RECORDIAU CLUSTCWYR (effectively Earwax Records, though not to be confused with the Sheffield-based sister-label of that name) were a recording studio and record label based in Cwmann, near Lampeter, Wales. The studio was established by Dafydd Morgan in 1974 to capitalise on the captive student population of the nearby (and newly expanded) St David's University College. The ensuing music scene was the subject of Evan Paris's 2000 book The Locked Groove, the introduction of which is given below:
Regional music scenes vary wildly. While Manchester was producing speed-upping angry punk, its neighbours in Liverpool were getting into acid, and its neighbours on the other side, in Sheffield, were stealing their mothers’ make-up and buying synthesisers. Such variation on such a local scale continues even today despite our increasingly globalised world. Usually some of it rises to the surface, bubbling into our consciousness and influencing the bigger picture. Of the stuff that doesn’t, much might still hope to find an underground national following through niche programming and press. And then there’s the rest; the acts that never quite got there. That Peel didn’t get around to listening to. That the NME chose to ignore. For almost every musical scene in history there are the successes, the marginals and the failures. The nation knows of the Human League, the musically curious know of Cabaret Voltaire. Only the people around in Sheffield at the right time know of Hula.A modicum of fame is available for most scenes, but not all. Some may only ever hope of reaching cult notoriety. And occasionally there is some part of the country that fails to gain any attention at all. One such region is the subject of this book.Wales has had its share of attention over the years. Be it big vocal talents like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey, west-coast psyche-rock acts like Man, the underground successes of Datblygu and their ilk, or the Ankst-era psychedelia of ‘90s bands like the Gorkys and SFA (not to mention the immense success of recent dad-rockers The Stereophonics). Much of the talent to have reached the attention of the English ear filtered out through the north, through Liverpool labels like Probe Plus. Even the Ankst scene was profoundly northern, based around the Caernarfon Bay area. The other breeding ground for Welsh talent is to the south, in the cities: Swansea and Cardiff. Down here, the talent tends to filter out through the less scouted exit of Bristol.Wales is something of a natural fortress, and that which doesn’t seep out through the top or the bottom of the country is not going to get out at all.The university town of Lampeter is further from Swansea than Manchester is from either Liverpool or Sheffield, and as far from Ankst country as Manchester is. It was there, in the Teifi valley, that Dafydd Morgan set up Recordiau Clustcwyr, a record company that has had absolutely no commercial success outside of the Cardigan and Carmarthen area. Anthropologists take no end of excitement from finding an isolated community hidden deep in the rainforests and untouched by the rest of civilisation. Here, in the heart of Wales, is the musical equivalent: a microcosm so trapped in its valley that it has become inbred.
Clustcwyr's primary function was as a studio, but it also operated artist-paid pressing and a limited distribution model. Surprisingly few students engaged as far as the label side of the business, and the released material comes mostly from a network of inter-related artists operating in the Ceredigion/Carmarthenshire region. These artists were largely inherited from an earlier label: Tapioca Records, founded in 1959 but closed in 1974 following a suspicious fire at their isolated Joppa studio near Llanrhystud (15 miles away from Clustcwyr). Chief among the Tapioca acts were former Lampeter students turned art-rockers Et Cetera, and Caernarfon girl-band Cathy Carrow and the Cookie Crumbs. Any map of the Clustcwyr 'scene' starts with these two groups.
In the late '70s, the label gained a strong reputation (locally speaking) for their punk output, typified by Dirywio's legendary naked gig as part of their notorious 1978 "Anhrefn Yn Cymru" tour. Such antics, and Dirywio's stage-managed rivalry with label-mates The Seed (formed by an ex-Cookie Crumb), served to bring Clustcwyr to a wider attention. The label maintained this momentum through the early-'80s with the chic yet cynical pop-rock of bands like The Margarets and Helena's Box (effectively a decapitated Cookie Crumbs). The latter would be Clustcwyr's most successful act, and the one which came closest to breaking out, nearly being signed to Island Records in 1988 but breaking up instead.
Sophisticated grunge-rock emerged after this, provided first by The Angels of Death (formed from the ashes of Dirywio and The Seed), ex-students The Moisture Farmers, and later Rotten Fruit (made up of former members of The Margarets and Helena's Box). But distribution levels fell throughout the '90s, and the label was continually being propped up by the same faces under different names (The Angels of Death would later be Cyfeb and later still Diwydianfa, in spite of an at-the-time unchanging lineup (a post-Clustcwyr iteration of Diwydianfa (with none of the original members) would, of course, become infamous for other reasons)). Furthermore, home recording technology was slowly eroding the studio side of the operation.
From the mid-'90s onwards, the label shifted its focus to progressive folk acts such as Llefrith (another decapitation in the Cookie Crumbs / Helena's Box line) and Rhonwen Stephens (the last student on the label's books, and briefly also a member of Llefrith). The new direction was sufficient to aid a small revival in fortunes, and a number of prodigal acts returned to the label, not least Sheffield-based The Science Department (an Et Cetera spin-off). This loose collective of electronic musicians introduced other Sheffield-scene acts to the valley, not least Chesterfield duo MOSFET. In 2001, a sister label, Earwax Records, was founded by The Science Department in Sheffield, and this introduced a brief period of cultural exchange. In 2002 the two labels merged as part of a buy-out by ACNC Records to create RCE Records (Recordiau Clustcwyr / Earwax). In spite of the merger, the two labels retained their former identities, though many of the more experimental acts drifted to the Sheffield arm.
Following the buy-out, Dafydd Morgan emigrated to Mallorca. Gorwel Edwards, who had bankrolled the label in its early days and had co-managed since the mid-80s, stayed on at the helm, but was arrested for fraud in 2003, and declared bankrupt in 2004. Dafydd Morgan died later that year.
The continuing rise of home recording and paid tuition, general decline in record sales and record retailers, some unquestionably bad management, and a lack of investment finally took their toll on the two studios, and RCE Records were wound down in March 2006.
The barn that housed Clustcwyr had remained the property of Dafydd Morgan until his death in 2004. It was then bequeathed to John Craven (ex-Et Cetera) and Helena Jones (ex-Cookie Crumbs; ex-Helena's Box) -- the two artists had formerly hated each other, and had to perform a duet of "Some Velvet Morning" to receive the bequest; they now live together at the barn. The offices were converted into a flat, and the pair maintained the studios until 2007 when flooding destroyed much of the equipment. A good deal of the Clustcwyr back-catalogue was also severely damaged. The former studios have subsequently been repurposed as a practice space and venue. The Sheffield studios were likewise hit by flooding in 2007, and are now derelict.