Review : Focus Wales Saturday 14th May 2016

This review is distilled thoughts on an afternoon at FOCUS Wales, a look at what goes on away from the main stages and the headliners, and at how the event works in its town centre location. It is a review of an experience, rather than detail of who played what and where. If you want set lists and descriptions of guitar solos this page is unlikely to satisfy you.

There are any number of reasons to prefer an in-town-event to a festival-in-a-field - not least decent chips, the economic benefit to the place, and if it rains the chance to escape indoors, instead of having to share space with masses of desperate people reduced to flailing hippos stranded in their own practically infinite mud bath.

But the difference comes down to two essential factors - the sense of community and the impact of memories.

An event rooted deeply in a community, in co-operation, has a different human feeling from a commercial venture fenced off in a field.

Added to that if you experience a stunning event in an urban setting, even better where you live or work, the euphoric memories are there to be triggered next time, and every time after that, you venture back. Given time and numbers it can shift the mood of a place, and change its character. That sort of impact is somewhat wasted on a field.

For these reasons I prefer Focus Wales, the Llangollen Fringe, Shrewsbury Folk Festival (when it was momentarily in the town itself), Sesiwn Fawr, et al. to their country cousins, however bucolic.

FOCUS Wales 2016 offered all these benefits (even the chips - Jones' near Tesco does the best as you asked) - but especially the community. Everywhere was packed on the Saturday afternoon, everywhere was animated and everywhere was friendly. Not always the most comfortable with itself of towns, Wrexham came alive. As for the creative community involved in delivering the event, everyone involved - bands, poets, promoters and DJs - seemed buoyant.

Arriving late morning we started at the open air stage in Queens Square, featuring local performers including Luke Gallagher, who had a good set and even better in between song banter, and then went to the Oriel Wrecsam, packed for an excellent acoustic performance by Baby Brave including many of their should-be hits; Jitters and Shinichi Kudo were standout songs.

We then mooched around the central pubs with ad hoc stages - including the Old No. 7 Bar - where James Macgregor, a very promising minor key local singer songwriter, was performing, and Rewind - were we heard Nathan Jennings talk entertainingly about his new film focused on the history of live music in Newport and the anecdotes and experiences that informed its narrative. We also ran into Bangor comedian Jonathan Williams at this point, who made us laugh even whilst waiting for his chance to climb on the stage.

Back again to the Oriel Wrecsam, spilling into the room in time for a high energy and high impact spoken word performance from Stephanie Finegan, and then the incomparable beatboxing of Lucid, topped with a superb spontaneous jam from Lucid, Stephanie Finegan and Charm Taylor.

Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog then ran through songs from their recent album and highlights of their back catalogue in what was essentially a whitewashed shop, albeit one packed with a rapt and appreciative audience. As their set ended, and the crowd ebbed momentarily, on the wall clearly looking on was a vivid seven foot wall mural painted live by Pete Fowler the day before.

This is just a snapshot of what was a brilliant afternoon, a brilliant unforgettable afternoon, in Wrexham.

  • Baby Brave : Emmi Manteau
  • Baby Brave : Emmi Manteau
  • Baby Brave : Emmi Manteau
  • Karma Shake
  • James Macgregor
  • James Macgregor
  • Stephanie Finegan
  • Stephanie Finegan
  • Stephanie Finegan
  • Lucid
  • Lucid
  • Lucid / Stephanie Finegan / Charm Taylor
  • Lucid / Stephanie Finegan / Charm Taylor
  • Lucid / Stephanie Finegan / Charm Taylor
  • Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog
  • Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog : Branwen Williams
  • Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog : Iwan Hughes
  • Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog : Iwan Hughes
  • Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog : Iwan Hughes
  • Pete Fowler Artwork