Super Furry Animals, “The International Language of Screaming” Libraries gave us power Then work came and made us free What price now For a shallow piece of dignity? (Manic Street Preachers, “A Design for Life”) Though there was this evolution within the Welsh borders, the change was not really felt outside of the country and the general view of Wales and it’s people remained that of the stereotypical ‘Rugga Bugga Miner’ On a Britain-wide scale, there was resurgence in cultural definition, spearheaded through the entertainment industries.
A series of successful films, musicians, actors and models from the British Isles kick-started a populist movement in once again being proud of the country that you live in. For the rest of the 1990s ‘Britpop’, ‘Britart’, ‘Britfilm’ and ‘Britfood’ was used to define the leading edge of popular culture and taste. However “Cool Britannia” as was to become branded and known, really didn’t cover the whole of the UK, as few Welsh, Scots or Irish people were associated with it. To them it was an English phenomenon that didn’t cross borders. The occurrence of Cool Britannia was seized by the recently elected “New Labour” government in 1997.
They held a reception in Downing Street for Tony Blair to meet ambassadors of the movement and to show how cool the government was. For Wales it held no real interest, it was just another centralised English thing. Wales was not represented by any of the guests and failed to really be a part of proceedings. By now there was a real campaign for Wales to be realised as a separate entity with its own needs and agenda that couldn’t really be truly represented from the centralised government in London. The failed campaign of the seventies for devolution was resurrected and finally realised after a vote in 1998.
It was this that gave the country new hope and was backed up by the mirroring of the Cool Britannia phenomenon. Wales was suddenly thrust under the media spotlight and there were many people ready to show what they were about. Emissaries such as the Manic Street Preachers and Catatonia who had been on the music scene in the UK for years were rediscovered and with their heightened success, proclaimed pride at their heritage, kick-starting a positive young cultural movement. As with Cool Britannia it was not just the musicians who epitomised the change.
Successful Welsh people in the spotlight of every vocation came together to show solidarity under the welsh flag, even those who had long since deserted the homeland suddenly found renewed pride in their culture. Catherine Zeta Jones was just one of the community held up as a national symbol, for being young, extremely successful and internationally recognisable. With this new national pride in all things Welsh, the media jumped on the bandwagon and proclaimed the wonder “Cwl Cymru” (Cool Cymru). The greatest figureheads for the early Cool Cymru movement were probably the bands that emerged at the time.
Their achievement is magnified when you consider the past 50 years of popular music. Prior to this time there had been a number of Welsh success stories but they are spread thinly over the 50 years. With the advent of Cool Cymru there were suddenly a significant number of great bands that were not only appearing but regularly topping them. Through these bands the Cool Cymru phenomenon found it’s early focus. Nowadays, with the advent of the lottery and its charitable funding, there has been afforded more ambitious plans for welsh theatre.
This has culminated with the i?? 6. 3 million construction of a new theatre development in Newport. Obviously we have heard of the more famous actors who have transgressed to Hollywood but it is also to some extent down to Cool Cymru that other actors who may otherwise have stayed as Welsh stars have taken the step into the global spotlight. For example Rhys Ifans, who came to prominence through Twin Town, part of the early success that led up to Cool Cymru and Ioan Griffydds who found fame on the UK wide television networks. So how profound have the changes been?
To look at how profound the change of image is, that Wales has gone through I have talked to people from outside the country to get an idea of how they perceive Wales. “When you consider the lasting affects of Cool Cymru on the image of Wales and Welsh culture now, it is as a completely different place to the preconceptions that I had while growing up. As a resident of the conservative south east of England, my view of Wales was built up through television. Before I came here for a holiday in the mid 90’s my expectations were of all the men as miners and all the women as wearing funny costumes.
This is laughable now to look back on, but it was the image I had grown from the information I was fed. ” “This image changed somewhat after a short holiday, however I stayed in the countryside and missed much of the real Wales. With the advent of Cool Cymru, we in the Southeast, were suddenly shown that there was more to the little country than previously thought. Now when you ask people down there about Wales they will invariably talk about the bands or actors coming from the country, rather than grinning and saying it’s full of ‘sheep shaggers’. Now if that’s not a real turn about face then I don’t know what is.
” (Interview with Karen Haseldine 04/03/03, Resident of Kent, England) So, when you consider Wales now, it is a very different country to the one that it was ten or even five years ago. With the advent of Cool Cymru, people’s perceptions of the country have changed immeasurably, gone are the negative stereotypes which have been replaced with a positive and strong identity. Cool Cymru was really transmitted across the world with the staging of the rugby world cup at Cardiff. Television pictures beamed from Cardiff to billions of homes across the world raised the profile of Wales to all the rugby playing nations.
It truly distinguished a difference between England and Wales which outside nations were previously unaware of. I conducted an interview with an American citizen to find out how Wales is seen abroad and although it is only the opinion of one person from overseas, some of the responses highlight exactly how different the perception of Wales has become on an international scale. “What’s your first memory of Wales? ” the American view of Wales? ” “Well… Americans are almost unaware of Wales as separate entity… they used to believe that it was akin to a county of England.
But they did recognise Scotland and Ireland as separate” “Has this view changed at all? ” “Well, we started getting a few bands over there and obviously we had Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta Jones, they started talking about Wales and we realised it was a different country to England. Most Americans were surprised that Wales has it’s own language, even though many Americans are of Welsh decent. Now though Cool Cymru has made Americans “proud” to be Welsh… and much more Welsh history is now becoming available. ” (Interview with Tom Roberts 04/03/03. Resident of California, USA.
) Cool Cymru changed a view of Wales that had been built up along the theories of ‘scapes’ (Appadurai, 1990). This has been developed to represent modern technical advances through the idea of ‘Mediascapes’ (Smart, 1993). This theory is the idea that the transmission of a product to outside its origin territory carries with it an imagined version of that territory for the recipient. Often this new version of place is quite different from the reality. With this theory it is easy to see how Wales became to be seen from the outside world differently to the internal reality.
In contradiction, one of the main contributors to Cool Cymru has been the success of welsh popular music on a global scale. Theorists have investigated relationships between places, their music and ethnic identities. They have tended to make a link between the musicians, audience and their relationship with places (see Shank, 1994, Stokes, 1994, Mitchell, 1996 and Bennett, 2000). So in the case of Cool Cymru there is the assumption that the music of the movement and the way it sounds is directly related to the way the musicians and audience perceive Wales.
However it can also have the opposite affect that the music can influence the audience into ways of perceiving Wales. I would also argue that this is true, not only of music but literature, theatre, film and most other ‘artistic packages’, This is a very basic way of describing how a cultural identity can be defined and expressed to an audience. With this basic premise you can start to understand how extreme a change was bought about in the recognition of Welsh culture. If, as this idea states, music can define a culture, then it shows that prior to Cool Cymru there was a very different type of product coming out of Wales.
For the stereotypical image of Wales to endure for so long, there was a real lack of representational and definitive artistic packages exported from Wales. The packages that were exported did not reach a large enough audience to dispel the myths or otherwise champion a less stereotypical image. Conclusion It is safe to say then that the affect of Cool Cymru has been far reaching. Now you have to ask, ‘Will this new identity last? ‘ and ‘is it pure marketing rhetoric or is a tangible thing that exists in the lives of Welsh people? ‘
Well initially you have to look at similar revolutions across the globe. The nearest to the Cool Cymru phenomenon (geographically and symbolically) has to be Cool Britannia, and it’s lasting effect on the English people. While only a few years older than its Welsh counterpart, Cool Britannia has become almost a negative term for ‘Bad Britannia’. “‘Cool Britannia’ was quickly co-joined with images of ‘uncool Britannia’ and more alarmingly rudely upended by ‘cruel Britannia’, ‘crumbling Britannia’, ‘rip-off Britannia’, ‘racist Britannia’ and ‘xenophobic Britannia'” (Eugene McLaughlin).
This was though, partly a result of the increased participation in expressing the image by the government. Although the name became tainted, much of what Cool Britannia was about is still seen a traits of the English identity. Abroad the old image of the stiff upper lip and starchy businessman has been somewhat deposed and replaced with a more cosmopolitan air. It is still early enough for Cool Cymru to not have become tainted, although there are some signs of it happening soon. New Welsh bands are starting to reject the tag of Cool Cymru and wish to make a name for themselves separate from what they see as an outdated label.
They have come through the era and see themselves as the new generation, not tied down by the earlier representation of Wales. They have the benefit of the original barrier of being Welsh having been crushed, but they now have a new barrier of escaping a ‘Cool’ clichi??. So what can we conclude from the ‘Cool Cymru’? It is extremely doubtful that any one ‘art package’ can make sense of, symbolise and coherently represent, the multi-layered contrasting forces that have reconstructed national and local images.
Multiple mixed up, crude, splintered identities and preconceived identifications have been thought into existence at every level of global society. In the process they have produced and performed new ways of belonging. Future generations will decide whether the term ‘Cool Cymru’ has outlived its usefulness as a source of not just national, but self-identity.
They say it’s called Cool Cymru But that is their buzzword We’ve always been cool in Cymru, Now they know. (Joseph Conaghan’s poem: Cool Cymru)
Bibliography Appadurai, A: Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.Bennet, A: Music Media and Urban Mythscapes: A Study of the ‘Canterbury Sound’; Media Culture and Society Vol. 24: p87-100 Bennett, A: Popular Music and Youth Culture: Music, Identity and Place. (2000) Eyerman, R and Jamison, A: Social Movements and Cultural Transformation: Popular Music in the 1960’s; Media Culture and Society Vol. 17, p449-468 Llewellyn, M: Welsh – the Language of Rock Mitchell, T: Popular Music and Local Identity: Rock, Pop and Rap in Europe and Oceania. (1996) Morgan, P: My Patio’s on Fire Morris, N: Projecting Wales.
Shank, B: Dissonant Identities: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Scene in Austin Texas. (1994) Stokes, M: Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. (1994) Webliography (all websites active 20/03/2003) Wales History Timeline: http://www. britannia. com/celtic/wales/timeline. html Welsh Culture ; Traditions: http://www. britannia. com/wales/culture1. html Joseph Conaghan: Cool Cymru: http://www. josephconaghan. co. uk/coolcymru. html Eugene McLaughlin, REBRANDING BRITAIN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ‘COOL BRITANNIA’: http://www. open2. net/newbrit/pages/features/features_mclaughlin6. htm.