Get To Know: Merthyr Rising Festival

by Hannah Nicholson-Tottle, Jun 13, 2018

“Merthyr Rising Festival was conceived as a way of expressing the tradition of radicalism and creativity in Merthyr."

Merthyr Rising is a cultural festival celebrating music, arts, political discussion and ideas during the anniversary of the events of 1831, one of the very first organised uprisings by workers in 1831 where it is believed that for the first time the red flag of revolution was flown as a symbol of workers' revolt, known as the Merthyr Rising. Unrest among the working class population of Merthyr Tydfil and surrounding areas in South Wales due to wage cuts, terrible working conditions and unemployment levels, especially in the mine and iron works, caused the uprising in Penderyn Square. The exact same spot where the festival is held centuries later.

Thanks to TV shows such as Channel 4’s ‘Skint’ portraying Merthyr in an unfairly negative light the area is often misinterpreted as not thriving culturally, but, Merthyr Rising is on a mission to show the world the hard-working, community-spirited and talented people at the heart of the town. The festival aims to celebrate working-class culture and encourage resistance to inequality through music, arts, culture, talks and debates whilst promoting Merthyr’s heritage and history both on a local and international level. As it is a not-for-profit festival, the organisers have worked closely with trade unions and the local community to attract a national audience and performers and speakers such as Alabama 3, The Alarm, Beans on Toast, Teresita de Jesus Vicente Sotolongo – the UK Cuban Ambassador, George Galloway, David Rovics, Jeremy Corbyn, Stereo MC’s, Francesca Martinez, Craig Murray, to name a few.

There’s nothing quite like the atmosphere at Merthyr Rising, but to put that feeling into words, we caught up with some of the festivals most iconic bands and artists…

The Moon Birds:

Who are you?

We are The Moon Birds, a five-piece funk, soul and groove band from Merthyr Tydfil. We throw dirty blues onto a hyperactive rhythm section and call it a party.

How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t listened to you before?

Drunk Funk, or more recently ‘dirty, stinking good funk’ are our favourites from the crowd. Think Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Jamiroquai.

Thoughts on Merthyr Rising?

We’ve been a part of Merthyr Rising since it’s birth. From playing shoulder to shoulder on a little stage on Penderyn Square a few years back to playing both the massive stage and the tent with Merthyr’s legendary lunatic Larry Love & Co. this year, we feel truly honoured to be a part of Merthyr Rising. All it takes is a small group of individuals looking to do some good and impart the belief that if we work together, we can achieve something wonderful. From the volunteers (who don’t get enough praise), to the organising committee (who don’t get enough praise) to the sponsors and local businesses who make things happen (who also, if you haven’t already guessed, don’t get enough praise), everyone has a part to play in making Merthyr Rising the success that it is. We can’t wait to see where it will be in 10 years time.

Do you have a song you think reflects the spirit of the festival particularly well?

We’ve written a song called ‘Postman’ and it fits the non-political sides of Merthyr Rising pretty well. It’s basically about having a party that doesn’t end, and the various characters you meet along the way. Getting a taxi with Clint Eastwood and his wife, seeing a man who plays the box and a frontman in a black vest top, waking up in Charles Bronson’s house with a chihuahua on your lap - they’re all in there and they’ve all happened to us. The song is pretty crazy, spiralling out of control with all these different events and then regaining clarity halfway through a one-night stand with a nurse. We hope that the MR team had a similar time after in the after party.

Where can we catch you after Merthyr Rising?

You can catch us at New Quay music festival and at our EP launch, which we’ll hold in the guts of Merthyr Tydfil. Details TBC but it’s going to be big and ballsy. And keep an eye out for our new music video for our next single, ‘Brother’, which we’ll be dropping this summer.

Ffug:

Who are you?

We are Ffug, a band from Pembrokeshire.  We moved to Cardiff then got separated all over the uk in the past few years but we’re playing as much as possible within our own schedules. We’re Iolo, Henry, the-good-looking-one-Billy and the-ugly-one-Joey.

How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t listened to you before?

It’s a sort of punky, psychedelically, stick-your-middle-finger-up-to-anyone-you-don’t-like, really loud, full of energy (most of the time) and mostly painful to listen to…Charming and industrial, I think.

Thoughts on Merthyr Rising?

It’s a fantastic thing. We’re all pretty big socialists and we are really grateful to understand the significance of the history, what happened in Merthyr, the birth of socialism in this country. The struggles of the working class, the miners and so on. The festival resonates strongly with us as a band for those reasons, and the emphasis on human compassion it promotes.

Do you have a song you think reflects the spirit of the festival particularly well?

Our song Speedboat Dreaming has some of that same “fuck off to the establishment” vibe that this festival has. It’s about the government being callously unkind to the underfunded NHS and slowly privatising our healthcare system. It’s just not on. It’s also about being young and skint, and feeling like the people in power aren’t on your side and aren’t there to make things any easier for you at all.

Where can we catch you after Merthyr Rising?

We’ve got a gig in Clwb Ifor Bach on the 29th in memory of a friend of ours’ little sister who sadly passed away, it’s us and other bands called CHROMA and Captain Smith. It’ll be a good one. We’ve got a few singles we’re hoping to release by the end of the month, so that’ll be cushty.

Lucy Jones:

Who are you?
My name is Lucy Jones and I’m a 19-year-old singer-songwriter from West Wales.

How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t listened to you before?
Pop acoustic with a hint of folk.

Thoughts on Merthyr Rising?
It’s great, I’ve heard a lot about the festival and it’s my first year playing it this year, so I’m very excited to be a part of it.

Do you have a song you think reflects the spirit of the festival particularly well?
I released my first ever single a few weeks back, it’s a fairly upbeat number, a feel-good vibe for the summer. I guess you could say that’s pretty fitting!

Where can we catch you after Merthyr Rising?
The Big Cwtch Festival in August, see you there! 

Florence Black:

Who are you?
We’re Florence Black. I’m Tristan, lead singer, I’m Fozzi Bear, backing vocals and bassist. We’re missing our drummer by the way, Perri. It’s his birthday today.

How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t listened to you before?
Powerful rock.

Thoughts on Merthyr Rising?
Brilliant festival, bringing people together and everyone having a great time. Good music and good times, and that’s what Merthyr Rising is.

Do you have a song you think reflects the spirit of the festival particularly well?

Our song called Burn.  It’s about it being the time to rise up and overcome things.

Where can we catch you after Merthyr Rising?

We’re touring the UK with an American band called Crazy Town, there are about 10 dates.

Upbeat Sneakers:

Who are you?
We're Merthyr Tydfil's Upbeat Sneakers...

How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t listened to you before?
I’d describe the sound as an indie pop band, with sharp brass.

Thoughts on Merthyr Rising?
We love playing Merthyr Rising. It’s an opportunity for us to play a big stage in our hometown with all of the other great local bands. Every year we get to have a beer with them and catch up on our doorstep. It’s brilliant.

Do you have a song you think reflects the spirit of the festival particularly well?

If we had to pick a song best suited for Merthyr Rising it would be Current Affairs. It suits the festival from its working-class angle, the song is about the struggles of the working class and the effects of zero hour contracts.

Where can we catch you after Merthyr Rising?

We’ve got loads of dates and festivals coming up, but the next local one would be in Jacs Aberdare supporting Space on 22nd June, then supporting Neville Staple in The Neon Newport on 23rd of June. Plus we return to Boomtown festival this year too.

Merthyr Rising will be back in 2019, for to keep an eye on updates click here...

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