'Why I can't wait for these bands to roll into town'

By Adam R Jenkins

Ok, so maybe the weather could be better. And you need the exact change for the bus. And you can drive to England over a bridge but have to pay (a French company) to get back in. But there’s plenty to rejoice about if you live in Wales. One of those many things, is Song. It’s what has made these lands famous in every corner of the globe.

Festival of Voice is a truly international festival, celebrating what Wales is most famous for. Wales Millennium Centre, have curated this eclectic mix of home-grown and international talent, showcasing the voice in multiple Cardiff venues.

I’ve been watching live music in Cardiff for longer than I care to remember. By and large, it’s usually one-off gigs in characterful (read: grimy), bijout (read: dangerously small), atmospheric (read: sweaty) bars. There are already some amazing festivals like SWN with a wide range of (usually) up-and-coming acts on offer over the course of a weekend. But Festival of Voice offers something I’ve not experienced before in this city. The diversity of acts on offer, from household names to ones for the future, is pretty remarkable. If you’re into music in any way, shape or form, I can’t imagine you won’t find something you’ll be into.

Hailing from Michigan and currently calling Iceland home, John Grant is the poster boy of Festival of Voice (literally – that’s him flicking his hair about on the flyer). A former member of The Czars and Midlake, Mojo made his solo debut, Queen of Denmark, their 2010 album of the year. Follow-ups, Pale Green Ghosts and Grey Tickles, Black Pressure have also been huge critical successes. There’s raw, autobiographical emotion in John Grant’s does, the fact that he wears his heart on his sleeve makes him compelling. Watch: Down Here

Quite rightly, Charlotte Church (The Last Mermaid) and Bryn Terfel are national treasures and will be a huge draw. But I’m hyped about, Birmingham-born, Laura Mvula. Her debut was the Mercury Prize-nominated, Sing to the Moon. It’s a modern blend of soul and jazz with beautiful, layered, vocal harmonies that’ll make your heart swell and raise the hairs on your neck. Watch: That’s Alright

Who’d have thought Festival of Voice would feature a former Arsenal footballer? This former drummer for Kate Tempest had a hamster named Missy Elliot as a child. Missy’s influence (the rapper’s, not the hamster’s) has percolated into Georgia’s self-titled debut. If you haven’t heard much about her, check out her awesome track, Digits. Georgia quit Arsenal ladies to concentrate on music. Their loss is our gain. Catch her in Chapter Arts.

Femi Kuti is a multiple Grammy nominated, Nigerian Afrobeat, jazz musician and activist. He’s collaborated with the likes of Common and Mos Def, opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, been an Amnesty International ambassador and judged Nigerian Idol.  Femi plays a high-energy double-bill with Mbongwana Star in St David’s Hall. Watch: Dem Bobo

Indie-folk-rock-popper, Anna Calvi has been twice nominated for The Mercury Prize and now sits on the judging panel. Experience the full theatrical experience in the New Theatre with Anna backed by a Welsh choir. I’ve seen Anna live in the past and she wrings every drop of emotion out her voice whenever she plays. I simply couldn’t recommend seeing her play live highly enough. Watch: Desire

If you scratch the surface of any festival, you’ll uncover hidden gems. Part of the fun is making those discoveries for yourself but I got a bit carried away with it all and wanted to gently point you in the direction of a few more things you might want to check out (don’t let that stop you doing your own gem prospecting though).

It would be criminal if the Welsh male voice choir didn’t feature in Festival of Voice. St David’s Hall presents Wales 1000 which covers a whole millennium of it. So no moaning.

Jacobs Antiques is a quirky venue, where local record label, Peski host their alt-rock and visual arts night; Peski Nacht.

Piaf! The Show celebrates the life and times of the famous French singer, songwriter and actress. Watch Anne Carrere portray Edith in the Donald Gordon Theatre and don’t regret a thing.

If hip-hop is your thing, check out Higher Learning in Tramshed. There you’ll find the likes of locals DJ Jaffa, MC Melo, the nine-piece Mouse Outfit as well as pioneering British dub MC, Rodney P from the Big Smoke.

Do you need me to tell you about John Cale, Rufus Wainwright, Van Morrison, Candi Staton, Ben Folds or Ronnie Spector? Didn’t think so.

Suddenly, paying six and-a-bit quid to get into the country doesn’t seem so bad.

There’s plenty else on the full line-up if none of the above is your cup of tea. Festival of Voice has more metaphorical teas than an overstocked exotic tea distribution warehouse. Don’t like tea? Well, then you probably need to take a long hard look at yourself.

About me.

When I’m not forcing my musical opinions on people, I write and occasionally perform a bit of shouty-spoken word/poetry. In my day job I work for TAXO’D. We’re building an app for freelancers (like musicians and artists) to record their business transactions, get a live tax total and file their return. If you sign up before it’s launch this Spring, you can get it free for a year: www.taxodapp.com

Photograph by Owen Mathias.


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