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2017: An eventful year at the EVI…

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2017 was a busy year at the EVi, the community and cultural centre at the heart of Ebbw Vale regenerated and developed by ProMo-Cymru. Chris Phillips, EVi Events Officer, looks back at the past year and the diverse and exciting variety of music and theatrical events.

January is normally notoriously slow in the events business because of the unpredictable weather, especially up here in the mountains of Ebbw Vale. The fact that most customers are bereft of funds after the excesses of the Christmas period doesn’t help either. When we were approached with a guaranteed fee for the whole of January to use the main hall we were more than happy to oblige.

An impromptu studio

The Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) bandwagon arrived on 2 January. For the next four weeks, they transformed the hall into an impromptu studio.

Guest musicians and all sorts of weird and wonderful instruments arrived on a daily basis, whether it was James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers or a glockenspiel. We had to keep the utmost secrecy. Visitors with prying eyes all wanted to know exactly what was going on behind the boarded up doors.

Work finished in early February and we had our hall back. It looked eerily empty after the multitude of electronica and soundproofing had been stripped out. When the album was released in July 2017 it stormed the charts outselling Jay–Z in first few days of release. It finally peaked at number four in the UK Charts. Rather an impressive start to the year with more to come from the PSB boys with two sell-out launch shows… but more of that later.

Interactive theatre

2017 was definitely a diverse year and with the hall back in our possession, our first show was an interactive theatre piece by Be Aware Productions. The play was funded by the Arts Council of Wales. Written by Turkish playwright Meltem Arikan, directed by Memet Ali Alahora and starring Maddie Jones, Pinar Ogun, Francesca Dimech and Emma Daman Thomas. The show was in the form of a gig. Band members talked about experiences of sexual violence by real people through song and very dark humour. The show was very hard hitting and very thought-provoking and included a lively Q&A session at the end.

A sell out tribute

Along with the spring, March brought our first full house when the Bon Giovi tribute act sold 300 tickets. I’m told there were people so desperate to come that they were offering double the entrance fee to ticket holders on Facebook. The evening was such a hit that the Bon Jovi tribute act was booked again for December. That too sold out months in advance.

Tribute bands may not be to everyone’s taste, and may not be everyone’s idea of art, but they are very popular. With a healthy balance of the real and the ‘fake’ we can continue to offer something for everyone.

Charity fundraisers

Charity events are always welcome here at the EVi. We had a fantastic night when Faith Parry put on an evening of acoustic music to celebrate her struggle with mental health. Her fathers’ band Mattraffia also reunited for the evening to raise money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity.

The fundraising continued in April with an event to raise funds for the local cinema. The local authority was threatening closure. Bands from all over the area played to a healthy crowd and the cinema was eventually kept open. We don’t know what effect our event had on the decision, but “every little helps”.

UK Subs at the EVi

Not all rock and metal

There may have been some criticism in the past that there was too much rock and heavy metal at the EVi. April dispelled a lot of that. We had a night of hardcore dance with hoards of ravers in hot pants and waving glow sticks. We also had punk legends UK Subs performing a set of rarities and standards to celebrate 40 Years at the forefront of youth rebellion. Yes, youthful rebellion with Charlie Harper… a sprightly 73 years young!

Summer lovin’

The EVi can be hired for personal parties and events. In May the local vicar held his retirement event here. A personal highlight for me was my own daughters’ wedding. Throw in another sell out, this time from a Guns N’ Roses tribute act. The end of spring saw an eclectic mix of events at the venue proving we provide something for most tastes.

The summer and wedding season really kicked off in June. We had a steampunk union that was an absolute joy and a pagan handfasting ceremony. It’s not all confetti and lace. The halfway point of the year also saw the return of a major musical event. Odin’s Rock Club held their fifth annual two-day festival with acts from all over the country playing.

Showing gratitude

Public Service Broadcasting returned for two sold-out shows to launch Every Valley, the album lovingly created in the concert hall at the EVi. Ever since the recording of Every Valley PSB Management and myself had been in constant email contact. We talked about the possibility of the band playing some shows as a thank you to the area for being so welcoming to these “middle-class Londoners” who came to write about their industry and struggles.

The album was now ready and the dates were set and announced. The 400 general sale tickets were put online and sold out in less than two minutes. The band gave us 50 half-price tickets to sell for each night. The condition was that buyers had to provide evidence that they lived within 15 miles of the venue. These tickets lasted a little longer, about an hour and a half. People were waiting for the box office to open to get their hands on these “once in a lifetime” golden tickets.

Media interviews with PSB at the EVi

A huge production

Most bands arrive in vans and PSB were no different, except they had four vans and a large truck full of rigging, lights and equipment. It was all hands on deck as myself and our local volunteers set about helping the crew. We put up the magnificent structure that held the giant screens and the myriad of lights. The hall was once again transformed. It was hard to believe that you were still in Ebbw Vale with the sheer size of the production.

The morning of the show saw media arrive from across Wales and even journalists from France. Janice Long arrived from Radio Wales and held an extensive interview with J from the band. The show was to be streamed as a 360degree production. The EVi was a hive of activity and the way everything came together was miraculous. There were a few teething problems. The generator that powered the show was too big to get through the doors. They had to hire a crane as the driver would not leave it on the street. It was lifted over the fence and retrieved after the shows.

Happy fans

Both shows were fantastic and locals and the PSB fan club still rave about it six months later. A really lovely story came out of this too. After the first show, we heard that an eight-year-old in his pyjamas had been sat in the car park listening.  The show was for ages 14 plus but the child was a massive fan. I relayed this story to J and the management. They agreed that the boy and his parents could sit on the balcony above the bar with the bands’ guests and watch the show. The child got to meet his heroes and it was a great way to finish the shows off. It seems PSB hadn’t quite finished with us but more of that later.

EVi Events Officer Chris Phillips with James Dean Bradfield

Video shoot with a Manic Street Preacher

July brought another three weddings and a funeral and a return to live action when Swansea rockers Buffalo Summer rocked the hall.

August saw PSB return, this time with the Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield. They were here to shoot a video for their collaboration single from the album. They also kindly donated a Ludwig drum kit, Fender Stratocaster guitar and the bands old touring bass amp for young musicians to learn to play. All in all they are a great bunch of people and this was a mutually advantageous union with the album being the bands highest charting. Hopefully, there will be more to come in 2018… watch this space!

Autumn Blues

After a few tributes, engagements, funerals and children’s parties, musically the autumn saw the return of local heroes Henry’s Funeral Shoe. They brought their down n’ dirty blues driven rock back to the Valleys.

Charity events started again in September with two nights in aid of Musicians Against Homelessness. Both were well attended and worked to raise the profile and funds of this fledgeling charity.

Dan Reed performing at the EVi

Hooked on the EVi

Once acts play the EVi they invariably want to come again, whether it is the audience, staff or well-stocked bar, they usually return. Mike Peters of The Alarm has played twice. Most of the local acts have been numerous times. In October, rock legend Dan Reed made his third visit. It coincided with a 50th birthday for one of the Odin’s Rock Club booking staff. They had a party in a back room and all bought tickets to Dan’s show. So Dan basically played to a birthday party and full gig audience. Long after everyone else had gone home he held court for hours playing his acoustic and regaling with tales of touring with the Stones and other musical royalty.

Paying with batteries

Diversity in music and entrance fee came next when Heavenly Records brought the unique Make Noise event to the EVi. Instead of an admission fee customers had to bring an old electrical item to recycle as ‘payment’ for a gig featuring quirky Cardiff indie troubadour Sweet Baboo. The payment included everything from a handful of batteries to a chainsaw (well hedge trimmer but still vicious looking!).

Orbs show up in photos during a paranormal investigation at the EVi

Spooky goings on

A paranormal investigation by the Ebbw Vale Paranormal Society made me uneasy to be in the venue alone at night for a few weeks. They found a fair bit of activity in the shape of orbs, voices and unexplained noises. I am more than a little sceptical, but it did make me think twice about certain things that go bump in the night in this very old building

Motown and Indie

I mentioned before that bands like to return to the venue and in November Big Mac’s Wholly Soul Band paid us their fifth visit to celebrate their 25thAnniversary. A sell out crowd danced the night away to the glorious hits of Motown. After the success of the PSB events, it seemed we were in demand by touring bands and SWN in Cardiff asked us if we could accommodate We Are Scientists for a late-announced gig as part of a whistle-stop tour of only three UK gigs. We gladly agreed and had a fantastic evening with the New York Indie Stars.

The Church at the Brain Freeze Festival

Brain freeze

The saying goes you can never have too much of a good thing and that was evident when Charlie Harper brought the UK Subs back for another visit in late November. This was just a warm-up for the third annual staging of Pity My Brain’s Brain Freeze Festival. This event always delivers the best in local, national and international rock music with previous acts including Atomic Bitchwax and Crobot.

On the menu this year was the lauded Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind, Church of the Cosmic Skull, Virginmarys and an outstanding array of local talent. Add in a record fair and local ales from the Tudor brewery plus acoustic acts such as Brandy Row and Aled Clifford and you get the best value two-day festival money can buy.

The Church had the most people in a band on stage (apart from Gruff Rhys’ nine-piece band a few years back) and what a sight they were all bedecked in white (as well as a fair portion of the audience avec blanc). It was like a cult sermon but what a heavenly racket they made.

Festive celebrations

The festive season arrived and we had a tremendous party night with our own Dean Richards providing the cabaret, a free party for local children complete with buffet and magician, and another sell-out show from those Bon Giovi guys.

In conclusion, what a year it has been, from international touring megastars, local bands at the start of their journeys, raves, thought-provoking plays, mediums, debates and all manner of family functions – hatches, matches and dispatches! Add in a top five album recorded at the EVi and you have a pretty diverse and satisfying year. Who knows what 2018 will bring but it sure has a lot to live up too!

See you at the front!

Chris Phillips

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