Buzz’s west coast correspondent Julia Deli was in Cardigan town centre for this year’s edition of Cymro-Irish crossover event Other Voices, on a tear to catch live music in churches, alehouses, grassroots venues and more…
The Otherworld of Other Voices/Lleisiau Eraill lands in Cardigan again, its blend of musicians, artists, film and discussion filling the streets with festival-goers for three days. The original concept – bringing rising and established talents from the regions into a cultural collaboration – is supported by the Welsh and Irish governments and their respective TV channels, S4C and RTE.
The Clebran talks at Theatr Mwldan are likewise meetings between politicians, creatives and future policy-makers from both sides of the Irish Sea, and create insightful, round-table debate with themes such as ‘Small Places, Big Ideas’, ‘Queer Voices In The Creative Sector’, slow living and storytelling tradition, adding a depth to the musical experiences happening in the 11 venues. With 60 acts performing and other pop-ups, it’s just as well artists play twice through the weekend.
Freshly wristbanded when Other Voices opens on Thursday, we headed straight to Crwst, where Snowdonian Gwilym Bowen Rhys held court with his intricate fingerpicking style and pure vocal phrasing, reshaping tunes from Welsh folk tradition both sweetly and with a panoramic grandeur. Sitting in the iconic curved glass-fronted building, you could believe yourselves around a fire in a nook on the hillside, he creates such a tangible scene.
Dubliner Rafino Murphy, aka Uly, brought a mellow vibe to the Cellar Bar, with old-school production values and a jazz-pop soul. Bringing touching melodies to life with his deft guitar play, he calls us to provide gentle backing to add to the layered sound, a cosy, bonding warm up for our vocal cords.
At the Pavilion, Catrin Finch & Aoife Ní Bhriain launched their new album Double You as part of the festival, expanding on compositions they started online in 2021’s virtual Other Voices and continued on stage at 2022’s. The album further explores the nature of bees and the threats they face from environmental damage and toxins; their championing of the subject has delivered honeyed music wrought from both Welsh and Irish heritage.
Theatr Mwldan hosts Minas, whose narrative-led electro-punk, infused with elements of industrial and noise, was informed he says by growing up in Cardiff in an atypically punk Greek household. The cool, urban soundscape of All My Love Has Failed Me has an arthouse resolution, while Payday’s insistent chant is mesmeric; the political and social themes of his work, matched with knife-edge electronica, make for a dark but therapeutic sound.
Mari Mathias takes us into the mystical caverns of Annwn – the Western Underworld – in the suitable setting of the Cellar Bar, the lyrical Preseli artist and fellow band members conjuring ceremony and ritual from the Celtic twilight for a passion play about this very region. Poetry, field recordings, even family archives on cassette find their way into the potion: Mathias’ compositions are steeped in Bluestone roots.
Only one place to go after participating in that ancient mystery: release at the Thursday night after- party at the Mwldan. Some may have been by bemused by the crazy shapes west W-aliens were throwing to the eclectic trance of Cardigan’s DJ Benway, but if they’d been through the Gates Of Annwn, put horns on their heads and got swept away by the Tylwyth Teg, they’d understand…
Friday began at Small World Theatre with Cardiffian audiovisual artist and electro musician Teddy Hunter. Simple, minimalist, jazzy melodies are the backdrop for her dreamy, ambient vocal, accompanied by samples that suggest our connectedness to nature – including sounds made by the electrical frequencies emitted by plants.
Returning from last years appearance as a solo artist, Matthew Frederick, Colenso Jones and Martin Webb are Pontypridd’s Climbing Trees, showcasing their new release Middle. Their self-styled ‘Cymrucana’ repertoire has seen them win awards and work with the BBC National Orchestra Of Wales. Here, emotive and consoling lyrics are linked to a driving tempo and healthy philosophy in Troubling Times; as they remind us, “we’re still free, in our dreams”.
Dead Method, at Mwldan 4, played dark, political avant-garde disco, conscious rap and poetry overlayed with funky beats and theatre. The three-piece were a rhythmically tight unit, with glamour and showmanship a brilliant gloss.
The maverick Scustin, at the Cellar Bar, are seven off-the-wall, post-funk Dubliners, mixing charm and hometown wit in proportion. The pub bants and lingo of The Killer perfectly describe the life and gossip in an Irish pub, and super-sophisticated alt-jazz number Sick Of Making Love To You is parodied by the lyrics’ emotional honesty.
The name Thumper gave us some idea of what to expect next in the Pavilion: comparisons had been made with My Bloody Valentine and The Dandy Warhols, but that doesn’t prepare you for the massive wall of sound and imaginative diversions the four guitarists and two drummers built with their heavy but melodious indie-psych-rock sound. The urgency and raw energy of Fear Of Art, the poetry of the lyrics, the fuzz, the perfect timing make for an epic set, reverberations in the floor under the madly grinning dancers standing as a testament to their might.
We kept it upbeat with Mount Palomar (Belfast DJ Neil Kerr) at Mwldan 4 for his experimental electronica, hard-edged breaks and slivers of psytrance, before finishing the day’s odyssey in the company of Caernarfon’s Alffa (Dion Jones and Sion Land) at the Cellar. Meeting as students of Coleg Menai, they formed a heavy, blues-influenced duo, playing a confident, moody sound with knowing undertones. They wrap up Friday with a chunky set and glowing credentials.
Saturday started with a reflective moment, bringing us back to the nature of Cardigan Bay as we become intrigued by the audio-visual work of Simon Whitehead and the Dulais project at Canfas Gallery. Writer, photographer and artist Whitehead created two ‘soundpieces’’ on the River Dulais with “other artists, writers, the public and animals in that environment”. Walking in and beside the river, filming and sketching it, even submerging a Fender to let the river play, it reminds us of the subtle intricacy of river ecology and the spontaneous nature of water.
St Mary’s Church, where cameras and lighting are set up for broadcast and livestreaming, fills for the Sesiwn Fawr: one of four big gigs to be televised later in the year. Tonight’s is a brilliant double whammy and opens with Kenny Anderson in sweet, complex, melancholy form in his longrunning King Creosote musical alias. A new album I Des is out in days and tonight he previews the songs with their Fife identity threaded through them. Honest lyrics, a smiling warmth, a world of tender reflection from the former punk sensibilities.
Leeds’ Yard Act from Leeds throw everything into the pot with their post-punk indie-rock. There’s danceable poetry, funk and disco with scratching and noise on top, pile-driving beats in their armoury and lyrics/poetry that speak both emotional truths and truth to power. The Trench Coat Museum is a mesmeric mashup that finally gives way to disco, Dream Job a psychotic rant about a psychotic future, but all ends well with 100% Endurance: “Everything has already happened. Time is an illusion. This hippy bullshit is true!” Yard Act sign off thus: “We’ve met some lovely people. We’ve met Dai Crabs. We’ve had fish and chips and seen the bronze otter. We’ve packed a lot in. Now, here’s one for our government, Land Of The Blind…”
The Cellar was the venue for an evocative slice of time, recorded over a year for Sywel Nyw – the project of Lewys Wyn, also a member of Yr Eira. The musician/producer’s monthly series of online collaborations during 2021 gave artists free rein over the creative direction, composing around songs from Endaf Emlyn and members of Adwaith and Gwilym.
HMS Morris followed at the venue: this psychedelic art-rock quartet always seem the happiest, most loved-up gang, spreading the infection generously with a full-capacity sound, cheeky tunes and smart lyrics. Family Souls casually throws funk, disco and psych together, grandeur alongside silliness, and a big cheer goes up for 110’s sexy strut and euphoric vocals.
As Theatr Mwldan gathers up revellers for Nathan ‘Stardust’ Jones’ DJ set, it’s the end of another all-encompassing Other Voices in Cardigan. It’s set to return to the town next year, though, with dates to be confirmed shortly. It’s a great concept: some festivals get too big or corporate, but this one can’t. It remains fresh and vital, and long may it do so.
Stepping out into the night, lit by a moon exactly full and in eclipse, we feel lucky to share in the bustle and excitement of new bands, the joyful exhaustion of dancing all night. And we take armsful of that energy home with us, out into the wider world, knowing the power that music has to transform.
Other Voices 2023, various venues, Cardigan, Thurs 26-Sat 28 Oct.
words JULIA DELI photos STUART LADD / TRIGGER HAPPY / JENNIE CALDWELL