FOCUS Wales has come a long way from its first edition back in 2010.
Seven years ago, the festival – which is the brainchild of joint founders Andy Jones and Neal Thompson – took place in one venue over two days with about 30 bands and acts playing live.
Fast forward to 2018 and Andy and Neal will welcome more than 8,000 people to Wrexham across a jam-packed weekend of events featuring over 200 bands from across the world using 20 stages.
Bands such as Catfish & The Bottlemen, Slaves, and Bo Ningen have all played the festival since its first edition in 2011.
“We started off with about 30 bands and I think only about 600 people came,” laughs Neal, 36, as he remembers those early years.
“Now we are getting about 8,000 visitors over the three days, with hundreds of bands playing.”
So what made the two school friends think starting a music festival in Wrexham was good idea?
“Myself and Andy both worked in live music for years,” says Neal.
“I used to book the bands at Central Station and Andy was in bands and then management and we’d known each other years.
“We were chatting one day about Liverpool Sound City and we were saying how Wales should have something similar, where the industry could come and hear Welsh talent.
“The more we discussed it, we kept thinking we should be the people who should have a crack at it! We felt Wales really needed an event like this, and Wrexham was a great location to host it.
“There’s a great scene up here, great venues, and it’s such an easy place to get to for people flying in, or coming from places such as Manchester or Liverpool that are just over an hour away.
“Wrexham has always had a really strong music scene with lots of really good bands. It feels like a real hotbed not just in North Wales, but in the North-West of the UK.
“We thought Wrexham deserved something like Focus and it was a way of acknowledging Wrexham as a music town.”
Planning and then growing the event year on year has remained a priority for Andy and Neal with the emphasis on emerging Welsh talent rather than big name artists from outside the area.
Andy says: “We’ve taken it slowly over the years and from quite humble beginnings too, but that was how we wanted to do it because we wanted to do it ourselves without any outside assistance.
“We’ve been really careful to build the event up gradually and to not risk it by overstretching ourselves, as we’ve seen other festivals fail that way. So we wanted to retain the bits that make the festival fun, and each year we build in one or two new aspects to excite people.
“At the end of the day it’s a music festival, but we wanted it to be a showcase for new music from Wales and create that atmosphere where people could network and progress their careers.”
Among the first 50 acts announced for Focus Wales 2018 are Mercury Award nominated folk singer Kate Rusby and Jane Weaver, the much celebrated psych-pop star with six solo albums under her belt.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners 9BACH are set to open the festival with a concert at the new Ty Pawb venue in Wrexham, and Damo Suzuki, legendary lead singer of the German Krautrock group Can, is set to return to Wales for a rare performance.
Other acts announced include This is the Kit, Bill Ryder Jones, Gallops, John Lawrence (ex-Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci), Lizzy Farrall, CaStLeS, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and the hotly-tipped Canadian band Partner.
Add to that a full schedule of interactive industry sessions, stand-up comedy, arts events, and film screenings and it’s easy to forget just how big an event Focus Wales has become.
“At the moment it feels like a long way off, but in reality we’re three quarters of the way there,” says Neal.
“We’ve announced quite a few of the headline acts now and already next year feels bigger. We’ve got plenty more up our sleeves!”
One new aspect of the festival this year will be ‘Tudur Owen’s Comedy Marathon’ – a new comedy showcase to be held at HWB Cymraeg on Friday, May 11 in association with North Wales music and comedy blog, From the Margins.
On the night, Tudur will be hosting a ‘Live at the Apollo’ style showcase featuring the best new stand-up comedians from Wales appearing in Wrexham’s Queen’s Square, with a bigger tent and a bigger line-up.
The HWB Cymraeg tepee will be full of music performances, talks, workshops, activities, food and drinks throughout the entire FOCUS Wales festival.
“We’re really excited to have Tudur Owen involved,” says Neal. “We do lots for showcasing new Welsh music and I’m pleased we are now working alongside Tudur to do the same for new Welsh stand up
“Wrexham is the perfect location for FOCUS Wales. It’s really compact and there’s loads of really good little venues.
“We’ve had people come from all over the world and they always have a good time – they always remark on how friendly the people are.
“Everywhere has its up and downs but hopefully we’re contributing to a positive image of Wrexham.”
l FOCUS Wales 2018 takes place from May 10 to 12 across multiple venues in Wrexham, North Wales.
l Full three day wristbands for admission to all FOCUS Wales events are available now at www.focuswales.com/tickets at the special EarlyBird price of £35 each. FOCUS Wales is supported by Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Government and Wrexham Council.
l For tickets and for more info visit www.focuswales.com