AfterDark’s Dean Hodge interviews Spike Griffiths, the project manager behind new Welsh music scheme Forté Project.
With precociously talented young artists and brilliant bands seemingly falling like leaves off trees from within the Welsh valleys, it is only going to be due time before the rest of the nation has to sit up and take firm notice. Just one of the people clearly recognising the growing force of young Welsh talent is Spike Griffiths – project manager of the Young Promoters Network scheme and now co-ordinator behind the latest Welsh music initiative Forté Project.
Brought to you by the minds behind the Young Promoters Network, in co-ordination with SONIG Youth Music, Arts Connect and Arts Council of Wales; the Forté Project aims to take ten emerging artists from regions which span across the areas of Rhondda Cynon Taff, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan, collectively known as Arts Connect.
Just some of the benefits the Forte Project 10 artists will enjoy include working with assigned industry mentors, songwriting workshops, industry-related seminars, recording sessions and a range of opportunities which will be gradually revealed over the next year.
Teenage modern soulstress Kaycee (a recent highlight at this year’s Sŵn Festival) and the enigmatic electronica of HVNTER make up some of the artists (Rhondda Cynon Taf), as do the pedal-powered pop of Alex Stacey and roots-folk outit Ofelia (Caerphilly). The eclectic line of artists continues through country songbird Bryony Sier to alternative hip-hop duo Luk to socially-conscious ska collective Upbeat Sneakers (Merthyr Tydfil). Completing the cast are Bridgend indie rock bands Young Calypso and Fire Fences, alongside the soul-soaked folk of Thomas Seddon (Vale of Glamorgan).
To find out more about the project and the artists involved, AfterDark’s Dean Hodge chatted to Spike Griffiths about the origins of the scheme and plans for the year ahead.
DEAN: How did the idea for the Forté Project originate, and what were the initial goals you wanted to achieve with it?
SPIKE: The idea for the Forté Project just came about through constant dialogue with both fans and key figures in the music industry. I’d previously been involved with the Horizons/Gorwelion scheme through working with Gabrielle Murphy in the first year and Delyth McLean the following one. I can see how rewarding the Horizons/Gorwelion scheme has been, and I felt there was another undercurrent of Welsh talent who just needed a first step up the ladder.
When devising what type of scheme Forté Project could be, I thought it could be centred around the key areas of creative development. This would mean talking to the artists themselves, working out what they need or what they want, so we could help focus their ambitions and steer them in the right direction, while giving them the right tools and the right opportunities.
There are some very talented young artists who have the drive to succeed, but just need a step in the right direction and a knowledge of the opportunities that are out there to help them progress to a career in music. Forté Project presents an opportunity to fill the vital gap between the artists themselves and the numerous platforms for music development.
DEAN: Why are these type of initiatives so crucial to helping young Welsh artists starting out in music?
SPIKE: It seems like a small thing but many of these people are so young and haven’t even been to gigs before, often because there is a lack of gigs in these areas and a lack of accessibility to get from where they are to places like Cardiff or other cities with a plethora of music venues. Many of the live music events that do happen are organised by young people themselves, and for young people. The goal of Young Promoters’ Network, since its inception, has been dealing with that issue head on. It’s a surprising fact as well that less young people are going to live events now.
As well as being able to experience a live event, through Forté Project we will also get them into workshops. Many of these will consist of masterclasses in different elements of creating music including songwriting, recording, rehearsing, the technical side, improving their knowledge of the industry, safeguarding their material among others.
DEAN: I understand how it works is that each selected artist will be delegated their own mentor for the upcoming year, who will either be a professional musician themselves or a key figure in the Welsh music industry.
What was the essential criteria for both who would be mentors, and which artist would be paired up with which mentor?
SPIKE: As this is our first year and pilot project, we felt that we needed people who were more ‘around the block’ in terms of their level of experience and their professional hindsight.
For instance, Maddie Jones is one of the mentors and an artist I have previously worked with . She hasn’t actually come through similar initiatives such as the Young Promoters’ Network or Horizons/Gorwelion. But she has the right attitude, the right drive, the right personality, and overall the right credentials. I think she is a great role model for young artists in general, particularly for female singer-songwriters.
It’s worth mentioning that she is from the South Wales Valleys herself (Ystrad Mynach) so she has the extra connection to the artists, which is why we felt she was a suitable choice of mentor for one of the artists.
DEAN: Can you reveal who the other mentors are?
SPIKE: The mentors are Maddie Jones, Richard S Jones (Sheltered Life PR), John Rostron (SWN Festival, Welsh Music Prize), Estelle Wilkinson (former Coldplay manager and current director for Velvet Coalmine Festival), Mark Thomas (Islet and Shape Records), Grant Tilbury (Listen To This Management), Kieron Jones (Bounce Publishing), Dave Driscoll (Orchard Entertainment), Angharad Jenkins (Calan), and Matthew Evans (KEYS).
Until this point, we’ve worked to keep the identities of the mentors under a cloak of secrecy, because we didn’t want a scenario where the artists ended up battling over which mentor they wanted, and we wanted to prevent any preconceptions about the mentors. Every mentor has achieved different things in their own way, and a common grounding is they’re all willing to support whichever artist they’re assigned with. As long as both parties are willing to devote their own hard work, a strong working relationship will evolve from that.
DEAN: How was the selection process defined? Aside from the artists’ location in one of the South Wales Valleys areas, what were the other key factors?
SPIKE: I’ve previously been involved in the panels for Horizons/Gorwelion and the Launchpad Fund, so I understand how difficult the process is and it’s given me more insight into how it works.
For Forté Project we had a 3-week application window and received 60 applications in that time frame. For me, it offered me a snapshot of what music was emulating from the Valleys and the ways in which young artists are expressing themselves through music. The artists that applied spun a range of genres from rock and folk, to more lyrical-based music such as grime and hip-hop. The fact that a small geographic of the Welsh music scene can still produce such a diversity of music is something that Wales can be proud of.
The pivotal deciding factor for us was that the artists we picked all had the right attitude and level of commitment going into the scheme, and that our selected ten reflected the diversity of music in Wales. I’m confident that we made the right choices, and I look forward to seeing how each artist progresses over the next twelve months.
DEAN: As you mentioned, you gained a lot of insight into the application process through working with projects such as Horizons. Did you also gain much feedback from many of those projects, and the people involved?
SPIKE: I previously chatted with Bethan Elfyn from BBC Radio Wales, who is project manager for Horizons/Gorwelion, and talked about the barebones of the Forté Project with her over coffee. She was immediately excited and supportive, which is testament to her belief in these type of initiatives and just how important they are to the grassroots of Welsh music. When I later pitched the project to the Arts Council of Wales, I was rewarded with the same level of belief and support.
We did a lot of consultation with other people. Through working with the Young Promoters’ Network, we were able to see how young people interact with music, and how communities or scenes affected their music tastes and consumption. We wanted Forté Project to be something that young artists could understand, believe in and which they could be part of.
DEAN: What are some of the events you have coming up?
SPIKE: We have some things pencilled in the diary but the first big steps are to understand all the artists, and to see what they want. Some of them are already on journeys, some have recorded music, some haven’t, but the underlying fact is all of them are at different stages in their musical journey. Hopefully as we get talking to more people and more of them become aware of the project, there will be plenty of rich opportunities for events next year. I don’t doubt for one minute though that that there is a lot of hard work to be done, and a lot to of pieces to put in place.
You can find out more about the 10 artists on the Forte Project’s YouTube playlist below.
More from Forté Project