Focus Wales festival fears for small venues in Wales

Focus Wales 2019 sign

The entire music industry is under threat from the closure of small venues, a festival celebrating new music in Wales has been warned.

Focus Wales is hosting more than 200 bands and artists across 20 different venues over three days in Wrexham.

It promises to bring new acts from across Wales, the UK and the world together with the music business.

But the Music Venue Trust says threats to venues risks pulling the rug from under the entire industry.

"As we see it, the small venues are the research and development unit of the music industry," said Beverley Whitrick, the trust's director.

"It's not just local communities that lose their venues, or artists that lose somewhere to play, it's actually got an implication for the whole music industry."

She was part of a panel discussing the plight of clubs, pubs and concert venues, chaired by BBC 6 Music's Chris Hawkins, at one of the special industry conference sessions that helps make Focus Wales such a unique event.

According to the trust, for every £100 spent on tickets for a show at small venues, it costs the promoter £129 when other costs are considered, such as bar staff wages, equipment hire and venue rents.

Image caption Beverly Whitrick says there are mounting concerns about the future of smaller music venues in Wales

Ms Whitrick described the situation in Wales as "very tricky".

In the last year there have been several high profile venue closures, including Gwdihw in Cardiff, The Parrot in Carmarthen, and even in Wrexham - where the former Focus festival favourite Central Station closed in February.

"I think it's a real challenge in Wales at the moment - but I do think there are some real positive things that are happening," added the venue trust director.

She said both politicians and funding bodies have realised they need to act.

On the eve of the festival, the National Assembly announced it was launching its own inquiry into the future of music in Wales - with a special emphasis on live music venues.

"Wales is a musical nation and we all take pride in that," said Bethan Sayed AM, who chairs the Welsh Language and Communications Committee.

"But in order for it to survive and thrive as an industry we need to understand the challenges and opportunities facing venues, artists and all those who contribute to the success of the industry."

Image caption The venue panel was one of dozens of industry events being held

Away from the conference sessions at the Focus festival, the future for music in Wales - and the world - was looking bright.

An estimated 10,000 visitors, fans and industry insiders have swelled the town's population as a result of the event, which got underway on Thursday.

It has already been hailed a success by its small team of organisers, with many of the headline gigs selling out.

Those behind Focus said the festival also injects more than £0.5m directly into the town's economy.

"We invite music industry delegates from right across the globe to come to Wrexham and experience the best bands that Wales has to offer," said co-founder Neal Thompson.

"It's about building relationships and helping the bands push on."

Image caption Denbighshire band Cry made fans wail with joy at Saith Seren

Increasingly, there is an international element, with partnerships that have seen Welsh acts showcased in Canada, South Korea, and at the famous South by Southwest event in Texas, USA.

Those partnerships were further bolstered on the festival's opening night, as the agent-general for Canada's Quebec government in London hosted an evening event.

John Coleman is in effect the Quebec regional government's ambassador to the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the Nordic countries.

"We're both nations within nations, both have a different language that we hold dearly to, and that we promote," said the agent general.

Image caption Abakos were one of the Quebec bands being championed by Agent General John Coleman

It has paid off - certainly for Welsh acts - who found themselves in popular demand at a series of festivals across Canada in the autumn.

But Focus Wales is not all about business and careers - it is also about fun, insisted both organisers and the artists themselves.

The BBC Radio 2 folk award-winning group 9Bach returned to the festival to premiere a piece specially commissioned by Focus Wales and the PRS Foundation, in a collaboration with the award-winning actor Maxine Peake.

"I love Focus Wales - it's got such an easy going, yet professional vibe about it - it's just really exciting," said vocalist Lisa Jên.

"It feels like a community - which is what it should be."

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