Line-up unveiled for UK’s first singer-songwriter festival


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The UK’s first singer song-writer festival is being staged next month in North Wales.

Gorjys Secret Festival in the Conwy Valley on September 17 is being organised by a new events company set up by four partners who are hoping to boost the local economy.

Among them is professional drummer and singer Gavin Mart, whose own musical credentials include opening for the likes of Dame Shirley Bassey and Motorhead.

Gavin also performed with Corinne Bailey-Rae and a host of top rock names around the world and while he was at it he discovered Bob Hall, the drummer with Catfish and the Bottlemen.

Mercury Prize nominated folk singer and fiddle player Seth Lakeman will be topping the bill at the event that’s being held in the spectacular grounds of Caer Rhun Hall Hotel, with tickets now on sale.

Performances are also lined up from award-winning blues guitarist Marcus Bonfanti, who has played with Robert Cray and Chuck Berry, former Squeeze and folk guitarist Nick Harper, world beat box champ Bellatrix, blues vocalist Katey Brooks, South Wales four-piece Climbing Trees, Seattle-born ex-busker Tom Butler and Manchester-based duo We Were Strangers.

North Wales based performers include comedian Tudur Owen, acoustic guitarist Paul Bodwyn Green, and Caernarfon singer Sera, who has performed with Mumford and Sons, while there will also be “Introducing…” sessions for emerging artists.

Gavin, who recently won the UK Events Award for Positive Impact also co-founded events company Gorjys with local business partners Anna Openshaw, Tansy Rogerson and Jonathan Hughes, along with the 3RDSPACE bar and venue, a social enterprise based in the Great Orme Brewery in Builder Street, Llandudno.

He will also be performing at the festival, which backed by Conwy County Borough Council, Go North Wales, Surf Snowdonia, Zip World, North Wales Honda and Engedi Arts.

Gavin said: “All four of us partners are very heavily involved and committed to  making this festival truly special.

“This is a real celebration of singer-songwriters, and that’s reflected in who is appearing. We wanted to showcase touring artistes, rather than the big arena bands. It means the artistes are from very diverse genres, so there really is something for everybody.

“This is a festival for everyone, families, friends, suitable for all ages – we wanted to create something that would boost the economy of this area, and that’s exactly what we are doing.

“There will be an local food producers, with craft ales of course, plus stalls showcasing arts and craftspeople. Plus we also want it to be a business networking event, where people can relax and meet others, from a wide range of backgrounds, with whom they can work in the future.

The setting at Caer Rhun Hall is fabulous, with the trees and beautiful terraced lawns. That’s where the festival’s name came from, really: we just looked around and realised it was a gorgeous, secret place.

“So we will have space in the grounds for the stage, with a camping meadow for a possible audience of around 2,000, whilst Caer Rhun Hall itself, will be available for VIP accommodation packages and hospitality.”

Gavin, who has been involved for many years with Greenbelt, the UK’s oldest festival, added: “I’ve been in the music industry for 20 years now, and so this festival is also celebration of my two decades performing and organising musical and alternative arts events.”

He grew up in from Llandudno Junction, as his father was rural dean in the Conwy Valley for 20 years. He trained as a drummer after studying at St David’s College, before forging a career as a session player in London and beyond.

Gavin went on to join Dare, the rock band founded by former Thin Lizzy keyboardist Darren Wharton, which was the springboard for TV science presenter Professor Brian Cox’s first career as a chart-topping musician.

“I joined sometime after Brian had left and gone on to D:Ream, actually the Dare members were all much older than me,” revealed Gavin, who now lives in Llandudno with his wife and their children.

“With Dare we played with a lot of big names, such as Dame Shirley Bassey, Motorhead and Iron Maiden frontman Paul Di ‘Anno and across Asia and Europe.

“However, while there is the potential to make a good living playing rock gigs and being a professional musician in Europe, there isn’t a similar musical sub-culture in the UK. It means constantly touring, being out on the road for months at a time.

“I still perform, but now I’m older and wiser, so cherry-pick my festivals. For example I am off shortly to perform in Bethlehem with Mumford and Sons – not the North Wales village, but the main stage of a festival in Palestine.

“I will also be working with refugees and nearby arts centres, as that’s important to me as it’s grown out of my ongoing work as a founder member of Link International Innovation, a charity working alongside refugees and innovation in Central Africa.

“I am also just completing an MA in theology at Durham University and that sprang out my own background as a singer of protest songs.

“I am interested in culture on the margins, and that’s why I created 3RDSPACE at the Great Orme Brewery. We want to unearth the treasure of our local culture, and showcase what’s happening here,” said Gavin.

During the day the 3RDSPACE is a social enterprise, and in the evening becomes a performance space for audiences of up to 100 people. There are now monthly music and comedy nights and a wide range of pop-up and bespoke events, with food at the weekend – it was named the Best Food and Drink Venue at the 2016 Conwy Business Awards.

*Gorjys Secret, Caer Rhun Hall Hotel, Conwy, Saturday September 17. Tickets and more details at gorjys.com

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