theAbsurd Festival, Mold
Whenever I write about my hometown - Mold, Flintshire - I preface the piece with a lot of out of date reminiscences detailing how rubbish a place it was to grow up in in the 80s.
"Move on, Walton!"
Okay, will do. But forgive me that initial mention of its prehistoric awfulness to a BMX pedalling 80s indie kid (well, it was a Raleigh Striker and the rumours about my owning a couple of U2 albums are unfavourably accurate)... but banging on about Mold's past throws into some necessary contrast the amazingness of what is about to happen there in the first week of November.
We need to plunge into the past again, for a couple more paragraphs. I wasn't just a passive whinger in the Flintshire wastelands. Frustrated by the lack of gig opportunities in Mold, my bandmates and I persuaded Theatr Clwyd to let us hire their prestigious Clwyd Rooms in 1991 for our own baggy 'happening'.
Theatre Clwyd might have been one of the finest arts complexes in Wales, but they rarely muddied their hands with 'young people's music'. The annual showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show would have the managerial staff in palpitations. And although I saw gigs at the Theatr that were key to me (Lonnie Donegan and, er, Disciples of Spess) the Theatr on its anointed mount might as well have been a universe away from the scummy noise we made in our garages.
The gig was a success. Simple photocopied tickets that meant anyone could buy one ticket and then go out and simply photocopy a fistful to sell on meant that 400 people turned up instead of the allocated 200-ish. The crap PA meant that it sounded like one long-drawn out guitar solo. Although this might have been more to do with our singer's atonal larynx and a discerning sound engineer. Under age kids roamed the galleries, theatres and studios spilling plazzy bottles of cheap cider everywhere. Someone got caught doing something unmentionable on an HTV newsdesk. The police came, but - despite my best efforts - didn't try to shut us down. God, how I wish they had.
Of course, we lost our desposit. And, of course, Theatr Clwyd laughed in my face when I asked if we could use the room again.
"Over my dead body," said the manager, and he meant it.
But 19 years later, I'll be back as part of an excellent bill for the inaugural Absurd Festival. I've written about theAbsurd before, a couple of times. In a city like Cardiff where there is a multitude of promoters running frequent nights with multiple bands and DJs on the bill, you may be wondering why I'm making such a big fuss over a little festival. Well, for us in Mold (although I don't live there any more, I'm still allowed to claim it's my hometown because every notable first in my life happened in an alley behind Water Street) this is a massively big deal. It's exciting to the power of jawdrop.
What's happening?Well, inspirational local leftfield chroniclers, promoters and enthusiasts, theAbsurd, have hired the Clwyd Rooms for the day on Saturday 6 November, and they're going to fill the room with incredible noise and expression. The area's second-as-likely-to band (the first being the town's Joy Formidable who recently signed to Atlantic and will redraw Flintshire's rock n roll history) Gallops will play; the sonically peripatetic and infinitely entertaining Spencer McGarry and the Season will play; Cyrion will bless our ears with shimmering electrical noises... and there is much more besides. Check out the festival website.
I was in Switzerland interviewing physicists when the festival was announced 'properly' last week. But that didn't prevent me from emailing the organisers, Andy and Sophie, a few questions to find out what catalysed this notable day for the area.
First and foremost, theAbsurd had stopped doing its regular nights at local pubs a few months ago. Sophie explained the change of emphasis:
"The monthly nights were great, we learned an awful lot in those two years but when you're doing something every month there's a certain commercial aspect that hangs over your head in order to keep the audience coming back - we did manage to empty the pub on a couple of occasions - they were the acts that we liked the best but not necessarily what the venue wanted to see. People might not want to come every month to see this less commercial type of music but they'll hopefully come to a 'one off event'.
"These one-off events enable us to book a variety of artists. For example, I organised the Bailey Hill Festival in Mold and that had a strong community aspect to it that worked brilliantly for that particular event. It's also good that we have moved over to give other people chance to establish their own nights without us having a monopoly on things - it's the only way a real art scene can flourish."
What are your ambitions for the first Absurd Festival?
"Well we'd really like a decent audience to turn up. The response so far has been fantastic and we've been limited by the Theatre to just 250 tickets as they're worried about us being over-run! Our main focus has always been about promoting the arts, music and culture of Wales. We're not being insular about this, but a lot of the bands that we book don't get as much exposure as they should.
"We don't do tokenism; we book people because we love what they do and because we want to see them play live. This festival is basically our wish list that's concentrating on the less commercial side to Welsh art (there's still others we would add but we've only got eight hours!).
"Basically we want to create an event that will grow and grow as the years roll on... and we want people to remember that we started this with a Welsh line-up."
You have an eclectic ethos at a time when many clubs and venues are becoming more narrowly defined. Why is eclecticism important to theAbsurd?
To us, the whole point of having a more defined or specific night would be for commercial purposes - people know what they're getting so they'll come back each week/month. theAbsurd has always been about challenging people's ideas; we'd feel too restricted to just stick to one genre. Also we'd get bored very easily and we'd have to ignore stuff that we loved. We both have very eclectic tastes in music, poetry and art and theAbsurd reflects that."
"We were never about commercialism, we've never made any money from theAbsurd. We're both freelancers in other capacities and make our money that way. As soon as cash get involved compromises set in so we give it to the performers, and this way we're happy that theAbsurd stays 'pure' in a sense."
What can people expect on the day?
"They can expect to be challenged. They can expect to see 25 artists who all excel in their fields and who are creating something really interesting and different right now. There's a good dose of visual arts and experimental sound, there'll also be dancing. Well, we will be anyway!"
Theatr Clwyd hasn't traditionally been a forum for leftfield music, how did you persuade them? "Well they came to us. The theatre has quite a specific audience but they're looking to bring a new and younger demographic to the place. They approached us as they like what we're doing and have seen how we've succeeded over the past two and a half years. It was a huge compliment for us that they'd noticed us and wanted to bring our events to the theatre.
"This is why we're also running quarterly 'spoken word' events in the theatre, the first one was in July, the next one is 26 October - we've got Patrick Jones, Dizraeli and Stephanie Finegan."
And finally, where can people get tickets?
"Tickets are exclusively from the Theatre Clwyd's box office. The first act starts at 4pm. We can't run late as the license is only up until 12pm midnight and we have to finish at that time."
The tickets are a piffling £15, and all to support a new festival that delights in supporting new Welsh talent. Oh, and me.
Just don't photocopy the tickets.