How Cardiff became the first city to host a Fringe for the BBC Radio 6 Music festival
When discussions first began about holding the BBC 6 Music Festival in Cardiff it was hoped the event might be able to leave a lasting impression on the city.
Instead, Cardiff will leave a lasting impression on the festival.
The Welsh capital has ‘Music City’ status and that comes with some bold ambition, so when the idea of the festival’s first Fringe was raised, the city grasped a giant logistical challenge with both hands, with the Fringe encompassing 29 events across 12 venues with more than 150 Welsh artists performing.
Dave Ball, who works with Creative Wales, was one of the main facilitators in bringing the 6 Music festival to Cardiff and creating the Fringe.
“It actually came about back in June when we first met with the 6Music Festival team,” he said.
“We were keen to ensure the grassroots Welsh music scene was represented and they [6 Music] suggested we run a Fringe, which they would support but which would be totally owned and organised by our side.”
It was a challenging idea but too good an opportunity to miss out on. Ball set to work organising the mechanics of the Fringe with local venues to produce the line-up and schedule.
“What we’ve ended up with is even bigger than I ever imagined but we’re immensely proud of it,” said Ball, a drummer in his spare time.
It has been a major undertaking. The 6 Music Festival began in 2014 in Manchester and has since been hosted by Newcastle, Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool and London (there was no festival in 2018 or 2021).
The groundwork for the event started in the Autumn of 2021 when Ball and Cardiff Council first laid out to the BBC 6 Music team in Salford, Manchester, what they hoped to achieve.
The concept was to allow the grassroots venues in Cardiff to book their own shows, for the Cardiff team to provide Fringe branding and to host the entire thing on a webpage for tickets and advertising.
That approach allowed other events and ideas to bolt onto the main festival, such as Immersed, an annual festival run by the University of South Wales, which spotlights Welsh music and raises money for Teenage Cancer Trust.
“We set out to the venues how we wanted the fringe to showcase the whole spectrum of genres and to be properly representative of the Welsh music scene,” he says.
“This was when we first discussed the additional events like a music journalism talk, Minty’s Gig Guide and the chance for student journalists to be involved in writing about the event.
The Cardiff team worked closely with University of South Wales (USW) on bringing the annual Immersed Festival into the same timeline as the Fringe. Creative Cardiff collaborated with Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Communications (JOMEC) for the journalism aspects. FOR Cardiff worked with the team behind Minty’s Gig Guide to revamp the city’s much-loved music map. Overarching all of these was the support of Cardiff Council and BBC 6 Music themselves.
“It’s involved a lot of juggling and collaboration but it’s been great to see everyone pulling together and have so much enthusiasm,” said Ball.
Among the artists to benefit is four-piece indie rock band Basic State. They performed at Tramshed on Tuesday, March 29, as part of a USW showcase. The Cardiff band have released a few Eps to date and have been playing support slots in and around the city for the last two years. The size of the opportunity the Fringe provides is clearly is not lost on them.
“It’s huge really because we could actually get some coverage from playing what we love,” front man Harvey Sivell told us during a rehearsal session in the lead up to their performance.
“With the BBC being national and international – hopefully it could give us a bit of a push.”
The band played its first gig in The Moon, a venue on the street that has become Cardiff’s musical soul, Womanby Street.
They’re all madly excited about seeing acts such Johnny Marr and Pixies because they serve as inspiration for what they can achieve in the long-term because of the opportunities provided by events like the Fringe.
“We’ll stick around Cardiff at least for the next few years but hopefully things like this will let us go and play the Midlands, Manchester or Liverpool more often,” said Billy Saffil, the band’s lead guitarist.
Frontman Harvey says the band know what it wants: “To be able to be in a band and play as many gigs as humanly possible or go deaf trying.
“After lockdown things like this mean the world.”
For Dave Ball, what Harvey says above is a direct illustration of the wider goals of the Fringe.
“Long term I’d love to see some of the amazing emerging artists on the Fringe earn opportunities to take the career onwards and upwards as a result of the extra exposure,” he said.
As well as the artists, Ball sees this as a huge win for the city’s venues too.
“We hope this helps anyone who was a bit reluctant to get back to gigs to go and enjoy a show at one of our grassroots venues.
“They’ve all been hit so hard through the past two years that to see them all close to full for the week would be hugely welcome.”
To find out more about the Fringe festival check out the Imemersed website or Minty’s Gig Guide.
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The Cheltenham Jazz Fringe and Coventry Live Music Festival both were similar concepts of gathering together all the local venues already putting on regular gigs, badging them as “an event” and encouraging others to join the fun.
It’s incredibly cost-effective and in getting musicians from different genres to collaborate has long-term community benefits.