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Arts and Entertainment

Performers excited at Arena’s boost for Swansea

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The new Swansea Arena will attract world class acts, boost businesses in the city centre and help showcase the amazing wealth of home-grown talent, according to city-based performers.

The 3,500-capacity arena is one feature of the £135m Copr Bay phase one district.

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It is due to welcome its first star on Tuesday (March 15) when comedian John Bishop takes to the stage.

Rock band Royal Blood will then be the first major music act to perform at the arena on Saturday March 19.

Test events featuring local bands have already taken place with Trampolene headlining the first night.

Trampoline performing at one of Swansea Arena’s test events (Image: Swansea Council)

Lead singer and guitarist Jack Jones said: “Every time I looked out at the crowd I couldn’t believe my eyes. The people of Swansea have been waiting for a place like this, and now it’s here we’ve never been more ready to embrace it.

“The stage was so huge I needed binoculars to see my other band members! It was surreal. We enjoyed the backstage. The sound-check. Everything.

“The staff and techs and everyone there was buzzing with excitement and dedicated to making it a great night – and it showed.

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“It was an honour to play a part in opening the arena, and I wanna send a huge wave of love and appreciation to all the souls who must have put their blood sweat and tears into putting it together.”

Rock band Royal Blood are due to play Swansea’s new Arena (Image: Copr Bay)

The Copr Bay phase one district is being developed by Swansea Council and development managed by RivingtonHark. Buckingham Group Contracting Ltd is leading on its construction, with Ambassador Theatre Group operating the arena.

Musician Steve Balsamo said: “I’m very excited about Swansea Arena. Not only will it attract some amazing bands and music to the city, with the very needed knock-on to local businesses, but we will have an opportunity to showcase some of the amazing Swansea bands.

“I really hope that there will be a chance for our artist to support bigger acts on their way to one day headlining shows”.

Singer, songwriter and radio host Mal Pope added: “This is such an exciting development for the city. The size and state-of-the-art nature of the arena means that we will now have a chance to see world class bands back in the heart of Swansea again.”

Mal Pope hosted the official opening of the arena

Actor, writer and director Richard Mylan, who together with fellow Swansea-based professional artists Steve Balsamo, Michelle McTernan and Christian Patterson and supported by Swansea Council, has just launched Grand Ambition that will bring exciting new productions to Swansea Grand Theatre, says Swansea Arena will further enhance the city as destination.

He said: “The opening of the new Swansea Arena marks an extremely exciting addition to our city’s cultural landscape. A multipurpose, cutting edge performance space that will elevate output level & creates an opportunity for other venues to diversify further.

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“I’ve always been a champion of this project – it bolsters our status as a premier artistic destination in Wales. I cannot wait to see it at full capacity, both as a fan & fellow programmer.”

The arena element of Copr Bay is part-funded by the £1.3bn Swansea Bay City Deal.

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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Arts and Entertainment

Swansea summer of fun set to follow airshow success

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Swansea’s amazing summer of fun is set to continue in the coming weeks following the high-flying success of the Wales Airshow.

The two-day Wales Airshow is the biggest free annual event in Wales and at the weekend tens of thousands were at the city’s prom to enjoy it.

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Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea Council’s cabinet member for Investment, Regeneration and Tourism, said it was nice to see the much-loved show that took a two-year break due to the pandemic back this year. It’s due to return on July 1 and 2 in 2023.

Last weekend’s show was just a curtain-raiser for an unprecedented year of high-flying entertainment and sports events taking place across the city this year.

Cllr Francis-Davies said: “We’ve got an incredible array of other events still to come, including major music acts like Nile Rodgers and Chic, Paul Weller and Anne-Marie, all of whom will be performing at Singleton Park this summer.

“And that’s on top of rock legend Elton John who made the Swansea.com Stadium his own last week as part of his farewell world tour.

“There will also be free international spectator events like IRONMAN 70.3 Swansea, Volvo 2022 World Triathlon Para Series Swansea and the Para Sport Festival, all of which are being hosted by the city in August.”  

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Anne-Marie will be playing Swansea’s Singleton Park on Saturday 30 July (Image: Wikimedia / Harald Krichel / Creative Commons)

Cllr Francis-Davies said: “The council made it a policy commitment that after two years of the pandemic, 2022 would be the best-ever year for exciting, world-class sport and entertainment in our city. Working alongside our partners and events promoters, we are delivering on that promise.”

He added: “There will also be excitement indoors as well as outdoors as all this will be taking place not much more than a stone’s throw from the Grand Theatre and Swansea Arena with their incredible line-ups of events and acts that’ll also be in full swing.

“All our events will be backed-up by our Destination Marketing teams who will be sharing the news of the big Swansea welcome across the UK. We’re backing local tourism and entertainment businesses and we want everyone planning a staycation in Wales and the UK to know about it.”

The council will also be supporting events arranged by other groups and organisations – from community bike rides to triathlons and duathlons.

Thousands flocked to Swansea Bay for the Wales Airshow (Image: Swansea Council)

Cllr Francis-Davies said: “Some special events to look out for are a Gala performance at Swansea Grand, to celebrate its 125th anniversary, and the return of Swansea Festival to the Brangwyn Hall.

He added: “Following on from the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, we will also see the return of popular events including food festivals and outdoor cinema.”

Cllr Francis-Davies said the council will also be helping host three national cultural programmes that will play out across the city throughout October. 

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He said: “The World Reimagined is a national public arts and education programme, focusing on better understanding our shared histories to make racial justice a reality.

“The education and community programme will run throughout the summer and result in a spectacular arts trail of globes in key locations, creating a new temporary visitor attraction for locals and visitors alike to enjoy.”

World Reimagined will take place alongside two major projects of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK – a national celebration of British creativity.

The first project sees Swansea hosting both the Welsh and UK wide commissions, including a walking trail by the Reading Agency, working with our libraries, virtual and augmented reality to bring reading and storytelling to life.

The second project is called GALWAD: A story from our future. It’s produced by Collective Cymru and will include a new performance by National Theatre Wales culminating in an immersive public performance in Swansea city centre.

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Cllr Francis-Davies said: “The latter part of this year sees the ever-popular Admiral Swansea Bay 10K in September, the annual Fireworks display and the not-to-be-missed Christmas Parade in November.

“All these events will demonstrate not only that Swansea is throwing open its doors to offer its biggest-ever welcome to visitors this year but it’ll also be a major boost for the events, tourism and hospitality sectors after a tough two years.”

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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Books & Literature

Carmarthenshire author’s Carmarthen Crime series hits the bookshelves

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Ferryside author John Nicholl is celebrating the re-release of his Carmarthenshire-based detective books as the Carmarthen Crime Series.

His new publisher, Boldwood Books – winner of Publisher of the Year in the 2022 Independent Publishing Awards – has repackaged the four books with a strong emphasis on the Carmarthenshire setting and covers depicting local locations including Carmarthen, Dryslwyn Castle and the Tywi Estuary.

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The first two books, The Carmarthen Murders and The Tywi Estuary Killings, are on sale now, with the other two – The Castle Beach Murders and The Dryslwyn Castle Killings to follow soon.

The books focus on DI Gareth Gravel, an accomplished, old-school policeman affectionately known as Grav, who feels out of step with the modern world as he approaches retirement.

“Grav is something of a legend within the West Wales Police Force, liked and respected by the rank and file but not so much by the top brass due to his sharp tongue and a willingness to bend the rules to get results,” says Nicholl, who lives in Ferryside.

“Grav is overweight, loves rugby, drinks too much, particularly since the loss of his wife, and is struggling with chronic health issues. The job matters to him, victims matter to him, and he often goes the extra mile to protect the vulnerable victims of crime, particularly women and children, who he has a strong inclination to protect.”

The books draw on Nicholl’s own experience as a police officer and then as a child protection officer in Carmarthenshire. He started writing fiction after his psychologist recommended it as a way to process traumas he had witnessed during his career, which left him with PTSD.

He self-published his first book and it became an online bestseller; he went on to get signed by a publisher and now has 11 bestsellers behind him. His focus is on crime and the darker side of human nature, with a strong empathy for victims of abuse.

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“The four-book Carmarthen Crime Series, while fictional, draws on my real-life experiences as a police officer and child protection social worker,” he says. “I hope this gives the stories a gritty realism readers will enjoy.”

He adds that he is delighted to see the books republished as the Carmarthen Crime series.

“I grew up, live and write in west Wales, and so I’m delighted my publisher has given the books a strong Welsh identity, with stunning covers featuring some of the beautiful locations I know so very well,” he says.

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Museums

Dream role for Egypt Centre’s new head

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A childhood visit to a museum not only triggered Ken Griffin’s lifelong passion for Egyptology, it has also led to him landing his perfect job.

He has just been appointed curator of the Swansea University’s award-winning Egypt Centre and is now in charge of its unique collection of antiquities.

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Belfast-born Dr Griffin says he was captivated by Egyptology after a trip to Ulster Museum when he was six.

“They have a mummy on display called Takabuti, and I used to get my dad to take me there every Sunday. I wanted to know more about the country, and I finally went there on my 16th birthday. That really cemented the idea of doing Egyptology, I was totally obsessed,” he said.

Dr Griffin started volunteering at the museum while he was a first year Egyptology student back in October 2000. After finishing his degree, he went on to become a Saturday workshop assistant while studying for his MA and PhD in Egyptology.

After a spell as a lecturer, he hit the headlines when he discovered a depiction associated with the pharaoh Hatshepsut – one of just five women to have ruled ancient Egypt – on object he had taken out of the storeroom for a handling session.

He said: “This job is fantastic and often there are discoveries every day. We have about 6,000 objects in total, but we only have room for about a third of our collection to be on display. I have seen every object but often you see something you haven’t spotted before; particularly as new technology becomes available.”

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Dr Ken Griffin in the Ulster Museum alongside the mummy Takabuti, the exhibit that triggered his interest in Egyptology. (Image: Swansea University)

Back in 2020, three of the museum’s mummified animals were examined using X-ray micro CT scanning, which generates high-resolution 3D images. The process provided unprecedented detail about the animals’ lives – and deaths – more than 2,000 years ago.

During his time at the museum Dr Griffin has been actively involved in teaching Egyptology through the University’s adult education programme and he is passionate about ensuring the museum’s collection is as accessible as possible.

Next month he will oversee the installation of a new display case which will also create a temporary exhibition space to be used by Swansea University students.

Already a favourite destination for schools, the museum hosts regular workshops and events but when the pandemic forced it to close its doors, Dr Griffin set up virtual courses via zoom.

“We weren’t open to the public at all for 18 months and the gift shop and schools are usually our main source of income. But the online teaching really took off and over the two years we were able to bring in £50,000 of essential funds through that.

“They will definitely continue. Some of the online courses have been attended by 180 people whereas if I held them here it would be a maximum of 15. It has been an unbelievable success.

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“Attendees have come from more than 50 countries in six continents – we haven’t had anyone join us from Antarctica yet!”

Dr Griffin also emphasised the continuation of the museum’s traditional activities, assisted by its band of more than 100 dedicated volunteers, and his desire to get more students, in particular, through its doors.

Another of his long-term aim is for the Centre to twin with a museum in Egypt to exchange ideas and knowledge.

He added: “I first came here as student and I have really been part of the Egypt Centre ever since, it is a very special place. I wake up and look forward to coming to work every single day. It is always exciting.

“It is very rare for a curator of Egyptology post to come up so to get this job really does show that dreams can come true.”

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Lead image: Dr Ken Griffin among exhibits in the storeroom of Swansea University’s Egypt Centre. (Image: Swansea University)

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