Blwyddyn Y Blew
Blaze a trail
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the social phenomenon known as the ‘Summer of Love’, when thousands of young people converged on the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco on the west coast of America. 1967 was also the year that the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, whose cultural importance is reflected in the fact that Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number one on its list of the ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’. Both these landmarks have been celebrated this summer in magazines and on television, but it wasn’t only the Beatles that were breaking new ground in music, and social phenomenon wasn’t confined to the west coast of America, as Aberystwyth also got in on the act.
Student protests that would later be seen as important landmarks in changing cultural, social and political ideas in America and Western Europe had already become part of the Welsh way of life. Tynged yr Iaith (The Fate of the Language) Saunders Lewis’s radio lecture, had been broadcast in February 1962, had led to forming Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) in August the same year. In February 1963 the society’s first mass protest was held when students from Aberystwyth and Bangor stopped traffic on Trefechan Bridge, Aberystwyth, as a protest against monolingual English road signs. And in October 1965 40 students from Aberystwyth and Bangor were amongst 400 people at Tryweryn protesting against the drowning of the valley to supply unneeded water for Liverpool. The national and cultural awakening amongst the young people of Wales was gathering steam.
And on the west coast of Wales, the band Y Blew (The Hair) would make 1967 their year. Members of Y Blew were all students at Aberystwyth: Dafydd Evans (bass guitar), Richard Lloyd (lead guitar) and Geraint Evans (drums) were in the Law Department, and Maldwyn Pate (lead vocal) was in the Welsh Department. Later, to give the group a fuller sound, Dave Williams, another student at Aberystwyth, joined on keyboards). Dafydd Evans, who is the son of Gwynfor Evans, former President of Plaid Cymru, came to Aberystwyth in 1964 after spending two years at St Mary’s Medical School London, where he had been a member of a group, so it was no wonder that he was eager to form another group at Aberystwyth.
In the summer of 1966 Dafydd and Maldwyn Pate had formed a group called Y Pedeir Keink (The Four Branches [of the Mabinogion]) with three local schoolboys to play in a Plaid Cymru concert at the Aberafon National Eisteddfod. Although, according to Dafydd, the performance had been disappointing, he was still keen to form a Welsh language rock band and in January 1967 he and Maldwyn Pate decided to give it another try. This is how Dafydd Evans describes the beginnings:
‘Y Blew met for the first time on the 25th of January 1967 to create a Welsh language group. We were a bunch of students at Aberystwyth College, and the intention was to get a group together to play at the Welsh Rag Show at the College. After a lot of practice, the first performance was at the Rag Show on the 6th of February. The other students were full of praise, and were pressing us to carry on and do more.
‘As a result it was decided to have a contemporary dance after the Geltaidd annual dinner on Wednesday 1st March. We had to learn about twenty new songs a bit sharpish, and spent a lot of time practicing over the following three weeks.
‘The dance went remarkably well, and one of our most ardent supporters was the late dear Professor Llywelfryn Davies – the law Professor.’
Following these successes within the College, in April Robat Gruffudd, who had recently established Gwasg y Lolfa in Tal-y-bont, invited the group to play in the village. That night was also a success and the group decided to arrange a series of gigs across Wales.
But in addition to the music, the group’s image was also very important, and after a disappointingly old fashioned photograph was printed in Y Cymro, Dafydd asked his brother Alcwyn to come to Aberystwyth to take a number of publicity photographs. Some were taken on the beach and some inside the Old College building.
The first tour was held between 29th June and 21st July and they played at Cardiff, Llanymddyfri, Myddfai, Llandeilo, Aberaeron, Tal-y-bont, Glanllyn, Penrhyndeudraeth, Llanbryn-mair, Tregaron, Llansawel and Felindre. The second tour was arranged for August and Richard Lloyd was keen to add another member to the group giving it a fuller sound. They considered asking Hefin Elis and Geraint Griffiths, two who had played with Dafydd and Maldwyn in Y Pedeir Keink, but in the end they asked Dave Williams to join them. And with the National Eisteddfod, which was held at Bala in 1967, being such an important cultural event in August, Dafydd Evans had tried for months to arrange a gig but had failed, then almost at the last minute they were offered a slot at a session that would be held at the Literature Tent on the 8th of August.
Dafydd Evans Maldwyn Pate Richard Lloyd Geraint Evans
Copyright: Alcwyn Deiniol Evans, and used by kind permission.
Their tour continued after the Eisteddfod, and with only a fortnight’s break they embarked on their third tour that would take them into October. But half way through the tour, on Saturday 30th September, they went into the BBC studios in Swansea to record a record for Qualiton. Most of Y Blew’s repertoire were translations of current chart records, but ‘Maes B’, the A side of the single, was an original Welsh composition by Dave Williams and Maldwyn Pate that they had composed only the day before the recording. The song is typical of the psychedelia of the period – ‘the town clock striking thirteen’ – and the title ‘Maes B’ refers to the Field B camping ground for young people at the Bala National Eisteddfod. This is how Dafydd describes the recording session at Swansea:
‘We went through the new song once. It was so new that we had to read the chords from scraps of paper in front of us. To a great extent, then, the song was an improvisation on the part of everyone. We then went through the song once more and that was the recording.
‘I wanted to put additional vocals on the end of the song, but the others were against it, as we had to record the flip side and we had to be back at Aberystwyth by seven to arrange a dance that was to start at eight. In the end it was agreed to add the extra vocals…The second side was quickly recorded, then we loaded all the stuff into the van and headed back to Aber.’
The third tour ended in Aberystwyth on Saturday 7th October with a college dance at the Parish Hall. ‘Maes B’ was released on 12 November and before long it was played on Radio 1 (the new station had started on Saturday 30th September, the day that Y Blew recorded ‘Maes B’) and the DJ said about the Welsh song, ‘Do you think this gimmick will work?’
Dafydd Evans Maldwyn Pate Dave Williams Geraint Evans Richard Lloyd
(‘Maes B’ on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jboNxLeKCO8)
The group had intended to carry on and build on their success. A number of gigs were held before the end of term and Dafydd and Maldwyn discussed the possibility of recording an EP or even an LP. But sales of ‘Maes B’ had been disappointing and somehow the group lost momentum. In his 1968 diary for 1st January Dafydd wrote, ‘It’s obvious by the way, that Y Blew are now over. We’ve decided to sell all the equipment. The van is on the road outside. There’s a ticket on it as the tax has expired. I wonder how much the fine will be…’
1967 was Y Blew’s year; they spanned nearly the full twelve months and during that time made around 50 appearances in concerts, dances and on television. After graduating in 1968 the members went their separate ways: Maldwyn Pate went to New York where he worked as a choreographer for a number of years. Richard Lloyd’s interest in music continued and he joined the a capella group, The Flying Pickets, who had a number 1 Christmas hit in 1983 with ‘Only You’. He also worked as musical director for a number of shows and films. In 1987 he won a BAFTA for his work on Channel 4’s Porterhouse Blue which starred David Jason.
I was already living in Aberystwyth in 1967 but I didn’t see Y Blew play live, because all their gigs were College affairs and it would be another year or so before I started sneaking into Coll Hops at the Parish Hall. But I did buy ‘Maes B’ in Evered Davies’s photographic and music shop that was next door to my grandparents’ house in Pier Street. My grandmother was a typical Aberystwyth landlady of the time, offering B&B to the summer holidaymakers and keeping students for the rest of the year, and one of those students was Rick Lloyd. We were both big Bob Dylan fans – Blonde on Blonde had been released in 1966, a record that was every bit as influential as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – and I remember having a few chats with Rick about Dylan.
One musical footnote. Hefin Elis, who had been in Y Pedeir Keink with Dafydd Evans, came to Aberystwyth College at the end of the 1960s and threw himself into the musical life of the College forming the groups Y Nhw (Them) and Y Chwyldro (The Revolution) – two groups of which Meinir, Dafydd Evans’ sister was also a member. After leaving Aberystwyth, Hefin Elis formed the extremely successful Edward H. Dafis, a group that built on the foundations laid by Y Blew, fulfilling Dafydd Evans’s dream of having a Welsh language rock band.
Hanes Y Blew Cymdeithas yr Iaith. Rhanbarth Clwyd. 
Y Blew a Buddugoliaeth Gwynfor: dyddiadur 60au. Dafydd Evans. Y Lolfa, 2003.
Papurau’r grŵp pop ‘Y Blew’/Papers of the Welsh pop Group ‘Y Blew’ at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.