Gwyl Arall is a festival of the arts held in several venues around Caernarfon every summer. We spoke to co-founder Nici Beech to find out more.
Gwyl Arall was inspired by the Laugharne Festival which Nici had visited in 2008 with her friend Llinos. Impressed that organisers had utilised Laugharne’s existing buildings rather than having to organise marquees, portaloos and other infrastructure, Nici and Llinos returned from the festival feeling inspired to organise their own in Caernarfon. After talking to Eirian James of Palas Print the first Gwyl Arall happened just six weeks later.
Organising a festival must be challenging, we suggest. Does it get any easier with experience?
“I think our enthusiasm carried us along and it was easy enough to do the first one! Without a doubt we have all learnt loads over the last nine years. Having new people join in with the planning stage keeps it fresh, as does working with great partners. Money is probably the biggest headache – we aim to be self-sufficient and don’t have regular funding – but we are grateful to local sponsors for their consistent support, and hope we will make it to our 10th anniversary next year.”
Since 2008 the festival has grown considerably. “[It] has evolved organically according to who pitches in with ideas and who is keen to work in partnership,” Nici explains. “For example, we worked with Cadw and had an Arts Council grant in 2015, and had two days of events in the castle as well as the more regular venues.”
Every year is different. “One year we had an open air stage outside the Anglesey Arms with help from BBC Horizons, Gwyl Caernarfon and other local sponsors,” Nici says. “We’ve had a full film showing schedule and also no films at all. It really does vary!”
The flexible nature of the organising team – this year it’s a team of eleven – means the festival’s programme varies each year. Events have included musical performances, film screenings, plays, art exhibitions, book readings, quizzes, workshops, DJ sets and folk dancing.
This year’s programme is no exception; it includes poetry readings, walking tours, a busking competition and a chance to hear more about a venture whose name was inspired by the festival. “Llety Arall is the project which is setting up a cooperatively-owned hostel which will let visitors experience the heritage, culture and language of Caernarfon,” Nici explains. “The session in the festival will provide an update and an opportunity to get involved.”
What are Nici’s favourite moments from past years?
“Personally, I really enjoyed working on the updating of the Melltith ar y Nyth rock opera, from which songs were performed by an array of talented musicians and singers in the castle in 2015,” she says, “and some of the early Noson 4a6 evenings in the Market Hall had a great atmosphere.”
And favourite performers?
“Cate le Bon and Meilir Jones’ impromptu duet in the Market Hall was amazing one year, and we were so lucky to have Howard Marks here.”
Nici will be performing herself this year – cooking recipes from her book, Cegin. “On the Thursday night, I’m going to be cooking for the people who come to see Richard Wyn Jones discuss the election at Palas Print, but won’t have time to do any more unfortunately!”
Gwyl Arall takes place from 6-9 July. For more information visit www.gwylarall.com.
Nici Beech photo © Iolo Penri