There was an extra spring in my step as I made my way to Ty Pawb in Wrexham to pick up a wristband for the weekend at this year’s Focus Wales. I had scanned the line-up and stage times of what is in store and it was full of disappointments… Those being that there’s so many quality bands playing that there’s inevitable clashes throughout the three days.
Since it’s inception in 2011, Focus Wales has gone from strength to strength and despite the tireless work of Andy, Neal, Sarah and the rest of the organisers, they all seem relaxed and everything is handled professionally and there are smiling friendly faces everywhere.
Running a festival of this scale isn’t just a three-day job, it’s all year round, it envelops you, it takes over your life… And I’m pretty certain they are already planning Focus Wales 2019.
I’m greeted by Andy Jones and he tells me to immediately check out National Pigeon Unity who are sound-checking as we talk. He described them as a two-piece alt-rock band from Seoul. The truth is, they were a two-piece alt-ace band from Seoul. There’s a split guitar (as is the trend) going through a lead amp and a bass amp, laden with FX, drowning us with a psychedelic-Hookworms sound backed by frenzied drumming that was roll-heavy and amazing to watch. The guitar screeches, screaming for mercy as Kidohou sings with an almost Oasis swagger while Young-mok Park is doing his best Animal (from The Muppets) impression.
Adwaith are soundchecking in the Ty Pawb Performance Space, I meet Kath in the queue and we share our enthusiasm for this Libertino Records band with their cool sound and the subject of thought that goes into their lyrical content. I was initially slightly deflated to see them as a stripped down two-piece, but perked up to learn they’re playing a ‘full-blown’ set on Saturday. The mood was chilled, the vibe was cool and the songs were cleverly stripped back and shortened. Adwaith are affectionate and you immediately warm to them and their discerning delivery of songs such as Femme, Newid, Lipstic Coch and Fel i Fod. They finished with the brand new Dunno that Hollie Singer describes as what she says when she’s asked what’s she gonna do with her life.
Still in Ty Pawb, we are drawn by the tones coming from the Flexible Space. Another of the South Korean clutch of bands, DTSQ are in full flow. It’s an infectious prog rock impression without all the nonsense and this 5-piece are both aurally and visually contagious (despite them all wearing trackie bottoms!). Songs are repetitive and irresistible and they go into breakdown and bring out the Moog synths before building back into a whirlwind of noise. Excellent
With so many familiar faces milling around Wrexham, there was a danger of the night becoming a meet ‘n’ greet, but was good to rekindle old friendships. It was love at first bite on seeing Chroma [main pic] over on the main stage in Central Station. A three-piece fronted by the eccentric, outlandish and breathtaking K-T Hall who commanded the stage with flamboyance and confidence. On initial contact I felt a loss as (like many modern bands) they had only one guitar; in this case a bassist, along with a drummer – there was that extra sound of guitar riffing missing. Once you had tuned in however, you realise it is what sets Chroma apart from being ‘just another band’ – well, that and K-T’s compelling performance.
Caught the opening number by The Contact High and wanted to campaign for the legalisation of all hallucinogenic substances as they built upon their psybient beauty, taking us on their inter-dimensional journey… It was however back to the reality of a dirty garage in Deeside as Chupa Cabra [above] took to the stage at Ty Pawb with their twattish charm and disjointed disposition. Their new album; a split with the band No Friendz, was heavily represented here as the certifiable Morris Dancers (and a dog) entertained everyone present. Songs like King Leach, Sides Of My Skull and Mouths To Feed are thrown at you whether you like it or not… How can you not…?
A quick saunter across to Atomic and I learned of Ffloc and how I had missed them and how they’re gonna take Llanfairfechan by the balls. In the meantime Kela Topan are upstairs and you know it’s gonna be really loud up there! The band are Dave Morait’s brainchild, they’re almost a continuation of his previous Orient Machine / Gobow creation, or perhaps a parallel transphasic universe version of them. Dave is ably accompanied by Gareth, Maff and Haydn and the pain this boy goes through in his plight for perfection makes you wonder why he bothers. That is until you actually hear the results. It’s rock Jim, but not as we know it – it’s out there on it’s own, full of convolutions that will both lift you and smash through you… Perfection though, is a fault.
There was a dash back to Ty Pawb to catch long time compadres Gintis steal the show and our hearts with an absolutely divine performance. Great to see drummer Joe Booker back in the fold on err… keyboards. This band have come such a long way from that shambolic debut performance in Rhyl’s Bar Blu in 2003… Hopefully they still have a long way to go…
What an absolute buzz of a first day….