Sŵn Festival 2011

Venue: Cardiff City Centre
Date: 20th - 23rd October 2011

The Sŵn Festival (pronounced ‘soon’ and meaning sound in Welsh) is an annual music festival that takes place in and around the various venues within Cardiff City Centre. The event is curated by BBC Radio DJ Huw Stephens and Cardiff-based promoter John Rostron.

The first festival took place over three days in November 2007 and featured artists such as Beirut, The Cribs and Edwyn Collins. It’s reputation and stature has grown steadily since then and now, five years on, offers in excess one hundred and eighty acts performing in fourteen venues over a four day period. And this year for the first time BBC 6Music and BBC Radio Wales have broadcast live from the festival.

The festival is largely funded by the PRS For Music Foundation and supported by the Welsh Music Foundation. It now incorporates the inaugural Welsh Music Prize and boasts it’s own iPhone app.

Sŵn prides itself on it’s steadfast support of outstanding new British talent (both Welsh and English speaking). This is evident in the intelligent programming of the event, where you will routinely see lesser known acts playing alongside more established artists. It’s clear that the festival organisers value the performers above all else. This adds to the diversity of the crowds too and helps create a rather unique, friendly and respectful atmosphere. The attentiveness of the audience was mentioned on numerous occasions by at least five of the acts I saw.

What follows is my one man walkthrough of the artists I was lucky enough to witness during the festival along with all of the relevant links you will need to indulge yourselves.

The festival started for me on Friday evening at Clwb Ifor Bach with Two wounded Birds. A band who have been causing a lot of excitement at AMP with their latest single ‘Together Forever’. The band provided the perfect opener to Sŵn with a set full of beautifully crafted pop songs that put a big smile on the faces of the crowd in Clwb.

Next it was over to the university for Joy Formidable who were playing what was the final gig of their recent tour. It has been an incredible two years for Joy Formidable, including support slots with Paul McCartney, Manic Street Preachers and a memorable set on the John Peel stage at Glastonbury. Joy Formidable are a band that never disappoint, from the moment they take to the stage and strike the first chord you know this is a live band that mean business. Their set was full of energy and excitement that is really hard to beat. This is a band that are going to be with us for a long time to come.

After having my mind blown by Joy Formidable it was time to run across town to get to O’Neils to watch Other Lives. Unfortunately the rest of Cardiff had the same plan. The queue at O’Neils was operating on a one in one out system, which meant we had to stand and listen to Other Lives from the stairs. Even from a outside the room this band sounded incredible. Carefully sculptured, atmospheric and beautifully played.

As the crowd started to disperse following Other Lives I was able to make my way into the small room to end the night with Niki And The Dove a swedish band who mixed electronic with rock to create a very captivating set.

Saturday starts nice and early at Undertone with Loved Ones who prior to this festival were unknown to AMP. As soon as Loved Ones started I was left asking why I had not heard of this band before. They completed a very enjoyable set of melodic heartfelt songs that and made me want to hear more from this band in the future.
Monument Valley was next on the stage, another unknown to myself, so I was unsure what to expect. When he took to the stage with his guitar I still did not know what sort of sound he was going to come out with. As soon as he started singing I was left completely lost for words. The audience fell silent, and you could hear a pin drop as those that had stayed to watch were left captivated by his mesmerising performance.
Time to go upstairs to Ten Feet Tall for one of the acts AMP had been looking forward to most at the Sŵn, Sam Airey. Playing music seems to come so natural to Sam as he works his way through a set of emotive, dreamy and hypnotic songs that were a real pleasure to be stood in Ten Feet Tall on a saturday afternoon listening to. This is an artist that is going to have a very big future in the music industry.

Following Sam I headed over to O’Neils for Houdini Dax. The room was quickly starting to fill up for one of the most talked about bands of the festival. Houdini Dax are signed to Cardiff’s See Monkey Do Monkey label. They play a very energetic, frantic set that made you feel that you were watching something very special. This band will soon be moving onto big venues so to see them in the small room in what is essentially a pub, will really be an ‘I was there moment’ in the years to come

Headlining Clwb this evening was Jim Jones Revue. And what a perfect choice of Saturday night headliner this was. In one word this set was LOUD. Jim Jones Revue played a 50’s inspired Rock n Roll theme that had the whole crowd dancing, swinging their friends around and quite simply having the times of their lives. This band really know how to throw a party, and to make the crowd have fun.

As Jim Jones finished it was time to rush back over to O’Neils for Broken Vinyl Club; a firm favourite here at AMP. Another great band destined for big things in another tiny venue epitomises the spirit of the Sŵn Festival.

Following these in the same venue was another band signed to the See Monkey Do Monkey label, The Keys. Previously named Murray The Hump, The Keys treat us to their unique brand of cosmic psychedelia and instantly catchy melodies. They march through a forty five minute set which included an even mix of tracks from their latest record and impressive back catalogue.
Waking up on Sunday morning my ears were still ringing from Jim Jones Revue. First band of the day was Olympians who had a sound similar to Futureheads and Maximo Park.

Next was Them Squirrels in O’Neils. Now, I am not sure where to start describing or categorising this band. They have a very unique sound. As a live experience they were very captivating, there were only two breaks between what otherwise was one complete piece of music. The arrangements were extremely well thought out and the guitars were well complimented by the violin. It was haunting, melodic and at times ballsy. Plus, the lead guitarist had the best moustache seen all weekend.

Cardiff Arts Institute was the next venue to catch Big Deal, another band I had been looking forward to seeing. The anticipation was not let down as Big Deal played a very intimate and special set of their their stripped down sound and harmonious vocals.

Being Sunday evening acoustic acts were what was needed, so for the last time I headed back to Clwb Ifor Bach. First was Al Lewis and he was quite simply brilliant and it quickly became clear as to why he was nominated for the Welsh Music Prize. Al plays acoustic led folk/country/rock. Think Ryan Adams. He’s complimented by an extremely talented backing band waiting in the wings to provide that extra special magic touch when needed. This is music where every note played is thought out and shows why the acoustic guitar is one of the wonders of the world.

Jodie Marie was next, a young singer/songwriter from Pembrokeshire. Jodie has an incredible singing voice which at times can be compared to Adele. I am sure Jodie is going to have a big future in the music industry.

Sam Duckworth from Get Cape Wear Cape Fly was next to entertain us. Sam played songs from his recent solo album together with classic Get Cape songs. It was good to see Sam, although I am left mystified as to why he has dropped what was the established name of Get Cape Wear Cape Fly to go by his own name. Especially as he’s only swapped the laptop for a support guitarist.

The choice for the final act of the night was between Sweet Baboo in O’Neils or to stay in Clwb for Ben Howard. I would have loved to have watched Sweet Baboo but after a weekend of running around the city I lazily decided to stay in Clwb. The upstairs room was very full and hot, and Ben provided a nice Sunday night end to the festival with a his intimate soothing folk songs.

After a weekend of running through the wonderful streets of Cardiff watching as much music as possible it was time to go home and say goodbye to Sŵn for another year. Sŵn is the perfect festival for music lovers to discover new music in a great city with lots of friendly faces. It is nice seeing the likes of Huw Stevens, Steve Lamacq and Bethan Elfyn around the city enjoying the music that was on offer. If you have yet to experience Sŵn Festival I can strongly recommend that you write it in your diaries now and start counting down the days to Sŵn 2012.

Steve Tay

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