Festival Review: Swn Festival, Cardiff

We arrived in Cardiff on Thursday afternoon, ravenous and weighed down by our best ‘we’re cool kids who go to gigs’ clothes, having travelled by National Express (the only way to get from London to Cardiff and back for £10, unless you walk). 

The running of this festival has gotten pretty slick since its inception in 2007, and this year was an utter triumph – venues were brilliantly chosen and easy to reach, with 6 of them either on or in the very near vicinity of the legendary Womanby Street.  This made dashing between performances a proper doddle (umbrella struggles aside).

Them Squirrels
kicked off proceedings in Dempseys with a ripping, scintillating, experimental set abounding in shrieks, yelps, and whistles that had the crowd jigging about like exuberant peacocks.  The venue was done up a bit like a school disco (with bunting) but once the fluorescent light over the stage was turned off things got much more atmospheric.

Next on were Fredrick Stanley Star, (the fact that they share For Folk’s Sake’s initials in no way influences my opinion that) they were stupendous.  Their finely honed, subtle harmonies are FFS fodder and no mistake.

A hop, skip and a jump across the street led us to Y Fuwch Goch, where Jonquil played some songs that are about as close to sunshine as music can get.  Expect to hear them on the radio next summer – these guys might be to 2010 what Noah and the Whale were to 2009.  Islet then played a blinder of a set in Dempsey’s – tribal electro-rock with a cacophony of sounds at their disposal, this was the stand out gig of Thursday, as far as FFS was concerned.

Friday began with Threatmantics, whose singular use of a viola in place of lead guitar was thoroughly exciting.  This Welsh three-piece are well worth a listen.  Next was my favourite new discovery of the weekend, Sweet Baboo.  He was so wonderful that I damn-near sprinted from a seminar with STEVE LAMACQ on Womanby Street to Spillers Records so that I could see him again a day later.  And this reviewer’s more of a hobnob eater than a jogger.  He’s shy, sweet and on occasion acerbically funny, with songs about such wide-ranging subjects as accidentally emulating a bumble bee, and being in love with a lady’s lungs.

Anyway.  After this, mind thoroughly blown I wandered over to Dempseys to check out Elephant and Soldier, who were proficient enough but a little too Damien Rice-esque for my ears.  After this came a distinctly un-FFS rock out upstairs at Clwb Ifor Bach, where Johnny Foreigner growled up a sweaty storm.  It was brilliant to have a change, and I was near a circle pit for the first time in approximately 8 years.  If your tastes wander beyond the remit of this website, check them out.

The evening finished for me on a charming, low-key note.  Silver Gospel Runners lit up the stage at Dempseys, melting hearts left right and centre with their multi-instrumental, eccentric brand of indiepop, which is a most welcome addition to the FFS listening library.

Saturday began with a bit of learning.  Steve Lamacq led a seminar, with projector screen and double CD player, during which he showed us how he goes through his post and chooses tracks for the radio.  Note to bands: he hates it when you misspell his name, he likes it when you write him a little note, he will NEVER eat food sent to him in the post because of poisoning (paranoid?  Perhaps).  Anyhoo it was a proper honour to watch the great man at work, and we managed to shoot over to watch Sweet Baboo do his stuff again in Spillers straight after. 

Taxi Taxi!, who supported Kings of Convenience at the Barbican earlier in the year, played a beautiful, scintillating set marred, sadly, by a jolly loud glass washer in the bar and a vast group of gentlemen who apparently really enjoy paying to discuss football loudly over the top of exquisite harmonies.  These people were fools, and these highly talented Swedish twins fared admirably under unpleasant circumstances. 

The day ended with lots of crazy loudness in a sweaty converted church called The Gate.  Dananananakroyd led some rather lovely enforced random hugging and had the crowd shuttling about like dancing pinballs, then Los Campesinos! arrived onstage to delight and excite a heaving church auditorium.  They toned down the twee somewhat and it’s not at all excessive to say they *rocked*.  New material for the forthcoming album was sweeter and more poppy than previous offerings, but my was it wonderous.

In conclusion, then, a weekend of superbly varied and talented gigs across Cardiff once again demonstrates how much of a God Huw Stephens is.  This festival can only go from strength to strength, and FFS looks forward to every brilliant year to come.

Words: Helen True

Our Brian’s put together a playlist inspired by his experience of the weekend if you fancy a gander.