Rachel Mars - Llawn05

Preview : Llawn05 : 15-17 September 2017

Llawn enters its fifth year as Llandudno's free autumn arts festival with John Rostron in a curatorial role for the second year running. John is notable for his career in contemporary music; as a co-founder of both the Sŵn Festival and the Welsh Music Prize, as a Vice-Chair of the Association of Independent Festivals, as a National Adviser to the Arts Council Wales, and for being half of Sleeveface. Now he has found himself also guiding one of Wales' most eclectic events.

Llawn is quirky, vibrant and celebratory, but so wide ranging in scope that it could be hard to understand with just a passing glance; John was very happy to talk in detail to explain where it has come from, what it is and where it might be headed. Below is a transcript of the interview, which captures the essence of his ideas, but not fully their animated and enthusiastic delivery - which was sufficiently lively for the people at the next table to move to seek refuge and calm deeper in the café.

FtM: "Starting with the obvious question first, you have normally been associated with music, how did your relationship with Llawn start?"

JR: "My involvement was almost a total accident - I met Marc Rees (the founding curator - and "One of the most compellingly original and beautifully strange artists currently working in the UK" according to Exeunt Magazine) at a wedding."

"I then got in touch with him after a good while, to see if he wanted any music arranging as part of Llawn, and he told me he was moving on, and suggested that my wife, Lisa, & I tender for it. Lisa & I had never worked together before, we usually work very separately - she is involved with digital storytelling, I mostly with music. We thought it through, came to see the event - pitched and we got it."

FtM: "What are you trying to achieve with it, who is it for?"

JR: "We picked up something that had been running for three years. It started with Marc as curator, and he has very strong curatorial visions, his own aesthetic."

"So how the event developed before us was a combination of his view and the steering group - and that group is important. From its inception Llawn grew out of desire for there to be something that brought the threads of local creativity together - there were organisations (such as Venue Cymru, RCA, Mostyn, TAPE) and lots of rural artists - but nothing to put everyone together in the same room. That is what Llawn has done, and the steering group still comes from those local arts organisations."

"There was also a desire to put something new, creative and distinctive into the calendar of Llandudno. And finally to think about the regeneration and renewal of the place - there's an economic and demographic need, especially to attract younger people....they might want some of the dynamic they might find in London or Manchester - in its own small way Llawn wants to be part of solving that."

"Marc's strong curatorial vision was bold, pink, camp, quirky - as well as acknowledging where a place has come from and where it is going by looking at forgotten stories. The first thing we went to when we arrived to look at the event was a bus tour with a drag queen who sang opera. The bus drove us around so we could look at derelict buildings, and the new Weatherspoons, in Llandudno - the old concert halls and theatres of the town. We wanted to keep that element, and then develop other things in parallel. Out of Llawn a successful, ambitious and enduring community arts organisation, CALL, has been founded. The formation of CALL reinforces the sense that it is important to bring more local creativity into the event."

FtM: "How do you see things being different at the end of your three year contract to curate the event?"

JR: "We are talking to the steering group about this now - we want to workshop the event as there are new organisations and people around five years in, who weren't here at the start, and they will have new ideas. Events always need re-invigorating and renewing. So it is not our vision so much as creating an open process for that renewal."

"Having said that, we want to do more community work. Marc gave the event his big, bold stamp, we want to continue that and add more work coming through from the community - creating a way for local artists to become more involved. We also want to bring more people in from outside with edgy work; that is one of the challenges - last year Tim Spooner's Assembly of Animals had perhaps the lowest interest from the general public, but was a huge hit with the local artistic community, as it was such high quality. We want both communities engaged, and we always have to keep in mind that Llawn has a huge age range and demographic mix in its audience. That is why in part it is so eclectic a programme."

"In the end we want to draw people into work such as Tim Spooner's. The way the programme runs is that the engaging stuff is on the front, on the promenade, and then we hope to lead people off into buildings around the town to see the more challenging work. That approach is bringing results."

FtM: "What have you booked this year that excites you?"

JR: "All of it! Rachel Mars, Our Carnal Hearts, is wonderful - an hour long piece of joyful theatre. Finding a space for that has been hard. Another piece is Lookout - a one on one performance piece between a local school child (one of ten chosen from Ysgol Morfa Rhianedd) and an audience member. The artist will have worked with the children through September. That's a really exciting work. We have Rob Auton - Lisa knows him and has worked with him before, having seen him in Edinburgh. He is a poet and comedian - importantly not what is usually staged here. Comedy is as broad as music - we have Daniel Kitson's film too - incredibly clever and nuanced, as well as being rude and crude in places!"

FtM: "Llawn seems very broad to me - it looks brilliant in detail but I can't quite get the core of it?"

JR: "In a way that is right and that is one of our next challenges with the event, but it is also a free event for a very wide audience - it needs to be able to offer something to everyone. It is an enormous ask to pack that into a weekend, whilst still offering an event that would satisfy someone with more commitment to the arts over its whole duration. The original intention was to make something happen - that has certainly been achieved. We are looking now at what it can be, with the funding we have (laughing)."

FtM: "One final question - it seems, listening to you talk, that you have a clear belief that art, in whatever form, should be a part of everyone's everday life, is that right?"

JR: "Yes. What I have learnt specifically is that I love events and their impact - what they can create and catalyse. That is my passion. The impact they can have on an environment where people live. A strong sense of place is very important - and the arts can be central in that, for everyone."

You are left in no doubt - the connection between the art, the people and the place is the vital foundation stone for John Rostron's work; that, and to always create real excitement.


Llawn05 Sketched in Nine Highlights

Llawn 05 features comedy, spoken word, performance, visual art, music, film & more on the weekend of September 15-17th. There is a huge eclecticism to the full programme - which can be found here.