Much-loved music venue launches ambitious new venture
While music venues across Wales have had to close their doors in the face of the global pandemic, one famed Welsh venue has spent the intervening 12 months working hard behind the scenes.
Now the team at one of the country’s leading grassroots music venues is to unveil the fruits of its substantial labour by launching a new venture to assist both artists and the wider music industry in Wales.
Clwb Music is a new independent music group established by the team at Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff.
Initially consisting of an artist management team, record label and publishing company, its aim is to broaden the scope of the work done by the organisation and look at new ways to support the development of the music industry infrastructure in Wales.
“Over the last 38 years, Clwb Ifor Bach has been at the forefront of the live music scene in Wales,” says Clwb chief executive, Guto Brychan. “A focal point for the early career of new and emerging artists, the venue has been pivotal in providing key opportunities for them as they look to build their audience and hone their craft.”
While other music venues have been forced to close their doors and suspend activity on hiatus from staging events, Clwb has spent the last year creating a concept which it hopes will benefit the industry in Wales, while expanding its own offering.
“We’ve always wanted to broaden the scope of our remit and in the months before the pandemic hit, we’d taken the first steps in establishing a management arm to the organisation,” adds Guto. “Once lockdown arrived, and our core activity came to a halt, we decided to further explore the options available to us.
“One of the things that we felt contributed to that was the lack of music industry infrastructure in Wales. We’ve got a lot of labels here, but there’s not a lot in terms of management and the publishing side, it’s still quite a cottage industry. So we wanted to see what we could do to expand the remit of the work that we do with Clwb and other artists.”
The management arm of Clwb Music already has two of Wales’ hottest bands – Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard and Panic Shack – on its books, with more to come over the next few months.
In addition, the record label will collaborate with up-and-coming Welsh artists, while the publishing arm of the company will look for opportunities for Welsh music to be played to a wider audience.
“Believing in and developing Welsh artists is the core to the ethos of Clwb Ifor Bach,” explains Guto. “And since 2015 we have been promoting more and more events, both at the venue and elsewhere in Wales, with the aim of providing a strong foundation from which new artists can flourish and develop.
“Clwb Music is a natural step to take this mission further by being able to take an active role in the careers of artists, championing the rich scene we have here in Wales and help bring Welsh music to the international stage.”
It’s been an incredibly difficult year for music venues with their core revenue from live shows decimated. However, Guto points out that funding assistance from the Welsh Government’s Grassroots Music Relief Fund and the Arts Council of Wales’ Stabilisation Fund continues to see them through a torrid time for grassroots venues.
“Since the middle of last March our income has come to a halt – no ticket revenue, venue hire or bar sales,” says Guto. “The funding has been a great help to assist with the immediate cash flow issues that arose following closure. During March and April, which is traditionally a busy period for us, we had a lot of outgoings that needed to be resolved. The fund helped bridge this gap and brought our deficit for the period down to a more manageable level.
“We’ve had to furlough the majority of our staff, but have retained a small team to ensure that we still have a strong programme for when we eventually re-open.”.
For the organisation that now also runs the annual Swn Festival and has expanded to promote shows at a range of venues outside its own four walls, uncertainty over just when live music will return remains. Constant rescheduling of UK tour shows has been a constant feature of the last 12 months for the venue.
“A lot of our shows are part of UK tours. So it’s often the agent of the management making the decision that we need to reschedule and move some of the shows that we have. Soem of th4ese shows are now on their third and fourth new date.
“I think there are one or two where they will be on their fourth or fifth rescheduled date, by the time they come to actually playing their show.
We’ve had one band, Peggy Sue, who have had to reschedule their date here as part of their UK tour four times,” says Guto.
“We have shows scheduled for this autumn, but of course, we can’t say with any level of certainty whether these will go ahead, we hope they do, of course, but the last year has shown that you can’t second guess anything.”
As for the possible return of Swn Festival this autumn, Guto sounds a note of understandable caution.
“In a normal year, we would have probably confirmed around 50 bands by this point,” he says. “The issue is that the longer we aren’t in a position to stage shows, the last thing we want to do is take a financial risk on staging it without having further information to work with.
By the summer, if things become clearer, we could do something, but in all honesty I think it’s going to be very difficult to something on the scale it would normally be staged.
That’s not to say that we wouldn’t want to do something. It’s just that we’re trying not to think, too long term at the moment, because down that path lies madness.
We’re just dealing with what’s immediately in front of us, what we can deal with on a week or month by month basis.”
Back in 2019 Clwb unveiled plans for a massive expansion with a proposal to take over the building next door.
The venue, which opened on Womanby Street in 1983, announced they were planning to merge two buildings to “create a venue fit for the 21 century”.
Sadly, while those plans are still a going concern, any work on forwarding this has been temporarily shelved.
“Yeah, those plans are currently on a shelf,” says Guto. “We can’t plan any development, before we have certainty, certainty that we will still have a venue to develop.
“More immediate is securing where we are now. There are far more pressing concerns around. Hopefully, when we reopen we will still be in a position to restart plans. But we want to make sure that we reopen first.”