A Brief History of Gower Bluegrass
Gower Bluegrass Festival
In 2005 a group of Bluegrass enthusiasts, under the ‘umbrella’ of the band Roots & Galoots, decided to organise a Bluegrass Day to help promote the music to a wider audience around the Swansea area.
The venue chosen for the event was the Gower Heritage Centre, Parkmill. This open museum and working mill in the heart of Gower was already a venue to acoustic festivals and its ambience was particularly suited to the character of roots music.
The first event featured instrument workshops and jamming sessions during the day and attracted many established and ‘would be’ musicians who were eager to participate in playing the music.
An evening concert was arranged and featured Chris Moreton as the headline act. Chris has since played in all the festivals to date.
Together with six other acts from across South Wales, the evening was well attended and its success generated the need to organise another event in the following year.
By 2010 the Gower Bluegrass Day had grown in popularity and it was decided to expand the event to include Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
2010 was also the year that Gower hosted its first American act. Cedar Hill, a traditional Bluegrass band from the Ozarks, performed to a packed audience and went down a storm. The six piece outfit were all accomplished musicians and demonstrated the true art of Bluegrass harmony and instrumentation. Cedar Hill were to return again to Gower in 2012 during their short tour of South Wales.
In September 2016 we will be hosting the 12th annual event at the Gower Heritage Centre.The festival has grown from strength to strength and is recognised as a major event in the UK Bluegrass calendar. It now attracts a great variety of bands and Bluegrass enthusiasts from all over the country.
Probably its greatest achievement is the promotion of Bluegrass music to a wider audience. Many in the audience are often heard to say, “The music is different, it’s earthy, live and exciting! Where can I hear more Bluegrass!”
Some patrons have even been motivated to take up an instrument and this has resulted in the formation of regular picking sessions.
Following mandolin classes held at the Loughor Boating Club, there was a need for learners to practice their new skills in a supportive setting. This led to a search for a venue for an informal ‘jam/picking session’ in the area.
The Buck Inn in Pontlliw was chosen as the place to host such an event on a monthly basis. The first session took place on Wednesday 13th October, 2010 and attracted 12 players. Following a little publicity, it quickly swelled in number and included many ‘closet players’ who, although shy of playing in public, soon experienced a friendly environment that was conducive to the needs of musicians of all abilities.
The session continued to grow, regularly attracting an average of 25 people. On some occasions, such as at Christmas time, over 50 have gathered to play. There was demand to increase the frequency of the sessions to two per month, so dates at the ‘Welcome Inn’ Llangyfelach were added, alternating with those at the Buck.
Further growth in numbers meant that a larger venue was needed with more suitable accommodation and facilities. The Loughor Boating Club was chosen – the place where it had all started with those mandolin lessons – and this has been our primary venue since Wednesday 9th April 2014. Always wanting to reach as many Bluegrass enthusiasts as possible, occasional picking sessions are also held in central Swansea at ‘The Chattery’ arguably the foremost acoustic music venue in the area.
See our ‘Events’ page for details of our next session!
Due to the growing interest in the music, there became a need to hold a workshop event to help players develop their instrumentation skills. The first event was held at the Gorseinon Institute in February 2014. Starting early afternoon, players of Banjo, Mandolin, Fiddle and Guitar attended tutorials over a three-hour period. During the evening a concert was held featuring ‘The Whitefern Mountain String Band’ . The day proved to be successful with over 100 people attending and more events are planned for the future.
Bluegrass Camping Weekends
Following an idea by Jane Carpenter, the Gwaun Valley Bluegrass weekend was established in 2011. Many musicians camped out at Kilkiffeth Farm in the Presceli Mountains. The venue has a large barn for hosting a music session and excellent camping facilities. The weekend is well attended by our ‘regulars’ but also attracts enthusiasts from all over Pembrokeshire.
This July we will be holding our 6th event at the ‘Gwaun’.
Ron Lockyear Music Scholarship
In April 2011, Ron Lockyear, partner to Jane Carpenter, passed away suddenly. Ron was a great supporter of the music and, together with Jane, studied the mandolin. His enthusiasm for learning the instrument was an inspiration to us all and he often commented that the sessions were ‘Brilliant’
During our first Gwaun Valley weekend it was decided to raise funds towards providing a music scholarship for two of our younger players.. Over £1000 was raised to send both Sam Powell and Aneirin Jones to the Sorefingers Summer School where they received tuition in their instruments. Both boys attended SfSS in 2012 and 2013. In 2016 the successful ‘scholar’ was Cameron Webb who attended Sorefingers under the tutelege of Tim May.
Ron’s name and spirit will live on as the scholarship is now dedicated to his memory.
The ownership of the music belongs to us all. It is not the property of any individual, but a joy to be shared with everyone. No one is turned away from our picking sessions, we welcome players and singers of all abilities. If we are to promote the music successfully we must ensure that Bluegrass is an inclusive genre – a music for all ages and abilities!