Review: Sŵn Festival 2016 – “Providing musical memories for ten glorious years, and hopefully more to come”

Published on AfterDark (26 Oct 2016) – CLICK HERE to read article

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews some of the acts from the 10th anniversary weekend of Sŵn Festival in Cardiff (Friday 21 – Sunday 23 October 2016).

Photo provided by BBC Cymru Wales (Photographer: Simon Ayre)

Photo provided by BBC Cymru Wales (Photographer: Simon Ayre)

The sight of instruments and amps being wheeled from numerous white vans into one of the various venues in Cardiff. A sea of pink and red balloons dotted around the city streets and inside said venues. People walking around with glitter etched across their face as if it an acceptable form of everyday attire. These are images that have become very much synonymous with the annual orchestrated cacophony of chaos that is Sŵn Festival.

Like a song that reminds you of an iconic scene from your favourite film as soon as you hear it, these images are a visual accompaniment to the many moments of musical magic that have come to define the Welsh festival. Artists have marked their breakthrough here. Friendships (and relationships) have been formed. The odd Jager-bomb has been consumed here and there.

They are moments that indeed now span an entire decade for those that have shared the journey of Sŵn right from the beginning – and four years (and counting) worth of musical memories for me. With local music venues fighting an uphill battle to remain relevant in the current streaming-dominated music industry, the support of these venues and the ability of city-based festivals like Sŵn to highlight the independent scene, is more vital now than ever before. So the Welsh festival marks its tenth birthday by providing more of the high-calibre new artists that have come to define the ethos of Sŵn. Continue reading

Review: Afro Cluster ‘We Don Land’ EP – ‘The dawn of an exciting new addition to the Welsh sound’

Dean Hodge reviews the new EP by Cardiff band Afro Cluster (released 11 April 2016).

Vid Shoot Photo Afro Cluster (Copyright Afro Cluster)

Tracklisting: First Rites/Love Thing/Double Trouble/We Don Land/Access Denied

For their new release, Cardiff funk-revivalists Afro Cluster one of the Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 artists – have adopted a decidedly more-is-more approach, with their line-up expanding from eight to nine. The phase ‘too many cooks spoil the broth‘ frankly doesn’t apply within this musical kitchen though.

Rather, each individual in the band brings a different set of ingredients that simply accentuates the flavour of the sonic stew of soul, funk and hip-hop that the band serve up . Like a certain Premier League football team from Leicester, they seem to bring out the best in each other, and their approach to their craft is just as full of pace and attack.

We Don Land sees the nu-funk band once again play to their core strength – reviving the preserved back canon of 60’s/70’s funk and soul, while adding a modern sheen with lyrics that are in tune with the issues facing the world today – courtesy of frontman/wordsmith Skunkadelic. If the rest of the band are an engine, then his captivating wordplay is ultimately the steering wheel that gives a direction to their sucker-punch rhythms. Continue reading

Horizons/Gorwelion 2015: The BBC Maida Vale sessions – Interview with Huw Stephens

Published on AfterDark (28 January 2016)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge spoke to BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio Cymru presenter Huw Stephens during the Horizons/Gorwelion 2015 sessions at BBC Maida Vale.

Huw Stephens (Copyright BBC Radio Cymru)

Last month saw the new wave of acts from the Horizons/Gorwelion scheme descend on the iconic BBC Maida Vale studios over the course of two days. There to preside over these sessions was BBC Radio 1/BBC Radio Cymru/C2 presenter – and new music connoisseur – Huw Stephens. As a member of the Horizons panel for the previous two years, Huw has lent his support for new original music to helping uncover the most exciting new talent in Wales. Here, Huw speaks to Dean Hodge about why a scheme such as Horizons is so important for Welsh music, his thoughts on the class of acts this year, and how he thinks the Welsh music scene can get bigger. Continue reading

Horizons/Gorwelion 2015: The BBC Maida Vale sessions – Interview with Dan Bettridge

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge talks to one of the Horizons/Gorwelion 2015 artists Dan Bettridge about his Horizons year and recording at BBC Maida Vale.

Dan Bettridge (copyright by Horizons)

The term ‘rollercoaster’ has been used a lot by some of the Horizons 2015 artists to describe their past year, but it perfectly epitomises the dozen months endured by Welsh soul singer Dan Bettridge. The high point of being picked by Horizons earlier last year was interspersed with a severe back injury sustained by Dan, which left him barely able to write and play music for a long period.

The Ogmore-by-Sea native has faced these obstacles with the same grit and gravitas that courses through the veins of his music. Having completed the road to recovery, the rising singer-songwriter is now firmly on the prosperous path to wider popularity. His powerful voice – a devastatingly heart-tugging weapon of bourbon-soaked beauty – is one that merges musical generations old and new. Melodies reminiscent of the Stax-era soul and R’n’B sound are infused with lyrics full of modern-day musings on love and loss – and distilled through Dan’s soulful rasp.

Half a year on from their previous interview, Dean Hodge speaks to Dan Bettridge about his up-and-down year, his plans for 2016, and performing at BBC Maida Vale – twice! Continue reading

Horizons/Gorwelion 2015: The BBC Maida Vale sessions – Interview with Hannah Grace

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge talks to one of the Horizons/Gorwelion 2015 artists Hannah Grace about her Horizons year and recording at BBC Maida Vale.

Hannah Grace (Copyright by Horizons)

The voice of Welsh chanteuse Hannah Grace is imbued with both a dreamy delicacy that matches her namesake, and a bruising power that can erupt seemingly from out of nowhere and floor you when you least expect it to. Her music is just as full of crafty contradiction. Melodies and lyrics that are derived from the deepest realms of the heart, are further embellished and enhanced by ambitious production that enable it to transcend any genre – folk, jazz, blues, any conceivable journalists’ label and any musical form yet to be given a label.

Take Meant To Be Kind which starts off as an acoustic ode to heartbreak from the viewpoint of the person doing the heart breaking, but soon elevates into a gospel-soul mantra of self-defiance. Then Walk Away (The City) – as much a lament on inner-city isolation as it is an escapist’s anthem.

When Dean Hodge last interviewed Hannah Grace last year, she has just earned a place on the Horizons/Gorwelion 2015 scheme – a nod which further cemented her as an artist to keep a close ear out for. Here, the Bridgend-based singer-songwriter speaks to Dean about how Horizons has helped her over the year since then, what people can expect from her new sound, details of her upcoming release, supporting Gabrielle Aplin this year, and her recent performance for Horizons at BBC Maida Vale. Continue reading

Horizons/Gorwelion 2015: The BBC Maida Vale sessions – Interview with Aled Rheon

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge talks to one of the Horizons/Gorwelion 2015 artists Aled Rheon about his Horizons year and recording at BBC Maida Vale.

Horizons - Aled Rheon (Copyright by Horizons)

Whatever language that folk singer Aled Rheon chooses to sing in – whether in his mother Welsh tongue or in English – either way his cotton-tone voice and radiant melodies speak directly to the heart and from the heart. The Cardiff singer-songwriter spins simple stories of life and love into timeless sounding folk tunes that are an aural remedy for the soul.

Both musically and personally, 2015 was a big year for Aled Rheon in many ways, topped off by being selected for last year’s Horizons 2015 scheme. For his recorded session at the legendary BBC Maida Vale studio, Aled was joined by his recently-formed new band The Gorgeous Charge. That perhaps is why his three performed tracks have a much fuller sound to them, and the air of an artist growing in maturity and ambition. I spoke to Aled about those sessions, his year with Horizons, and how he intends to balance new music with new fatherhood. Continue reading

Horizons/Gorwelion 2015: The BBC Maida Vale sessions – Interview with Violet Skies

Published on AfterDark (14 January 2016)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge talks to one of the Horizons/Gorwelion 2015 artists Violet Skies about her Horizons year and recording at BBC Maida Vale.

Violet Skies pic (Copyright Horizons)

The searing voice of South Wales singer-songwriter Violet Skies is one that fails to leave you the minute your ears are exposed to her breathless tone, and the hairs on your neck brought to standing point. Such is the emotional pull of it that she could even sing the phone dictionary and it would still sound like a hymn. Those gold-dusted lungs are aligned with an ear for a lingering melody and a curiosity for the more leftfield musical realms.

You may hear her name roll off the tongue of many pundits picking their tips for the musical success stories of 2016. I spoke to the rising singer shortly after her sessions for Horizons 2015 at the legendary BBC Maida Vale studio. She explains her unlikely choice to cover Justin Bieber‘s number one hit Sorry, her highlights with Horizons, and what we can expect from her in 2016. Continue reading