Focus Wales is a music conference and industry showcase, so kind of like South By South West, only in the small Northern Welsh border town of Wrexham. Okay so it’s hardly SXSW, or even an English equivalent such as The Great Escape or Sound City, but I for one am very happy that such an event exists here in Wales, as the name suggests there is a strong focus on Welsh bands which is always a bonus given their general lack of exposure elsewhere, they also bring in many other bands that I’ve not seen or heard of from around the world and they have some exclusive shows and industry panels too. Not to mention if you really want to have some proper catch ups with people then it’s intimate enough to do so.
A cancelled train on the way here meant I was late and missed the first act on my list (a Canadian rapper called Arlo Maverick) so on arrival I kicked off proceedings at a panel entitled The Future Of Live which thanks to my mate Bev (Killer B Music) who was one of the panelists, I ended up filling in for an absent member alongside the likes of Sol Parker from CODA, who is agent for The Prodigy, Take That and Rita Ora amongst others, and Martin Elbourne from Glastonbury, The Great Escape, a forthcoming festival in Korea’s demilitarised zone and various other interesting and esteemed pie covered fingers. For the record, I still have no idea where live music is heading, but it was an interesting panel and I think the general feeling is we’re not going to be in any major emergency anytime soon.
Next up was a programmed conversation between BBC’s Welsh Music gatekeeper Adam Walton and drummer Kliph Scurlock whose journey from growing up in a racist redneck city in Kansas to settling in my hometown of Cardiff, brought him via membership of the Flaming Lips (and consequently Beck’s backing band) and into playing with both Gruff Rhys and Guto Pryce from the Super Furries. In fact I think I might have seen him with Guto’s band Gulp before, but it was a pretty hazy Glastonbury. Kliph humbly swung between self effacing and deprecating but was full of interesting and insightful stories. His raison d’être for being at the festival however was to come later in the evening, a fully improvised performance with Damo Suzuki from Can.
Sadly I didn’t make it the whole way through that performance, I’d been up since about 5:30am and tiredness was getting the better of me, but it’s impressive seeing talented musicians freestyle a whole session and they did it well, despite my not being able to withstand Damo’s continuously abstract microphone onslaught for more than a half hour.
Other members of the band included Gary Lucas who has played with Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley, Mark Huckridge from Gallops and Gid Goundrey who plays with Gulp. It would be easy to draw comparisons with Can and what they were playing, there were certainly many of the same influences, but they’re so varied and also ingrained in many other styles of music that I’m not sure if the comparison would be correct, just a bit lazy. As I said though, it was ultimately laziness that got to me and after some time trying to really climb inside what they were playing and only occasionally managing it, I headed to bed.
Of course that wasn’t the only act I saw though, earlier in the night I caught Ffloc, a band who weren’t on my schedule but were friends of friends so I veered away from my plans for a few of their tunes. They dressed the audience in white coats and masks and set down some steady drum grooves and basslines behind white sheets projected with synced up visuals. There was also a guitarist in front of the left speaker stack, someone wielding a kaos pad (I think) at the back of the room and 2 poets, one English and one Welsh on either side of the sheets. They sounded something like this…
I left them to catch Craze The Jack as my knowledge of Swansea Hip-hop is firmly back in the days of Headcase Ladz, Mudmowth and Ralph Rips Shit (golden era mind), sadly where many of the other venues seemed to be running late, they were actually early and I missed him. I returned to the same venue a little later to catch Trademark Blud though and so although he’s from the West Midlands rather than South Wales, I got a solid dose of good quality Hip-hop at least. Although I’m pretty sure over half the crowd were the supporting acts on the bill, he managed to hold everyone well and delivered some clear conscious lyrics, decent beats and bags of energy. It was good to see him with Tricksta as the DJ too, I’d nearly forgotten about the scene up in Wolverhampton that he’s presided over for the last couple of decades.
Anyway, time to start day 2, today is the panel I was actually booked for ‘Get Me On The Bill’ and there’s plenty of other interesting panels, acts and interviews to catch. Hopefully I can tell you about them tomorrow.