Dennis Rees: Publisher and pioneer of the Welsh record industry

Dennis Rees played a major role in the recording of Welsh popular music and the publishing of Welsh books at a crucial point in their histories – the 1960s, when political pressure was being brought to bear on local and central government by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh language society) and Plaid Cymru. As the call for devolved governance gathered pace, there was a blossoming in the country's cultural life which urgently required new forms of expression. The vinyl record joined the book and periodical as a medium for young Welsh-speakers impatient with the bearded orthodoxies of their elders and they found a sympathetic ally in Dennis Rees.

At the time, Rees was employed by Alun Talfan Davies QC as managing director of Llyfrau'r Dryw ("Wren books"), publisher of the influential monthly magazine Barn ("Opinion") and a plethora of books in the Welsh language on which the health of the country's literature largely relied. He was also in charge of Recordiau'r Dryw ("Wren records"), the company's other arm. For this reason, Rees was jocularly known as "Den the Wren", a sobriquet in which he delighted in his usual genial manner. A former cinema manager and employee of the Rank Organisation, he was an astute businessman but had cultural interests of his own that were now given full rein.

He also understood the niceties of the publishing industry, and the even more complex processes of publishing books in the Welsh language, though I always had the impression his heart was really in the production of vinyl records for the popular market. He excelled in spotting and encouraging young musicians and bringing them to the company's recording studios in Alexandra Road, Swansea.

Always well turned out, he cut a trim, wholesome figure in the company of the trendy, not to say hippy musicians whom he was keen to record for the Dryw label. Although old enough to be the father of most of them, he was always respected, and liked, for his open mind and willingness to keep abreast of the new. If some of the youngsters thought they knew all about making records because they had read the NME, he would take them aside and put them right in his quiet way.

Undoubtedly the most important singer to be discovered by Rees was my near-namesake Meic Stevens. Not the easiest artiste to have to deal with, Stevens nevertheless gave the company some of his best performances. Among the songs Stevens recorded were "Câ* Walter" (Walter's song), "Mwg" (Smoke) and "Yr Eryr a'r Golomen" (The eagle and the dove), and they remain among the all-time classics of Welsh popular music, beloved of audiences of all ages. Original copies of his LP Gwymon (Seaweed) are known to have changed hands for hundreds of pounds.

Among other singers who signed up to the Dryw label were Endaf Emlyn, Y Diliau and Hogia'r Wyddfa. With Stevens came Heather Jones and Geraint Jarman and so Rees began to build up a catalogue that represented the best of the Welsh pop scene between 1962 and 1972. Rees also recorded live performances of the comedy duo Ryan and Ronnie which are some of the funniest acts ever staged in Welsh. One of his marketing ploys was to hire Swansea's Brangwyn Hall to promote his company's records in front of invited audiences who then undertook to buy the records as they appeared.

But by the mid-1970s a new record company had arrived on the Welsh pop scene, namely Sain, run by the singers and language activists Dafydd Iwan and Huw Jones (recently appointed Chairman of S4C). For a while Recordiau'r Dryw struggled to bring out spoken-word records about the history and literature of Wales, but soon afterwards gave up its Swansea studios. Sain bought its catalogue and has dominated the industry ever since.

Rees went back to being a publisher of books and periodicals, including my magazine Poetry Wales. I dealt with him in my capacity as the Welsh Arts Council's literature director, always finding him jovial, straight-forward and willing to consider publishing books, with subsidy, that might not otherwise have come his way. He also played a prominent part in the affairs of Côr Meibion Dyfnant, the Dunvant Male Choir, and served as chairman of Dunvant Rugby Club. He was very much a man for whom the local was the real and his delight in the triumphs of both choir and club knew no bounds.

Meic Stephens

Dennis Charles Rees, publisher and promoter of Welsh pop music: born Llanelli, Carmarthenshire 25 January 1927; married 1952 Madge Lodwig (two daughters); died Swansea 9 July 2011.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine