Oh, hey. So where were we?
Oh yes, that’s right. Just like last year, in association with the glorious Unity, I was to provide you with my personal insight to FOCUS Wales. My perspective, in blog form, 2023 edition.
I had such a positive reaction to last year’s go round, so much so that it felt natural to do the same thing again 12 months later. And I was excited to do so, perhaps some of you saw my preview entry here that went out on the Wednesday prior. The idea was to enjoy the festivities on each day, go back to my hotel room and get everything written up ready for the following morning to view here. I was going for the morning newspaper vibe, something to read with your coffee and toast.
(Other beverages and food commonly associated with breakfast are available. Just kidding, this isn’t the BBC.)
But, unfortunately, that optimism turned into disaster.
As much as I enjoyed creating last year’s content, it didn’t come without its frustrations on the technical side. Unforeseen problems with getting my pictures to upload to the website caused heavy delays and LOTS of frustration.
I’d bought myself a laptop a few days prior with the expectation that it would get to me no later than the day I was set to travel to Wrexham. You know, in order to majorly alleviate the issues of 12 months ago.
But the company I brought the laptop from messed up badly, and didn’t ship it to me from their warehouse on the day they were supposed to. Meaning that it wasn’t set to arrive until the Thursday, day one of the festival. Absolutely no good to me with me being at a location some 90 miles away.
I tried my best to get around the problem though. I had a Bluetooth wireless keyboard with me for backup purposes which I connected to my phone. That worked fine as far as typing my words was concerned. Well, YOU try doing this, writing something of this size using just the keypad on your phone. I can tell you that doing so is NOT a fun experience.
Anyway I got back to the hotel after last Thursday’s festivities concluded, and proceeded to get my typing done. Nice and easy with an actual keyboard, I’ve never done any formal touch typing courses or anything, but I’m no slouch. I know what I’m doing, and all the ‘Thursday’ words were done in just over an hour.
But, sadly, the uploading issues that I was trying to avoid this time around came to the fore, and this time I was like, no, I am NOT going through this again!!!!! Sure, I wanted to get the word out, but not at the cost to my sanity.
I discussed the situation with Unity, and we both agreed that it would be best to continue with this in a manner that wouldn’t see me stressed out. So hence the blogs coming your way in a ‘retrospective’ format. Does a week truly count as being retro though? Possibly, you decide.
Anyway, so now you know. Despite the down tone, I remain hopeful that all that you read up above was entertaining enough up for you to want to continue on with it. Still with me? Good.
What you’re about to read is an edited form of what I knocked out for your reading pleasure in my room at Wrexham’s Premier Inn (other hotels are ava…oh wait, I did that one already, I’ll stop now, promise). Obviously some of the content has been edited on account of it not being as relevant a few days on, but I’ve tried to keep the character and tone of my original piece as true to what was intended as possible.
Alright. Read on, please…
NOW THEN!!!!! Do I have your attention for a second FOCUS 2023 blog post? Good, good. Come on in then, the kettle’s just boiled…
Hello everybody, your (sometimes) friendly neighbourhood LG is back with another guest blog piece in association with Unity!!!!!
I hope you’re all good, and ready to receive lots of text and photos. Day 1 of FOCUS Wales is in the books, and it has been a fun one.
Yes, all the usual pieces are in place. People descending upon this wonderful town for three days of music and film-related fun. And as for me, watching so many cool live performances. Making new friends. Reuniting with existing friends. Not many random conversations in the street yet, but there’s plenty of time for that.
Funniest moment of the day? Probably not much that happened during the day itself, but trying to swipe myself back into my hotel a few minutes ago as of this writeup. Nothing was working…until I realised that I was trying to use my trade union membership card to get in. Ooops!!!!
I’m still cool, not completely tired yet, just a case of my brain momentarily deciding to stop functioning. But I’m back now and ready to give you my report, so let’s make it happen.
Day 1, as usual, started with me heading over to Glyndŵr University and their television studio to catch some of the artists playing early sets, under the direction of students and staff. I love this annual tradition, people over there recognise me instantly and welcome me back like an old friend. Their friendliness and professionalism is a credit both to the university as a whole, and to themselves.
The day got underway with some nice and mellow vibes, courtesy of Canada. First off, Ellen Froese, and her band…
…followed by Cassidy Mann, and her band. Chilled out, yes, but with more of an ease-your-way-into-the-day flavour.
Things, however, ramped up a notch, when NADUH took to the stage. That’s them up above in the cover picture, by the way. Such lovely and friendly people too, I saw them later on in town at another show, and further chance meetings over the weekend would not go amiss. (Edit: our paths would indeed cross multiple times over the weekend, each encounter being as fun as the previous one.)
But what of their time actually on the stage? Sublime. Cool vocals. Great background beats. Wonderful stage presence. And the cohesion between all five of them is clear and present to see.
NADUH. Remember the name. If you ever have a chance to see them play, please take it.
Next up were Half/Time, here from New Zealand on their first ever UK tour. I have to say that I was very privileged to have witnessed a piece of history, their first show on these shores was something quite memorable. Very intense, but in a good way.
Some friends of mine in a band (who you may or may not read about at some point in another FOCUS 2023 blog piece, hmm…) are due to play a show with them very shortly post FOCUS down in Newport. Both bands are going to have a blast. (Edit: that show has since taken place.)
But for now Half/Time are definitely on my personal radar, and if a clear and present opportunity to see them play again comes at a further point down the line after this, their current tour, you’d best bet that I will be taking it!
After saying my goodbyes to everyone at the university for the day (I would return bright and early on Friday morning), I headed back towards the centre and over to Hope Street Church. Destination: Portugal. Via Wrexham.
On the way back into town, I picked up a meal deal from a conveniently positioned petrol station en route. Every time I get a meal deal these days, a song of the same name from the band Panic Shack instantly pops into my head. You should check them out. Go on, you know you want to.
The first artist I saw at Hope Street Church to bring the Portuguese vibes was Isa Leen. Her passion and intensity was right there for all to see. Of course one of the coolest things about any festival is that you have more than a fair chance to see someone who you saw play earlier in the day as being in part of the same crowd for someone else who you’re watching. That exact scenario happened with Isa and her crew following my final set of the day. I made sure to tell her that I enjoyed hers.
Next up from Portugal via Brazil were Trypas Corassão. Put it this way, anyone who was in that room were served up a performance that nobody is likely to forget in a hurry. And these two well and truly performed, if their set had been part of a standalone show, you would have more than gotten your money’s worth.
After enjoying a little of what Portgual had to offer by way of the festival, I then crossed the road over to Old No. 7, a popular location that has seen my presence at least once for every FOCUS I’ve attended to date.
I arrived over there where a Larynx Entertainment takeover was underway. After touching base with the main man Dave Action – my first time seeing him in person since last year’s FOCUS – I got to seeing some of the young MCs each taking the mic and delivering their bars straight from the heart.
First up was Xelous, who did more than a commendable job after being asked to step in as a late replacement, and very charismatic with it too:
JP was up next. His family featured prominently in his bars, everything he’s put out there – as well as the unreleased material he blessed us with – is clearly not just about him. Very cool to see.
Entah wrapped things up for Larynx on the day, another late substitution stepping up and delivering when needed. Wrexham has got some talent, if you’re into your MOBO, don’t sleep on the place.
Again, Wrexham has talent. Including Dave Acton himself. This man goes above and beyond when promoting others and giving them a platform to shine, but he delivers the goods too, as he did over at The Penny Black.
His subject matter on the mic certainly cuts deeper and gives the listener something to think about, but he has this way of drawing you in and leaving you hanging on his every word.
I also loved it when he had a bit of fun at the end and invited the MCs in the audience to come up onto the stage and drop some guest bars. Niques was amongst them. I like Niques, and so might you if you give her a chance.
My first FOCUS visit to Tŷ Pawb for anything other than the purpose of collecting a wristband came with a trip to the venue’s Flexible Space to catch French duo Bracco in action. And boy, were they ever intense! They left every bit of themselves up on that stage after their set.
Just a reminder to everyone: you can always check out for yourself anyone who I mention. Sure, everyone has different tastes, but you never know, you might find or hear something that you like. I’m all about opening up avenues. Come on now, do you really want to disappoint this face by not giving others a try?
A final visit of the day to The Penny Black saw me take in Lizzi£ Squad. I’ve seen them in Wrexham before, and they delivered yet again just as I knew they would. Plenty of cool hip-hop to be found in Wrexham, sometimes you’ve got to look beyond what you think is the obvious in order to find unexpected gold.
I hadn’t heard of Hanorah as of a few days ago, but discovering artists like her are the very reason why planning my festival schedule(s) ahead of time continues to serve me well. Just a couple of listens of her song ‘The Drudge’ was more than enough to reel me in.
And hearing the song live – along with many others of course – was a treat. Promoters of the UK, please book her for other future shows, I beg you!
My final destination of the day was a venue that has gone through ownership and name changes, but the interior of the now-named The Rockin’ Chair is still the same cool place, the undeniable character is still there.
I joined the set of Mellt in progress in the smaller room. They had the crowd rocking, and even though I was just a small part of it on this occasion, I caught that energy.
Over to the bigger room, and to catch some of what Ynys had to offer. More chilled out vibes, but they connected with the assembled crowd pretty well.
And then on to the ‘friendly’ part of proceedings, by this I mean it to be the time where I reunited with the biggest concentration of friends in the same room. Sorry if I put you in the mind of squash with my use of the word ‘concentration’. Perhaps a nice glass of Ribena or something. But no dilution necessary here.
Okay, enough with the digression. I’ve been a fan of tAngerincAt for just over five years, but it is in recent times that I’m starting to get to know Zhenia and Paul on friendly terms, and they are very cool people.
I stated in Wednesday night’s preview piece – you know, the one that actually went out as planned – that they were sure to deliver an unforgettable performance, and I’d like to think and hope that everyone in attendance for their show would agree with this. Particularly everyone asking about Zhenia’s hurdy-gurdy, an instrument I daresay that many people were seeing in operation for the first time.
I enjoyed their set from start to finish just as I knew I would. I’m not sure as of now when I will see them on stage again, but I already know that I don’t want it to be too long.
And then…enter Minas.
You might remember me speaking very highly of this gentleman and his bandmates during last year’s FOCUS. And not without good reason. If you followed my Top 20 countdown for 2022, you will also remember me speaking highly of the collaborative track he made with others (including Foxxglove, who was also in the assembled crowd, sooooo good to see her again after so long), it getting into said 20, me speaking highly of it, and, again, not without good reason.
But Minas as a performer is absolutely top notch, he and his bandmates will more than give you everything that they have. And it was absolutely grand to see a big crowd turn out for him, including several familiar faces. Here’s one of them, her name is Ffion, and she performs under the name Foxxglove. And yes, I did just mention her up above. You should also check out her music too, it’s very good.
‘All My Love Has Failed Me’ is a quality album to listen to if you get a chance. But watching the tracks come to life when played live is quite the treat.
Back to the big room, and time to see some local heavyweights in action. The Joy Formidable originally formed out of Mold, not that far away from Wrexham, and so of course there was a big audience to greet them. I’m a bit further back for this one as I hung back to chat with friends after the previous set ended. Yes, I am about the music, but I also value and cherish all of the friendships that I have made through music, and especially the ones that have their roots right here in Wrecsam. (Yes, TJF are in the following shot, honest, you might have to squint a little if you’re viewing this on a small device.)
I’ve seen The Joy Formidable play on several occasions over the years, and they’ve always put on a great show. That reputation was more than maintained at The Rockin’ Chair.
The final set of the day saw me watch MOJA in the smaller room. They are a two piece rock band from Tokyo, and the energy they brought to the place was raw, primal and ferocious. They said during their set that they hoped to get another opportunity to play here before the weekend is out.
(Edit: this is a paragraph I wrote a few days later as the issues I had – as mentioned up above – rendered what I originally wrote here obselete.) I’m happy to report that they did get to play again at the festival, and I’m 100% certain that what I saw on that night was fully replicated at their other shows.
So yeah, another busy day at FOCUS Wales in the books. And I came back to my hotel room in the very small hours afterwards, and typed out all of this before heading for bed. Hah, don’t worry about it. I’m hardly likely to give a world class touch typist any sleepless nights if I was to have some kind of typing contest with them, but I know my way around a keyboard, and I’m pretty decent at the typing thing. So there!
Okay, that’s it for the text that you should have read early last Friday morning. There was originally more underneath where I was going to tell you about my full plans for Friday, and to give details of other top bands and artists not on my schedule to consider checking out. But no suspension of disbelief required here. What should have been here will now remain on the cutting room floor.
But I sincerely hoped that you liked what I had for you in this revised piece. Questions, comments, complaints, compliments even, can be sent to me at my Facebook profile. Sorry, no Instagram for the multiple people who have asked.
You want some more goods, in the form of my Friday, day two shenanigans? Of course you do. Keep an eye out, and stay safe!
‘Til next time