Independent Music Venue Week: Neuadd Ogwen

Music lovers in North-West Wales were treated to a trio of bands performing live last night, as part of Independent Music Venue Week; and all for the price of a couple of High Street coffees. The independent music venue in question was Neuadd Ogwen; situated in Bethesda, on the edge of Snowdonia. It’s a tiny town, surrounded on all sides by mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes.

A handful of stragglers missed the start of a captivating opening set from Belfast based septet, Documenta; including four guitarists who blended together gracefully; the instruments caressing each other, creating a shoegazing soundscape awash with atmosphere and melodious noise. Documenta cherry pick from (and experiment with) everything from Can to The Beatles, and it works perfectly.

They opened strongly with “Idle Hands” from the album “Drone Pop #1” and from that moment on, the audience were theirs for the taking. Five tracks from the album were included in the set; as well as an as yet untitled song. A 12” EP is in the pipeline, which vocalist Joe Greene promises will be even more experimental. They closed their set with the grooving beat of “Gentle’s Yard”, from the album, and left an appreciative crowd hungry for more.

Up next were Manchester’s Horsebeach. Manchester isn’t renowned for it’s sunny climate; neither is North West-Wales for that matter, but from the moment Horsebeach kicked off proceedings with “A Place Like This”, you could easily imagine you were sitting on a warm summer beach, sipping a cold drink, and contemplating a siesta before going out to party; no mean feat considering this was a cold, wet, and dark Saturday night in January.

The set was a mix of tracks from the band’s prolific back catalogue, plus three new songs from their next album, due out in March.

Ryan Kennedy’s dreamy, hazy croon dripped like melting ice cream, and you could see the enraptured audience swaying along to songs like the sublime “It’s Alright”, as though they didn’t have a care in the world. Reminiscent of Aztec Camera at times, Horsebeach took us elsewhere, and Neuadd Ogwen basked in the warm melodies the band created.

Last on stage were local band Yucatan. Being on home turf (vocalist Dilwyn Llwyd runs the venue) they were received with rapturous applause from an anticipatory crowd; and rightly so. The band seduced the audience with songs that felt almost hymn like at times. Minimal, soothing, ethereal, almost childlike, Yucatan’s set seemed to reflect the stark beauty of the area that surrounds Neuadd Ogwen; one suspects this is what heaven might sound like if it was a band, and Yucatan’s ability to enthral an audience looked almost effortless at times.

The fact that the lyrics were sung in Welsh didn’t distract at all, and a number of non Welsh speakers hearing the band for the first time were overheard raving with surprise about how amazing they were; quite right too, because Yucatan are startlingly good.

From the moment the drums pounded the intro to “Ffin”, you knew you were in safe hands, and hearing “Cwm Llwm” felt like The Velvet Underground singing you to sleep.

They finished the set with the crowd pleasing “Un Cyfle”, which is the only point where the laid back Llwyd finally becomes animated. The song starts slowly but surely, and finishes with a squall of noise as the band exits.

At the end of the gig, one audience member was seen taking a photograph of the empty stage. As this night was a part of Independent Music Venue Week, it seemed appropriate to do so. After all, this week has been an opportunity to celebrate the smaller, intimate, independent music venue, and when all is said and done, it is Neuadd Ogwen that the audience was there to celebrate.

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