FROM today until Saturday more than 300 performances by more than 250 artists or acts will be staged across Wrexham at a festival that aims to bring Wales and the music industry together. 

Focus Wales will feature headline sets from artists such as Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys, Charlatans singer Tim Burgess and former Mercury Prize nominee Richard Hawley alongside new and established acts, from Wales and further afield, representing every genre from punk, to folk to hip hop and reggae. 

But more than simply a chance to hear, dance and singalong to new and familiar songs in a town that’s hardly a regular touring stop Focus Wales is intended to support the development of new music, and musicians, in Wales. 

“It’s a music industry showcase primarily for new music in Wales,” says festival co-founder Neal Thompson. 

“The whole reason we set it up was to have a nationwide industry event specifically about Wales. You have the Great Escape, in Brighton, or Liverpool Sound City, and we thought there’s no reason Wales wouldn’t have its own event like that. 

READ MORE: Lockdown and music helped Joy Formidable's Ritzy heal

“But we’re a music industry conference as well and we run conference events every day. There are a lot of music industry people around for networking and watching Welsh bands and there is an opportunity for career development for those groups.” 

Running alongside the jam packed live music programme are talks, workshops and interviews covering subjects such as how to register songs for royalty payments, the purpose of PR and even how to go about touring the USA. 

 

As well as attracting acts from across the globe Focus has also drawn speakers and industry experts from countries including America, Sweden, the Netherlands and Canada. 

“We have a partnership with Breakout West festival in western Canada and when they hold their event we will be taking Welsh acts there, it’s a very similar event to us, and we have developed quite a few partnerships in Canada and it’s an opportunity to showcase acts to North America. They are reciprocal partnerships,” says Neal. 

READ MORE: Meet Cardiff University's Sex Education A capella group

The festival and conference, which also features and arts and film programme, is intended to support Wales-based artists progress in the industry and it receives support from the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Government alongside commercial sponsors.  

The National Wales: Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys Picture: Huw Evans AgencySuper Furry Animal Gruff Rhys Picture: Huw Evans Agency

Success, says Neal, can’t be simply measured in monetary terms or even hit records: “Are bands going to make so much money that they don’t need do another job? Well there aren’t many bands like that.  

“But there are wider benefits to creating music or art and listening to music such as wellbeing but without information there is no chance of that happening and it is also a little bit of a platform, a mechanism, for promoting for Welsh artists and for them to experience the music industry. 

“New bands from Wales can also play alongside more established artists and the audiences they bring in.” 

The festival is marking its tenth edition, in its tenth year, as last year’s event – like nearly all musical events in Wales during most of 2020, was cancelled due to the pandemic. The 2019 festival attracted a combined attendance of around 15,000 people at its various events.

Fittingly there are a range of conference events on how musicians, and the music industry, can emerge from Covid. 

 

Among those who will be sharing their experiences, as well as performing at the festival, is rapper Tumi Williams from Cardiff. 

He will be performing with his Afro-funk/hip hop band Afro Cluster at the Ty Pawb performance space on Thursday evening and two shows on Saturday under his solo stage name Skunkadelic. 

His solo recordings have earned airplay on stations including BBC 6 Music and Radio Two while Afro Cluster have performed at festivals including Glastonbury and Womad as well as Green Man. 

The National Wales: Don Letts is the event's keynote speaker Picture: PADon Letts is the event's keynote speaker Picture: PA

Like all musicians though the band were impacted by the Covid enforced lockdowns during which time Tumi was forced to diversify and launched a Nigerian food delivery business Jollof House Party. 

Repercussions from the shutdown of the live music industry are still being felt, especially for new acts says Tumi who also works as a promoter staging live shows: “People have not had the opportunity to perform and there is a backlog of gigs that venues haven’t had the chance to hold and we’re looking to start gigging properly in 2022. It is especially hard on those who are just starting out.” 

READ MORE: Born to run: Athlete, rock singer, punk Jimmy Watkins

As well as performing and taking part in panel events Tumi will on Saturday afternoon interview the festival’s keynote speaker the DJ, producer and filmaker Don Letts who is credited with bridging the cultural divide between punk and reggae. 

For Tumi the trip to Wrexham is a chance to make connections including with one of Wales’ best known DJs: “It’s an opportunity to make links with bands and I’ll be meeting with some Canadian artists who want to get venues in the UK. 

The National Wales: Tumi with his band Afro ClusterTumi with his band Afro Cluster

“I hate the word, but it’s a huge, networking event and you can check out new acts and I will also be meeting a lot of people for the first time, who I’ve known for years, like Adam Walton who has been playing my music, on Radio Wales, for seven years. You get to meet the people behind the radio, the clubs, A&R people and publishing. 

“If you’re a budding promoter, or radio person, this is the chance to walk up to someone, say hello and introduce yourself, be confident, be yourself just like you would in the pub and talk business.” 

When taking part in panel discussions though Tumi is weary of setting down rules for others: “I don’t really give advice I just tell people about my own experience and if that works for them then they can apply it to their own agenda.” 

 

Tumi says performers also need to take advantage of the festival’s format and play their part: “It’s an opportunity to mingle and you don’t know who is in the room. It’s not just set up, play your show and go home and head back to Swansea or Cardiff but it’s about getting there before your set, check out who’s playing, go with your business cards, speak to people and support the other artists.” 

The diversity of acts, which includes Welsh language acts, folk and classical music, and music of black origin (MOBO) alongside rock, has also impressed Tumi: “There’s a strong MOBO presence which is great and a lot of them being Welsh artists as well which is great.” 

Focus Wales runs from Thursday, October 7 through to Saturday, October 10 at various venues around Wrexham. For more information visit its website

If you value The National's culture and arts coverage, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.