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

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Forté Project 10: AfterDark’s Dean Hodge Interviews Spike Griffiths

Published on AfterDark (4 Dec 2015)

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. Continue reading

Single review: Baby Queens ‘Melodi/Had My Heart’ – “Crafting intoxicating harmonies that stick in your head for days is what they do best”

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews the new single by Baby Queens (released on 13 November 2015).

Copyright Baby Queens.The new double A-side single by Cardiff quintet Baby Queens – released on Cardiff’s Strangetown Records label – succeeds on two fronts. On one hand, it reaffirms them as the next big band you need right now in your life and in your record collection – or streaming playlist in a more modern context. On the other, it paints them as the atypical nightmare of the average marketing-brained music journalist who find themselves in a quandary as to what exactly to label them as.

For one, Baby Queens model themselves as, or at least on the forefront give the first impression of being, a girlband. But musically speaking, they are far removed from any connotations to the label, not least because they actually play their own instruments and write their own tunes. Then there is the music behind the faces. On first listen, it’s R’n’B – influenced pop but imbued with garage rock guitars. Or it’s indie-rock with a dash of reggae. Or it’s hip-hop laced with doo-wop harmonies. The countless musical threads are enough to send your head in a spin faster than the script of a Quentin Tarantino film – and aptly their music would be a suitable soundtrack to one too. Continue reading

Album review: Oktoba ‘Smoke Signals’ – “The singer avoids the usual traps of one-man-and-his-guitar debuts with his inaugural offering”

Published on AfterDark (17 Nov 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews the debut album by Brighton artist Oktoba (released on 29 October 2015).

IMG_5213Brighton. A town renowned for its seaside pier, its increasing obsession with artisan coffee shops and its famous house music scene. For all its notable features though, It’s the last place you’d expect to produce a homegrown Americana/folk singer. Yet artist Chris Athorne – better known by his alias Oktoba – is a defiant exception to that logic.

On his debut Smoke Signals – recorded with producer Tim Bidwell at Brighton’s Clockwork Owl Studio – his husky vocal and brittle string melodising are given vast room to roam over a breadth of ten tracks. The titular track and opener Smoke Signals sets the template for what follows in eloquent fashion – lyrics that paint stories of the disillusionment of adulthood and the yearning for true love, soundtracked by plaintive folk melodies and velvet harmonies. From the dreamy optimism of the opening track, to the closing paean to loneliness and the healing power of love on You to Me, the debut is a snapshot of the transition between youth and adulthood that anyone in their mid-twenties or older can relate to. 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

Single review: Afro Cluster ‘Basic Questions’ – “A wall of funk-driven fury, fuelled by a respect for the roots of soul”

Published on AfterDark (4 Nov 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews the new single by AfroCluster (released 9 Nov 2015).

AfroCluster

In my last review of Afro Cluster’s preceding single They Don’t Know featuring Helena-May (released New Year’s Day this year) I described it as ‘four-minutes of pedal-to-the-floor doo-wop funk layered with shimmering beats, brash horns, smouldering guitar licks and topped off by a sultry vocal turn from Miss May which elevates the track to another level of sophisticated sass.’

My verdict was really just a short and sweet sampling of the sonic beverage that lays within the track. The music purely does all the talking by itself and if it was a mouth, it would need an excessive amount of cooling mints to cool down the fire that echoes from its belly.

The gap between They Don’t Know and their upcoming release Basic Questions (featuring Greg Blackman) has certainly done much to heighten the appetite for more of the same soaring level of smouldering soul-driven hip-hop. Any chances of feeling short-changed by their new release can be laid firmly to bed, as Basic Questions answers any such apt inquisitiveness in the same manner that They Don’t Know did. Continue reading

Sŵn Festival 2015: AfterDark’s 15 acts to watch out for

Published on AfterDark (28 Oct 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge previews this year’s Sŵn Festival (6th – 8th November) and picks his 15 acts to go and see.

Swn cover pic

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

After a brief two-year spell in hibernation and having briefly submerged under the guise of DimSŵn both early this year and last year, the musical behemoth that is Sŵn Festival returns to Cardiff in its original multi-day form. If you don’t currently have anything planned for the weekend between Fri 6th – Sun 8th November, then you may want to put this in your diary.

Right after the clock hand strikes five on Friday, the biggest musical ‘street party’ in Cardiff (co-founded by Huw Stephens and John Rostron) officially gets under way in Abacus and continues all through the weekend. True to form, the line-up this year is a eclectic mix of artists from every conceivable genre, among them a handful of names you’ll likely be hearing more from.

As Swn co-founder John Rostron stated in his previous interview with AfterDark, “We want Swn to be a platform for newer or under-the-radar acts to play to a bigger audience, and to encourage our attendees to discover acts they wouldn’t normally listen to, or be able to easily discover anywhere else. The popularity of an act is very difficult to determine as people’s opinions of how great or established an artist is are extremely varied, and I think that in itself is one of the great things about music.”

With that philosophy in mind, AfterDark’s Dean Hodge has sifted through the Swn playlist of the some of the acts playing this year and compiled ’15’ artists that are likely to be a hit at Swn Festival 2015. Just the matter of condensing into such a number is an audacious task and we’ve likely missed a few good un’s. So read through our handpicked fifteen and judge for yourself how we’ve fared…. Continue reading