National Assembly of Wales Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee’s Inquiry into Music industry in Wales.

 

Arts Council of Wales’ additional response.

 

Earlier in the year the Arts Council of Wales submitted evidence to the Culture Committee’s Music Industry Inquiry.  This is a supplementary note on the questions about the viability of the traditional Welsh music scene and festival sector, in response to a further request for information.

 

Developing new voices

trac-Music Traditions Wales(an Arts Portfolio Wales organisation) has been undertaking development work in the folk and traditional music sector for over 20 years.  Its work has been aimed at developing young musicians, the community sector, sessions and informal playing.  Additionally, has supported semi-professional and professional artists, with projects such as Yr Arbrawf Mawr/The Big Experiment, Deg Mewn Bws, Gwerin Gwallgo and professional development training.

 

The Lorient Inter-Celtic Festival is one of Europe’s most important showcases for traditional music.  Since the Year of Wales at the Festival in 2008, there has been a marked increase in the development of the traditional music sector in Wales. The event was a catalyst for a number of artists who have since gone on to develop strong careers in the sector, as performers, tutors, producers and management. 

 

Calan, as a group of five young people launched their career at Lorient in 2008, and they have gone on to tour widely, taking Welsh traditional music to new audiences in the UK and around the world.  Ten years on and the Year of Wales in Lorient in 2018 saw the development of Pendevig, a 15-piece band capable of playing some of the biggest stages in the world, a development almost unthinkable ten years ago.

 

There’s also a range of new, emerging artists such as VRï, The Trials of Cato and NoGood Boyo, all bringing their own approaches to traditional material. There is growing confidence in, and demand for our indigenous traditional music.

 

It’s important to note, that underlying the success of performers such as those noted above has been a vibrant grass-roots scene of people playing for the sheer joy of it – pub sessions, kitchen music and informal performances. Young people need access to the music, to be inspired by the quality and success of professionals. Many of the musicians involved in the professional scene also tutor on courses such as trac’s youth course, Gwerin Gwallgo, out of which has developed Avanc, the National Folk Ensemble of Wales.  Fifteen young people, arranging, composing and performing under the artistic direction of Patrick Rimes (Calan). The course takes place at the Urdd’s centre Glan-Llyn. There’s potential for developing further work in partnership with the Urdd.

 

The WOMEX effect

In 2013, Arts Council of Wales brought WOMEX to Cardiff.  WOMEX is the most important international market for world music. It was an opportunity to introduce and showcase artists from Wales to a new audience of promoters, agents and festivals. As a result, 9Bach signed with Real World Records, going on to create an award-winning album and tour the globe with their own brand of traditionally inspired Welsh music.

 

Following the Year of Wales at Lorient in 2018, Arts Council of Wales presented a showcase of Welsh artists at English Folk Expo, as the ‘International Partner’. It was an exceptional opportunity to present Welsh music, culture and language to a whole new audience. 9Bach secured a top UK agency and the other artists, Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita, Alaw and Gwyneth Glyn developed new contacts, secured bookings and changed peoples’ perceptions of Welsh folk & traditional music.

 

A milestone reached

The first Welsh Folk Awards were held in April 2019, a partnership between trac, BBC Wales, Radio Cymru and Arts Council of Wales.  Arriving at a point where there are now sufficient artists of high quality to undertake an awards event demonstrates a significant amount of development over many years.  This stretches back well beyond 2008, and is a ‘milestone’ achievement for the sector. The event was a great success, both for the BBC and the artists, and provided a new platform for audiences to encounter the music.

 

Some key challenges

Despite the many successes, the sector as a whole is under-developed compared to those of our neighbouring nations. The actual numbers of musicians involved in the sector professionally is very low, despite the fact that fees can often be better in this sector compared to those for contemporary music, especially in early career. There are very few people in management or agency positions in Wales supporting this sector, so Welsh artists need to look outside Wales for agency representation.

 

A touring circuit for live traditional music exists in Wales, but it can be easily saturated. There is a good spread of venues and festivals programming folk and traditional music but making a living from touring in Wales alone isn’t viable. Welsh musicians will always need to look further afield, to UK national and international markets. There is a vibrant folk and traditional music touring circuit in the UK, clubs, venues and festivals, but accessing the circuit in England and Scotland is a challenge without good agency or management representation. More Welsh acts are making headway, but it remains a stubborn market for many to break into.

Showcasing events have played an important role in introducing the music to promoters, and we would hope to target other opportunities, such as Showcase Scotland atCeltic Connections.

 

Trac continues to play a crucial role in early development and professional support, but it is a small organisation, with limited resources. Festivals like the Lorient Inter-Celtic provide an annual international platform for artists from Wales, where they meet musicians form other cultures, play to new audiences and gain valuable performance experience. There is a growing demand for traditional music from Wales, but resource is needed to support future development, at all stages of the sector, from grass-roots youth work through to professional touring acts, performing at major festivals and venues. The ‘support sector’ of managers and agents is particularly in need of development, to support the growing scene. PYST has started to represent some traditional music artists and it will be interesting to see how this support develops over time.

 

Arts Council of Waleshas provided grant funding to support marketing, promotion and touring for folk and traditional artists, through our Music Industry Development Fund and Production & Touring funding. We have also supported international performing, collaboration and showcasing through Wales Arts International’s International Opportunities Fund, and via our contribution to the PRSF International Showcase Fund. We support trac with revenue funding as is an APW organisation and the organisation has been in receipt of Lottery grants for its participation and training programmes.

 

 

Festivals

The festivals of Wales are many and varied.  Sometimes a Festival will represent the only opportunity in a particular geographical area to experience arts activity of that type during the course of a year.

 

Since 2011 the Arts Council has had a dedicated Festivals funding strand.  Festivals are an important way that the public access live music, often for the first time, as well as providing a platform for Welsh artists. 

 

Previously supported festivals include FOCUS Wales, Tafwyl, Swn, Wrexfest, Fire in the Mountain, Green Man, Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod and Llangollen Fringe.  All of these are leading examples.

 

We also support festivals with a strong classical music content (Vale of Glamorgan, Presteigne) and other festivals such as the Big Splash, Laugharne Weekend, Sesiwn Fawr and Llawn which programme different genres of live music as part of the offer in the town centres they inhabit.   Festivals are key links in the chain. They can programme live music in unexpected places and reach more widely into communities. A key new music showcase festival, FOCUS Wales, makes use of churches, tipis, pubs and public halls, and platforms such as Maes B at the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol enable young people to access and create music through the medium of Welsh. Platforms and opportunities provided by festivals in Wales support emerging artists, develop confidence in performance, allow access to new and diverse audiences and, in many cases, support career progression and viability.

 

Our concern for many of the festivals of Wales lie in their reliance on public funding to exist. However, their contribution to the local economy, their increased environmental contribution and potential to improve social cohesion means that investment from the cultural portfolio is valid and valuable. The support that festivals such as FOCUS Wales and Green Man provide to emerging talent and sustainability of career lies beyond the festival site but would not, in many cases, be possible without the festival’s existence. Festivals also often provide opportunities for emerging stagehands, technicians, sound engineers etc. and support people to see the breadth and depth of career opportunities within the industry.

 

Because of the nature of festivals, whether outdoor or building based, there is often a reliance on other areas of the public sector to support developments. Whether through licensing, access to buildings or changes to road infrastructure, there is a need for all public service areas to understand the wider contribution festivals make to the locality in which they are placed. Without this support, or indeed as the public purse is squeezed more tightly, there is a risk that festivals are seen as an added pressure with little immediate reward. Our view, however, is that festivals are a key element of the music sector infrastructure in Wales and that they need increased support to develop viable business models to ensure they can be as sustainable as possible longer-term to further develop and support the artists and communities they serve.