The Pontardawe Festival Of World Music And Dance
The history of the Pontardawe festival goes back to 1967 when Brian Harris, founder of the Valley Folk Club in Pontardawe, wanted to start a music festival in Margam Park. Various folk music concerts organised by the Valley Folk Club were staged over the following ten years with the encouragement of the Local Council but Brian’s dream of a music festival was not fully realised until 1978, five years after Brian’s demise.
Many local people talked about a music festival but in September 1977 talk turned into action in the Dynevor Arms pub with the first festival funds of £20 donated by the landlord, John Beynon. Enthusiasm spread and the first meeting of the Pantardawe Festival Committee took place a week later attended by twenty people.
The first Pontardawe Festival of World Music and Dance in August 1978 opened proudly with one concert marquee, two bars, fifty trade stalls and approximately 100 camping tents. Around 600 people attended the first Festival, mainly from Wales, Ireland and Scotland but also some enthusiasts from America.
The music was mainly Celtic in the early years with the bands Na Fili, Ossian, The Clutha and Ar Log taking centre stage at the inaugural Festival. Ar Log are in fact returning to take part in the Pontardawe Festival’s 30th Anniversary celebrations in August 2009.
Although the Festival’s Celtic roots have remained strong over the years, the Pontardawe Festival of World Music and Dance has grown both in audience size and the variety of music celebrated.
The venue changed, the number of Festival goers grew from hundreds to thousands and Bands of many musical genres made their way to perform at Pontardawe’s growing Festival. People still discuss highlights of past festivals such as the “Convocation of Harps” (eight harps of varying dimensions played by harpists from around the world) and the stunning performance by Chinese flautist Guo Yue.
International musical highlights for the year 2009 include the Welsh group Man, the Zimbabwe Mambo Band Harare, Rory McLeod from Scotland and Edward II providing a touch of Reggae.
The tradition of audience participation in the festivities started in the 1980’s with workshops and meet-the-band sessions that were received enthusiastically by the community and the Festival audience.
These workshops and other extra activities continue all year round now in Pontardawe and the town has recently won funding to enable it to offer a programme of free educational diploma courses in subjects related to festival activities.
Although bad weather created disastrous conditions in the year 2000 and the resulting financial loss coupled with the restrictions imposed by the nationwide outbreak of foot and mouth disease prevented the Festival from taking place in 2001 the Festival is fast regaining its stature as a major International Music and Dance event with up to 20,000 visitors attending.
The Pontardawe Festival of World Music and Dance has recently been officially recognised as the first Fair Trade Music Festival in Wales and the town has long reaching plans for the growth and development of this International Festival which started life as one man’s dream and a few local folk music concerts.