Category Archives: Music

Review, The Goat Roper Rodeo Band, Theatr Clwyd, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Or so it seems. The arts sector is not out of the woods yet by any means. But there is a glimmer of hope. Like the neon bulbs dangling across the stage at my first live gig since March, there are rays of optimism breaking through the darkness. As the sun set on the magnificent red brick building towering over us, aglow with rainbow-coloured light, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of joy and relief that I am back. That I have been able to come back. That my theatre, unlike others, still stands.

It never stopped, of course. It innovated; collaborated; diverted its resources; sought creative solutions. And now, it is slowly returning to a sense of the old normal. Not indoors, mind, but out. On a grassy field marked with white boxes and filled with makeshift chairs of all shapes and sizes. A tapestry of camping and outdoor furniture laid out before a plain black stage, simply lit and acoustically sound. Onto it step three lads with three instruments ready to entertain the throngs that have ventured out on this Friday evening. And entertain us they most certainly do, with a barnstorming hour of country, blues, and alternative folk.

Their blistering set was much needed to get the toes tapping; to counter the cold wind blowing across the site. The audience applauded in enthusiastic appreciation throughout, determined to enjoy an hour of music after the dearth of live performance over the past few months. The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly offered plenty of enjoyment and more besides, an eclectic sound keeping things fresh and lively, with no let-up in their high-octane delivery. Even in the slow, ballad-like songs such as Toss and Turn and Old Joanna, there was intensity in their presentation, perhaps caused by the welcome release that this post-lockdown opportunity presented for them. Whatever the case, it only added to the brilliance of the evening. With a carefully-crafted back-catalogue of wonderfully-catchy songs – reminiscent of Mumford & Sons one minute, sounding like a 1950s WSM Radio broadcast the next – The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly left their mark on proceedings in an hour that went by way too fast.

It was a very different experience of Theatr Clwyd to the one that I am used to. But it is moments like these that weave themselves into our memories. They are the unexpected surprises that make our relationship to a place so rich with meaning. They crystallise into a particular instance on our timeline that helps us tell the story of our lives to those that come after, when we recall how this theatre and its work has impacted us down the years. It may appear to the one looking in and gazing upon the photographs that this was just another outdoor gig. But to those who were there, or to me at least, this show marked the occasion when the arts began to breathe again, as the tightly-bound corset of Covid-19 restrictions was loosened enough to allow for such a socially-distanced gathering to take place.

There will be many bumps in the road to come. We are not out of the woods yet. But beyond the many trees still to wind past to get to the edge of what can seem an overwhelmingly-bleak scene, there is a light that shines. It will not be the same one we left behind. And neither should it be. Lockdown has been an opportunity to view and do things differently. Live performance as we knew it will return I’m sure. But the arts sector must also move forward. Change must be embraced.

Click here to find out more about The Goat Roper Rodeo Band.

Click here to find out what’s coming up at Theatr Clwyd.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

“An Empowering Narrative for what is usually, a very Disempowered History” An Interview with Lawrence Hoo.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bristol based poet, Lawrence Hoo. It was a truly enlightening conversation and we discuss all things Race, Class and Education. You can find out more about his latest projects at www.lawrencehoo.com or more about the Cargo project at @cargomovement on Instagram and social media. (Becky Johnson)

Read Part 1 below to see what he had to say:

Hi Lawrence, it’s lovely to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hi, my name is Lawrence. I live in Bristol, well I’ve lived in Bristol for almost my whole life, and I’m a poet.

I was born in Birmingham and grew up in mostly marginalised communities in Bristol. I spent a lot of my youth in and out of the care system. I went to 6 secondary schools and after that, I didn’t have any form of education. I was a feral kid on the street from the age of 6 and a runaway. When I was 19, I had cancer and I went through a bad stage of my life after that. I thought that the cancer was going to kill me anyway and I went back to living on the road.  And then at 30, I became a father for the first time. To be honest, it scared the living daylights out of me. But that’s about it vaguely.

I wanted to see if I could make myself a better person and make more of my life. So I went back and re-educated myself and began to teach others how to use computers. I did that for four years and got burned out. So, I started to do my poetry.

My poetry came from a place of rage and from questioning why the authorities were allowing situations to occur in these certain environments rather than in the rest of Britain. All the laws that need to protect people exist but for some reason the action isn’t being taken to enforce them.

 A point of that was when my partner was picking up our young son from nursery in Saint Pauls and she was approached. We then, campaigned against paedophiles being allowed to stay in the hostel which backs onto our nursery. It came out and we succeeded to make Bristol safer.

And that’s why I use poetry as a platform to try and make these changes happen.

I acknowledge that a lot of your previous work and ethos is grown around Bristol and the things that surround you there. I know that similarly to Tiger Bay in Cardiff, Bristol is going through a huge gentrification process. I was wondering on what not only your thoughts are on this but also what impact you have already seen from this?

I think is painful to see the gentrification. It goes back to those laws again., they hold all of these problems in communities.

In Saint Pauls there would be safe houses to protect those from people who have committed crimes as well as hostels for those who have committed crimes. There was drug rehabilitation centres and parole offices, but they were put next to the only place in Bristol, where you could legally sell drugs on the streets. They put the drug users next to the drug dealers, they put the people at risk from sexual crime next to those who have committed sexual crimes and they put prostitution on the streets by schools.

They took all of these issues and put them into an area which was where the African Caribbean communities are, so they often associate these problems with the African Caribbean communities. But, if we take things back to sherlock Holmes times, there were people smoking opium and he would investigate the murders of prostitutes. All these problems came along a long time before we came to Britain.

The children who are growing up in Saint Paul’s, because of the violence, lose their innocence way too young. That’s what I find heart-breaking. The way Saint Paul’s was policed (well actually I say policed but it was more so ‘contained the issues so they didn’t affect the other communities’) means the influence and protection of those other communities, is so different to what happens in Saint Paul’s.

Building prices are going up which is forcing working class people to move out of the areas which they grew up in. With Saint Paul’s it’s the council assets. The things that the working class need the most will be the first things to go. There’s no chance for people to come back into the communities they’re from. And with the services are removed, the communities become very affluent causing the communities to shift and there is nowhere for those that grew up there to live in the area.

So adding onto that, what do you think of the increase of students and the spreading of students away from Gloucester road and into Saint Paul’s? Is this bringing a positive impact, or is it doing the opposite and removing opportunities for those that are from the area?

It was always going to be a natural progression that Saint Paul’s was going to be reclaimed because of where it is located. It’s just an expansion of an affluent area but, at the same time, all it has done is push out the communities that was there before. It just benefits one community and marginalises another. It’s heart-breaking.

I’ve grown up there and lived there. It’s always been my safe spot. Regardless of all of the chaos of the city, if you’re from African Caribbean descent, it’s a safe place. It’s just devastating. Gentrification is devastating. I don’t see any positives from gentrification.

As a homeowner, gentrification has increased the value of my property. But there’s not much of my community left. I feel like a stranger. Some people say yeah but you can make money from it, but I’ve lost my home. I’ve got my house, but the community is my family. That whole family aspect of life is gone. My home is gone.

I don’t think people actually understand what it’s like to lose that familiarity, that security and that family. What it’s like when its gone.

The university of Bristol is such a huge entity in the city, and it needs to do more. I’m working with the university now, but I want to work with it to help collect the wider communities of the city and to support them. Everybody says black lives matter. But working-class people’s lives matter.

The whole city is classist.

Its problem the main issue of the city. There’s the golden circle for a mile around the city which makes a very affluent area. But one thing that’s very rare to hear in this area is a Bristolian accent. A lot of Bristolians are cast out of opportunities here. I believe it’s time for those big institutions to connect and to gather communities to raise their platforms with them. A part of Bristol is accelerating so quickly but it is leaving a huge part of Bristol behind.

So your latest project, the Cargo project, has recently received National lottery funding (congratulations). Why was the Cargo project initiated and how was it developed into the current version in which it sits?

In 2007 I did a collection called HOO stories. Which was a response to the abolition to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was an opinionated set of poems that held a non-Eurocentric view. It was holding up a light to the actions of Europeans and gave a positive light to people of African descent, allowing it to be seen from an African-centric view. It pointed out people that had contributed greatly to society but who had pretty much been emitted from history.

Cargo was an extension of this. Looking at what people have been told has been done and then showing what has actually been done as well as looking at what you have actually done yourself. Cargo showed African resilience and African’s generating opportunities.

The beginning of the collection probably looks at the first 400-500 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, when people were just classed as cargo. Covering that journey and how they were put in the conditions that made them in slaves as well as the achievements of those of African descent. It starts in Bristol and then goes into the slave trade, the Hacienda revolution, H Samuel Sharp, and the uprisings and then continues with those that fought against and contributed to civilisation. An empowering narrative for what is usually, a very disempowered history.

It was done because I live in Bristol and you cannot get away from Bristol’s history. Every building you look at is made from Bath stone which came from that industry. I live in a city that’s very painful to live in.  

As a young black man, I couldn’t get my head around the fact that men didn’t fight to defend their wives and children. I always thought, my people didn’t fight then but I can fight now. When I realised that they did fight and rebel, that changed for me. I thought that people were so dehumanised that they stopped seeing themselves as human and it breaks my heart. But then, you realise that they did fight and what happened to them, was crimes.

But they saw that evil, and they fought and fought and fought. I wanted my children to not grow up with the same anger that I had and that’s where the collection came from. I want to give the children of Britain the opportunity to not be me.

It started off as an installation as four different shipping containers on College Green (Bristol). The idea of using shipping containers removed the permissions needed to display this information e.g. the approval of museums and galleries. We didn’t want to have to prove that our work had value to other institutions. So that although there were permissions needed, it was a lot more flexible than the others.  But because of Covid-19, the idea of putting people in a confined space walking around stopped being possible.

Covid-19 took the installation and we thought, how do we keep this moving forward? How can we make it more digital? We wanted to give people accessibility to information. So we went forwards with the Classroom project. The installation although on hold, is still in process.

The Cargo Classroom project is so important and it’s brilliant that you’ve been able to kick off something as monumental as this. What do you believe is the next step to get this information into mainstream education?

We produce a product that they feel they can’t not use, that’s the first step. Making something that people want to use and then work towards getting that into the curriculum.

This is the crazy thing, for years, we’ve been pushing and pushing but because of what’s happened in the last 6 months, people have actually come looking for us. That has been a huge change. The most important thing for us to do, is to keep focussed on what we have already been doing and to not get involved in loads of things. This is what we were doing before we got national attention. We need to make sure we deliver what we set out to deliver before we then look at what the other opportunities are.

The funny thing is, I’m so excited for what were doing. The possibilities are insane. This is the right time, we have the right product and we have the willpower to push it.

The attention will soon fall off if people aren’t prepared to put the work in. What is happening currently isn’t new, we had a global black lives matter campaign 4 years ago. And literally, outside of America, in a few weeks, it had gone.

We don’t need huge numbers as long as we keep pushing the right buttons. The group who did the protest a few months ago are still going and are making sure its not going anywhere. This young group, I believe they’re going to keep it going and make some change, for real.

Here in Wales, where Get the Chance is based, there is a campaign calling for Black history to be taught to Welsh pupils in school which has received more than 30,000 signatures within days of it being set up,  educating pupils on subjects like British colonialism and slavery.

Whilst many ministers in government (both in Wales and England) acknowledge the need to shine a light on how colonisation has been glorified, why do you think the latest bill passed through parliament was rejected?

Through fear.

I think a lot of this information has been oppressed for so long that if too much of the information came out too quick, it would undermine the whole of the UK government. The whole industrial revolution was built off the back of Africans.

What is actually owed? People ask are there reparations for the past? The gains are still received today. Companies are still using Africa as a resource. They gave the countries back their independence and to the people they gave back their freedom, but it was only on the surface level that they gave it back. They didn’t give back the land or the wealth that was generated from the land. Africa is not just filled with Africans. There are huge debts to be paid.

How would the English pay off the compensation that is needed? They could give them their natural resources, and then the interest of anything earned off those resources, and then, maybe, Europe would need the aid and Africa doesn’t. The economic balance would collapse.

We need to teach people their worth, their value and what was truly stolen from them. Not only their names, identities and homes were taken but so was the ability to nourish themselves from their ancestral background.

They’re afraid to teach the history because what happened was absolutely appalling and everyone would see that. England played its part right through the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the South African apartheid in the 1990s… The 1990s.

There’s just a lot of fear. With the crimes that were committed, there’s a lot of responsibility. People think Africa contributed a lot less to society than it has because a lot of African history has been emitted. But over time the internet will allow people to get this information, which before would have been through privilege. This will add some truth to history. And European governments will have to be accountable for their actions.

In part two (coming soon) Lawrence discusses Change and what changes we need to see (and make) to make a fairer and more equal future for us all.

“Art is about People and isn’t Something that Should be Contained by Old Notions of Performance and Presentation.” An interview with Daisy Howells

Hi Daisy, it’s lovely to meet you and to get the opportunity to pick your brains. So just to introduce yourself to our readers, please can you give them some background on yourself and how you define yourself as an artist?

Hey Guy! Yes, so I am a Contemporary Dancer/Director based in Manchester. I trained at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance where I graduated in 2018 with a Masters in Contemporary Performance.

I am Welsh born and proud, so split my time between working in North Wales and across the North of England. My work is a whole mix of things really, from teaching to choreographing, to performing professionally and directing my own company. I like to spin many plates!

At the moment my artistic practice is very much based in collaboration, working heavily with digital creators, movement makers and sound artists. Concerning a definition, I am a person whose artistic world is constantly changing, so I am more of a chameleon than anything else! I like re-developing and re-branding who I am as an artist. I don’t like getting boxed in. So with my practice as a maker, teacher and mover, I feel like I have my own specific interests and style, but also something tangible that is reactive to the situations and people around me.

Your company has a Virtual Performance Party on the 28th of August. You will be premiering your new work, ‘Night People’, which is described as a “visual art, rave inspired, dripping with dance and bass, screen-dance film! Inspired by nightlife adventures and underground club nights, we bring to you an evening of music, movement and misfit mayhem!” This sounds like an exciting event! Can you tell me more?

 
Of course! This is all very exciting as it is the first time myself and collaborators have made a purely digital work, made for screen. I currently work within a trio, consisting of myself (Director of Brink Dance Company), Animation Powerhouse ‘Howl Creative’ and Composer ‘LSMarley’. Together we make cross-collaborative performance work that focuses on the electric blend of animation, visual art, contemporary dance and sound. We draw upon the themes of Rave Culture and the Dnb scene, bringing to life these underground landscapes of community, escapism and midnight mayhem. We began our collaborations whilst training in Leeds, with our passions to bring contemporary art to a new scene of young people and venues uniting us together. Over the years we have worked in various Club settings and Theatres, alongside showcasing our work in Churches, Bars and Shopping Centres.

www.anniefengphotography.com

Our new work “NIGHT PEOPLE” is our latest ambition, commissioned by Social Conventions London. The whole event aims to bring the night out to your night in, offering an insane mix of dance work, visual creations and DJ sets direct to your screens. We are fiercely attempting an online festival line up, one that follows the storyline of a collection of Pro Ravers on their night out, whilst showcasing a range of DJ and Visual Art sets in between. The whole event is geared towards those missing the party scene and the nightlife culture. However this event is also geared towards those interested in Digital Art, DJ mixes, Animation, Motion Capture, and simply for those who want a fun and energetic Friday Night to enjoy! Tickets can be found on our Facebook Page at Brink Dance Company and cost as little as £1. This is a brand new look at how we can create connection and party via this new lockdown world, so come and join the movement!

Artists features include sets by the incredible DJ and Visual Artist, Izzy Bolt, a completely new soundscape of Dnb/Experimental goodness by LSMarley, Movement & Groove from the phenomenal dancers Iolanda Portogallo and Maya Carrol, Digital Creations and Film from the fantastic Howl Creative and much much more….

Contemporary Dance can be perceived as an elitist art form do you think your practice seeks to break down any perceived barriers?

Completely. Coming from a very traditional dance background, I will always have a love for pure dance on stage, with the theatre audience watching and bows at the end. However as I began figuring out my movement style whilst training, I realised this didn’t always connect with me. My experiences dancing at raves, exploring the club scene and finding connection in these places of music and groove, were the reasons my love for dance and performance grew. I found my feet. I found a place where my body understood how to move. I found a style that expressed who I truly was. And it was amazing. From then on, I wanted dance to move from a place of tradition and bring it to a new scene of people, locations and communities.

www.anniefengphotography.com


My work aims to bring contemporary dance and mix-medium performance to audiences that may never have set foot in a theatre. I wanted to showcase how dance can be used as a tool for communication and dialogue, rather than something people simply observe from afar. I think art is about people and isn’t something that should be contained by old notions of performance and presentation. My work strips this away and offers a raw physicality and emotive landscape of people communicating what they really feel. It is also a reason I have taken dance away from just dance in its pure form. I wanted to work with other creators and other mediums to enhance my process and thankfully through luck and chance I was able to connect with some incredible artists who have helped make this happen. Breaking down notions of art forms being apart or away from each other has been a career changer for me and essential in breaking down limitations of how I view dance and where I see dance going creatively. It is about learning from new sources and being open to the fact you don’t have all the answers. Giving into this and entering various scenes of art, creation and rave enabled my process to blossom and is a huge reason why my work has taken many twists and turns.

It all begins to sound very arty as I describe it but essentially I owe a great deal of my creative ethos to the rave scene. As a maker and particularly as a dancer, this unlikely scene of haze, bass and underground antics moved me in such a way it broke down my perceived barriers of what I thought art was and what it could be. These places of sheer music and escapism shook my creative habits to a point of change and enabled me to see what I truly cared about as an artist. My practice has grown from this place of joy and boundless energy, removing personal and professional barriers so that I can reach audiences beyond the rigidity of traditional performance. Taking my work off stage and opening the doors to all manners of performance, audiences and venues has been an incredible journey and one I hope I can continue in the future.

Rave culture informs a great deal of your practice, how do you curate the music that becomes part of Brink’s artistic vision. What tunes are exciting you now, personally and artistically?

I am blessed to work and be friends with the incredible LSMarley.

We began collaborating on one of my first commissions in partnership with Light Night Leeds and Light Waves Manchester in 2018. We met Luke and it just clicked. Luke has a fantastic ear for sound and composition, alongside being able to produce incredibly unique tracks that gel effortlessly with movement. His music has been a huge influence on the aesthetic and overall movement style of our work. Essentially I think our music and movement is curated through genuine pleasure and joy. We make what feels right and makes us feel good.

I wouldn’t say it is an overly thought out process, it is more about sensation and being honest with each other. It is also through observation and taking interest. I listen to Luke’s music within my everyday ongoings. Luke has watched me perform and dance countless times. We have been in the studio playing and jamming together for the last three years. I think through simple experience and listening to each other we have naturally come to an understanding. I think it is all a little unspoken and I think this is what makes it so magical.

Apart from Luke’s sound, my music style for work takes inspiration from various pools of EDM artists and DNB creators. Some of my favourite ‘going out/research’ tracks are by Lenzmen, Calibre, Nicolas Jaar, Caribou, Thundercat, Marcelus, Chimpo Halcyonic and G Roots and Children of Zeus.

You were recently working for Theatr Clwyd providing arts based activities to key worker children. How did you approach delivery given the limitations of Covid 19 and do you have any hints for colleagues as regards delivery of participatory activity?


Ah this was such an incredible part of lockdown! One of my biggest passions is teaching and working with young people. It was such an honour working back in North Wales and helping these children experience art and dance after such a tough lockdown!

Delivery was all focused on protection for both teachers and students, alongside creating a super safe and welcoming atmosphere. We were lucky enough to work in a huge theatre, so that really helped keeping the 2m distance rule. We had colourful 2m squares painted on the floor for the children to work in and have as their own which was really lovely. The main actions we took were developing games and activities that would involve a whole group whilst keeping distance, so there was lots of re-inventing the classic games and making them Covid safe! We wore masks around the building at all times, apart from in sessions and washed our hands religiously! Having hand sanitiser on you was key and we made sure the kids we routined in regular hand washing within all sessions.

It was a crazy experience diving into this work environment and I know for many dance teachers re-entering the scene feels risky and under-researched. I guess the main factor when it came to delivery was prioritising your safety as a teacher and making sure the space was set up in a way so that you could keep distance, whilst being able to lead. Little things I got into the habit of doing was taking spare clothes to change into throughout the day so I wasn’t taking ‘unclean’ clothes into my car/living spaces, disinfecting materials and surfaces I used regularly (my phone/speakers/trainers) and being very clear and open with the students about when they should wash their hands and the importance of keeping distance. It is totally possible to make a teaching space fun, enjoyable and feel relatively normal, you just have to be super on it with hygiene and be creative with your practice!

How has lockdown affected you as an artist? What long term effects do you see Covid-19, having on your artistic practise?

Big question. And I feel one where the negatives could naturally be the main answer here. Obviously the financial impact is huge, especially on freelance artists. Alongside loosing months of passion projects, contacts, performances and creative support, there was also a huge loss of momentum for freelancers self generating their own work and putting endless hours into making their ideas come to life. Through a loss of income and creative development, I still feel a sadness for all the things that were cancelled and taken away once lockdown hit. These impacts have been truly devastating for many artists and I cannot deny the damaging affect this loss of time, money and security has had on many.


However I think it is also incredibly valuable to look at the long term positive effects. Covid-19 was a huge blow for my freelance practice. I lost all my work over night and I had to basically start again. BUT (and this is a big but) when there is a will there is a way and damn I was going to find a way! Due to lockdown I switched up my aims, practice and pretty much my overall artistic outlook and set out to learn a bunch of new things. During this time I have been lucky enough to develop my skills in film and digital media, take lectures in screendance and movement capture. I was able to be part of online R&D’s and several digital creations, alongside delving into my writing practice and developing my online classes. I’ve managed to reconnect with old artistic ambitions and have the space to come up with new ones. I’ve become more efficient and savvy with finding work and directing my passions. I’ve had chance to think long term and not rush from one project to the next. There have been so many things I would have never done and I feel beyond grateful to have had these experiences come my way. I think there has to be a big shout out to all ALL artists and organisations taking Covid-19 on with re-invention and innovation and I feel very proud to be part of an artist community that is pushing new boundaries and re-shaping the path forward.

The Get the Chance team are big fans of the ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ podcast and something they do on each episode is ask their guest “If they were in government as an advisor for their specialist field, what would be the first change that they would make?” So I’d like to ask you, if you were an advisor/ representative for the Arts sector, what would be the first change that you would make?

Diversity and accessibility. I think a great deal of work is still needed in these areas, to help make art that is a true representation of the communities we live in and offers diversity in voice, experience and narrative. I think more has to be done to create an arts sector that offers fair opportunity and reflects the social changes that are part of our current 2020 lives. I think the arts sector can be seen as a liberal place but it is also stuck in tradition, old schools of thought and certain infrastructures that limit artistic creation from a truly diverse pool of artists. I believe art is for everyone and what we generate, create or shape can make a real impact to those who engage with it. It can be a kick starter for social change, dialogue and awareness and I would love to see the scene develop further in audience outreach, art inclusion and diversity in engagement and opportunity. I think a great deal of this comes from employers and art funders being aware of their positions of power and the change they can implement through re-shaping old ideas concerning art creation and its outlook. I see innovation happening across the sector, from dance and music, to visual and digital media, to how we showcase art and offer accessibility through viewing and participation. However I know a great deal more is to be done and that these conversations need to move from discussion and board meeting chats, to quicker modes of change and action.

To conclude, is there anything that you’re currently working on or anything that you’d like to highlight/ share with our readers?


I wanted to share the Instagram links of the fantastic artists I am lucky enough work with for our NIGHT PEOPLE project. Their talents, artistry and love for their craft has made this event what it is and I am so proud to have collaborated with this team of wonderful humans! Check out their work below at…

Instagram Names:

@mayarosecarroll


@lsmarley

@howl_creative


@boltizzy


@_.iole._

Follow @brinkdancecompany for further info, ticket links and exciting updates about the work, and yes…go buy a ticket! You won’t regret it!



Review, Laura Evans, Running Back to You EP, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

When I composed my ‘Top 5 Welsh Country Music Artists’ for a recent article, I made a glaring omission. How could I forget Laura Evans? Yet such has been the success of the Aberdare-born singer-songwriter, one can easily forget that her roots lie on this side of the pond. Her music has been featured on several US TV shows. She has performed at the famous Bluebird Café in Nashville. In fact, her time spent in Music City, writing and producing songs, means that she could easily pass for an American citizen.

On saying that, her voice retains a certain Welsh flavour that is evidenced on her latest EP Running Back to You. Her sultry tones are reminiscent of fellow Welsh warbler Duffy. Indeed, the strong soul vibe on the title track cannot help but evoke such a comparison. It is also shot through with blues, and contains some delicious guitar licks in the middle that make for a tasty listen. Its catchy groove sits nicely alongside the music of namesake Laura Oakes – though it is much more layered than Oakes’ straight-laced pop sound.

Laura Evans is no one-trick pony. This EP is defined by eclecticism that ranges from the heavy rock of ‘Drag Me Back In’ to the traditional country-sounding ‘Take Me Back Home’. The latter confirms her Welsh roots with a call to home that is beautifully written and played with gorgeous simplicity. Its sound is embedded in Nashville-inspired song which could belie the distinctly Welsh imagery within the lyrics. It fails to do so however, the two marrying well to create a lovely, heartfelt lovesong to Aberdare. Following on, as it does, from the heart-wrenching ballad ‘Mess of Me’, about the lasting damage that can be caused by a broken relationship, the track takes on further resonance that was perhaps unintended. Here, ‘Take Me Back Home’ takes on a Prodigal Son vibe in light of the despair contained in ‘Mess of Me’. It suggests the healing power of home which, given Wales’ Celtic spirituality and natural beauty, has the potential for truth.

Whatever the potential significance of the song choices and their running order, Running Back to You displays the type of music that showcases why Laura Evans is so highly thought on both sides of the Atlantic. She is a genre-crossing artist whose songs all have the potential for broad appeal. I think it will be only a matter of time before she is given much wider recognition on national radio here. It will be the least she deserves.

Listen to the EP on Spotify here.

Click here to find out more about Laura and to purchase her EP.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Review, Bryony Sier, Personal Monster EP, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It is hard to categorise Bryony Sier. The Welsh singer-songwriter has a rather eclectic sound. There are bits of blues, flecks of folk, glimpses of gospel. She is cut through with country, with a slice of soul, lightly packaged in pop. Her new EP Personal Monster displays an exciting mix of all of these various sounds, sown together to create a mottled tapestry from a thematic thread of personal identity. Despite the deeply personal nature of this record however, its musings on mental health in particular speak to a universal experience which make it highly relatable.

The title track is one on which the disruptive and destructive nature of anxiety is expertly exposed by Sier. It makes for a rather sharp sword that penetrated right through to my own heart, all-too-familiar, as it is, with those tall tales telling me ‘I’m not worthy’ and ‘if I jump it will be my biggest mistake’. The song’s infectious rhythm belies its lyrical darkness, the sort of paradox that seems to mark much of Bryony’s music. Merry Go Round, for instance, exudes a form of pessimism that actually feels remarkably reassuring. Its tune is shot through with a melancholic hope that put me a wonderfully pensive mood. Meanwhile, Hurricane combines the whimsical movement of a Celtic folk song with the darkened sky of a gritty Johnny Cash number. The musical arrangement goes off on some unusual and unexpected tangents, producing a mystical quality that ends the EP on a rather intriguing note. I went back to listen to it again straight away, such was my fascination with Sier’s honest exploration of her own inner world as well as the astute observations of those around her.

Personal Monster represents a broad horizon of musical sounds upon which Bryony Sier feels free to explore. She borrows from here and there, constructing a multi-coloured road of sound along which she travels into the dark recesses of her anxious mind. It is a record that makes one feel less alone, and provides reassurance that the monster within us is perhaps not as personal as we might think.

Click here to listen to Personal Monster on Spotify.

Click here to find out more about Bryony Sier.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Review Fy Ynys Las, Eddie Ladd, A Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and National Theatre Wales production in partnership with BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Arts

From one Country Bumpkin to another..

Eddie Ladd provided us with a virtual tour unlike any other. This captioned performance gave the audience an insight into Eddie’s childhood home and where she was residing for lockdown. By using a pre-recorded Zoom session, Eddie shared her screen as she looked back through images of her home, telling whimsical tales and allowing us to experience her nostalgia of her childhood with her.

Eddie sat in one corner of the screen, using the rest to direct us through her process of thoughts. By seeing her reactions to what was occurring on screen, the audience resonated with her and her experience of these events whilst still allowing us to create our own experiences of what was happening. She used layering of images in a stylistic way, much like how we would layer movement to create effect. A box of files also sat on the screen, organised by section into folders of Subheadings. This gave a very organic feel to the performance as was if she was flicking through her memories rather than watching a finished performance. By also using her dialect and country slang, all formalities of the performance were lost and hence it became a sharing, from one person to another.

The performance paralleled with Martin Parr’s exhibition “Martin Parr in Wales”. These snippets of images resonated with a sense of home and a resemblance to growing up on a farm (although mine was a sheep farm in Yorkshire). This is something I have never come across before. Through the familiarity of how ordinary farm life was and the niftiness of adaptations (using a soil filled bucket as a dumbbell), the piece really resonated with me and my lived experiences. It held truth and honesty about a simple life of living in the sticks, and especially highlighted how British farming has changed over the past decades and even more so the economic struggle of British Family farms today.

Not only did this resonate through farming life but also through the isolation of being in Lockdown and how it has affected our livelihoods as artists. The resilience needed to continue and adapt with the change happening all around us (and in Eddie’s case, with a fallen tree full of memories) was eminent as looked through past, present, and future obstacles. With comparative reflections of the events that occurred over time, Eddie used a mixture of light-hearted anecdotes and trivial props to provide a wonderfully human experience. This alongside the pulsating techno, carried us through a vast range of shared experiences whilst also gaining insight into Eddie’s creative process.

This piece was refreshing and an honest reminder of the beauty within simplicity and the importance of shared human experiences. And for that reminder, thank you Eddie, as it’s something we all need. Now more than ever.

Becky Johnson, GTC

Participatory Arts: Thinking Beyond Lockdown – Community Arts. Jên Angharad, CEO, Artis Community

Jên gave the presentation below as a part of the recent Zoom Participation Meetings. This meeting was supported by Art Works Cymru, NDCWales and Tanio. Thanks to Jên for sharing her statement.

Cyflwyniad Presentation: Participatory Arts: Thinking Beyond Lockdown – Community Arts. 18/06/2020

Bore da… good morning! Jên Angharad ydw i… I’m Jên Angharad… a year into my current post as prifweithredwr… CEO with a wonderful organisation that is Artis Gymuned – Artis Community.

Cyn i mi ddechre… before I begin… hoffwn jesd diolch i Guy, Lisa a’r partneriaeth, sy’ ‘di gwneud y sgyrsiau ‘ma’n bosib… ac am fy ngwahodd fel un o’r siaradwyr… I’d just like to say a big thank you to Guy, to Lisa and the partnership, that has made these discussions possible… and for inviting me to contribute as one of the speakers…. Diolch o galon!

So here we go…. Yn meddwl tu hwnt i lockdown… Thinking Beyond Lockdown … catapulting between what was…. what is … and what MIGHT be… at a time projecting into a future that is still unknown! Sounds like a dance improvisation to me! 

I’m not going to talk about the work that Artis did before lockdown, (perhaps you can visit the website if you want to know more about that – https://artiscommunity.org.uk) because beyond lockdown is of course, about our futures… the future of us… as creative, cultural organisations, of independent artists… the future of us as a practice… and the future of us as a community of practice that includes the people who we are building relationships with and people who we’ve yet to have the privilege of meeting, making and growing with…

A future that sits within a broader arts ecology, currently in crisis.

Mae ‘na fwy o gwestiynnau nag atebion… There are many more questions, than answers and so, I asked the Artis team and board, what are the questions they are asking about our future as an organisation and as part of a national practice beyond lockdown and I’m focusing this reflection on just some of the many questions they’ve shared with me!

So this is a collective effort that we can continue to explore further with our communities.

The first question is a big one! It asks for thoughts on how the community arts sector might navigate its way out of lockdown? This is probably a question many of us are trying to answer!

When we consider community arts as a sector, currently capsuled into zoom boxes and flat screens, I think navigation requires kindness, it requires us to take good care of our health and wellbeing and to support our colleagues and friends, so that we are then able to maintain good connections and support as best we can, the people in our communities who make and feed our collective creative practice.

Then I like to think that we can draw strength from being a community of practice that holds a common unity locally, regionally and nationally, we are after all a people practice. We are a community of improvisers, planners, dreamers, strategists, collaborators, communicators and engagers and isn’t it fantastic when we come together to share concerns, find solutions to puzzles and celebrate successes! Conversation platforms like this one are providing a space to reflect, share and learn… connecting, re-connecting and I hope, strengthening our collective knowledge, practice and passion into the future. The more we do this, the more we can feed a shared understanding and form a united voice, which I’m sure we can all agree, is needed if we are to convince the Westminster government, that the social and economic value of community and participatory arts, is crucial to the wellbeing of our both our current and future generations.

The next question asks… What impact can we have now, in the next few months and further ahead into the future? 

In Artis we’re learning through the stories of current lived experiences that in as much as it can never replace social 3 dimensional gatherings and interaction, we are making some difference to people who are engaging in our current digital, local doorstep drop offs, telephone conversations and posted activities… for some living in isolation and without access to digital technology, the non-digital activities provide a crucial connection with the outside world and that of their own imaginations.

Our digital activity has had a surprising impact, I think mostly on our own thinking about the possibilities that digital engagement can create!

The main driver for this development was an urgency…. a concern about how, during lockdown, we could possibly maintain a connection with the people who regularly take part in activities.

Refocusing practice into a digital domain is time-consuming work, but it’s worth it in terms of connecting people during social distancing, it means we can continue to employ freelance artists and we’re learning new skills!

But, if we are to survive beyond lockdown, we face an even bigger challenge and that is to add our voices to the voices of Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Government in influencing the thinking of the Westminster government… to call them to understand the need for and the benefits of, locally driven community and participatory arts experience… on health & wellbeing, on learning, on skill development, on identity, on our sense of place in this world, on our environment and on the economy and regeneration of communities. [These are] Community and participatory arts practices and experiences that are priceless and can be life changing.

Efallai mwy nag erioed… We now need perhaps more than ever, financial investment in the arts, and importantly, not just in the larger organisations, but in smaller companies and charities and independent artists who do incredible work in and with communities of people who can otherwise be invisible and feel the weight of injustices, amazing people who are entitled, after all, to explore a world of imagination, creativity and growth.

I attended an ArtWorks Cymru partners meeting yesterday to discuss the Parliamentary Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s call for evidence, of the impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors… the deadline is Friday – that’s tomorrow! ArtWorks Cymru is drafting a national response and if we can, as organisations and individuals also submit responses, however small, our national voice – our sector voice can be louder. Our immediate challenge is to convince the current powers that be, of our relevance. 

Projecting forward… Beth yw’r heriau… What are the challenges of facing a new and different future?

There are undoubtedly big challenges ahead, not only in the practicalities of coming out of lockdown, and transitioning into choreographed… physical… social… spaces, but also in how we approach this… mindful that social distancing, isolation, ill-health and grief will have impacted individuals in many ways and require sensitive approaches to re-engagement.

Lockdown has unearthed the ugly truths about inequalities and injustices in our society and in as much as the Artis vision is well intentioned, we, as an organisation need to question what we mean when we say:

Mae ein gwaith yn ceisio creu lle i bawb

I brofi rhyddid mewn creadigrwydd a grym i ddarganfod gwychder mewn dathliad o fynegiant artistig.

Our work seeks to create space where all people

find freedom in creativity and are empowered to discover great moments in a celebration of artistic expression.

If we truly mean ‘pawb’ … ‘all people’, then we must proactively change our focus towards areas and cultures we are failing to reach in the South Wales Valleys. We know that we can’t do this alone. We need to work together with organisations and individuals to achieve this.

The unknown is perhaps, for most of us an uncomfortable prospect. But I think if we look to our community and participatory practices, that are by their very nature, improvised, uncertain, adventurous, unexpected… we can remind ourselves, that we can call on these same resources to propel us forward into the unknown, knowing that our collective creativity and resilience will see us through.

Diolch am wrando… thank you for listening!

Participatory Arts – Capturing The Learning, A Response From Laura Bradshaw, Community Musician, Composer/Performer.

In response to the lockdown triggered by COVID-19, many arts organisations have taken their work online, sharing content for audiences to view for free. However, creating participatory engagement online is much more challenging and, as a sector used to being face to face with people in their practice, it’s clear that the current restrictions change the nature of participatory arts based activity substantially.

Following a vital conversation on social media led by Guy O’Donnell, Learning and Participation Producer, National Dance Company Wales which opened a discussion on how we can deliver participatory arts effectively, a range of partners are collaborating to lead Zoom discussions for the sector where we can talk about the impact of the lockdown on our work and work creatively together to think beyond the lockdown.

In partnership with ArtWorks Cymru a series of free Zoom meetings have been set up to discuss and share current working practices in participatory delivery.

Capturing the Learning

These Zoom meetings will explore how we capture the learning from organisations and artists who are currently delivering projects. We’ll explore what methods are working well, what are we learning through this experience, and how we are adapting our working practices.

Community Musician, Composer/Performer Laura Bradshaw will be speaking at the meeting organised by Tanio on June the 11th. The meetings are free to attend but numbers are limited. Laura gives an overview of the challenges and solutions she has created to support the public to access her services in the current climate.

Hi can you tell me a little about yourself and your practice?

Hi, My practice is as a community musician and a composer/ performer. I’ve been working with the general public, as well as with specific potentially marginalised groups using music and singing workshops as a vehicle for creativity and skill building.

The amazing and very clear bi products of participation in such activities being that of community building/ confidence and cohesion  as well as mental and physical wellbeing for participants. I’ve been following this vocation for for almost 30 years. My own performance and composition skills feed quite naturally into the workshop setting.

Writing this in the knowledge of the terrible racist killing of George Floyd in USA as well as the fact that it has been confirmed that BAME people are far more likely to die of corona virus than white people show that we have a long way to go in our endeavors for community cohesion and equality in the world in general and so the I feel that the role of the community musician or community arts worker is more crucial than ever!

What challenges did lockdown present to delivery of your participatory practice?

I had actually delivered a workshop on the Monday just before the Tuesday lockdown,  there was a sense of shock at the realisation. Also performed a joint gig on the Saturday at Cardiff library with Bread and Roses(the vocal trio I sing in with Frankie Armstrong and Pauline Downas well as Oasis World Choir and Band, for international women’s day.

The immediate challenge many of us faced was that our careers – communities had come to a standstill. Firstly, and selfishly, the fact that there would be no possible income – I am freelance and if I don’t turn up to a workshop then I don’t get paid – this appeared to be the scenario at first under lockdown. Secondly a panic about all the regular people I interact with weekly through my choirs – many of whom are vulnerable mentally and physically and the lack of connection with others and the lack of participation with their favoured activity, could be a grave addition to their worries. It was almost too much to comprehend, so I found myself in a bit of a state of ‘red alert’ trying to find out ways to protect both my income stream, and maintain my workshop offerings to those who’d most appreciate them at this difficult time. The research I did was constantly engaging with one of the professional bodies I am a member of Natural Voice Network on their social media as fellow tutors helped (and continue to help) each other out with constant questions, ideas and inspiration. I am also a trustee of the NVN and there were constant discussions going on between board members but how best to support practitioners.

What systems did you put in place to ensure delivery?

I managed to get up and running in a basic way with Zoom on the free program for the first week – allowing each meeting of 40 mins then cutting out. Also an addition to the stress but by going through this it proved that the online delivery of the workshops could somehow work. So I bought the pro Zoom package allowing unlimited meeting time.

The next challenge was audio. Doing music on this platform was a huge challenge at first, as  it gradually dawned on me that there is no way on earth (as of yet) to make the live sound sinc up between all the users/ participants, so myself, as leader, would be leading a song or activity and participants were thinking they were singing with me when my reality was a lot of delay of varying lengths between all the participants – this they also experienced. To this day I don’t like ‘muting’ people – it goes against the philosophy of community music – shutting peoples voices off – however I have realised that the chaos of sound can be pretty hard work for all to be hearing all the time.

By muting participants at certain points then they experience a clean and relaxed sound – but they do feel alone in their singing  with just hearing their voice against mine – not with the usual wonderful feel of a group of people singing together.

So another challenge was to create more of a group sensation by finding long lost recordings of some of my community music gigs – songs loved from the past – which have proved to be lovely to re-visit – invoking both positive memories as well giving people hope that somehow, at some point we will be able to safely do these live events again.

Did you have any particulate challenges or success that you would like to share?

Along with the Zoom set up I had to find a way to be able to broadcast my sound well– using many original songs a well as exercises due to it now being almost like a broadcast. There was a whole way to enable original sound which is apparently better for music – it doesn’t auto correct which would make guitars and other sounds wobbly. However it does allow pick up of background sounds! I had to make use of a good mic and sound card, which enabled me to be playing a track and sing along at the same time (Colleagues who are purely using computer audio are broadcasting good sound but their singing along sounds delayed to their workshop participants). I still have a long way to go feeling secure with Zoom but after a lot of stress and a lot of support from my very patient partner I generally feel it a success. Also a big success is that now after 10 weeks of Zoom I feel it is on it’s way to precariously working income wise – I am receiving a very cut back income as only about half of my previous participants are engaging. Those not engaging either just find the sessions too alien or they can’t actually access he Zoom session – if their tech is out of date etc. I have many more elderly people who don’t have the tech but do try and if they are alone it is very very frustrating for them. Also working with people who are perhaps asylum seekers with old phones which have not allowed the recent Zoom updates. Some of those people I have been doing individual wattsap video calls with. – It’s very difficult to know how to help these people properly and really feels like they are being excluded even more from society at the moment . I feel there’s a gap in the tech that maybe some tech businesess/ charity could really help with

I also decided to create online videos for my groups to keep them feeling engaged even if they couldn’t access Zoom. I invested in the app “Acapella” which enabled me to fairly easily bring to life some of the simpler songs I’ve written whilst seeing how the harmonies fit together with a different screen for each harmony. Also this allowed a collaboration led by Swedish singer Kajsa Norburry and 7 other singers singing a song in tribute to the essential workers To The Heroes involving Natural Voice leaders from Australia, Ireland Scotland England and Wales.  These acapella App videos were kind of interesting for my participants. eg. Give me the Freedom. There were 2 motivations for this – one to immediately keep sending, hopefully interesting and fun, content to my workshops regulars; and two, to help me to prepare to finalise the material for my book of ”All Year Rounds” something I’ve been planning to bring to fruition for 2 years but never had the time! SO after all the initial stress I did actually have a little extra time to develop my round book (now available on Amazon and as an ebook with 2 bonus songs.) I also had a small amount of headspace for some exploration into more serious and in depth composition – something I’ve not had the head space for a long time.

Another challenge/success is the fact that I am one of the four people who bring Sing for Water Cardiff to the Oval basin every coupe of years involving 800 singers singing together and raising money for Wateraid.

This year was to be extra special with us lining up with Green Squirrel and “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Give Up” The “Get Creative” festival as well as Oasis World Choir and Band having a key role in leading into the whole concert with a special song and carnival  procession. So so sad to have to postpone this. However we did manage to create an online event – where project manager Sue Ellar created ticket links for people to pay £3 each – also gave the option to pay forward £1 towards anyone who might not be able to afford a ticket – also the option for ‘hardship” meaning that people could get the event link for free too. These are all things I find difficult but working as a team Sue came up with excellent solutions to ensure we could somehow receive some kind of payment for our planning of the session. 115 people engaged with that session and there will be links sent to choir members with a compilation of the highlights of the session with a motivation for them to continue their fundraising for the charity Wateraid.

Access – as I mentioned earlier due to tech has been a huge challenge with people trying and trying to join the sessions but their tech simply not working for them – we are at lockdown so those people can’t have anyone to physically show them how it works or to re-set their devices or event to buy in new tech if they have the money. Zoom updates have meant that some phones no longer allow access. People I work with are often extremely isolated for a multitude of reasons, from disability to asylum claims, to mental health issues, to simply being more elderly and living alone. This includes younger people now living and coping alone – many of whom have fully appreciated the regular Zooms – a chance to interact and participate in a positive and familiar activity together.

A huge but unexpected positive of this situation is that people who have moved away or been moved away so could no longer be a part of the sessions due to physical distance have now been re-engaging with the workshops.

I have regulars from the past who moved to Bristol and Brighton who now regularly join the Friday morning Chapter Singers workshops. Also people who have been members of the Oasis World Choir and Band project who have moved by choir to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester are joining us and still feel a part of our extended choir family. Also the terrible situation where people who are asylum seekers and then suddenly moved away with no notice. This happened to one of our vey special choir members and her then 4 year old daughter – they were moved to a hotel in London a month before lockdown – they were then moved to another 2 different hotel rooms and are still in a hotel room in the London area. Thankfully they have a good enough phone to be able to Zoom in with us weekly, a fact which truly helps them to feel slightly human and normal as well as still getting all the scientifically proven additions to wellbeing that singing, dancing and laughing bring.

Amazing joy at being able to collaborate with Ethiopian composer performer and community musician Tewolde Girmay after 10 years! (Flute duet Wales to Ethiopia)

What are your plans for future delivery?

I think I will be leading Zoom sessions for a long time as singing is proving to be a less safe activity to do, Corona wise, due to the otherwise extra healthy deep breaths that people expel during the act of singing.

When it does feel safe to do so again I will need to ensure that people can decide on their own terms how and when to join, and I will have in place social distancing measures and guidelines carefully thought out beforehand.

I know for sure that I will be aiming to continue Zooming perhaps one weekly session due to all the amazing interactions that wouldn’t have happened without Zoom access and I have group members who are vulnerable health wise and are currently shielding who have already asked me if I’ll be able to include them in this way in the future. I’m not sure how to make any of it work in a financially secure manner – it’s all been a great gamble so far, but fingers crossed and on I go.

A range of organisations have worked to continue delivery of their art form during lockdown are there any that you would like to mention that you found either professionally or personally useful?

I have been paid to continue weekly workshops by Tanio through March, April and May for the Oasis World Choir project.

Oasis World Choir project

Also Community Music Wales have asked for videos for their website.

Newport Mind have continued to pay for my weekly sessions with their clients, this will be on-going which gives a sense of real security to me as a freelancer.

I have facilitated the YMCA staff choir for the past 6 years this recently turned into YMCA Community Choir  – then lockdown stopped that but a YMCA linked organisation have hired me to do some try out sessions with young carers which is a new challenge working with people I had not actually previously met. I have now done the first session which went really well so watch this space!

laura.communitymusic@gmail.com

Natural Voice Singing leader, Composer, Performer

www.laurabradshawmusic.com

Thanks for your time  Laura

Participatory Arts – Capturing The Learning, A Response From Kelly Barr, Arts and Creativity Programme Manger, Age Cymru

In response to the lockdown triggered by COVID-19, many arts organisations have taken their work online, sharing content for audiences to view for free. However, creating participatory engagement online is much more challenging and, as a sector used to being face to face with people in their practice, it’s clear that the current restrictions change the nature of participatory arts based activity substantially.

Following a vital conversation on social media led by Guy O’Donnell, Learning and Participation Producer, National Dance Company Wales which opened a discussion on how we can deliver participatory arts effectively, a range of partners are collaborating to lead Zoom discussions for the sector where we can talk about the impact of the lockdown on our work and work creatively together to think beyond the lockdown.

In partnership with ArtWorks Cymru a series of free Zoom meetings have been set up to discuss and share current working practices in participatory delivery.

Capturing the Learning

These Zoom meetings will explore how we capture the learning from organisations and artists who are currently delivering projects. We’ll explore what methods are working well, what are we learning through this experience, and how we are adapting our working practices.

Kelly Barr, Arts and Creativity Programme Manger
Age Cymru hosted the first Zoom participation meeting. The meetings are free to attend but numbers are limited. Kelly gives an overview of the work Age Cymru has created to meet the challenges and the companies solutions to support the public and her service users in the current climate.

Hi can you tell me a little about yourself and your organisation?

Hi, I’m Kelly Barr, and I am the Arts and Creativity Programme Manager at Age Cymru, who are the national charity for older people in Wales. I have been working on participatory arts projects with all sorts of organisations for 6 years, including NDCWales, Earthfall and the Sherman.

The two main arts projects here at Age Cymru are Gwanwyn Festival, an annual celebration of creative ageing which happens in May each year, and cARTrefu, the largest arts in care homes project in Europe.

We also run other projects throughout the year that might try to tackle isolation and loneliness (like our Gwanwyn Clubs), stereotypes of ageing or representation of older people.

Your organisation is hosting one of the free Participatory Arts – Capturing the Learning / Beyond the Lockdown meetings. Why do you agree to support these events?

I am in a very fortunate position to still be working at this time, and I felt like I had a responsibility to support conversations within the participatory sector. I saw many people reacting wonderfully quickly and adapting their practice, but I also recognised that that isn’t always an option, particularly with the groups of people that I work with. I have always believed that we have much to learn from each other so it was an ideal opportunity to do my bit to support some good practice sharing.

What challenges has lockdown present to the delivery of your service?

Gwanwyn Festival has often been about bringing people together, many of whom are in the high-risk category at the moment, so we made the decision fairly swiftly to postpone the festival.

We had a duty of care to protect the people that might attend the festival events, and those that are running them.The creative ageing sector is very supportive so I have been lucky enough to have regular chats with colleagues across the UK and Ireland (Gwanwyn Festival was inspired by Bealtaine Festival), so that we can support each other to think about how festivals like ours might work moving forwards.

We also knew early on that it was going to be difficult to continue to deliver the cARTrefu project, as care homes were starting to close their doors in early March. We’re lucky to have supportive funders who we will be able to work closely with as things progress. We have multiple scenario plans but are very much being led by what care homes want and need right now.

What issues have your service users/participants faced?

I’m really proud to be part of Age Cymru, as they have been able to adapt really quickly during the pandemic to ensure that older people in Wales are supported. We run an Information and Advice line, which received a 200% increase in calls at the start of the pandemic; people needed advice on whether they should be self-isolating or shielding, where they could get support with food shopping and collecting prescriptions. People have also struggled to access their money, and needed support to find new ways to stay in touch with family members. I’m pleased to say that we have been able to help, in partnership with our local Age Cymru partners, Age Connects and other voluntary services across Wales.

What systems did you put in place to ensure delivery?

Many of us are well-used to working from home, but it’s been really important to find moments to connect with colleagues. Many of us are spending most of our day making calls to older people through our Check In and Chat service, so it’s not always easy to have online ‘meetings’ as often as we used to have physical meetings. So we’ve set up Whatsapp groups, we send voice-notes, have catch-up phone calls, send pet pictures (in my case, plants!) as well as whole team Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings. It’s ever changing and adapting!

With my specific work, it’s about being available to our partners and being flexible and open about the realities. We’ve been taking time as a team to think further ahead, and problem solve, and take any opportunities we can. We’re also keen to use Gwanwyn and cARTrefu Facebook, Gwanwyn Twitter and cARTrefu Instagram to promote creative opportunities for older people as far as we can.

Did you have any particular challenges or success that you would like to share?

Back in April, I, like many people who are in a position to, wanted to offer out informal chats to anyone interested in running creative ageing projects, or having to adapt current projects. I had no expectations of what would come from this, only that it felt like the right thing to do, but it’s introduced me to new practitioners and individuals, which has helped to build up my understanding of what’s happening in Wales. Many people I might have struggled to physically meet pre-lockdown, due to being based in Cardiff, I have been able to connect with over the phone. I hope to continue to offer this out and to meet more people – digitally!

What are your plans for future delivery?

We’re exploring a range of options at the moment, but we’ll be working closely with our Gwanwyn Festival event organisers to look at how this might be possible. There may be ways to replicate events online, or using social distance rules. I have no doubt that our event organisers are already coming up with innovative and interesting ways to continue to connect to people and I’m looking forward to working together to adapt and learn!

With cARTrefu, we are ensuring that we are listening to care homes, and being led by their needs right now. We have developed a fortnightly e-newsletter that gives care homes low-resource activities to try, and links to lots of online performances and activities from Age Cymru (like Tai Chi classes, now on our website) and other organisations.

I’m aware that we’re now regularly speaking to people that are more isolated, some of whom who aren’t connected to the internet, so a lot of my thinking has been about how to stay connected to them and to provide interactive creative opportunities that are offline.

I’d like to highlight Age Cymru’s Friend in Need service that has launched this week, and direct anyone to it if they’ve been supporting someone who is self-isolating or shielding through lockdown. There’s lots of useful guides and resources, as well as details of our new Befriending scheme – Friend in Need

A range of organisations have worked to continue delivery of their art form during lockdown are there any that you would like to mention that you found either professionally or personally useful?

I’d love to highlight the wonderful speakers from our first Participatory Arts Capturing the Learning Event:

Artis Community, Re-Live and Welsh National Opera.

And I’d love to shout out to all of the cARTrefu artists whose work has suddenly come to a grinding halt with us, but have been helping us to provide creative activities for care homes remotely.

Thanks for your time  Kelly

The meeting notes from Participatory Arts, Capturing the Learning – Older Peoples Zoom Meeting that Kelly hosted hosted on Thursday 28 May, can be found at the link


Participatory Arts – Capturing the Learning, A Response from Megan Pritchard, Marketing Campaigns Manager, National Dance Company Wales

In response to the lockdown triggered by COVID-19, many arts organisations have taken their work online, sharing content for audiences to view for free. However, creating participatory engagement online is much more challenging and, as a sector used to being face to face with people in their practice, it’s clear that the current restrictions change the nature of participatory arts based activity substantially.

Following a vital conversation on social media led by Guy O’Donnell, Learning and Participation Producer, National Dance Company Wales which opened a discussion on how we can deliver participatory arts effectively, a range of partners are collaborating to lead Zoom discussions for the sector where we can talk about the impact of the lockdown on our work and work creatively together to think beyond the lockdown.

In partnership with ArtWorks Cymru a series of free Zoom meetings have been set up to discuss and share current working practices in participatory delivery.

Capturing the Learning

These Zoom meetings will explore how we capture the learning from organisations and artists who are currently delivering projects. We’ll explore what methods are working well, what are we learning through this experience, and how we are adapting our working practices.

Megan Pritchard, Marketing Campaigns, National Dance Company Wales is presenting at the first Zoom Dance meeting on Wednesday 3rd June 3-5pm The meetings are free to attend but numbers are limited. Megan gives an overview of the work NDCWales has created to meet the challenges and the companies solutions to support professional and participatory dance delivery in the current climate.

Hi can you tell me a little about yourself and your practice?

Hi I’m the Marketing Campaigns Manager for National Dance Company Wales: under usual circumstances that means I lead on connecting with our audiences and communities with a focus on the national touring work that we do. I work closely with the Participation department who are a fundamental part of how we connect with and stay connected with our audiences.


At the moment that work is much the same – but with a hugely digital focus, and a wealth of new ways to share dance with people. From early on in the lockdown we’ve seen a huge rise in people dancing across media from TicTok to daily community dance parties in the street.

I’ve been with the Company for just under nine years so for me that’s really exciting to see, the heart of my role is sharing this thing that I love with the world- I truly believe that dance is a universal language that is available for everyone from shuffling along to the radio in your kitchen right through to sitting in an Opera House watching a contemporary ballet.

NDCWales has as real ethos that dance is a wide spectrum and we try touch people with dance at all levels. I’m here to reassure those unsure about watching dance or bringing physicality into their bodies – to take away that fear of the unknown.

What challenges did lockdown present to delivery of your participatory practice and what systems did you put in place to ensure delivery?

Our biggest challenge was not unique – how could we digitally re-create work that relies on physicality and connection; how could we do it with reduced resource, and what should the focus be?

We were just two venues into our twelve venue mid-scale touring – our largest annual tour, one that we rely on not just for income but for connecting with people.


As a Company we already had plans to create a digital programme over the next year, but in response to COVID 19 we needed to do this more urgently. We were not in a position to move everything that we usually do online, there wasn’t the money or capacity – but as a Company we value all aspects of our work equally. To help focus our resources, we asked our audiences and looked inwards,

“National Dance Company Wales makes brilliant dance with and for all kinds of people in all kinds of places. With innovation and imagination, we widen the spectrum of what dance can be so that more people can make, watch, participate in and learn about dance in Wales and across the world.”

So we put our energy on repurposing what we already had and building on what we do well-  creating spaces to learn about, and participate in dance at a range of levels.

It was important too that content was as accessible as possible – using captions and BSL interpreters wherever we could. This meant that things such as live classes were not a solution for us at the outset because they could not easily be captioned in real time.


To make things as streamlined as possible we used simple ideas and simple programmes, that could be used quickly and taught quickly to people who might be working in new ways.

We used Zoom, YouTube and Facebook live and explored new ways of manipulating these programmes in ways that they may not usually be used. We also used simple editing and captioning programmes – and taught anyone in the Company with a free hour how to use them.


To ensure a polished feel despite content being created in different spaces, on different cameras and in different styles, we created simple branding and guidelines that were easy to follow and carefully spent money on animations to tie the content together.

The creation of #KiN:Connected was hard work, but that hard work was met with innovative ideas and rewarding content – and I’m really proud of how quickly all of the team pulled together to create a virtual version of our work – right through from the performance streaming and post-show-talks to the . bilingual classes for children about rugby and dance.

Did you have any particular challenges or success that you would like to share?

I’m really proud of all of the work that we’ve pulled together to get done during this time – but some stand outs for me are:
 

The live performance of 2067: Time and Time and Time (a reimagining of a repertoire piece from our cancelled tour, performance from the dancers home and directed in real time by the choreographer).

https://youtu.be/iYK-l2iLEZ8

Our Rygbi learning pack and everything that surrounds it (including bilingual classes for parents of welsh speaking children who may not speak welsh themselves, and of course the full length stream of the piece itself).

Our dance classes for adults with mobility issues – we’ve had a lot of mums of NDCWales team members use them in their daily routines, which has been really directly rewarding.

I think the biggest challenge for us moving forwards is maintaining meaningful relationships with our amazing participants and continuing to imagine new ways to bring dance to them – especially those who may not be digitally proficient. 

What are your plans for future delivery?

We are just moving into the second phase of our digital delivery – taking our learning from the first phase and building on it with more real-time live performances and exciting collaborations with other Welsh companies. We’re also launching some things that took a little longer for us to perfect for our participants such as our Dance for Parkinson’s classes.

A range of organisations have worked to continue delivery of their art form during lockdown are there any that you would like to mention that you found either professionally or personally useful?

It’s been really inspiring to see how resilient the sector is as a whole and how vitally important the arts are for people’s health and wellbeing at this time (possibly more than ever). Arts companies have been at the forefront of providing accessible and free content for home-schooling, fun classes to keep us fit when we are unable to leave our homes, and beautiful digital distractions in the forms of films, play readings, dance, get togethers, streamed performances and more.

Below is a guide to streaming a live performance from NDCWales, Stage Manager, Perla Ponce. (Please note this information is in a draft format and will be updated.)

Participatory Arts, Capturing the Learning

Meeting Minutes

35 Participants

Julie Hobday – County Youth Dance Swansea

  • Sister company of West Glamorgan Youth Company
  • Created when Swansea became a County
  • To promote dance for 13 – 21 and also run an outreach strand for younger pupils
  • Collaborate across Swansea with schools, YMCA, Taliesin Arts Centre
  • Creative educational model – training – exploring professional work – peer support – develop a love for the artform
  • Follow an academic year
  • Challenge to be flexible and keep the company relevant
  • Community element is very important / but also the opportunity to create work in response to stimulus 

Challenges of Lockdown

  • No direct funding – all income from the students
  • Meeting through Zoom. Had to put robust safe guarding in place
  • Meeting participants in their homes – some participants don’t have the internet connection or capability to digitally engage. 
  • No shared space – we start with conversation – just so people can chat about how they are feeling and keeping everyone positive
  • Keeping the dancers engaged is hard – some people are keen regulars – but some people drop off. We deal with this by emailing and prompting them through social media.
  • We can’t recruit for new members at the moment.
  • At the moment, we are not charging. But there are questions about how this will develop. It leaves us with a shortfall and this is vulnerable.

Positives of Lockdown

  • We start by asking participants how they feel at the beginning and the end. They have usually doubled their energy by the end of the session.
  • We can use artists from anywhere in the country. This has helped us to support artists who might have lost work.
  • We’ve been able to engage with some of recent graduates who have missed out on  their final presentations
  • Being creative about how we make work – participants are making videos – they have to think differently about how to work in different spaces
  • Access to resources – suddenly students can access performances and class online from some amazing companies and artists
  • Trying to stay positive about the future and keep thinking about ways we can keep participants engaged through the autumn

Gwyn Emberton – BA Honours Dance University of Wales Trinity St Davids 

  • University course has moved on line
  • Degree is based in Carmarthen. 
  • Intensive training in dance focused on contemporary & ballet. Also look at inclusive practice, community work. 
  • We hope our students will stay in Wales.
  • The shutdown was very sudden – we only had a week to move everything online. We were about to start our last 2 months of big projects for the 3rd years & a final show for the 1st years. It was crucial to be face to face.

First Years

  • Challenges  – Bad wifi – small spaces that students were working in
  • Gwyn found an online resource that he could focus the 1st years around
  • They kept class regular at 10am and explored lots of different ideas 
  • They wanted to keep it positive and try to find things they could focus on
  • Explored musicality, articulating with the upper arms, creating phrases
  • 1st year is about introducing ideas and reaffirming their practice
  • Ballet class – they did two phrases in one hour – took time to watch Gwyn on speaker view – and then repeat it so that Gwyn could watch them. Then they could reflect and consider.
  • Used the breakouts for creative making and collaborating. It actually helped some of the less local students to open up. This was a very useful tool and gave them space and time to investigate themselves.
  • Mental Health was a big thing – everyone was fluctuating. Gwyn and the students were constantly in contact with each other – used Whats App and had regular tutorials. Gwyn introduced a thursday afternoon social – a quiz or coffee and cake.
  • Creating a dialogue was important – getting feedback through the screen was hard – so Gwyn would call on people and having them named was important.
  • Resources online were important – students got to watch pieces that they wouldn’t usually see.

THIRD YEAR – Zosia Jo

  • Worked with students to not focus on looking at her and explore disconnecting and being present in their space.
  • Visualisation – Deborah Hay’s work of absorbing the space through your body.
  • They made site-specific work – learnt how to make dance films together
  • Each day they would make a little film – meet in the morning, work through the day and then meet in the afternoon to reflect.
  • Meeting more frequently for less time works much better. 
  • You can only do one thing at a time online.
  • Giving students as much autonomy as possible worked well. Zosia was available for questions.

Sara Sirati – Ardour Academy

  • New organisation. Ten years of working in the community led to setting up a studio – mind , body and soul
  • Dancer and psychotherapist – interested in trauma and how to use the body to explore it
  • The dance studio also have a counselling service online – this is unusual
  • We work with schools, community and the health board
  • They also have a coffee shop and bar online where they do events
  • Students are usually people who haven’t danced much before
  • Covid struck – my first priority was the make sure all artists we worked with were OK
  • Considered the options for how we might work carefully. We wanted to offer something that was good quality and really helped our dancers

Jack Philp’s experience

  • Having a regular online session gave everyone a sense of stability
  • I was nervous about delivering online sessions – would I be able to communicate?
  • Trial and error – we navigated it together and found what worked
  • Pitching the level of complexity was hard as you can’t see what people are managing and not managing
  • Understanding how you can move big in a small space was a challenge
  • Grappling with the tech was also difficult but Sara supported this well
  • Jack found he needed to stop and check in with people regularly to see what was working and what wasn’t

Megan Pritchard – NDC Wales

  • Participation is tied into touring work – decisions had to made about what needed to be taken online
  • Blindsided by the sudden lockdown and were 2 venues into the tour
  • We couldn’t just move everything online – lots of difficulties and barriers including Intellectual Property & rights issues

Kin Connected 

  • Online digital season replacing the tour 
  • Watch Together – some live & some pre recorded – Q&As with artists following them – they wanted to keep connection to the audiences
  • Create Together – for professional artists to create something
  • Dance Together – focused on dance classes for young people and for older people
  • Learn Together – schools and digital work for education – 
  • 1. Tundra Learning Pack relating to a piece that was already online – made a you tube playlist 
  • 2. Created dance classes for pupils relating to our repertoire online 
  • 3. Rugby Learning Pack – relating to work they were already doing around rugby
  • Kept things simple and accessible – so they were easy for dancers to make – and they wanted to use captions – and for them to be short, simple and available at different levels
  • Created a simple brand to over arch everything. 
  • They had a team of people who were keen. Megan taught dancers to caption and edit. Created best practice documents to help the dancers and an intro so that the dancers all said the same thing.
  • They created something for the Wales Arts Review Digithon early on and this got us thinking about how we could make work.
  • Dancers are performers – we needed to make this possible somehow – so we looked at Zoom. We wanted to make it love somehow.
  • Zoom can go live on You Tube – we hadn’t seen anyone using it. We played with framing and using phones. We used the spotlighting function – this was done live.The choreographer could direct the show live. The stage manager controlled the holding screens, music and spotlighting. They have created a document about how they did this which they will share with the sector.
  • They have more performances planned and are thinking about how they can develop the Dance for Parkinson’s work.
  • More people are dancing at home than ever – the opportunities are really exciting.

Discussion

How has online learning challenged people’s teaching skills? What strategies are people using?

  • Sara – I use a feeling scale to see how people are doing. We keep our Zoom classes to smaller number so they feel more personal. We use people’s names and give people a chance to talk.
  • Julie – using directive teaching methods is the default online – its harder to get feedback online. But if you know people then that’s helpful – check in moments are important. Asking questions is important so that people engage. Trying to have prolonged moments when they are doing things – but then stopping and talking – and working to get that back again. The pace is more like a rollercoaster.
  • Mirroring is tricky – the camera flips round on some computers. So either you have to negotiate this or not worry about it.
  • Explore Stop Gaps access training – they use great language for describing movement and this works really well on zoom

Has anyone considered creating dance exchanges with groups that wouldn’t normally get the meet?

  • NYDW are involved in UDance – there will be ways to get involved.
  • We can team up more as a sector. Zoom helps us to do this much better.
  • Youth Dance night for NDC Wales – they are exploring how to do this online. We can co-create work with young people across the sector.

Music and licensing – questions around how to negotiate this? How have people managed this?

  • NDC Wales have done lots of work on this. To use music you need written permission from the artist and the publisher. Online streaming is not covered by PRS.
  • It’s a difficult area – there is music online that has been shared through Creative Commons and they are clear what tracks can be used for
  • You can also get young people to compose their own music
  • Or work with existing composers so it’s clear what the contractual arrangement is