The Bells Of Rhymney

The Bells Of Rhymney was first released as the b-side of 7″ and 12″ single release The Chant has Just Begun in October 1984. This song is a cover of the Pete Seeger song, which is a song putting the words of an Idris Davies poem to music.

Running time: 2:56
Written By: Davies/Seeger
Mike Peters – Lead vocals, acoustic guitar & harmonica
Dave Sharp – Acoustic guitar & backing vocals
Eddie Macdonald – Backing vocals
Twist – Tin whistle, percussion & backing vocals

Recorded at Pluto Studios, Manchester, England in 1984.
Produced by The Alarm. Engineered by Phil Bush.

Song Notes

I bought an old folk compilation album from a thrift store in America. It had a version of Bells on it sung by Pete Seeger, who had written the music for a song based on a Welsh poem by Idris Davies. This was the first version of the song I had ever heard. When I came across The Byrds electric version of the song, and compared its lyrics to the original poem I came across in a collection edited by Dylan Thomas, which included a complete transcription of the Bells Of Rhymney, (which in itself was an extract from a wider ranging piece called Gwalia Deserta), I realised that a lot of the lyrics had been left out. I put a suggestion to the band, that as a Welsh band we should release our own version with the “complete” Idris Davies lyrics. Mind you, even we got it wrong – because of my own English-speaking upbringing in North Wales, I wasn’t aware of the correct Welsh pronunciation of Rhymney and sang it like The Byrds and Seeger before me as “Rimney”. When The Alarm proudly played it live for the first time in South Wales, my error was “politely” pointed out to me, and every version I sang afterwards I would sing the phonetically correct welsh pronunciation “Rumney”. (Mike Peters, Alarm 200 Collection liner notes)

Gwalia Deserta

Gwalia Deserta (“Wasteland of Wales”) was the first published work of poet Idris Davies. Published in 1938, it is an extended poetical work. The verses it contained were inspired partly by such mining disasters as that at Marine Colliery at Cwm near Ebbw Vale in 1927, and by the failure of the 1926 UK General Strike, the Great Depression in the United Kingdom and their combined effects on the South Wales valleys.

The “Bells of Rhymney” verses, perhaps Davies’ most widely known work, appear as Part XV of the book. The stanzas follow the pattern of the well known nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons”. In the late 1950s the verses were adapted into a folk song by Pete Seeger entitled “The Bells of Rhymney” and has been covered by many others since.

Source – Wikipedia

It’s best known as that jingly jangly song by The Byrds and has become a folk rock standard, recorded hundreds of times by everyone from Cher to The Alarm.

But if it wasn’t for American folk singer, Pete Seeger, the haunting lyrics to Bells of Rhymney would have remained an obscure poem by a Welsh miner turned poet called Idris Davies.

He wrote it during a four-year stint on the dole. From the age of 14, he had worked as a miner at the Mardy Colliery in Rhondda Fach, South Wales. But at the age of 21, he was involved in an accident which resulted in him losing part of a finger. With his injury and the disruptions caused by the 1926 General Strike, he found himself jobless.

He used this period of unemployment to educate himself, something he called, “the long and lonely self-tuition game”. He would spend his days in the local library. He also started to write poetry, in both Welsh and English. His writing was influenced by the bitterness and hurt of the mining communities around him.

Despite the vast wealth created by the country’s coal industry, Welsh people found themselves living in one of the most depressed areas of Europe with unemployment hitting 85 percent in places such as Abertillery during the early 1930s. The infant mortality rate doubled from 56.6 per 1000 children in 1930 to 118.8 in 1934.

Davies was given encouragement to continue writing by the likes of Dylan Thomas and TS Eliot. It was Eliot,  in 1938, who would publish his first collection of poems, Gwalia Deserta (Wasteland of Wales). This included a poem ‘XV‘ that was only 123 words long but managed to create a tapestry of the various ways south Wales had been affected by the decline of mining.

Source – The Bells of Rhymney
Idris Davies

Other Studio Versions of the Song

Album Appearances and discography

Single Appearances and discography

Live Recordings

Acoustic Recordings


O what can you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.

Is There hope for the future?
Cry the brown bells of Merthyr.

Who made the mineowner?
Say the black bells of Rhondda

And who robbed the miner?
Cry the grim bells of Blaina.

They will plunder willy-nilly
Say the bells of Caerphilly

They have fangs, they have teeth
Shout the loud bells of Neath

The south, things are sullen
Say the pink bells of Brecon

Even God is uneasy
Say the moist bells of Swansea

Put the vandals in court!
Cry the bells of Newport

All would be well if-if-if-if
Say the green bells of Cardiff

Why so worried, sisters, why?
Cry the silver bells of Wye.

O what can you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.

Alternate Lyrics

Audio & Visual Sources


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