Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, defended the ‘Phonics and said she didn’t believe their celebration of Welshness had spilled too far over into nationalism.
Tom Jones, who has recently worked with Stereophonics for his ‘Reload’ duets album, was concerned that pride in being Welsh could be misconstrued as xenophobia.
Super Furry Animals, who are planning to record a Welsh language album later this year, have a more negative view of their homeland. In an interview last month, Huw ‘Bunf’ Bunford, who now lives in London, said: “I really don’t give a shit about Wales. It’s totally irrelevant to me.”
Drummer Dafydd Ieuan went one step further and said he hated all the flag-waving. “They see it as like: ‘Let’s suck each other’s dicks, we’re the Welsh, we’re so great!’ It’s no different from that Britpop attitude. It’s not good BECAUSE it’s Welsh.”
Gruff Rhys was keen to add, however, that cultural pride in itself was not a problem. “It’s like when Nicky Wire puts a flag on his amp,” he said. “That’s out of cultural pride and it’s a very sincere thing.” However, he continued: “It’s also really funny because it’s never been considered cool, the Welsh flag, (so) it’s a totally ridiculous gesture.” He continued: “We’re next door to England, you know, and I like England. It’s a fucking inspiring country, and to deny yourself that is ridiculous.”
Catatonia, who headlined last Friday’s Pilton Village Fete (September 3), took the opportunity to make their stand clear.
“So what’s all this about Welsh nationalism?” Cerys asked the crowd. “I’m no nationalist. I just say eat British beef and you’ll be OK!!”
The Manics, who once claimed they were borne out of a “culture of alienation and despair”, refused to comment.
Get tickets for Stereophonics‘s UK shows only now through the nme.com Virgin Cola Ticketshop – click here
Or call the 24-Hour NME Virgin Cola Ticketline on 0870 1 663 663. Calls are charged at national standard rate.