For myself and many of my friends, the past week has been like coming off a high following the exuberant energy of the Swansea Fringe Festival (29 September – 1 October). The Festival coincided with the Swansea Big Weekend and the kick off of its companion, Swansea International Festival, which continues through to 15th October. After an absence of 20 years, organisers Joe Bayliss and Simon Parton have resurrected the Fringe with vengeance, bringing together a weekend filled to the brim with music, poetry, art, talks, storytelling, and performance. I became a volunteer only a few days before the festival began, and had originally planned to attend a few events, in particular those which had been organised by friends. Yet like many others in my position, I also decided to check out everything else on offer, as it was all so close by and the music was flowing from noon ‘til late at night, on each of the three days.
The sheer number of acts that took part was incredibly impressive, but more than that, it was almost dismaying to realise how many of these talented performers were Swansea born and based – and which were unknown to so many who live in and regularly take in culture in the city. Some bands, such as The Hangmen and King Goon took part in the BBC Horizons/Gorwelion panel discussion, Swansea Calling: Talking ‘bout Regeneration, discussing the challenges involved in breaking through the barrier to reach labels and audiences, even after so many years of being established bands in their hometown. Luckily, it appears that the Fringe Festival did its job of bringing audiences and artists together. Due to the long hiatus since the last Fringe Festival, it was unclear what the turn out would be. Yet, on the Saturday evening when volunteers were sending frantic messages about The Pit music venue on The Strand being at capacity, whilst up the road at Cinema and Co., Afro Cluster had a full house bopping and dancing around the make-shift stage, all involved felt we had hit upon a success and the Fringe Festival was no longer on the sidelines. Perhaps there could have been more Family Friendly events, though Oriel Science was a hit with the kids (who doesn’t want to make slime?) and next year we might work on how to avoid similar acts being on simultaneously – as one Facebook commenter said, “Spoilt for choice!”, with conflicts in what they wanted to see. Though overall, festival goers seemed happy to map out their events, with something to see at all times of day.
The Festival was definitely a learning curve for all involved, myself included as a volunteer, as everyone involved worked out how to keep venues and performers happy and catered for, and ironing out the kinks along the way. However, with nearly all of the venues located on the High Street a stone’s throw from each other, and the HQ in wonderful Volcano Theatre with an art fayre provided by Elysium Gallery, there was a wonderful energy along a street that is so often avoided and neglected by many in the city. The regeneration that has been in progress for the past few years, begun and supported by the city’s artists, was in evidence throughout the venues Volcano Theatre, Galerie Simpson, TechHub, The Hyst, and The Last Resort (formerly the Adam & Eve – a place I never thought I’d ever set foot in, yet lovingly given new vegan/craft-beer life) to name a few, all of which seemed built for this purpose – to bring life, art, and music back to the city centre and to show why Swansea should be named City of Culture in 2021. From the start of the weekend with another resurrection, The Crunch poetry reading at The Grand Hotel, through to comedy at Canolfan Morgannwg that had folks laughing all afternoon, to Folk at the Fringe rounding out Sunday evening with a packed house of tired but happy festival goers, babies, and beer drinkers taking in the fiddle and banjo stylings of Little Folk and Darren Eedens & The Slim Pickins, The Swansea Fringe Festival managed to have something for everyone and I’m sure next year will no doubt deliver another weekend of the best new art and music that the city has to offer, rain or shine (and there was rain – it was Swansea, after all! Though nothing would dampen the spirits of plucky festival goers).