Cool Cymru? Who, why and where

Cerys Matthews singing in Catatonia, James Dean Bradfield performing with Manic Street Preachers and Kelly Jones from Stereophonics
Cool Cymru - will it be again? Cerys Matthews, from Catatonia, Manic Street Preachers' James Dean Bradfield, and Kelly Jones from Stereophonics [Getty/BBC]

Remember Cool Cymru? Some say it was the Welsh answer to Britpop - as bands such as Catatonia, Stereophonics and Manic Street Preachers dominated the charts.

Road Rage, Design for Life and Local Boy in a Photograph - all anthems that are still belted out on the radio.

But it was also close to 30 years ago - so where is Cool Cymru for the 2020s?

Does it exist - and does it even matter in a decade dominated by downloads and streaming?

They are questions for both those who listen - and those who create - and of course sell their sounds.

They are also questions that find focus at the aptly named Focus Wales festival.

Now in its 14th year, the three-day event in Wrexham has become arguably the UK's most important event for emerging music artists - a showcase to the world of new talent - including fresh Welsh talent.

Andy Jones at Focus Wales festival in Wrexham in May 2024, inside the Llwyn Isaf big top with mixing desk behind him, and Focus Wales logo projected onto the stage behind him in white
The Welsh music scene is already exciting now, insists Focus Wales co-founder Andy Jones [BBC]

In the view of the festival's co-founder Andy Jones, Cool Cymru was more a marketing ploy rather than a real creative movement.

"It was kind of a media invented thing, you know - there were always great bands in Wales," he argues.

"That was just a tag pushed onto those bands at the time - but there's a really great scene going now.

"There's lots of great interesting music coming out of Wales across all genres."

He sights the likes of Cardiff reggae artist Aleighcia Scott, the Wrexham pop punk outfit Neck Deep who have a global following, and experimental electronica rock band Gallops.

All very different genres - something that should be celebrated says Andrew Ogun, a musician, poet and activist who is the Arts Council of Wales' Agent for Change, and one of Black Lives Matter Gwent's main organisers.

"I think generally speaking, we are getting less and less superstars across all music genres" he said.

"When you look at the music scene now, it's more about that hyper-local and national audience and that almost kind of cult following.

"I think we have a lot of that in Wales."

Andrew Ogun at Focus Wales festival in Wrexham
Andrew Ogun believes there is a move away from massive artists - and Wales can benefit [BBC]

He believes a move away from stadium fillers to more diverse and locally supported acts is the way forward.

"I think it is more equitable. It broadens the attention to more people rather than a few select bands sucking all that energy.

"It's not the lack of talent - it's just how the picture has changed. When was the last big pop band - or the last big male group - your One Directions - it just doesn't happen anymore."

For the Music Venue Trust, it is also about money - lots of it at the top of the music industry, but very little at the grassroots level.

They campaign to support small independent music venues, which the trust says is key for new acts becoming better - and bigger.

"I think we've seen a lot of venues close in Wales over the last year, because of the cost of living crisis, loss of footfall, exclusivity deals with festivals, and there just isn't the touring circuit there used to be," said the trust's campaign lead Toni Coe-Brooker.

"The artists that are performing at arena levels were nurtured at grassroots music venues,' she is quick to point out - it is exactly where an industry giant such as Ed Sheeran started out.

She said the fight now was to ensure artists, venues and grassroots promoters are supported properly so the industry can thrive.

The Royston Club - left to right - Dave Tute, Tom Faithful, Ben Matthias and Sam Jones and Sam
The 'next big thing'? Local heroes The Royston Club took Focus Wales by storm - headlining the opening night of the festival [BBC]

But where does that leave the next Cool Cymru - will there be one? Are there artists from Wales who will go on to create national and international waves?

If the mood music at Focus Wales is anything to go by - where there's talent - there is a way.

And the way, according to many voicing their opinion on the streets of Wrexham is pointing to one band - The Royston Club.

A four piece pop guitar outfit who happen to be local lads, and already local heroes.

They were the festival's headline act on its first night - when about 2,000 people poured into the main stage's circus top outside the city's civic centre.

Royston Club performing at Focus Wales
The main stage at Focus Wales was at capacity for The Royston Club [BBC]

The crowd seemed to know every word of every song. It feels as though they are on the cusp of something big.

"We never think about it like that,' insisted lead guitarist Ben Matthias, as they cooled down after the largest gig they have ever played.

Frontman Tom Faithfull said toying with whether they were heading for fame would only lead to inflated egos - and that is not The Royston Club.

"I think if you keep writing decent tunes people will get onto it - and doing good gigs - and who knows," he said.

For now - they remain cool, if not Cool Cymru, as bass player Dave Tute states: "It's just the best job in the world."

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