The future looks promis­ing for live fes­ti­vals, but for now we are still in the land of the vir­tu­al. Gwyl 2021 ear­li­er this month used this mode to its full advan­tage. The event was put togeth­er by four Welsh fes­ti­vals, Focus Wales, Fes­ti­val of Voice, Aberys­t­wyth Fes­ti­val of Com­e­dy and Oth­er Voic­es. Col­lec­tive­ly, they cre­at­ed a won­der­ful­ly diverse event to bring musi­cians and come­di­ans to wider audiences.

Huw Stephens pre­sent­ed the week­end’s line­up, bring­ing his enthu­si­asm and in-depth knowl­edge of the Welsh cre­ative scene. High­lights were Adwaith who deliv­ered an atmos­pher­ic set from Wrexham’s William Aston Hall – occa­sion­al shots from the back of the space with its rows of emp­ty seats high­light­ing the prob­lems that lock­down has wrought upon both artists and venues. No won­der Adwaith have a fond fol­low­ing: vocal­ist Hol­lie Singer and crew deliv­ered a con­fi­dent and forth­right set. 

Islet have seen their star firm­ly in the ascen­dant – as a live act they are mes­meris­ing and fair­ly ener­getic on stage – last time I saw them Emma Daman Thomas kicked a row of pints at the edge of the stage, soak­ing a fair few fans. Harpist Catrin Finch gave a breath­tak­ing solo per­for­mance which includ­ed Street Tan­go and End­less Sky- and her inter­view with Huw Stephens in which she revealed that she had can­celled over 60 gigs dur­ing Covid was a reminder of just what per­form­ers – and their audi­ences – have lost.

Islet band, Hackney 2019

An unusu­al and par­tic­u­lar­ly mov­ing per­for­mance was The Death Song­book: a col­lab­o­ra­tion between Brett Ander­son of Suede with con­duc­tor Charles Hazle­wood and the Para­orches­tra. They per­formed Killing Moon, He’s Dead, Unsung – this was a selec­tion of songs about death but also love and tran­scen­dence. Mer­cury Rev’s song Holes sound­ed mag­nif­i­cent sung by Ander­son, accom­pa­nied by Nadine Shah. The 45-minute per­for­mance was a majes­tic and emo­tion­al experience. 

Gwyl con­tin­ued till Fri­day 12th March with the week’s events avail­able on the AM app. Focus Wales, the music indus­try fes­ti­val fea­tured The Cana­da Ses­sions: show­cas­es from Mon­tre­al and Nova Sco­tia, a rare win­dow on young emerg­ing artists. Tues­day night’s six-act line­up includ­ed Le Couleur, a slick, exu­ber­ant dance act fea­tur­ing The Besnard Lakes‘ Sheenah Ko on keyboards. 

The 360° ses­sions. Any meth­ods to make the online expe­ri­ence more like a live per­for­mance are to be com­mend­ed and Focus Wales’ con­tri­bu­tion on Thurs­day night aimed to do just that. Artists from their week­end ros­ter each per­formed one song, which was filmed for the 360° Ses­sions. You could then use your phone or head­set to direct your focus wher­ev­er you want­ed. I’m not con­vinced it’s any­thing more than a bit of fun, but it did help you feel as if you were occu­py­ing the same space as the artists as you moved around the stage. 

Per­for­mances are all still online and avail­able to watch for one month approx.
360° ses­sions avail­able on YouTube

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