What could be more relaxing on a weekday afternoon after lectures? The Siren’s Niamh Hughes and Claire Mellor review an evening of poetry and music showcased by Swansea University students and expertly organised by Claire at the city’s new venue, Coffee #1.

Thursday 27th February saw a few talented Swansea students came together for an afternoon event which treated listeners to an evening of spoken poetry and acoustic music in the new Coffee#1 in town. Readings from Catherine Rowland, Zoe Alford, Natalie Ann Holborow and Julian Ball showcased the writing talent of some of the university’s students while Beth Angharad and Carys Lowry-Carter finished the evening serenading us over peppermint teas and caramel mochas. Hopefully, this could be a regular fixture for writers and singers to showcase their work in public.

ImageCatherine Rowland kicked off the poetry with a piece she had recently written entitled Spanish Waves . Despite the late-afternoon bustle of the café, we created our own little atmosphere as we sat encircled around the performers. Catherine shared with us her poem in remembrance of the late poet and Swansea University lecturer Nigel Jenkins, The Next Greatest, which brought her set to a touching conclusion.
Zoe Alford read next and, like a true blogger, recited her snappy pieces from her smartphone. Though she had not given titles to her poems, Zoe kept us entertained with a little contextual introduction about each of the pieces. Julian Ball followed her performance with his fast-paced and witty free-verse, a favourite of which was England’s Dreaming. Finally Natalie Holborow stood up with a wealth of prepared material; a true testament to her creative prowess that she is able to find the time as a Masters’s student to produce so much! Despite the clatter of cups, bustle of customers and whirring of the coffee machines directly behind the speakers, the poems were all just about audible for us to hear. Nevertheless, as the café shut its doors to the public and became more peaceful the readers were encouraged to stand up again for us and re-read some of their material as an encore.
Beth Angharad kicked off the musical part of the evening with a song which she wrote when she was just fifteen called Closer. Next, we were lulled by her acoustic version of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, (which she disclosed as one of her favourite songs), and Bill Withers’ Aint no Sunshine (which is one of mine). Carys Lowry-Carter delicately closed the evening’s performances with further acoustic covers ranging from Prince to Radiohead, ending the evening on a perfectly chilled note.

ImageNiamh managed to catch up with the evening’s contributors for a chat about their work and the longevity of these interests.
Firstly, when asked if coming to University (Swansea, in particular) had actively encouraged creative writing, the response was extremely positive. While Julian implied he wrote creatively before pursuing an undergraduate course, Zoe was in fact keen to avoid it: “I came to university adamant that I would never try creative writing again, given several botched attempts during my A Levels.” However, she made a very perceptive point in that “many people, not just English and Creative Writing students, may be tempted to try creating something whilst away at university, because for many it may be the first time you’re away from home trying to define yourself in a new community.”
Of course, the city’s literary heritage plays a huge part in sparking enthusiasm for the writers. Catherine says: “I have become acquainted with the local literary scene in Uplands where I’ve been able to take part in monthly poetry readings at The Howl. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me not only in getting used to performing my own poetry in front of others, but listening and being inspired by all the local talent produced by Swansea locals and students alike.” Attending poetry evenings like Howl certainly make the readers feel at ease. Natalie agreed, saying “I am very grateful to have been part of such a supportive network and to have met some truly wonderful and talented people.” Currently studying for her MA in Creative Writing, Natalie didn’t move away from Swansea but has absolutely no regrets: “I feel absolutely privileged to be able to work with the talented writers who form the department at Swansea University and the beautiful South Wales coast is a perfect environment to find inspiration. I don’t plan on moving for the PhD either if I can help it!”
As Swansea students, we’re all definitely at an advantage to have such great connections to literary events such as the annual Do Not Go Gentle Festival to commemorate the life of Dylan Thomas. Having the opportunity to perform there, Natalie, Catherine and Zoe ardently agree that the literary heritage and platform provided that confidence boost to put themselves out there. Natalie adds, “It’s wonderful to see that spoken word poetry has now become an integral part of the popular monthly Uplands Market. There’ll be no shortage of literary events this year with the Dylan Thomas centenary either!”
Beth and Carys’ beautiful performances truly emphasised how music is a huge part of the University life with its various open mic nights and organisations. Taking part in Skye Swansea, Acoustic Summer and Winter respectively, as well as Swansea Oak Sessions and the open mic night at JC’s every Tuesday from 7:30-11, Beth believes: “there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing people improve their performances through open mic nights.”
These lovely ladies are quickly making names for themselves. Beth is a just a pleasure to listen to and her passion for music truly shines through her performances. Good news, folks! She revealed: “I’m working on an album at the moment- the last time I released anything was before I came to university in 2011, so I’m having major studio cravings! Hopefully I’ll get time to record some, if not, all of it, over summer and will probably release it in Autumn 2014.’ While this is great news, in the mean time, you can catch her in JC’s on Tuesdays with ‘a couple of gigs with dates to be confirmed in the next couple of months.”
Last, but by no means least is the talented Carys. Her performances continue to be effortless and original as shown in her 2013 EP Between the Forest and the Sea, exploring her Welsh heritage as a Hampshire native as well as demonstrating imaginative song writing skills. Like Beth, we can expect even more from her in the coming months. “I’m currently in the process of writing and recording some demos to send to my label which is terribly exciting,” she says, “but while nothing’s set in stone we’re hoping to get the masters recorded over the holidays, so watch this space!”

Check out the following links for more from these folks!

Catherine Rowland’s Poetry: http://catherinelucyrowland.wordpress.com
Natalie Holborow’s Poetry: http://www.goodnightindigo.blogspot.com
Beth Angharad’s Music: http://www.facebook.com/bethangharadmusic93

by Claire Mellor and Niamh Hughes