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An Interview with Matthew Frederick of Climbing Trees

  • By James Payne
  • 10 Nov, 2017

We spoke to Matthew Frederick of Pontypridd band Climbing Trees about Pontypridd, the origin of the band, the future of music in the town and working with the BID. 

1. Firstly, could you tell us your name, what you do in the band and the meaning behind the name ‘Climbing Trees’?

 I’m Matthew Frederick, pianist, occasional guitarist and one of three vocalists in Climbing Trees. We have three frontmen in a way, depending on the song, and like to mix things up in terms of lead vocals as well as instrumentation, which I think works particularly well live as well as on record.

 The band’s been going for six years in total, with the current four-piece line-up for the last three and a bit years, during which time momentum has steadily been building. We’ve taken things in a slightly different direction over the past couple of years, particularly with the second album – there’s some big instrumental tracks on the latest record which are much more expansive, which I think has worked well at some of the bigger festivals we’ve played.

 With regards to the band name, a couple of the boys were on a bike ride in the forestry back in 2011, and one asked the other if they liked climbing trees. We were looking for a band name at this point, and the other thought that he was suggesting a band name rather than the actual activity of climbing a tree. We decided it suited the folky, acoustic feel of the first album, and it stuck!

 

2.     Your band performed at the first gig following the Muni’s reopening – how far do you think the venue has come since that night?

  A long way!  The Muni had been open for a few months as a community project before we got involved. We wanted to kickstart live music in the Muni again – I remember going the ‘Fight Night’ shows when I was around sixteen or seventeen, and it used to be absolutely packed.  I’ve also run several songwriting sessions there in the past, so it’s been a venue close to my heart for a long time now.  I started performing there and doing a few shows solo, but always wanted to play with the band there. We were looking to put on a hometown show, and it seemed fitting to do it at the Muni alongside our friends The People The Poet and Peasant’s King, the ‘Holy Trinity’ of current Ponty bands!

 It sold out and the place was buzzing.  The show brought in fans of all three bands, lovers of music in general as well as people who just wanted to support their local venue.  The Mayor of Pontypridd at the time, Jayne Brencher (currently Councillor of the Graig Ward), came on stage sporting her bling along with her Climbing Trees t-shirt, gave a great speech and went down a storm, and we also had the comedian Vern Griffiths compering, which tied everything together nicely. The whole night definitely showed the potential of the venue, and it’s great to see music in a regular basis here now. It’s a perfectly sized venue for the town for those larger shows and for touring bands, and it’s really a facility that we all need to make the most of.

3.     Are you looking forward to playing in your hometown for Christmas and what was the idea behind that?

 We try to play one hometown show every year, and we haven’t actually gigged in Ponty since that Muni show in April 2016.  We’re hoping for another cracking night, and we’re looking forward to a great atmosphere, what with it being our final show of the year, a Saturday night and just two days before Christmas!

4.     What do you think of the current nightlife/music on offer in Pontypridd?

There are actually a whole load of events going on – probably more than people realise – and each seems to have its core crowd. It’s good to see the BID and the likes of Ponty Arts sharing events on social media, because they need as much publicity as they can get. The appetite is certainly there, it’s just a matter of getting the word out.  

I try to get to as many of these intimate events as possible. Pontypridd Museum have started putting on a poetry night roughly once every couple of months, which is always an eye-opener.  I spend a lot of time in Clwb y Bont, which works well for smaller shows, as well as the folk, blues and jazz nights. There are plenty of people out there desperate to go out and watch live, original acts, and making sure that the message gets out there, whether through social media, print or other avenues, is absolutely crucial to the success of these nights.

5.     As a musician, what was it like to see the introduction of LINK Fest in Pontypridd?

I was actually really looking forward to LINK Fest, but unfortunately it clashed with our New York shows last month.  It’s definitely something that Ponty needs – linking all of its venues together to provide a little something for everyone across one weekend, much like Sŵn and HUB Festival do so well down the road in Cardiff. The first year is always a good test of the water, and it’ll be interesting to see how the festival develops in 2018.

6.     Do you think there are improvements to be made or any new ideas needed moving forward?

I think it’s important that our local venues and promoters work together as much as possible, avoiding clashes in terms of the types of events they’re putting on, where possible. Each venue naturally has its own niche – the Muni’s there for the larger events, the poetry in the Museum works really well, as do more traditional forms of music, the Bont covers a number of genres and is a great place for bands starting out to play to a small, captive crowd.  It’s key to get everyone working together as one body whilst retaining what makes each venue unique.

7.     How did you find about the BID?

Gareth Pugh of Plaingrafffic first mentioned the BID to me a good few months back. He’s designed the artwork for all of the Trees releases so far, as well as working with Your Pontypridd, which has become more noticeable both on social media and in the town of late. It’s good to bring local businesses together under one banner and expand their customer-base with things like the new Student Discount card scheme.

8.     The band is working with the BID for this show – how important is the BID’s role in the town moving forward?

There are some interesting ideas in the pipeline, including digital advertising in the town, which will help promote the both the BID and the businesses involved, as well as events likes ours.  The student scheme in particular could provide a welcome boost – those studying in Trefforest are a largely untapped market.  A lot tend to hop on the train down to Cardiff when Ponty is only one train stop away in the opposite direction, and it’s essential that it’s seen as a viable option in terms of shopping and eating out, as well as a good night.

There are lots of cool little shops popping up of late – Soul Spice in the market is one of my favourites, and the New York Pancake Department on Taff Street are just this month introducing a vegan menu, which is handy for me as a vegan! We also have Terry’s Music on Church Street, another favourite of mine. He was in the market for years, and it’s great to have a music shop in Ponty selling records as well as instruments and other bits and bobs. I think there are always a few options in Ponty for whatever you’re after – there’s a great deal of potential, and these new developments can hopefully continue to push the town in the right direction.

9.     Are there any improvements or ideas that you would like the BID to consider in the future?

The little things make a lot of difference, the branding’s great and just needs to be seen in as many places as possible. It’s essential for the BID to continue to get involved with events as well as businesses – the more connections made the better, meeting the right people is crucial to keep the momentum going.

  10. What are your plans for 2018?

I have a load of different ideas bouncing around, so I’m not sure quite where to start! With regards to the Trees, we’ve come to the end of the second album’s cycle in terms of promotion, single releases, festivals and touring. We released ‘Borders’ in July 2016, and since then we’ve played a lot of shows, in Europe and the US as well as the UK, which is something we could only have dreamed of a few years ago.

We each have solo and side-projects that we’ve set aside a bit of time to concentrate on at the start of 2018 before reconvening a little further down the line to start writing afresh ahead of the third record. Personally, I’ve been wanting to record another solo album for a while now, so that’s at the top of my to-do list, but aside from that I’m also currently writing a piano piece for a short film, and more generally I’ll be looking to put on more Staylittle Music shows throughout 2018. So we’ll wait and see, but there’s a lot to look forward to!

  Thanks for your time today Matthew, we wish the band all the best in the future and look forward to working with you for the upcoming hometown show.

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