Return Journey Festival, Clyne Farm, 1/6/19

Return Journey Festival, Clyne Farm Centre, 1st June 2019

This was an experiment in many ways. Clyne Farm Centre has been operating for 30 years, but this was the first time that they had teamed up with Welsh Connections and Soundboard Magazine to host an event celebrating Welsh music, writing and crafts. While Clyne Farm had hosted events in the past, the collaboration was untested so the organisers went into the day not knowing what to expect in terms of attendance. They needn’t have worried as what followed was an amazing event both in terms of quality of the events and quantity of attendees.

The day started with glorious sunshine which was a good omen for the rest of the day. Having met one of the main organisers and all round great bloke Mike Kennedy several weeks ago, I was only too happy to volunteer to help on the day. My time on traffic duty (replete with high-visibility gear) gave me the opportunity to photograph some bumble bee visitors to the venue. I was also proud to be involved in the event which turned into a huge success.

The event was opened by the Lord Mayor of Swansea and this was not just lip service, as he remained on site for several hours enjoying the events.

It was clear early on that this was an event of inclusion, with very friendly crowds and events that promoted audience interaction and this feeling continued through all the events which were intimate and felt very exclusive. From workshops quite literally held in a lounge to live performances which were much smaller in scale than the performers would normally have played.

The Lazeeza Bellydancers started the day with a fun performance that highlighted their love of dancing and culminated with audience members being encouraged (and sometimes, in the friendliest way, being press ganged) into performing themselves.

Swansea Sings were up next and the members of this community choir again showed their enjoyment of singing and joining in was encouraged – it really was a pleasure to watch them perform.

The first act on the front courtyard were The Minnesota Module which contained around 15-20 members and instruments as diverse as ukuleles, xylophone (or was it glockenspiel? I can’t be sure) and a range of guitars. The numbers and diversity combined to create a wall of noise that was great fun and the audience clearly enjoyed their set.

Following this, I decided to retreat indoors to sample the workshops/talks on offer. The first of which involved a Q & A with Keith Williams, a Neath native who became a trailblazer in the arena of music videos scripting and conceptualising videos for the likes of Elton John, ELO, Supertramp, Michael Jackson and Madonna. Williams’ affable nature and screenings of some of his favourite work, along with the very intimate setting meant it was a real privilege to hear him talk about such a stellar career in such a humble way.

Following on from this, local author Mark Rees, noted for his many articles on the paranormal, shared tales from and inspired by his latest book on stories of Welsh ghosts all of which were drawn from reports from Victorian sources. Rees was engaging and brought the stories to life in this intimate setting making it feel like you were just having a chat in a friend’s house.

At 5pm, the music switched indoors to the barn which, despite its name, was a small setting and made for an intimate feeling to performances from some notable names in Welsh music. We started with Steve Balsamo, Andy Collins and Gareth Lewis performing as a trio with wonderful songs and remarkable complementary melodies. They were followed by John Davies and Nick James playing their first show in about 13 years (but you wouldn’t have known it!). Fathom and Buttonsville also performed excellent, intimate unplugged sets before local favourites Lost Tuesday Society decided to bring the noise (and the drumkit!). All the musical performers were excellent and it was a privilege to see them but LTS took things to another level and I was blown away by their remarkable performance and I can’t stress strongly enough that people NEED to see Lost Tuesday Society – they are local favourites for a reason and their enjoyment of what they do is infectious and in such an intimate setting, it didn’t take long for everyone to get swept up in their joy of music. A fitting end to a very successful debut festival that I felt pleased and privileged to be a part of.

There were whispers on the day that the organisers and venue were really pleased with the event and that it would be back bigger and better next year. I look forward to the prospect, but they will need to pull out some serious tricks if they want to make it better than this remarkable, inclusive, welcoming, intimate, happy day.