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 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

Published on AfterDark (13 January 2016)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge gains exclusive access to the Horizons 2015 sessions at BBC Maida Vale and talks to some of this year’s Horizons acts about the past year.

Horizons - Violet Skies w/band (Copyright by Horizons)

For two days over last December, the iconic BBC Maida Vale Studio in London transformed into a glowing musical furnace of Welsh talent as the acts from this year’s Horizons/Gorwelion scheme waltzed through the doors of the building.

For those not familiar with the Horizons scheme, here is a bite-size synopsis – Horizons is a scheme delivered each year in partnership between BBC Cymru Wales and Arts Council of Wales, with the sole intention of developing and nurturing independent music in Wales. As part of the scheme, twelve Welsh artists are picked each year by a panel of producers, and offered a number of opportunities throughout the year.

Just some of these opportunities include more exposure across Welsh radio, slots at a number of national/international festivals, career mentoring carried out through numerous music industry workshops, and at the end of the year a recording session at the illustrious BBC Maida Vale studio itself.

Some of the chosen artists to pass through the star-adorned walls of the building this year include Aled Rheon, Cut Ribbons, Dan Bettridge, Delyth McLean, Hannah Grace, HMS Morris, MELLT, Peasants King, Violet Skies and Yr Eira (with Y Reu absent due to other commitments).

What ensues is two days imbued with plenty of musical blood, sweat and tears. Two days of each artist pouring all their musical blood into three specially chosen tracks. Two days that bring plenty of sweat courtesy of the team of producers, filmmakers and project managers working hard to capture the sweet sounds being made. Two days that result in the occasional tear cried over what is an emotional moment for all involved after such an eventful year.

What emerges from these two days is a catalogue of tracks imbued with the heavenly melodies and the fiery soul that the music of Wales excels in creating. Gaining a front row seat to these two fruitful days in Maida Vale is AfterDark’s Dean Hodge, who talks to a few of the artists – Cut Ribbons, HMS Morris, Violet Skies and Aled Rheon as well as BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens – about the sessions and their year-long journey with Horizons. Note: the term ‘musical rollercoaster’ is used with a heavy degree of regularity here. Continue reading

Review: Sŵn Festival 2015 – “If the previous two DimSŵns were slim pickings of the Sŵn fruit tree, this year was the full aural cornucopia”

Published on AfterDark (14 Nov 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews some of the performances from this year’s Sŵn Festival in Cardiff (6-8 Nov 2015). Photography by Tess Seymour.

Cristobal and the Sea. Copyright Tess Seymour.

The venues: Buffalo/Clwb Ifor Bach/Four Bars (Dempseys)/Gwdihw/Ten Feet Tall/Undertone/The Moon Club/The Abacus Rooms

Like many, it was great for me to see Sŵn Festival return to Cardiff in its original multi-year form after a two-year spell. The previous downsized DimSŵn events did a fine job of filling the gap in between and keeping the Swn faithful happy, but at last we could now enjoy a whole weekend of arguably the biggest musical ‘street party’ in Cardiff.

The slightly later date for this year’s outing (due to a certain rugby tournament) meant that the days were slightly shorter, the evenings slightly darker and the weather slightly colder (or perhaps not much colder as it is the Welsh weather after all). The quality of the music and the atmosphere though, remained of the same high calibre as it did before.

If the previous two DimSŵn outings were merely slim pickings of the Sŵn fruit tree, then this year’s event promised to be the full cornucopia of aural richness. Having such a plethora of talent gracing some of the city’s venues is both a blessing and a curse, as it leaves a dilemma as who to see or which act could be an as-yet-undiscovered favourite. Continue reading

Horizons 2015: AfterDark Talks With Dan Bettridge – ‘My parents’ record collection was the primary influence on my musical upbringing’

Published on AfterDark (23 June 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge speaks to Dan Bettridge, one of this year’s Horizons 2015 artists.

Dan Bettridge

The power of music partly lies in the pure, unabashed escapism it can offer and its ability to transport you to another time and place, regardless of where you are and when. It’s a philosophy that Welsh warbler Dan Bettridge fully embraces.

His husky, bourbon-soaked vocal and raw delivery instantly – the voice of an old soul placed upon young shoulders – sounds like more something born out of a smoky jazz or blues bar in late 60’s or early 70’s deep south America than like anything else today. You can almost feel the warm glow of sunset and the scent of smoke when you listen to his irresistible brand of Americana-infused Celtic soul, delivered with a voice which echoes the spirit of Van Morrison and Otis Redding but refines it within a Welsh lilt. Continue reading

Horizons 2015: AfterDark Talks With Hannah Grace – ‘Horizons has opened up new doors for me that not many people get to walk through’

Published on Cardiff AfterDark (6 May 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge speaks to Hannah Grace – one of this year’s nominated artists for Horizons 2015.

Hannah Grace (Copyright by Horizons)

Sometimes the best words that can be said are no words at all, and silence can be the loudest of all. It’s a philosophy of thinking which springs into mind when trying to sum up the music of the aptly named Hannah Grace. Because one listen of her benign, breathtaking voice, instantly takes the words out of your mouth.

It would be a waste of valuable energy to even try to articulate the power of the force that hits you right from the first few notes. You simply just have to feel every ounce of her volcanic vocal and the simmering soulful edge in her sound, exactly what a true ‘soul’ artist should do.

Only someone with as much emotive authenticity as Hannah Grace could write a song about a person calling off a relationship and somehow make you empathise with them as much as the one whose heart is broken. Yet somehow the 21-year-old Bridgend songbird manages to achieve exactly that on the title track of her debut EP Meant To Be Kind – a raw yet refined four-track cut which sounds remarkably accomplished for a debut yet still tinged with a raw, intense energy. Continue reading