The brawn and the brains behind Free For All Festival – Interview

Last week we spoke to Owen Bowley about Free For All Festival, Cardiff’s biggest free music festival. We talked about his inspiration behind the festival, the future of the festival and the state of the local music scene in general. Here’s what he had to say:

Owen Bowley is a Cardiff local who has been involved in the music scene here for over a decade, starting by performing at open mic nights before making the leap to hosting his own alongside working in a venues. He says he first got into putting on gigs as a result of reaching out to some friends he knew who played in bands but were struggling to find gigs in Cardiff and from then on he became gradually more heavily involved in the business of putting on gigs and shows in Cardiff.

It was a similar sort of principle that led him to create Free For All Festival. However his desire to provide local bands with opportunities to play good gigs wasn’t his only inspiration for the festival. As well as looking to support bands and help the music scene in Cardiff grow, he wanted to do something that would be good for everyone involved, bands, venues and the gig-going general public. Owen admits that the business of gig promotion is all about putting on gigs but with the burden of trying to persuade people to come and part with their hard earned cash at your venue. For Owen, putting on good gigs is like trying to justify the money being spent and this is where Free For All Festival comes into play. On the back of Christmas and New Year, which for most people is an event heavy and expensive time of the year, Free For All offers a full month of back to back gigs where you can theoretically come along and spend absolutely nothing. A sense of giving back to both the bands and the audience is what Owen believes Free For All is about. A rare thank you in a business that so often can seem to be about lining venue’s pockets is certainly incredibly admirable.

With regards to the festival itself Owen says that it’s all about showcasing just how good the music scene is in South Wales, with bands and artists coming exclusively from Cardiff and the surrounding areas. It almost feels as if the festival is a little kid showing off. The enormous and incredibly varied line up is like a flashy new bike, complete with go faster stripes and a novelty bell, it’s an incredible sight and one that is likely to cause intense jealousy amongst the other local kids. The ‘other local kids’ in this extremely tenuous analogy being neighbouring towns and cities and Owen genuinely believes that the Cardiff scene can grow into something comparable to other major cities in the UK. He has no doubts that the talent is definitely there and that with a few steps in the right direction Cardiff will be thought of in the same breath as places like London, Manchester and Liverpool where the music scene is genuinely seen to be thriving.

However, Owen believes there are a number of things preventing this sudden growth from happening in Cardiff. Once again stressing that there is a wealth of potential and exciting bands starting to make their way through the ranks, Owen believes that the bar scene in Cardiff is largely to blame for the lack of buzz surrounding them. He talks of the ratio of quality live music venues in comparison to bars made solely for the reason of getting completely hammered, a ratio that is weighted massively towards the latter. On a similar note he also believes that the live music venues in Cardiff don’t really do enough to really support the scene. His point being that whilst Cardiff is on the cusp of potential greatness, the scene at the minute is still small enough for all the venues to co-operate and to work in and amongst one another, putting on gigs seven nights a week without stepping on each other’s toes, something he believes doesn’t happen enough if at all.

When asked about the future of Free For All Festival, now in its second year, Owen believes that he can see the festival becoming a staple and highly anticipated part of Cardiff’s musical year. His plans are certainly ambitious, looking to make Free For All what he calls a ‘proper’ festival, he aims to bring in bigger and bigger bands every year. Some acts he has his eyes on are the sort of acts you’d normally have to shell out for to go and see, but Owen plans to bring them to The Full Moon and showcase them for absolutely nothing. His passion and his excitement about this festival and its potential is truly infectious. Whilst speaking with him I found myself getting really excited about the possibility of a month long, free festival featuring some massive names. It’s hard not to get excited by such a prospect, the sheer audacity of it alone is enough to tickle any music lover’s pickle whereas the very tangible possibility that this could soon cross over from dream to reality is something else entirely.

As someone who has clearly invested a lot of time and a lot of love in the Cardiff music scene, his enthusiasm and his desire to help the scene grow is refreshing. I find it quite unbelievable that over a decade in the business hasn’t left him jaded and cynical instead a genuine passion for music and particularly live music in Cardiff is immediately recognisable. With Free For All Festival well under way and having such an interesting and varied line up, that is likely to draw in all sorts of different people, as well as some fantastic plans for the future it’s difficult to see how it could fail and we certainly hope that it doesn’t. Who knows, in a few years maybe we’ll be considering Free For All Festival in the same breath as local giant SWN Fest but for now we’re happy it’s here and we think there’s no better way to kick of 2013.

Joseph Ainscough, @TheJoeSco

What do you think about the local scene? Have you been down to Free For All Festival, what are your highlights so far? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Keep up to date with Free For All Festival by following them on Twitter.

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