When I attend folk and Americana music festivals I usually have a good idea which artists I want to see. With jazz festivals it is a completely different story for me. This was only my third time volunteering with a jazz festival, ever. The first time was the excellent Nelson Jazz Festival in 2007 (before this blog was born) during a trip to New Zealand and then the Vancouver Jazz Festival in 2011. Having not been to Wales for way too long, I decided it was time to give my third jazz festival a try and Brecon Jazz (7-9 August 2015) had a diverse line-up as well as a beautiful location to boot.
I arrived at Brecon from Hay on Wye where I had spent a blissful three days camping in an apple orchard with a flock of beautiful chickens plus Guinness the dog for company. While there, I attended two excellent music sessions, one the weekly open mic at the Globe and the other an acoustic session at the Baskerville Court Hotel, where the atmosphere was so friendly that I spontaneously wrote and read a poem on the night with a fellow traveller (scary but fun). With its many bookshops and cafes, friendly locals and numerous dogs of all shapes and sizes, Hay was difficult to say goodbye to, but Brecon Jazz Festival was promising a weekend filled with even more live music.
I was lucky again with the campsite I had picked for Brecon, an idyllic riverside location and more chickens, who came around in the mornings to inspect their breakfast options. It was interesting that the friendly Brecon Jazz volunteer crew was made up of quite a few people who, like me, were based in other places, mostly in Wales. As venue stewards we mainly helped out running the indoor concerts throughout the weekend. This way I ended up experiencing a number of different jazz styles, such as:
World Wide Wales: Wales Meets Brazil – a vibrant collaboration between Welsh artist in residence Huw Warren, bassist Dudley Phillips and Brazilian-born London-based Adriano Adewale on percussion (including a breathtaking tambourine solo).
GoGo Penguin – This was the concert I probably enjoyed most as this Manchester three-piece really had a very addictive distinctive sound fusing traditional jazz with classical music and electronica.
Adriano Adewale: Catapluf’s Musical Journey – A show primarily aimed at children, but what a great excuse for all the adults in the audience to have a bit of fun with sound too.
Jazz Service at Brecon Cathedral – What a beautiful historic building to spend the morning listening to various jazz fest and other local artists perform specially selected pieces and singing along to jazz hymns such as „When the Saints Go Marching in“.
Deirdre Cartwright Band & Friends – This fascinating tribute to American Jazz guitar greats Emily Remler and Wes Montgomery was part of the Jazz Guitar Day at the Guildhall and also featured guest guitarists Will Barnes and Tom Ollendorf.
Julia Biel – The Sunday night concert by innovative London-based jazz vocalist Julia Biel at Brecon Cathedral was the perfect way to wind down and get together with the other stewards after a music and fun filled weekend.
Apart from the events in the main jazz festival programme I also caught quite a few smaller Brecon Fringe Festival sessions, including a bluegrass band and an Americana singer songwriter, which was a nice change and a great way of discovering some local musicians plus some lovely smaller venues, such as the cosy The Hours Cafe and Bookshop, the Castle Hotel terrace with mountain views, the quirky The Muse arts venue as well as Ardent Gallery.
All in all, I had a wonderfully relaxing time both in Hay and in Brecon, two perfect destinations for a few days, especially if you are a book or music lover or both.