Mike Parker's new book about English attitudes to Wales and the Welsh sounds like a good read. In his own words "Neighbours From Hell? (published by Y Lolfa) is a 60,000-word rant about English attitudes to Wales and the Welsh."
Mike will be reading part of the rant at Waterstone's in The Hayes, Cardiff at 7.30pm next Thursday, 15th February.
Rhys Mwyn has an awesome track record in Welsh music - a founder, with his brother Sion Sebon, of pioneering punk band Anhrefn, promoting Welsh-language music with John Peel, touring Europe as part of an underground anarcho-punk network, discovering Catatonia's first manager and still here 20 years later promoting Welsh music at the grassroots.
But he's also a self-confessed stroppy big-mouth who has managed to wind up most of the people who admire him, let alone those that don't.
His autobiography Cam o'r Tywyllwch (A step from the darkness") is a typically uncompromising rant against the establishment - in particular the safe, conservative Welsh establishment and the fake radicals who effortlessly moved from youthful direct action to middle-aged comfort in the corridors of power.
Rhys admits his purpose was to be a thorn in their side and they will take no comfort from this book - he ends with a calls to (metaphorical) arms: "To create, you have to destroy".
As well as being the same age and sharing some of the same politics (he's an anarchist, I'm a socialist) we like a lot of the same music and DIY attitude that sparked the punk revolution. Significantly, Rhys was an outsider from the Welsh scene partly because he came from Maldwyn, a rural border county, rather than the language heartlands of Gwynedd or Dyfed. His horizons, as a result, are a lot wider than many in the Sîn Roc Gymraeg (Welsh rock scene) and they were to be extended by his politics.
For someone who lived through the same period, organised gigs (mainly fundraisers that never raised any funds) and knew some of the bands, it's a glorious nostalgic romp.
From the unlikely setting of a ex-Hawkwind band member's studio in deepest Powys came the seminal "Cam o'r Tywyllwch" compilation that launched Y Cyrff, Datblygu and Gruff Rhys on the world... it was a great record with a fanzine-style paper sleeve. Cheap but not nasty. And, as Rhys himself says, "No Cam o'r tywyllwch, no Catatonia, no Super Furries."
This was to be a dawn of a great golden age that would later spawn English-language crossovers that "made it big" - something Rhys has mixed feelings about as someone passionate about the Welsh language but equally passionate about breaking out of the cosy ghetto. Anhrefn toured the world but never compromised by singing in English.
Throughout the book, he refers to himself as a catalyst - the spark that makes things happen. He tracks John Peel down to a bar and gives him a record. Two days later, Peel is playing tracks from that LP and it sparks a long-standing relationship between Peel and Dave Datblygu, one of the brightest and most original stars that shone in that particular scene.
But Rhys was never one to rest on his laurels. He consciously understands the need for permanent revolution in the music industry and is furious with the musicians of the 'golden age' of Welsh rock from the 70s who did nothing to promote the future generations of music that would supercede them.
Rhys is generous in his praise of bands like Maffia Mr Huws - the first full-time Welsh-language band who gigged across Wales and laid the foundations for Anhrefn's epic journeys. But don't cross him. He bears a grudge and the book opens with a furious attack on the farmers' boys who made his schooldays a misery with their bullying. Never forgive, never forget as those who have a "fatwa" (his word) declared against them will testify.
But, for all the tough-guy image, he's genuinely chuffed when Catatonia (with whom he'd fallen out after being frozen out) sent him a platinum disk. But that motormouth is soon back in action - and to be honest his grievances against the rest of the world start to pall towards the end. A book by all the people mentioned here (both those he loves and loathes) would make for interesting reading!
The Powys punk has come a long way and counts Jamie Reid and Margi Clarke among his best friends but he's still on the lookout for the next big thing. A great read - and it got me thinking where the Welsh music scene and indeed the Welsh language would be without this cultural activist constantly kicking against the tresses.
Ian Bone was once described as "the most dangerous man in Britain" by the Sunday Times. It's the kind of stupid headline that made the anarchist founder of Class War jump for joy.
His autobiography - a romp through his glory years both as the driving force behind Swansea's Alarm newspaper and later Class War - reveals a more complex man who understands what makes the media tick and how to outrage the establishment.
I met Bone, or Ieuan ab Asgwrn he was then calling himself, at a Welsh socialist republican gig in Swansea back in 1981. He was selling massive "I slept with Lady Diana" badges, which went down a storm due to the media hype surrounding the Royal Wedding. Not for the first time, he captured a mood with wit and good timing. Turns out Bone was closer to the truth than the establishment on that one.
He was right about the corrupt Swansea Taffia too, who he relentlessly exposed in his weekly Alarm news-sheet. This grassroots paper spawned a movement that contested elections and unseated Labour from power in the city, allowing an equally corrupt bunch of Ratepayers to take over - Bone was delighted to expose them as well.
Although rooted in anarchism, Bone's willingness to contest elections and reach beyond the usual ghetto of the left with some fantastic stunts marked him out.
The chapter about his time in Wales reveals his support for Welsh republicanism, although he's contemptuous of the comic-book Free Wales Army. His admiration for Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru and John Jenkins was also genuine - he realised that these working-class republicans were tapping into a real mood in Wales for change.
Bone's upbringing as the son of a butler and maid gave him a pretty unique insight into the class divide - as a kid he met the rich and famous but his father, from Scottish mining stock, was never broken by the ruling class who expected him to bow and scrape at every turn.
Bone's use of comic-book style phrases ("Bash the rich" being one of them) and his conscious mockery of the rich as "Toffs" come from a different era that is more Beano than iPod, but it struck a chord.
I wish he'd written more about his time in the WSRM - a disparate (and often desperate) alliance of socialists, republicans and anarchists - but this is just a chapter in a very rich political life.
Bone would love you to beg, steal or borrow this book. Even today he probably qualifies as "the most dangerous grandad in Britain".
Wonder where that Lady Di badge got to?
The poetry collective known as Red Poets has just published its 12th collection of radical rhymes and rants. As usual they range from the familiar voices of Alun Rees, Tim Richards and Patrick Jones to the first-time contributions of Ellie Evans, Fiona Owen and Lorraine Parker. The 29 poets represent a wide range of styles, views and localities but all share a common concern outlined by editor Mike Jenkins in his spirited socialist republican introduction - against privilege, for equality and democracy.
Contributions from Herbert Williams and Ray Humphreys - among others - leaven the political with some satire while Emily Hinshelwood's intense This Patient Stone is worthy of several re-visits. Alun Hughes, a poet in his own right, contributes two sharp translations of Marin's Workers and Brecht's A bookish worker's questions.
The ongoing war against terror in Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever next continues to seep across the pages, a stain that Blair cannot erase no matter how many times he washes his hands of it. The stark back cover quote says it all - "Terrorism is the war of the poor. War is the terrorism of the rich."
The Red Poets - who often perform their poetry live and tend to go for the immediate and striking messages of the day - reflect the changing political landscape. Jack Hirschman's anger at the scandal of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans turns into a call for political change.
Interestingly, the deep blue scars of the coal industry's legacy continues to interest Phil Carradice and Alun Rees.
Alan Perry's Elegy for a chip-shop owner rings so true - down to the novel way Italian families (even in Wales) put their loved one's pictures on their gravestones. It's a sad, charming tale of community and personal loss.
Red Poets 12 is available by sending £5 to Red Poets, PO Box 661, Wrecsam, LL11 1QU
Alun Rees is one of Wales's leading poets and a down-to-earth Welsh socialist to boot.
His collected works, Yesterday's Tomorrow, is a collection of his finest political poetry dating over 40 years. It's full of wit and anger, raging against the system and mocking politicians and bosses. His Merthyr upbringing shines through much of his writing. Here's the title poem:
When I grew up in the people's republic of Merthyr
we'd point out the communists in the street
and pity them for their political moderation.
As for the Tories, they were a protected species,
for they knew not what they did,
supporting the party of millionaires in a town
where the seriously rich were those with two pairs of shoes.
When I grew up in the people's republic of Merthyr
it was always the eve of tomorrow. Today was grim,
but yesterday had been grimmer, and we knew
that somewhere ahead there was a tomorrow
where things would be as they should be.
When I grew up in the people's republic of Merthyr
the schools had books and pencils and things, and the libraries
were full of dreams and visions. Everyone was scheduled
to do better than his dad. We had
the greatest football team in the universe, and above all
we had hope, we had hope, we had hope.
It was always the eve of tomorrow, and the forecast was fine.
But when does tomorrow come? Maybe tomorrow.
Contact Seren for details of how to get a copy of the book, which is published by Lolfa's Dinas imprint for only £3.95.
"Mae Rhywun Yn Gwybod" - Alwyn Gruffydd (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, £3.99)
Wales was a very dark place in 1979. The double whammy of Thatcher's election victory and the rejection of devolution seemed to mark the end of the social democratic consensus that had existed since 1945 and the inevitability of more national self-government, no matter how limited.
This electoral defeat prompted extra-parliamentary forces to come into their own in Wales. Miners and steelworkers went on strike, anti-nuclear demonstrators blocked roads and held mass rallies, Cymdeithas yr iaith was at its height and there were regular demos and street protests. But resistance to Thatcher and the British state also took the form of direct action, as Alwyn Gruffydd chronicles in his short succinct book in Welsh.
Between December 1979 and December 1991 there were 228 attacks on holiday homes, political and economic targets in Wales by various groups including Meibion Glyndwr and the Workers' Army for a Welsh Republic.
The latter has already been the subject of a fascinating and well-researched companion to this new title - "Achos y Bomiau Bach" by Ioan Gruffudd that looks in detail at the political landscape in the early 80s and in particular at the Welsh Socialist Republican Movement.
This book deals more specifically with the Meibion Glyndwr arson campaign and the trial that saw Sion Aubrey Roberts become the only person to be convicted for his part in the campaign. The trial also saw the end of the campaign but many other campaigners were never caught. The title comes from a comment by a policeman investigating the attacks at the time - "Someone somewhere knows something".
Gruffydd was a journalist at the time of the attacks and the first half of his book is little more than a cuttings review. It lacks the sense of perspective that, for example, "Achos y Bomiau Bach" achieved but also the sense of drama and excitement of the time.
Gruffydd perceptively points out that, from the outset, this was not an anti-English campaign. Holiday homes belonging to Welsh people and Welsh speakers were burned down too, because the message was that nobody should own two houses when some people in Wales didn't have a roof above their heads. That problem remains as bad as it ever was today.
The bizarre arrest of well-known actor and singer Bryn Fon - after a device was planted at his home - probably encapsulated the police's Keystone Kops approach to the whole matter. The "device" was found after a tip-off in a wall on his small holding and brought into the house for examination! The whole incident left the police highly embarrassed and raised questions about the involvement of the secret services in investigating the arson campaign. There was even a suggestion that MI5 had attempted to embarrass the local Special Branch in a turf war because it was desperate to maintain its grip on "domestic" subversives.
Eventually the police arrested three men and they were charged with conspiracy to cause explosions. Gruffydd was in court for the entire 40-day trial of Sion and his fellow defendants - Stwmp and Dewi Prysor. The latter were acquitted and all were found not guilty of conspiracy. Sion was given a 12-year sentence for possession of explosives and sending explosive devices in the post. He was released in 1997 and freely admitted his part in the arson campaign.
It was an historic trial in that MI5, for the first time, gave evidence in open court - albeit behind a screen. The truth about the secret state's involvement in the arson campaign may never be known, although the new Freedom of Information Act could open a few doors to probing journalists. What is clear, however, is that political activists were subjected to massive state surveillance and the entire Welsh-language community was placed under suspicion. That community responded in kind - with passive support for the arsonists. A HTV opinion poll found that 69% of Welsh speakers supported Meibion Glyndwr's aims - a figure that rose to 85% in Dwyfor, the most radical of nationalist hotspots and the area bearing the brunt of the second-home problem in Wales.
Disappointingly, Gruffydd only touches on the cultural references to the arson campaign - rock and folk songs and contemporary poems in Welsh regularly mentioned the campaign in glowing (sic) terms.
The vote for devolution in 1997 and a Tory-free Wales in the same year's General Election saw a political bookmark to the 1979 double whammy. It's doubtful the arson campaign did anything to achieve such a result, although it certainly highlighted the Welsh housing crisis and heightened national identity among some.