Cardiff looms large in my life. I slag it off, complain about all and sundry, move elsewhere and still end up coming back. It’s that baggy old mis-shapen t-shirt you would never wear outside but is the first thing you put on when you have the flu and feel crappy.
It’s my first kiss, closed eyes and disbelief on my bedroom floor in Fairwater. It’s my first betrayal, my first break-up, The Cure in my headphones and tears down my face. It’s playing my first gig, 17 years old, downstairs in Clwb Ifor Bach, the stage lights making sweat run down my face, over in a blur, my hands shaking like mad till I fretted that first chord and muscle memory took over propelling me through the set, a bundle of teenage nerves and elation.
I was born in East Glamorgan hospital, and lived the first years of my life in Llantwit Fadre, my family moved us to Cardiff when I was two years old, determined for me and my brother to have the best opportunities for school and work, and partly to make sure I didn’t end up with a Welsh accent, something that my family have always hated. I always got corrected, and as such have ended up with a bizarre posh half accent that doesn’t really belong anywhere. I get everything from Australian to Bristolian thrown at me. “No, I’m Welsh” is always my response.
Cardiff has changed massively in my time here. Growing up as a teenager I was introduced to a warren of crazy small shops in the city’s beautiful indoor Victorian arcades, which seemed to sustain a colony of weird and fascinating shops like a coral reef. Places like Emporium, which was more like 50 small shops all crammed into one big one, reeking of incense, dope smoke and musty second hand clothes, you could buy anything from a seven inch record to a world war 2 mortar shell and everything in between. Shops like Partizan, all long hippy skirts and moon and star paraphenalia, that pretty much defined the early 90s for me. Tie dye and candle holders, incense and adhesive stars on bedroom ceilings, first cigarettes, band posters, red wine in the park, falling in and out of love.
The building of the Millennium Stadium was the death knell of a lot of these shops, as rents doubled overnight, many of the shops and stalls folding immediately. It’s only got worse since, and it’s been terrible to watch, as shop by shop has vanished to be replaced by another identikit franchise that you could find in any city, and the heart of Cardiff died. Spillers Records, Troutmark books and Wally’s Deli are the only survivors from those days, and they took casualties on the way.
I never understood the logic of putting a stadium slap bang in the middle of a city which struggles with its infrastructure at the best of times. For a capital city, Cardiff has one of the smallest city centres I have ever encountered. Everything is on top of everything else. You could probably throw a stone across town if you tried hard enough. Come 5pm there are queues in and out of the centre, long before the rugby dumped 70,000 people on top of that to create bedlam and bring the city to a standstill.
Full disclosure. I hate rugby. Yes I know, I should be banned from Wales just for that, but there we are. Why the stadium couldn’t be outside the city, like the Cardiff City stadium, with its own rail station and transport links I will never understand. Then maybe we could have kept the bits of the city that I liked the most.
Similarly the arrival of the hulking behemoth that is the St. David’s 2 centre ground out a few more of the independents, and put Starbucks and the Apple Centre in their place. Attack of the Clones.
More and more Cardiff is less my city, and more a place that I wouldn’t want to go, and I don’t feel I belong in.
It will always be the place I grew up, it will always be my first kiss, it will always be my first cider in Llandaff Cathedral graveyard, but it might not be my home any more.
Still, Bristol is just over the bridge eh?
Lee Marshall is a freelance music producer, dj, remixer and sound designer,as well as recording albums under the name “Underpass”. His new album “Submergence” is released on the 21st November by Mutate Records. He makes a mean veggie spag bol and is obsessed with camouflage. Visit the Underpass website, Lee is also on twitter, @leeunderpass. You can listen to his work on Soundcloud. Lee currently lives in Riverside.
Lee was photographed in the Castle Arcade by Amy Davies – you can also see more shots from Lee’s photoshoot on Amy’s blog