A bubbling enthusiastic crowd mingled in the Millennium Centre foyer to await the announcement of the opening of this second biennial block buster presentation from Wales major presenting theatre. Artistic Director, Graham Farrow launched the festival declaring his aim to see the festival quickly gain an international recognition similar that of the seventy year old festival in Edinburgh where its fringe festival is the largest event of its kind throughout the world. Boy a big aim! I wish him well with it.
With over fifty events staged in a dozen venues across the city, ranging from the wonderful Donald Gordon auditorium at the centre to an upstairs room in the Chapter Arts Centre and a strong core of top artists, he is certainly heading in the right direction.
The festival was launched from the Hub: the new organising centre for the festival where a DJ frequently plays and where there is a ‘pop up’ bar with the festival’s own bottled cider and chocolate bars.
A community choir sang for us indicating the wide range of music the festival provides. To add the fun and by now the confusion, young actors from Hijinx Theatre marched through us holding placards demanding they be allowed to stay up very late! It also hosts Refugee Food Stories and songs from Rajasthan.
Giving the festival its strong international flavor, on the bill we have Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg as headliners. Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rees and Charlotte Church strongly wave the flag for Wales.
The festival kicked off with an excellent performance from Billy Bragg. Having been in the public eye for over thirty years here as a performer very at home on the stage with a friendly style that totally engaged his audience, many of them long-term fans.
Often described as a protest singer Bragg remains committed to his Socialist roots, a number of his songs fighting the corner of the under privileged. There’s always a note of determination in his voice but always a very pleasant musical sound. There are many pearls of left-wing wisdom spoken between numbers. Love and empathy figure strongly. His song ‘Empathy’ gently makes its point and appeals for more of it.
He recalled the work of an earlier ‘protester’ Woody Guthrie and finished, acknowledging Bob Dylan and showing us that even now still ‘The Times They are a ‘Changing’.
He has said that he feels he has a duty to make people go away feeling that they are not alone, he definitely succeeds.
Comparative newcomer Nadine Shah, an unequivocal Rock and Roller gave fine, contrasting support. Her songs again cover a whole range of social issues and from the few lines I was able to hear sounded very interesting. The musicality of her backing band was of the highest quality, a strong beat and fast rhythm. Exciting stuff but dwarfing out the voice of the lead singer. Shah acknowledged her sound controller in her box at the back of the audience but she received no favours from this technical operator. Against this heavy background she did achieve a purpose-filled touch that provided a good link to the warm-hearted star of the evening.