For those who have missed live music there comes a glimmer of light to illuminate the gloom.
While our venues have lain silent for almost 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, Horizons, the music project from BBC Wales and Arts Council of Wales has announced a tour of Welsh venues for Independent Venue Week 2021 that will see venues across Wales reverberating with live music once again.
The Horizons team will be broadcasting sessions from five treasured venues in Wales, from the 25th to the 29th of January.
From the mountain top venue of Neuadd Ogwen in Bethesda to the west coast’s Queen’s Hall in Narberth, from the modern Galeri in Caernarfon, to inner city hubs of Sin City in Swansea and Le Pub in Newport, across five days this tour will take in the breadth of some of Wales’s most beloved independent venues, celebrating their crucial role in fostering the next generation of grassroots talent.
And it’s certainly an eclectic line-up.
Artists performing sessions include emerging Welsh artists of all different genres, those along for the trip include hip hop artist Mace the Great, R&B singer Faith, rock band Those Damn Crows, urban brother and sister Leila McKenzie and K(e)nz, country singer Jodie Marie, alternative self-produced songwriter Rona Mac, low fi enigma Ennio The Little Brother, a solo performance from Gwilym frontman Ifan Pritchard, rock duo Alffa, new female duo Body Water, and electro pop artist Malan.
These special sessions are set for broadcast at midday every day with special broadcasts of the sessions across BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru with sessions and mini-documentaries about the venues available to view on social media.
Bethan Elfyn, Project Manager with Horizons for BBC Wales explained that the idea was to bring the Welsh music community together in a show of unity in a time of urgent need.
“We’ve been watching helplessly as Covid-19 has kept venues and theatres from opening, keeping communities that need each other apart, keeping us from watching, supporting and growing talent in Wales, and keeping us from the benefits of wellbeing and personal growth that music brings to life,” she said.
“Independent Venue Week is a chance to celebrate everything about our map of venues around Wales, the maverick producers and promoters behind the venues, and the talent that would normally fill the empty buildings with life. The tour is a celebration of what we have, what we miss, and a nod to the future when we can get back to the community that we’ve missed.”
Sam Dabb, manager of Le Pub in Newport, one of the venues taking part in the Horizons tour added: “It’s not just a pub, it’s not just a music venue. It’s important to the area, it’s where people meet, and have somewhere to be.
“It’s important that there’s somewhere for musicians to have a place to start out, but also just somewhere to play music, not for those who want to become huge and tour the world, just somewhere to play music.”
Rona Mac one of the artists taking part in the tour, stressed the importance of grassroots venues to Wales.
“I think independent venues are so important,” said Rona, who is from Pembrokeshire. “I played at Queen’s Hall, Narberth years and years ago, when I was starting out. I’ve seen great gigs here like Ben Howard, and Lucy Rose, and at her gig I got up on stage with her to sing and had a little dance. You wouldn’t get that at a bigger venue. It’s also the opportunity to play for artists without labels – and spaces like Queens Hall are just amazing, very special.”
Across IVW, Horizons will also have guests performing home sessions, talking about their formative experiences watching or performing shows in venues across Wales, including rock bands Holding Absence, Funeral For A Friend, and Junior.
Horizons are also on the lookout for your stories: What are your favourite Welsh venues? What are your favourite experiences at music venues? These stories will be shared across Horizons social media throughout Independent Venue Week.
The tour has been supported by Creative Wales and BBC Introducing.
Gerwyn Evans of Creative Wales said it was “great to see music once again filling our venues with sound even though no crowds can come through the doors yet”.
“At Creative Wales we all love our independent venues and music. We have continued to support our music sector through the past months and are now delighted to support this tour. Every venue has a great story to tell and we look forward to the successful return of live music as we come out of the pandemic.”
You can watch the sessions which will be broadcast across the week at midday via: www.bbc.co.uk/horizons
For the first time in its eight-year history, Independent Venue Week will this year be represented by four ambassadors – one for each of the home nations – who will lead the way in championing independent venues, and their communities, across their respective countries in the build-up to IVW 2021.
Super Furry Animals frontman and creative polymath, Gruff Rhys, will represent Wales as IVW ambassador.
In a statement for IVW, Gruff spoke of his passion for independent venues and their importance to musicians.
“As a touring musician – my work is completely connected to having independent venues exist,” he said. “It’s about people, not the actual buildings. It’s about the energy and enthusiasm that music fans have created in towns and cities and villages and so, we need to give a voice for those people to be heard.
“Touring artists are completely dependent on the enthusiasm of independent promoters and venues. The reality of music is that for most people it’s a lifelong passion, and musicians can rarely make a full living out of it, so music exists thanks to people’s passion to want to hear music, share music and give a stage to exciting new music.
“Independent venues keep that spirit going and they make it possible for musicians to play – most people involved are doing it for the love of it. Those independent venues create the conditions that make it possible for everything else to happen within music.”
As part of IVW 2021 Gruff will headline an online show, Ara Deg, filmed in and around the Neuadd Ogwen venue in Bethesda over the last few months.
Videos will go live on Tuesday, January 26 at 10am via www.neuaddogwen.com
Independent Venue Week 2021 takes place from Monday, January 25 to Sunday, January 31. For more information, visit www.independentvenueweek.com