Today’s guest writer is Pip Gray, who is joining us to talk about the joys of urban nature – specifically in Cardiff, in the colder weather! Take it away, Pip!
With acres of green spaces, wild coast line and miles of waterways flowing through the heart of the city, Cardiff is a city full of wildlife and nature to appreciate all times of the year – including the best time to go out and see it, winter.
Spending time in nature is scientifically proven to improve our mood, mental and general health, there’s no better time to get outside than in winter! Full to the brim with some of our most dramatic and exciting natural experiences, which can rival any summers day in the sun – disconnect and get involved.
Wrap up in your big winter coat, pull on your wellies and let’s create some warming winter memories outside amongst our cities ancient trees and wild neighbours.
Whilst we’re wrapped up in scarves and boots, wildlife from our chillier highlands surrounding Cardiff flock to our city for a warm escape from freezing conditions.
Look for winter birds such as Fieldfare and Redwing, relatives of the Song Thrush, who will be visiting our parks and gardens to feast on berries and seek shelter from colder climes.
They’ll be joined by one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the UK, huge Starling murmurations.To enjoy this free performance, spend a little time looking up just before dusk at the Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve, or across the city’s parks including Splott Park to watch up to thousands of birds swirling and dancing in the sky together before they roost.
Get In The Garden
Winter isn’t best known as a popular time to get in the garden, but our garden birds really appreciate a little helping hand during this tough season.
Setting out a feeding station and/or water is a lifeline for birds such as Robin and House Sparrows whose populations have plummeted due to loss of places to live and feed in our suburban sprawl. A simple feeder from a pet or DIY store filled with suet balls and a water bath will reward you with close up views of our most colourful garden birds including Blue Tits and Chaffinches – it’s like a safari, but for your garden!
Now is also a great time to start thinking about how to make your garden wildlife friendly for the year ahead, whether it’s pots of wildflower for bees or a fruit bush which supports everything from butterflies to birds!
Signs Of Spring
Another easy way to connect with nature that’s accessible to all, is to get down to earth. No really, get down to the ground and start noticing our amazing wild plants! Here in Cardiff we have countless numbers of wildflower, grasses, fungi and ancient organisms such as lichen and moss. A really great way to get interactive with our botanical buddies is with #WildFlowerHour at 8pm every Sunday on Twitter, where you can share your finds, have help identifying and get involved with protecting the plants which support our wildlife, and us.
In winter, look for snowdrops in our wooded areas, which will begin to flower alongside delicate yellow primroses. Some of our most ancient plants such as ferns and lichen thrive in our oldest forests, visit Howardian Gardens or Coed y Wenallt to lose yourself in the magic of an ancient woodland without leaving the city.
Thanks Pip! Pip Gray runs a Cardiff based wildlife blog, Wildly Pip, where she documents her journey living wildly in the city centre.
So there’s nothing we like more on We Are Cardiff than supporting and celebrating local talent. So we dropped in to speak to good time rock and rollers Rainbow Maniac, who have just recorded their debut album, and will be playing on Tuesday 29 January at The Moon. Read on for a photo essay of the recording, and a Q&A!
So you guys have just recorded your album! Tell us all about it.
With Charlie Francis as our producer, we recorded most of it over two days cause we’re hipsters and we wanna be like the Beatles in the early days. It was pretty easy and relaxed because we’d thought about it for a while and we’re pretty well rehearsed.
Some of the songs have been around for two or three years, and some of the songs were finished in the last few months so it feels like we’re releasing a mini greatest hits album as our debut!
When is the album due to be released?
We want to find a label to release with first so a release date is very much TBC. We intend to put out some singles in the meantime though so don’t worry! We are going to promote our new single ‘Snowball’ and take it from there.
Can people see you live any time soon?
Yeah for sho. To promote ‘Snowball’ we booked a mini tour this month – you can catch us at the last show in Cardiff at the Moon, on the 29th January. The single is also being released on 29th so it should be a fun night getting boozy with our support acts Al Moses and Rotanas!
A couple of months ago I got an email from Irina and Silviu, asking if I would be free to answer some questions and be featured on their website. I do get asked relatively frequently to do things like this, but I’ve only got limited time available to me so I usually turn the offers down.
However, I had a look at the website for this project that they are running – Together and Sunspell – and got back in touch with them to say yes. Have a look at it and you’ll see why. The photography is just wonderful, and they’ve got an interesting mixture of interviews with people doing creative jobs or creative work across different industries, and also across their local area – they live in Usk, so their project spans Cardiff, Bristol and Bath. I asked them a few questions about Together and Sunspell. Enjoy!
Please introduce yourselves.
We are Irina & Silviu and we do everything together. We met at Uni in Transylvania where we were both studying Philosophy and a few years down the line we’ve decided to call Wales home.
Tell us a little bit about your project ‒ where did the idea come from? Why did you decide to do it?
Together & Sunspell was born out of our innate curiosity and inquisitive openness towards the Other and the way they interact with their environment. As foreigners we found this to be a good way of getting to know people and feeling less isolated. We also felt that by creating an online collection of these encounters we would support and promote local and regional talent and raise awareness of the creative richness surrounding us.
What has your experience been of meeting people and taking the photos? Have you enjoyed it?
T&S started without us really knowing it and this randomness helped us ease into what the project was going to become. We went from almost zero interaction to having covered over 120 stories in the span of two years; the whole process has been exhilarating, draining at times and paired with our innate need to permanently question and analyse everything, the journey has been anything but boring. Have we enjoyed it? We’ve absolutely loved it. It taught us things about ourselves that we might have never learned otherwise and it offered us a plethora of firsthand insights into so many different stories topped up with being able to share all this richness with everyone.
Are there any memorable photoshoots you have done?
They are all unique, thus all memorable. They all taught us something different, things you can only perceive in the company of people who open their hearts and homes and share their inspiring stories with us. At the end of the day, our project is not about photography as such, but about meaningful connections, genuine interactions, openness and inclusiveness.
What’s been your favourite location to take pictures so far?
The favourite location is always the one we are in at the time of conversing and being with the other. We can’t separate the person from the location or vice versa, they both complement each other creating a meaningful story.
And finally, what are your hopes and dreams for 2019?
We’d love to continue doing what we are doing: making more handmade collages, documenting more stories, collaborating with other creatives, developing more personal projects and enjoying our being together.
Have you ever fancied contributing to We Are Cardiff? Well, luckily, we’re always looking for fresh talentz to join the crew. AND WE HAVE FUNDING TO HELP DEVELOP SOME TRAINEES!
You may have been reading and enjoying We Are Cardiff for some time now. Maybe you also follow us on Twitter (where @hana_j87 curates the hell out of the Cardiff internet), or are a fan of ours on Facebook (where you can see a specially curated selection of Cardiff events that we recommend on our page). You might also follow us on Instagram, where the USW photojournalists document what’s happening around the city for you.
You’re almost definitely reading the website (otherwise how would you be reading this, other than osmosis, perhaps?) – and it’s the website we’re after some help for!
There are two ways you can get involved:
1 – as a volunteer writer / photographer / film maker. This is perfect for people interested in doing some documentary-type stuff about the city across multiple formats. You might be a student, or graduate, or just interested in contributing to our mission of covering alternative culture and life in the city.
2 – WE ARE LOOKING FOR TRAINEES! With big thanks to UnLtd, we have some funding to train and develop people who are interested in entering the fields of media, film, journalism, communications (any type of creative content-making industry) but who might not have had the chance to do any training. If you want to gain expertise or experience but have faced barriers (maybe the cost of training or education), this scheme is here to help you. Also this training is PAID, as you’ll be learning “on the job”. You’ll be creating content for the website, and learning as you go.
This trainee scheme is designed to help minorities. And by that, we’re talking about people who don’t see themselves represented in the media. You might be from a lower income household and be done with narratives or news stories that never address your issues. You might have mental health problems and feel like you never see or read things that really get get to the heart of the issue. You might be a Middle Eastern woman who never sees any other Middle Eastern people on TV unless they’re playing terrorists in films. You might be LGBTQ+, you might be over 60, or under 18. And on, and on, and on.
If you’re interested in applying for the trainee scheme, please email email@example.com with “Trainee scheme” as the subject header, and give us a couple of paragraphs on why we should give you a go.
As mentioned above, this trainee scheme is limited to people from minority communities who feel their stories aren’t represented adequately in the media. We want to try and address this imbalance by developing skills and experience.
But we’re not limiting what we mean by “minority community”, by the way – the idea is for you to tell us how you don’t feel your community is represented, and to let us know about the sort of stories you want to tell.
Word to your bad selves. Please share this far and wide, we’d like as many people as possible to nominate themselves!
Are you a fan of trip-hop? Dense lyricism? Modern gothic aesthetics? Have you spun Mezzanine by Massive Attack a bit too many times? Then check out Agiris, the musical project of poet turned musician and Cardiff resident Ryan Draper. His sound skirts the border between poetry and trip-hop, delivering a sound that pushes electronic music to catharsis. Ben Newman sat down with the songwriter to discuss all things music, poetry, lyrics and metropolitan life.
Agiris is a collaborative project, correct? How did this collaboration with Sunbane come about?
You’re partially right. Agiris is the solo manifestation of my artistry as a writer and performer. You could say it’s a sort of character for me to explore my creativity, but it also allows me to exhibit an artform that I wouldn’t necessarily express as just Ryan. As Agiris I’ve been working towards the completion of my first mixtape, ‘Anima’ and a lot of the work produced for this project has been a collaborative effort. I’ve worked with a range of producers including Sunbane, Jonatan Bäckelie and Bexxo, composer/pianist Ezra Nixon, photographer/videographer Seanen Middleton, make-up artist Lauren Labram and iron-cast melder Ashleigh Harrold. Sunbane has contributed a significant amount to my work and we’ve got a pretty co-operative partnership going on. As well as helping me to enhance some demos and producing some of the tracks for my mixtape, I’ve performed alongside him at this year’s HUB fest and supplied vocals for a track on his upcoming Alchemist EP (out Dec 14th), which will be my very first release to hit all the streaming platforms. Synergistic vibes all round.
Q. Do you tend to write lyrics after listening to his production or does lyric writing come first?
My mixtape has been written for a long time now. I revealed Agiris back in May of this year and the time since has been about finding the right music to dissolve the words in. There was one production that I received from Jonatan where I wrote a completely original track over it, but everything else has been lyrics first.
Q. You’ve defined your music as “poetrip” which indicates a fusion between trip-hop’s aesthetics and poetic lyrics. Aside from this genre-lyric relationship, what else does poetrip stand for?
It’s mainly that the focus is on the words. As mentioned before, most of the tracks were written and performed as poems or spoken word pieces before having the music to accompany them. The mixtape itself flows between very structured and rhythmic verses and fluid, soft spoken interludes with a more poetic delivery. I’d like to think that the reader could delve into the lyricism of any of my tracks and extract the messages or the emotions of what I’m trying to say from just reading or listening to the words alone. I suppose the music is there to enhance the experience but also act as a gateway to the lyrics. I’ve also found it uncomfortable to express what I do as rap. Rap brings to mind very specific connotations which I feel I don’t quite fit into. Poetrip, to me, suggests a more image invoking or story-telling genre and one that allows for a bit more flexibility.
Q. Considering your background in writing poetry, how have you found the transition to writing lyrics? Do you tend to follow a similar writing style/method or is it a totally different thought process?
It’s odd. I’ve always written with the rhyme in mind so that hasn’t changed. With spoken word you can sort of take the structure any where but with music I’m very aware that I need to ride the instrumentation just right and allow for more constriction. I’m discovering the art of flow!
Q. Both lyrically and sonically, Agiris tends to delve into dark sounds and textures. Who are your major inspirations for this sound? Are there any lyric-writers/vocalists you tend to look to for inspiration?
For the past few years my favourite music to listen to has been dark electronic pop and alternative R&B (FKA twigs, Banks, Abra, James Blake, Sevdaliza, Kill J). My mixtape has been massively influenced by the likes of Portishead and Tricky, but particularly Massive Attack and their Mezzanine album. I’ve always wanted to re-create its deliciously atmospheric soundscape. Lyric wise- I love the way Bjork writes. She writes without any sort of conditioning. The freedom in her lyricism is tangible to me. Lorde is also a terrific writer. I could just read her album and feel the music in the words.
Q. Out of these inspirations, who would be your dream collaborator?
I’ve actually thought hard about this because I wouldn’t want to feel too intimidated if I were to work with someone I look up to. I’d get too nervous and make a t*t of myself. So bearing that in mind, I’d have to say NAO. Some of her darker tunes are my favourite songs and I LOVE her unusual, honey-sweet voice. Her lyrics are so poetic too: “You’re a holiday, a glass of ocean slipping down my throat and landed on my hopes”. I’ve actually met her and she was incredibly humble- it was like talking to an old friend, so I think we would actually write something great together.
Q. Do you view and evaluate music a little differently now that you’re making it?
Yeah, sadly it has sort of diminished its impact ever so slightly. Before, I would be mesmerised by music and wonder how the hell the artist could come up with something in bewilderment. I still get that! But now I’m working on the software and recording for hours at a time, I’ve started to view the whole concept of music in more technical terms. Sometimes I just need to be found in the right moment and the magic comes flooding back.
Q. Your last track, Monstratum, was sonically your most challenging song yet, nodding to genres such as drone and industrial. Where do you see your sound going in the long-term? Was this more left-field and confrontational sound an indication of your future work?
Monstratum’s concept is about the universal capacity for evil and so I wanted music that was aggressive and haunting to convey its idea. It’s probably the heaviest moment on the Anima track listing. Anima is a very conceptual project and my aim was always to tie it together with a cohesive sound. Before Anima and Agiris, I was making music as part of a duo that was very sarcastic and humorous with simple pop/hip-hop beats. Anima was born out of a need to want to be taken more seriously and to use Agiris as a vessel in which to challenge myself and my insecurities. I was sort of hiding behind the humour before because I was afraid to be sincere and declare myself as someone with true, artistic intentions. Now that I’m getting more comfortable with it, I’m excited to continue to use eclectic sounds and maintain an alternative aesthetic.
Q. Before releasing Monstratum, you released a quote from Carl Jung’s essay ‘On the Psychology of the Unconscious’ regarding the nature of evil. Do you derive a lot of intertextual inspiration from psychology and literature?
It’s funny, it’s kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy for me. I was trying to find a stage name for myself and I kept coming back to the colour silver, the moon and the soul. Eventually I decided upon “Agiris Anima” as a sort of indirect translation for “Silver eyes to the soul”. I cut it short with Agiris but I realised that most of what I was writing about fit with the Anima title. I knew it translated from Italian to ‘soul’ before I knew of the Jungian archetype. I’d also written the basis for Monstratum before I knew of Carl Jung and then I researched some of his quotes and particularly his concept of integrating the shadow. I noticed my poetry aligning with his philosophies and the notion of the Anima became the catalyst that sort of made everything slot into place as a project. I’ve also used a snippet of a philosophical conversation between Dr. Jordan Peterson and Russell Brand. I found the dichotomy of these two individuals, who are both viewed as radicals of the left/right paradigm, just calmly talking about philosophy together to be a notable anomaly in today’s divisive political climate. I took a snippet of where they mention Jung’s alchemical axiom ‘Insterquilnies invinetur” (that which you need will be found where you least want to look) and I used it to introduce a track called “Truth Is…Vacant” which talks about how, in my opinion, the ignorance of truth has been elevated in our culture.
Q. How was HUB Festival? You’ve got lots of experience performing poetry, but I imagine performing music live for the first time was nerve-wracking. Got any live dates planned soon?
For a first-time performance, I think it went well. But it’s that thing where you know you can give it so much more. It’s going to be a challenge to deliver on stage exactly what I have envisioned in my head, but I’m determined to get there. I’m hoping to secure a Mixtape Launch gig next year.
Q. For lack of a better term, your aesthetic is underpinned by something that’s distinctly urban. How does living in a city like Cardiff affect your writing and artistic approach?
I write a lot about mundanity, pessimism and feeling stagnated. I thought this derived from the isolation of the valleys, but I seemed to write more about those concepts living in Manchester and Cardiff. I lived right in the centre of both cities and could still feel intense isolation amongst the metropolitan buzz, perhaps more so than Tredegar. Despite that, I still get motivated living in the city to want to share my work and meet other creators. I like to use Cardiff’s locations for a lot of the scenes in my music videos too.
Q. Cheeky question: when is the mixtape dropping?
If all goes to plan, it’ll be an initial free download release on the 1st of March 2019. Hopefully with a full-platform distribution to follow.
If Agiris seems to hit the right note with you, then keep your ears primed for a new single that drops December 14. For more, check out his music and keep up with him on:
If you’re out and about this week, we strongly recommend you head to Tramshed on Thursday on 13 December for Immersed! – a music & media festival in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust.
The day long celebration will take over the cities iconic venue; the Tramshed Cardiff. The Cinema Room, Waiting Room, Courtyard and Cocktail bar will showcase the best upcoming talent from Cardiff’s music scene.
There will also be VR to play with and gaming tournaments (with chances to win prizes), glorious artwork, a photo booth, live guitar pedal demos (including an exclusive 40 per cent discount) plus delicious street food – all of this for £5 – a lot of bang for your buck!
We recently published our Guide to Local Christmas Shopping in Cardiff – with a comprehensive list of all the markets and indies we’d love you to consider when doing your Christmas shopping. But if you’re still feeling stuck, how about picking up some dope threads from Heads Above The Waves? They’ve had some new items just arrive in store, and if you’re looking for Merch with a Message, look no further!
Heads Above The Waves is a not-for-profit organisation that raises awareness of depression and self-harm in young people. They promote creative ways of dealing with the bad days, and run workshops with hands-on techniques. And they also selling really wonderful merch! So let’s have a look at the new bits…
They’ve also got bags, enamel mugs, hoodies – loads of great gear! Go check out the HATW online store or stop into Castle Emporium.
We also like the ‘Things to try’ page on their website, full of tips for if you’re just feeling down or if you’re looking to stop self-harming – there are plenty of ways to distract yourself or replace the need to hurt yourself. They’ve put together a list from other people’s experiences. If something doesn’t work for you, try something else until you find some that do.
In the immortal words of Jerry Springer, take care of yourselves and each other.
Beth Girdler-Maslen takes a tour around some locations in Cardiff that you can see on the small screen! Fans of Doctor Who and Torchwood, take note!
Doctor Who is a cult classic television programme that is out of this world, in storylines and in Daleks. Exploring outer space is something that not many of us normal people (who aren’t timelords) get a chance to do, which makes Cardiff the perfect place to take a walk down memory lane and discover the amazing filming locations of the iconic BBC show. The Doctor Who Experience sadly closed down a year ago, but there are many walking guides and other places to indulge in your ‘Who’ obsession. Here’s a Cardiff based guide for Doctor Who locations to follow and maybe find some aliens along the way.
Cardiff Bay is the perfect place to go for all BBC filming sets, with Sherlock, Torchwood and Doctor Who all being filmed there. Roald Dahl Plass is the home to The Hub, Torchwood’s headquarters, a spin-off to Doctor Who. On the Space-Time Rift, the TARDIS can also use this spot to re-fuel. The Millennium Centre has been used for scenes in Doctor Who and appears in the background for Torchwood. The lobby has been used for hospital scenes, like the Cat Hospital in the 2006 ‘New Earth’ episode and another hospital for the 2011 episode, ‘The Girl Who Waited’. A little bit further down the bay, you can find The Shrine to Ianto Jones, a permanent memorial celebrating the life of the Torchwood character who ‘died’ in 2009. I had a look at it not too long ago, wondering who he was and was surprised and confused to see so many tributes from people all over the world, from Spain, France and Finland, to name a few. A weird and whacky find for those who would like to pay tribute and for others to have a bit of a giggle. Eddie’s Diner is used in two episodes and is a disguise for the TARDIS. Clara goes through a toilet door to a console room in the series 9 finale and Matt Smith later enters through that door. The American diner is now a regular tourist spot.
Cardiff Castle has been used for multiple episodes in Torchwood, the Sarah-Jane Adventures and Doctor Who as well as Sherlock (it’s the castle where Moriarty stole the crown jewels). It was used for the series 6 two-part episode ‘The Rebel Flesh’ and ‘Almost People’ as well as ‘The Snowmen’, the Christmas special episode.
National Museum of Wales
Again,the National Museum is in lots of episodes of Doctor Who, like ‘Dalek’, ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ and ‘The Big Bang’. Its probably most memorable for ‘The Day of the Doctor’ 50th anniversary special with previous doctors, David Tennant, Matt Smith and John Hurt. An alien exhibition was held there, Vincent Van Gough visited, and it has been used as a base for different museums seen in the show.
St Fagans National History Museum
As an open-air museum documenting Welsh life from decades ago, St Fagans was the perfect setting for the two-part episode ‘Human Nature/The Family of Blood’, set in 1913. ‘The Woman Who Lived’ was also filmed there for series 9, starring Maisie Williams.
Best known for shopping and a very popular place in the city of Cardiff, filming Doctor Who was a public affair with tons of fans pouring in to catch a glimpse of Peter Capaldi. Who can blame them, when the Doctor, the TARDIS and Cybermen were in the centre of Cardiff?
The Main Building of Cardiff University is consistently used as the fictional Bristol-based St Luke’s University for the Doctor’s companion studies. Alexandra Gardens, a beautiful garden behind the main building and near the Bute building is the location for the series 3 finale ‘Last of the Time Lords’. The angels in the gardens also look like the angels from ‘Don’t Blink’, which is something to keep in mind as you walk through!
Take a walk along Westgate Street and you’ll find a hidden alleyway, that the Doctor and Clara found in ‘Face the Raven’ and where Clara meets her death. A sad visit but an exciting one, where you can disappear down a secret street.
A bit outside of Cardiff but worth the journey, Southerndown Beach has been used for numerous episodes but the most memorable and heart-breaking one has to be Rose’s exit from the show. Dead in her own universe and stuck in another, Rose and the Doctor meet on the beach to say their final goodbye. A tear-jerker episode and a beautiful place to visit for all the Whovians to re-enact the emotional moment.
Geriatric club kid Helia Phoenix reminisces about the Emporium, a Cardiff night life institution from the 90s-00s. She has a little chat with the club’s old manager, Tim Corrigan, plus a cast of thousands (well, tens) who remember the club in all its glory. Also, you might wanna bookmark this page to come back to if you get reading fatigue – it is officially the longest thing we have ever published. Possibly. #Fakenews.
I don’t feel like me and the Emporium ever spent enough time together before it was time to say goodbye. I spent hours and hours and hours – weekend after weekend – cocooned in her hot, sweaty darkness: having philosophical breakthroughs in the toilets with strangers; cementing friendships with my gang – we became pals for LIFE, yeah; experiencing spiritual awakenings on the dancefloor; and whirling around and around and around to the music. Every night in the Emporium was an endless explosion of possibilities. You know like in Human Traffic, when Jip says ‘this could be the best night of my life?’. That was how it felt. ALL the time.
I do realise how cliche that sounds. Human Traffic was one of the DVDs on heavy rotation during my early 20s. I know how rose-tinted my glasses are. But I miss those days. I loved dancing. And especially, more than anything, I miss the Emporium. Speaking of Human Traffic, you can see the club in some external scenes of the film …
My main memories cluster around 2000-2001 – back in a time when clubs could easily charge you £15 on the door, and you’d queue around the block, even with a ticket, desperately waiting out the Welsh rain, hoping you were just the right side of drunk that they’d let you in and you could put your stuff in the cloakroom without missing too much dancing.
You slipped through this discreet doorway next to the trendy student clothing shop – possibly it was called Westworld, but I forget – then you walked up those deadly stairs – no grip, wet with sweat from the hot gurners inside. It was like a slippery doorway into Narnia. I don’t even remember if there was a sign, but when doing my research to write this, I spend a bit of time Googling it, and there’s a story that comes up on the BBC about clubbers collapsing in there from dodgy drugs. I don’t remember that, but the photo does remind me of the very classy astroturf sign …
Back then, you could still drive up and down St Mary Street. I even remember one time the weather was so bad we drove there (from Roath … I know … we were lazy!). I loved dancing so much I would regularly go clubbing sober (who needs drink when the beats are good?), so I was always the designated driver – and I managed to get a parking space right outside the club, waited in the car until the queue was small and then we joined it at the back, holding plastic bags above our heads, trying to keep our spandex bodysuits / fluffy boots / massively flared trousers (delete as appropriate) dry. We were soaking when we got inside – but then once inside, the beat started beating, I ordered a Red Bull – and then … the music took over.
By some weird quirk of fate, David Owens of WalesOnline was in the club exploring it the week this piece was being finalised for publication, so there are a couple of brand spanking new photos of the flyer wall inside for you to enjoy …
One of my favourite things about Cardiff is how small it is. That hasn’t changed. It’s really too small to have scenes big enough to sustain their own discrete followings – where as in Bristol, you might have liked psytrance, there would be enough nights on that you’d never go to anything else. But in Cardiff, if you liked going out, chances are you’d try a techno night, you’d maybe try a drum and bass night. You might even go to the reggae parties down the bay, or a garage night (before everyone got stabbed and the parties got banned). And you’d see the same people – people who also loved going out, and were listening to all sorts of different music. The Emporium was a place where lots of these nights were held. Lots of friends made. Lots of hours danced well away. People I still see out and about to this day.
Tim Corrigan is better known these days as the boss of the Milk and Sugar chain. He used to run the Emporium and was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the club, when I told him I was writing an article about it. The office in Human Traffic was filmed on set, but was actually based on Tim’s office in the club.
“In the beginning, the club struggled. But when Lucy and the Catapult crew started a house music night there, it slowly started to pick up pace with people like LTJ Bukem doing nights there, along with huge residencies from every genre of music like Time Flies, Bulletproof, LAMERICA which started there, as well as as the infamous p’tangyangkipperbang…yeah with Jon Rostron, Neil Hinchley and Matt Jarvis.
“To this day, one of my biggest regrets is moving that from its original Saturday to Fridays to make room for more house orientated nights, I think that night could have gone on to huge things as it was the most innovative, random night we had and people loved it! The music was incredibly eclectic. Then there was Funkin Marvellous, National Anthems, Bionic and far too many others to name. There was a time where nearly every big promoter in Cardiff was under one roof. It was a great club to be in as well as giving people the chance to launch nights and try out random things, it was a club that really could cope with most things and it gained a great reputation for it.”
One of the reasons I guess I am so melancholic for the Emporium is because of the time it existed: straddling the 1990s – 2000s, pre-digital cameras, pre-mobiles (well, they were around, but definitely not as pervasive as they are now). Photos from nights went up on clubbing websites at the time – all of which have disappeared.
Because we tended to spend the nights in there fuelled on a deadly vodka-Red Bull mixture, my memories of the place are ambiguous and pixelated. I remember a deadly slippery flight of stairs, a cloakroom, the leathery sofas that some of my friends got sucked into one night when they thought a fistful of mushrooms would be a great enhancement to a house night (it wasn’t – I spent about half an hour trying to get them to stand up then just abandoned them to go and dance instead), the main room – long and thin, with raised stages on either side and the pit in the middle, a bar at the back, and a toilet where I met a girl who had spent an hour in there just staring at a film poster after taking some pills that were laced with acid.
Then there was the second flight of stairs – deadly and slippy, again – and then the upstairs room, which was hot and sweaty and always rammed. The upstairs ladies toilets had very harsh and unforgiving strip lighting and an aggressive ambience – always better to go to the loo downstairs, if you were female. I remember drum and bass and breaks upstairs, everyone crammed in, jumping up and down as one amalgamated lump of squashy humanity.
It was the Emporium that brought Tim Corrigan to Cardiff in the first place (where he’s stayed ever since). “I was running the Emporium in Kingly St in London and the owners bought a club in Cardiff and during the refurbishment of the London club, I was sent to Cardiff to help get it up and running and somehow managed to stay here!” he says. “It was a struggle at first as the Emporium was a very luxurious club when it first opened, it struggled to find its feet really until Catapult Records did a night there called 110%. Lucy and her team brought in people like Fruity Antics from Bristol (amongst others) and introduced the Emporium to house music.”
These very grainy photos give you an idea of the sort of japes that went on in those nights …
Nostalgic raver N told me about those nights:
“The Emporium in the ’90s – always a beautiful bunch! Catapult, Fruity Antics – the big-eyed, smiley people danced like their lives depended on it. Who needed Ibiza when we had our own kind of sunshine like this every weekend in Cardiff? Deep house, funky house and strictly for groovers. Moving up, getting down and letting that backbone slide! Elastic legs and hands in the air at the end of the night singing our hearts out with grins like Cheshire cats and eyes like saucers. One night a guy approached a group of us and said he’d never seen people genuinely having so much fun. He was serious! So were we – we loved it! Living for the weekend, butterflies in our tummies in anticipation of the night ahead, throwing shapes on the dance floor without a care in the world apart from the tunes of course! Absolutely Loved It!! Fond memories forever.”
It wasn’t just the punters who loved it. Henry Blunt of Time Flies moved his night there in 1997. “It was a fantastic venue to promote in,” he says. “The perfect blend of an underground party vibe with a touch of class, alongside professional management and staff plus a strong door team, Emporium soon became the central focus for Cardiff’s thriving dance music scene. Time Flies events there were some of the best we have ever done, and will live long in the memory.”
Another of Cardiff’s longest enduring house nights was actually birthed in the Emporium (does that sound gross? I don’t mean it in a gross way). Although LAMERICA has held parties in nearly every other venue in Cardiff now, Craig Bartlett still has fond memories of the Emporium. “It was the beginning – the place where we started LAMERICA. We put on some of the world’s best DJs there. It was the best and the worst club, for lots of reasons! I would love to do another party in there – Louie Vega’s first ever appearance in 2000 was one of the best nights ever. Also Dimitri from Paris and Danny Krivit playing back to back, and the Todd Terry / CJ Mackintosh Woody Records party in ’94 were big highlights.”
Not everyone loved the place so much. R used to work behind the bar there, and has less fond memories. “Always thought it was overrated as a punter,” he says. “Shit layout, shit soundsystem, not the best vibe. I worked there when it was The Loop. Was shit to work for.”
In its previous incarnations, the unit was The Loop, and before that, it was Tom Toms (the legendary rave club they actually reminisce about in Human Traffic). David tells me “Tom Toms was the heart of the Cardiff rave scene for a couple of years. I think it closed in December 1991, and reopened as The Loop, which was more a normal drinking club. It was that for a few years, then became the Emporium. I loved that club – the last tune every Friday after a night of hardcore was Zoe “Sunshine on a rainy day” – and then the lights would come on! Good times!”
Although David has fond memories of the Emporium, for him, nothing will beat Tom Toms. “There was a real lack of venues mid/late 90s in Cardiff. I had some good nights in the Emporium, but nowhere near as good as when it was Tom Toms! There was something missing I can’t put my finger on it, think it was the vibe as it wasn’t as underground as the Hippo, and not as cool as the City Hall but had some decent nights in there!”
Back to reality. The here and now. You might be wondering – why now? What’s the point of writing about a Cardiff club that’s been and gone, for so long? There have been so many others. The Hippo has Facebook group dedicated to it, while the Emporium has nothing like that.
I walk past the club’s boarded up front and wonder about it sometimes. Recently a note has been painted on the entrance, saying planning has been granted for flats.
It’s difficult to do that with other clubs. They’ve been taken over or knocked down, and new layers of memories have plastered on over the old ones. I can barely remember exactly where the Hippo was anymore, and I’ve forgotten the layout of Vision 2k. I remember that the Toucan was on Womanby Street – where the Bootlegger is now – but it’s really hard for me to visualise it. The city has appropriated all those spaces, absorbed them, and turned them into other things.
Not the Emporium. It’s stuck in this weird, in-between state. I actually started writing this piece back in 2011 (!), which was the first time I saw an image like this posted by someone who had been inside the building on Facebook …
That is an empty shell of a club. A shock when compared to the technicolour, fuzzy blur of memories I have of the place. It’s not quite an abandoned building in the traditional sense: the roof is still on, and it’s has neither humans nor pigeons squatting in it. But it’s also not a club anymore, that’s for sure.
There’s a psychological term that’s used in literature sometimes to describe characters (or situations) that are at an in-between point in a story. It’s usually the space in between key things happening right in the middle of a narrative journey (it’s the bit between when Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed and then when he decides to be Batman). You get the idea. It’s called liminality.
But a liminal space can also exist in the physical sense. It’s a place that has no fixed purpose. If the club was abandoned, it would have transformed into something else. But it’s not. So it’s waiting, empty, with no stamping feet to keep the floor down, and no heat from the wriggling, joyful bodies to give it life.
Without the people, what is this place now?
One of the most shocking things about seeing the photos for me – once I got over the emptiness of the place – was that the main dance floor had a glass ceiling?! Yep – there was a period of a year where I was probably in that club every other weekend at least. Who knows how many hours spent in there. And yet I had no idea about the glass roof until I saw these photos. I consulted with friends I used to go to the club with – they were all just as shocked as me.
Some of Tim’s favourite memories of the club revolve around that glass ceiling (even though I can’t remember it at all). “One of my most memorable nights was watching Louie Vega play a huge set. What a lot of people didn’t know was that the ceiling above the dance floor was glass, so when the sun came up it would suddenly be daylight. We had Louie Vega playing the most amazing deep house set and it was sunrise and he turned to me and said: ‘I fucking love this club’ … I mean, it was 6am, the club was rammed, everyone was really appreciating everything he was playing for them. That was pretty memorable!”
I asked Tim about whether he felt like clubbing had changed much since the days that the Emporium was open. “I don’t think there are any clubs that could ever conjure the same affection that the Emporium did for its clientele,” says Tim. “I don’t see the same response to nights out that people put on now as there used to be in the past. People just don’t seem that bothered about big nights out anymore, it always feels a little too edgy as well, the change in the licensing laws in Wales pretty much killed off the special nights in clubs as people were happy to stay in the bars later and later. Bars can now compete with clubs on a whole new level with regards to sound, design, and music.”
We chat about Cardiff’s current club scene. For me, Clwb is still a place that I feel guaranteed of a good night, and Tim agrees.
“I think the Welsh Club has stuck to its roots – it seems to have survived anything that being thrown at it. It’s such an institution. Hopefully that will never face the day when it needs to close its doors as I imagine that will be a loss to a lot of people. The world’s too clean a place with its health and safety and all its laws to ever let a club like the Emporium through the net again! The Hippo is another one I don’t think either would survive very long these days in the environment that the law makers have created for us. Ha, is that subtle enough!?!”
I wonder if Cardiff is missing an Emporium, or another Hippo. I guess the Full Moon is somewhere in the anything-goes vibe of the club, though obviously world’s apart in execution.
“I don’t think Cardiff is missing a place like the Emporium. I just don’t think it would happen again,” says Tim. “The original Sodabar that I owned was an upmarket version of it, and the new one was when it opened. But it’s a standard, run-of-the-mill place now. I wasn’t there when the Emporium closed, as I had opened Sodabar by then but I just think perhaps it had just had its day. The management had changed and perhaps they didn’t enjoy the music as much as I did. I also think it was just too run down at that point. Newer, cleaner clubs were popping up. Maybe people were starting to expect more for their money!? It was a shame that it closed but the capacity would have always been an issue for that venue, as we could never get it extended to let more people in.”
Even to this day, capacity or not, no one seems to have found a use for the venue, which is still an empty unit, albeit with planning permission for flats now.
Helia Phoenix is a geriatric raver who has long since exchanged her glo sticks for knitting needles. Just kidding. She’s still well up for a dance, if anyone wants to put on a rave that would finish a little earlier …? She lives in Butetown and her current most favourite place to go in the evenings these days is the Blue Honey Night Cafe. She also started writing this article in 2011 … in the future, she wants to be better at wrapping things up a little quicker.
Big thanks to all the geriatric ravers who contributed to this article. In no order, because we like to mix things up: Tim Corrigan, Neil Cocker, Matt Jarvis who provided the flyers, Henry Blunt, James Drop for many fun nights dancing downstairs in Las Iguanas, Rick Latham for all those hours listening to funky house in Catapult, Tyrone Rose, Lucy Thomas, Simon Thomas, Doug Nicholls, Carl Morris, Twm Owen, Lubi J, Dean Thomas, Matthew Miles, Gareth Coates, Craig Bartlett, Tony Davidson, David Tumulty, Jon Rostron, Rhys Thompson, Tony Davidson, Nadia, Lawrence, Stig, Luke, Nat, Gav, Eleri, Pam, Kaptin, plus all those I met on the way, whose names I can’t remember, but who shared warm embraces, warm beers, and a warm dancefloor with me over all those late nights, all that time ago. Also anyone else who talked to me about the Emporium, who I’ve forgotten to mention.
It’s hard to find photos of the place (maybe mercifully so), although some questions to a nostalgic Facebook group surfaced a lot more pictures than I was anticipating – and it’s their photos you can see throughout this piece. Big thanks to all of them for helping bring my ramblings to life.
Also RIP Ian Dundgey, who played many sets in the Emporium, and passed away 10 years ago.
Cardiff is a hot bed of creative craft folks and entrepreneurs who are making their hobbies their day job. Why not keep it local year and get your Christmas shopping from local friendly makers and creators. The lovely Twin Made have created a handy guide and list of local markets to help you Sleigh your Christmas Shopping!
Here are some upcoming Christmas craft markets happening in and around Cardiff:
Stitch City is run by Alex Hughes in Penarth. Stitch City makes a variety of recycled and stitched products including vintage map notebooks and badges, recycled fabric earrings and embroidered cushions.
Find them online: www.stitchcity.etsy.com or at the following markets this Winter: Ichi Artisan Market in St Catherine’s Church Hall, Rhiwbina’s Handmade Market in Rhiwbina Memorial Hall & Etsy Made Local in Tramshed
Alice Hawthorne located in Cardiff city centre is a designer and signwriter
Alice designs and creates: from gold leaf glass signs to posters to branding and graphic design.
Pieces are created in her Cardiff based studio and each of the signs painted and gold guided pieces and created from scratch and made to order. As a graphic designer her skills of type/layout/colour work perfectly in creating bespoke and unique items. The items in the store are a perfect reflection of her style and character from quirky posters for your home to hand crafted gold signs that are something completely different.
Free Range Frames is a one woman show with Kath making bespoke picture frames. The frames are made from bare wood with an added finish. This can be painted, wood stained, gilded and customisable to the client’s specifications.
Shop online and find out more about Free Range Frames – www.freerangeframes.co.uk, Stocking filler: A gift voucher, pop in to see Kath to get yourself one.
What a 2018! Why not treat the stressed out person in your life to a relaxing massage! Yurt in the City is a calm oasis run by Marcos Martin-Suarez. Yurt in the City offer a range of holistic therapies including: massage and Reiki from their beautiful yurt in the heart of the city. They also provide all manner of interesting workshops including yoga, meditation classes, mother and baby massage and gong baths to name some.
Find Yurt in the City at the The Bone Yard, Cardiff
Lydia Niziblian is a resident at The Printhaus in Canton, where she deisgns and makes bespoke and one of a kind pieces of jewellery in gold and silver.
You can find her online at: www.niziblian.com or in real life at the Snapped Up Market at The Printhaus and the Rhiwbina Handmade Market. Or visit her studio by appointment – email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange.
Rhian Kate Makes works in the centre of Cardiff, designing and making handmade contemporary Jewellery, using a range of different materials to make unique jewellery inspired by the moon the solar system and geometric shapes.
Or at the following markets: The Makers Market, Penarth Paget Rooms, Penarth’s Handmade Market, The Paget Rooms, Penarth, Rhwbina’s Handmade Market, the memorial Hall, Etsy Made Local, The Tramshed, The Local Artisan Pop Up, High Street Arcade, Cardiff.
The Makers Market, Pontcanna, St Catherine’s Church Hall.
Old Faithful run by Gareth Daniels in Merthyr/Penylan, make and sell Unisex & Men’s Organic, Natural Skincare. Gareth is qualified aromatherapist and his products are made from organic oils, butters, essential oils & herbal extracts. The Old Faithful brand is developing in a masculine unisex direction and this gentle masculinity matches the natural scents to their products.
Ot head to the following markets to check out her beautiful work: Snapped Up and Etsy Made Local
After purchasing all these great stocking fillers, we need to get a stocking to put it all in and Nellys Treasures make the most beautiful and fun animal faces and character stockings that children will cherish. Get them here:
Barney & Beau in Pontcanna is a kids lifestyle boutique.
They stock design led modern products for kids and the home. Stocking majority female/women indie brands, sustainable products, the greenest toy companies and children’s book offering promotes female empowerment, kindness and diversity.
Visit their shop in Pontcanna or at these markets: The Makers Markets in Pontcanna & Penarth.
Then go take a look at Jodie Johns’ work, hailing from Bridgend, creating body positive artwork with hand painted clothing and accessories. Jodie Johns regularly collaborates with other artists to create t-shirts.
Go shop online at: jodiejohns.com or in real life at The Bone Yard monthly market on Saturday the 3rd November.
We’ve posted before about The Other Room (Cardiff’s only pub theatre, attached to Porter’s), and it’s nice to have an excuse to post about them again! There’s a great show on right now in The Other Room called Cardiff Boy, which has made us Very Nostalgic for growing up in Cardiff (and loving tunes!) in the 1990s.
It’s 1996 in the capital.
A seventeen old from Llanedeyrn estate, is our guide, as he and his school mates head into town and negotiate their way through the ever changing streets of Cardiff. This is a study of male friendship, the love and the violence, the codes, the loyalties and rituals, all set to a 90s mixtape. It’s just them and the music.
Cardiff Boy is a dynamic one-man show that explore’s the 1990s in Cardiff. It follows a group of young lads, desperate to make an impression in an ever-changing city. Set to a mix of 90’s music, Cardiff Boy explores the effect music can have on our lives in both times of joy and sadness. Read a review of the show over at The Stage if you still need convincing … “Jack Hammett imbues the role with the right combination of pent-up teenage energy and vulnerability, bouncing around the audience as he describes meeting the girl of his dreams in a club, then rooted to the spot and looking us straight in the eye in the moments of pathos that will go on to define his future.”
CARDIFF BOY IS SHOWING IN THE OTHER ROOM AT PORTER’S : 4/11 – 11/11
After a couple of years in the wilderness, the crazy energy of the first Sŵns returned this year – with some new venues, and a slightly different format. And we had a great time! Our highlights included: cheeky cocktails in between shows at Blue Honey, gigs in a secret room out the back of Kongs (who knew Kongs was so big???), not getting into loads of gigs but just dancing in the street outside (sorry Estrons! We really wanted to see you, although we heard you caused structural damage to the venue?!), wonderful Gaz Coombes and wonderful Boy Azooga slotting in perfectly between Gaz and The Go! Team, a sweaty set from Hana 2K in the Moon, Al Moses, Griff Lynch, and Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard.
A return to the multi-venue, multi-day vibe all in Cardiff was brilliant. Vive la Sŵn!
We sent photojournalist Mehek Seth out into the madness, and here’s her photo essay.
In case you missed it, here’s the Spotify playlist from this year: