Regular visitors to the likes of Theatr Clwyd, the North Wales
Theatre, or Y Galeri in Caernarfon are probably banging their mugs on
their desks at this point. No doubt those places are cultural
honeypots, as is the Eisteddfod when it visits the north, but I'm
particularly referring to the bristling leftfield of Welsh culture,
where new things are created rather than old things interpreted.
talking about places like the Anglesey Arms and the Victoria Inn on
Anglesey, the Dudley Arms in Rhyl, Yales/Central Station in Wrexham,
Morgan Lloyd in Caernarfon, and, in particular for this piece, TheABSURD
is a free online publication that celebrates cultural and artistic
expression in North Wales. It's an open and welcoming community of
artists, musicians and poets begun by two residents of Mold, Andy
Garside and Sophie McKeand. They host monthly nights at Y Pentan in
Mold and staged the inaugural Y Ffin Festival in Mold last summer. This
coming Thursday night (22 October) they will be hosting acclaimed and
controversial poet Patrick Jones and sing-a-long guitar pop from the
To coincide with this event, I thought I'd conduct an e-mail interview with Andy (mostly) and Sophie.
This is what they had to say:When and why did theABSURD start?
was the beginning of it all. It started as an experimental art project
about two years ago. Sophie was already writing and performing poetry
and I was designing - originally it was a totally obscure website with
some quite random poems and artwork. We loved it but it was completely
inaccessible and nobody looked at it.
We then progressed to
organising theAbsurd events 18 months ago. This was for completely
selfish reasons - we were going to gigs in Liverpool, Manchester and
Bangor because Sophie was performing, or to see other artists, but
there were no spoken-word gigs local to us in the Flintshire/Wrexham
area so we decided to start our own, but combining music in with the
event to broaden our audience. Then we decided to re-launched the
website in January this year as a platform to promote Welsh art, music
and writing.What is your philosophy?
If you build
it they will come. Also we have a philosophy of only publishing or
promoting art that inspires us. Yes that means that we are totally
subjective and biased and that's the way we like it, thanks.What effect has the recession had on you and the artists you support? Have these harder times been inspirational to them?
run the website free of charge; we don't get funding for it or sell
advertising. It's free. It's our hobby; it's what we do in our spare
time. We also run the events as not-for-profit; we get some funding
towards poets' fees from Academi, pay the musicians with money donated
from the audience and take a small amount for running costs. We are not
a commercial venture in any sense of the word; this allows us total
artistic freedom and means that we're not really affected by the
One of the main reasons we have a 'pay what you can
afford' pricing policy is even if you are skint you can still get to
see incredible live performances at theAbsurd. It's worked so far, so
we're sticking with it.
Being freelancers there's been plenty of gigs we've missed purely because we haven't had the ticket money.
is definitely encouraged by adversity. Like you say, focuses the mind,
makes people realise what's really important in their lives.What do you think is unique about culture in north Wales?
where do you start? North Wales especially seems to be managing to
escape the homogenisation, capitalisation and globalisation of its art.
Perhaps it is because the area is so fragmented. There are any number
of small towns where artists are holed away creating something
completely unique. There is a rich cultural history to Wales as a
whole, and it certainly seems to be in the blood of the people who live
here to create, to push the boundaries, to keep on producing
exceptional and diverse art.Do you get much support from local populace?
we do. Yr Wyddgrug is only a small market town so we had no idea about
how well our events would be received. But after 18 months we're now
seeing between 50-100 people at each gig - which for a Thursday night
around here is great. Also we operate 'pay what you can afford' pricing
and the majority of people will happily put a few quid in the hat for
an interesting evening with some great performers.
website we get a much wider audience; about 40% of our visitors are
from Europe and America. We've also got some really talented
contributors who support us by giving up their time and words for free.Given your experience with so many talented artists from north Wales, why do you think so few go on to get wider acclaim?
We suppose we would ask why people seek wider acclaim? More isn't
better, it's just more. The way in which art, music and poetry are now
sold across the globe is ludicrous. People are forgetting about their
local communities and moving to the city to 'make it big' but it's just
the same old stuff in a different town unless you hit the 'big time'.
why we work hard to promote the arts and culture of this region - why
shouldn't the artists who stay here be applauded for their hard work,
innovation and artistic vision? Why should they be encouraged to move
elsewhere? We're all sold the capitalist dream that money=happiness='a
better life' and artists succumb to that as much as anybody else. But
rather than ask why people don't get the acclaim they seek, ask why
we've created a system whereby artists seek acclaim from a bunch of
corporate city types who'll suck every last bit of creativity out of
them, treat them like nothing more than money making machines, and drop
them at the first sign that they're no longer 'the next big thing' -
whatever that is.
Andy: When asked by friends from outside Wales
what music I'm listening to, my reply is "predominantly Welsh music".
and before I can list the bands or styles they presume I'm listening to
just folk. There seems to be very little knowledge of Welsh music
outside of Wales, why this is I've no idea, probably just laziness.
People seem very afraid to stand up and admit they like something
unless it's been verified by mainstream media.What's coming up?
got quite a bit in the pipeline for the rest of this year. We'll be
running three or four nights in Y Pentan soon, and these are starting
to build as we speak. theAbsurd cabaret will still run on the third
Thursday (or thereabouts) every month.
Next week (Tuesday 3
November) we launch our new night - (SSHH!!) - an altogether quieter
affair... that will run on the first Tuesday of every month. This first
event is supported in part by Menter Iaith Sir Y Fflînt and Academi.
also be running some more traditional 'band nights' with just one band
headlining - the first of these started with Redstripe who played this
week and we've got a few others planned - you'll hopefully be seeing
Racehorses in Y Pentan in the new year.
Also 2010 is already
proving to be really busy for us - we're organising an avant-garde
anti-fest in March with Parking-Non-Stop, Pecker Shorts, Rhys Trimble,
Childe Roland and a shed-load of other acts TBC.
approached by a guy who owns a forest and we're running some very
secret, invite only, events and workshops there over the spring/summer.
We've been approached by the Royal International Pavilion in Llangollen
to work with them next year on some festivals and events, and Sophie
has been invited to work with them as a community poet. Finally of
course there's Y Ffin 2010 to organise.