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“The Cardiff music scene is very much alive” – Ben

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I returned to Wales to live in Cardiff in 2009 after spending the previous ten years flat-hopping around London. When I left the mothership, there was no such thing as the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Bay was just a glint in a developer’s eye and my beloved Cardiff City were still in the lower reaches of the league, and playing at a stadium which advertised bread on its roof.

During my time in the ‘other’ capital, I was part of a band and so was regularly setting up, playing and dismantling equipment two or three times a week, but I also got to sample many of the up-and-coming bands on the London pub-circuit. When I left and came back to Wales – or Cardiff in particular, I felt that I was going to miss out on the nightly gigs.

My memories of going to gigs centred on Newport which was still embarrassingly being touted as the ‘New Seattle’; my memories of the Cardiff music scene were few and far between and I feared that my days of enjoying new music may be numbered.

However, this luckily wasn’t the case. Almost as soon as I passed the ‘Croeso I Gymru’ sign as I came off the Severn Bridge, I was thrust into an amazingly busy scene, with many venues playing host to exciting bands. On one of my first evenings back, some friends took me to see Los Campesinos! playing a stage in front of many hundreds at the front of City Hall. Soon after, I went to Clwb Ifor Bach and witnessed one of the greatest gigs I have been to; the wall of math-rock noise that is Truckers Of Husk supporting the off-kilter pop of Steve Black aka Sweet Baboo. My mind was made up, I was never going back.

Since then, I have tried to juggle my day-job and my love of music to the best of my ability. The one thing about Cardiff that you never get in London is that you are forever bumping into friends. The only time it happened in London was when I took a sickie and (literally) ran into my boss at the train station as I headed off for a day of sightseeing. Pretty much everyone knows everyone in the Cardiff music scene, and because I managed to get in with the right ‘crowd’, it was easy for me to pick up on who I should go and see, and of course who I shouldn’t.

The number of venues in Cardiff may have dwindled over the years, but new venues keep popping up all the time. Clwb is obviously still the most loved, but the new kids on the block – or at least new to me – like Buffalo, Gwdi-Hw and Ten Feet Tall have provided me with lots to see and write about over the past few years.

So it basically seems that none of my fears have been realised. The Cardiff music scene is very much alive and even though I am advancing in years, I still try and get to as many gigs as possible – the trainspotting element to my psyche will just have to be put on hold for now.

Ben Gallivan is a freelance writer and works within the SEO industry. He lives on the longest road in Cardiff without any junctions (it’s in Victoria Park) and writes a music blog called BenLikesMusic when he has the time. He likes being quizzed.

Ben was photographed at Gwdihw by Ffion Matthews

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“Newtown, Little Ireland, Cardiff” – Mary

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Newtown (Little Ireland)

For almost 40 years I’ve been living in a leafy suburb in North Cardiff. I’m happy here and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else – but my most vivid memories are of growing up in a very different part of Cardiff.  A tiny place called Newtown (‘Little Ireland’). I can clearly remember those six streets of drab grey terraced houses. There were no trees, not one visible blade of grass but  life in Newtown was anything but dull. And I loved it.

It all started with The Great Irish Famine during the 1840s. Thousands of people lost their lives and thousands more faced starvation and destitution. During that time Cardiff was going through rapid development and the Marquis of Bute made arrangements to bring over a large number of Irish families (mostly from west Cork) to provide the labour to complete the building of Cardiff Docks. He settled them into purpose built housing near the docks and the Newtown community was born.  A vibrant self perpetuating community – spanning four generations – lived and thrived in those six streets.  Most of the men and some of the women too worked on the docks And once they were complete the people of Newtown continued to work in or around the Docks. The men became dockers, steel workers, foundry or factory workers. The women (who weren’t at home looking after their children) worked in some of the many other small manufacturing industries, like the Cigar Factory, or in local offices as shorthand typists and clerks, or in the retail industry as shop assistants.  Early maps indicate that Adamsdown was part of Newtown but the Newtown I knew consisted of just six streets, these were: Tyndall, Street, Pendoylan Street, Roland Street, North William Street, Ellen Street and Rosemary Street. We had several corner shops and a few public houses. but at the core we had our Church –  St Paul’s –  where we prayed together and had our baptisms, our weddings and our funerals.

Newtown was situated between the Docks and Splott. It was surrounded by railways, walls and feeders to the dock – rendering it a virtual island. My family lived in Pendoylan Street, and when I say my family I really do mean my family.  My Grandmother – who worked for Edward England on the Dock unloading potatoes – had thirty seven grandchildren. All but six of them lived in our street. The rest of the houses were occupied by other relatives or friends.

No-one had a telephone, but there was a Public Telephone Box at the end of Tyndall Street, opposite the Church.  I remember someone putting a piece of carpet on the floor of the phone box. I have been told that the Priest’s Housekeeper used to polish the phone and occasionally put fresh flowers in there. Oh, there is so much to tell about the Newtown but I have neither the time nor the space here. But I shall jtry to give you a snapshot of what it was like living there.  As anyone who lived there will tell you that doors were never locked and what little we had we shared.  It was a common occurrence to go next door or across the road to ‘borrow’ a cup of sugar, a couple of rounds of bread or a ‘drop’ of milk. The first family in our street to have a telly were ‘the Welsh’s’ and we would queue up to watch it. Needless to say everyone wanted to be Terry Welsh’s best friend.

In those days everyone had a tin bath which would be brought into the living room every Saturday night and the younger children would be bathed in front of the fire. The first one to have a bathroom was my Aunty Nora (my mother’s sister) and us older ones would have to put a shilling in the Mission Box for African babies if we wanted to have a bath.

Babies were delivered assisted by the appointed unofficial Street Midwife (in our street it was Mrs Slade) and when there was a death in the street the same Mrs Slade would oversee the washing of the body while an army of women would take care of cooking for the family, helping with the children and preparing the front room where the corpse would be laid out ready for a good old Irish Wake.  The wake could last two or three days and nights. As children we would be encouraged to knock on the door to pay our respects – the smaller ones having to be lifted up to peer into the coffin and say a little prayer. The men would take it in turns to stay up all up all night sharing a couple of bottles of Guinness and maybe a drop of the hard stuff too, recalling stories and telling tales involving the deceased.

Before any of us had television we entertained ourselves – there was always someone to play with in the street. We played games of baseball, football, Rugby (touch & Pass), Cricket Alleligo, Leapfrog, Bulldog, Hopscotch, Allies, Buttons and Rat Tat Ginger, We’d sling a thick rope on the arms of a lamppost to make a swing. Summer days seemed to last so much longer then. Towards the end of October we’d start collecting old wood, newspaper and orange boxes in preparation for Bonfire Night. Our Bonfire was generally built at the top end of the Street.  Window panes would crack and putty start to melt before we’d hear the siren and wait for the big red fire engine to lumber into the street.  Luckily I don’t remember anyone being injured – although for the life of me I cannot understand how any of us escaped.

The streets always seemed to be alive.  I have memories of Hancock’s Draymen with their two big shire horses delivering beer to the Fitzy’s  Pub at the top of our street and of being woken up most mornings by Sammy the Milkman who yodelled as he cycled his way through the street to make his doorstep deliveries. Throughout the week we had a variety of tradesmen selling their wares, Gypsies would come around door to door selling pegs and lucky charms. Then there was the baker, the greencrocer, the fishmonger and Robbo, the ice cream seller on his motorbike, who was later replaced by Mr Dimascio in his van. They had fierce competition from my Auntie Annie though – she made her own ice cream and sold cornets and wafers and toffee dabs too from her back kitchen. I also remember Mr Cox who  came over the bridge from Union Street  to sell custard slices from the back of his green van. There was also the pop seller; the laundry man, the salt and vinegar man; the coalman and the essential ‘Jim The Ashman’ with his famous ashcart – keeping  the streets clean. I promise you I am not just looking through Rose Coloured glasses.  Life in Newtown was at times tough, tempestuous and tragic, but there was a lot of love and laughter in those streets and – most importantly of all – an overwhelming sense of community.

Sadly a Compulsory Purchase Order during the mid sixties began the demise of Newtown.  It’s Church, houses shops and pubs  were demolished and its community scattered to the four corners of the city. Remarkably the community survived – we still had a Newtown Identity. So thirty years on, inspired by a poem recorded by Tommy Walsh, entitled Newtown: the Parish of St Paul’s,  a group of us former residents got together and formed The Newtown Association.

I am pleased to say we achieved our aim, which was to record the History of the Newtown community, to keep its memory alive, and to provide the people of Cardiff with a source of educational archive material about the Newtown community,  And in March 2004 we unveiled a permanent memorial to the significant part which the people of the community played in the development of this wonderful City.

Mary Sullivan lives in Penylan with her husband Vincent to whom she has been married for forty four years. They have five grandchildren and a great grandson. She is Chair and Co-founder of The Newtown Association – an organisation set up in 1996 to record the history of the Newtown community and to keep its memory alive Mary currently works as an administrator for Communities First in Cardiff Bay – an area very close to where she was born.

Mary was photographed in the Newtown memorial garden by Ffion Matthews

Related: you might also like to read THE HISTORY OF TYNDALL STREET – AND THE LOST COMMUNITY OF NEWTOWN, “LITTLE IRELAND”, CARDIFF

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“Music – Culture – Politics – Parties – Great Outdoors” – Maka

Ode to Cardiff

The million pound deals in the biggest docks, where our black gold was swept out to sea to fuel the rest of the empire. That was just a memory, a memory dredged up by Gran as we took the thrill of the double decker bus to town.

Those docks became Tiger Bay as we became the washed up dock town at the end of the line. Bringing people of the world to a corner of Wales, changing the face of the place as town turned hesitatingly to city to Capital City. As a pride in a nation a language and an idea was formed around this new title.

In school we studied the docks as History, the mix of cultures that brought injera, plantain and pickled herring to our shore. The sailors, the dockers, the chancers, the old hopes of new lives. We were told of an idea to redevelop ‘the bay’, we went to Butetown, to see the tower blocks marked for demolition, to see change set-in as a glitter of steel and glass descended. In the new bay, we were told, the water was supposed to be clean enough to swim in; we looked at the black-running Taff and laughed.

As the bay was building we forgot to care. We were making music and music had changed. Squirrel and G-Man showed us how we could take our guitars and drums and play like 24 hour party people. Chapter Arts front bar meant a different world now for us, teenagers getting to play psychedelic dance jams to rooms full of grown ups. Now gigs, now girls, now long hair and baggies, then bleeps and fleeces.

The Indie Chart on the Chart Show was full of rave, the hills around Cardiff were alive to the sound of this music. Adventures planned from service station to station, forest to forestry. New best friends made and lost in forgotten nights as we danced imagining the world would have to change now.

Music had its hooks in, and Cardiff was the place to be pulled about. In the face of poor promoters DIY was the answer. Clwb Ifor Bach let us try, and the Toucan, and Dempsy’s, and we found Rajah’s, a busted up pool-hall in Riverside that let us play and DJ and dance all night.

That set the tone, music was all: Oval Sky, Dark Bazaar. Kah Buut Sounds, Optimas Prime, Pink Pussy, Tiger Bay warehouse raves, SOUNDWAVE, Adi Boomtown, Secret Garden. Twenty years of making and taking music in and out of Cardiff.

Been all over the world, but keep coming back. As well as friends, family, work and opportunities, Cardiff has great open space at its heart, stretching from the Castle all the way up the Taff. And escape is all around, places so near it’s amazing you feel so far away: west to the beaches of Monknash, east to the top of Machen mountain, north to the Garth, south to Flatholm island. Walking, climbing, surfing, taking in the views, getting out of our little city.
The smallness leaves us equally cursed and blessed. Sometimes you can’t escape, and everybody knows your name, your business. Sometimes it’s hard to get stuff going, to build up a scene, to get bars and clubs busy and bubbling. Sometimes it feels like the city planners don’t listen to us, and are throwing away everything that makes the city special and individual for the sake of massive mall clone-culture.

But there are chances here to get involved in anything you want, from intellectual flights of fancy to making a fool of yourself. I’ve enjoyed drumming at the SWICCA Carnivals; performing at Blysh; reflecting on the future of the city at the Nutopia Symposium; dancing as a righteous pineapple at Chapter; and more, and more.

As well as being a place to party, Cardiff is now the political centre of Wales. Social justice has an illustrious history across our country, and it still has echoes in our modern capital – the Senedd attempting an openness and accessibility of government that other nations envy. I’ve been fortunate to work for organisations that have successfully lobbied and pushed for changes to policy and governance, realising that people and organisations can shape legislation here. This gives a sense of ownership and accountability missing in Westminster.

We’re still finding our feet as a nation, and a capital city, still struggling with the dual identities that come from seeking to embrace Welsh and English; heritage and modernity, fairness and conservatism, the past and the future, hedonism and responsibility… but this is a great place to be while we try.

Music – Culture – Politics – Parties – Great Outdoors – Family and Friends – All I need to get by.

Now my work, will and wanderlust takes me away from here for the next few years, which is odd, unsettling and exciting; but Cardiff, my adopted city, will always be my base, my place, my home.

Mark Maka Chapple grew up in a little village outside Caerphilly and started promoting discos in the local village hall when he was 14. Llanishen High brought drums and the first band of many. Years of playing and promoting led to seven years lecturing on music and performing arts, then onto a career with Save the Children, eventually managing the Wales Programme – working across Wales and the west of England. A deployment to Zimbabwe ignited a passion for humanitarian work, one that’s led to him now leaving Cardiff to pursue an international career in South Sudan. He has lived in Roath for the last nine years, and still DJs, drums and performs in various venues and festivals in Cardiff and across the country when he gets the chance.

Maka’s tips for a good time in Cardiff are: Milgi’s, Gwdihw, WMC, Roath Park and Madhavs. For the best view of the city head up the lane past the Ty Mawr pub in Lisvane to the top of Caerphilly Mountain, hop in to the field and soak it up.

Maka was photographed in Bute Park by Ffion Matthews

 

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“It’s unusual to perform burlesque in a Masonic Hall, but it works for us” – Cherrie

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During my decade in Cardiff, I’ve gained a degree, worked in the music industry, been backstage at some of the greatest festivals in the UK, made some amazing friends, been to some of the best gigs of my life, and transformed myself into a burlesque artiste amongst many other things.

All of these things happened to me because I moved to Cardiff.

There are so many talented people here, from Santa Macabre – who makes jewellery that just blows my mind – to Ewan Jones-Morris and Casey Raymond who create fantastical music videos, the people who make Chapter Arts Centre so amazing, Swn festival, and Caroline Duffy – a beautiful graphic designer (a physical beauty and beautiful work!) to name but a few!

I have battled with depression for the past few years, and one day a friend handed me a flyer advertising burlesque classes, with the intention of going for a bit of a laugh. I was nervous, but agreed to try it out. We were introduced to Miss FooFoo La Belle and took our first, somewhat wobbly, high-heeled steps into the world of burlesque.

And what a world it is! That was four years ago, and since then I have become a chorus girl of FooFoo’s ‘Burlesque Cardiff’ troupe. After venturing into a duet or two, I slowly gained the confidence to become a solo performer in my own right, and so Cherrie Pips was born!

In the beginning of my burlesque life, fellow Cardiff performer Violet Noir was a huge influence on me. She really inspired me to make the leap and become a solo performer. I was captivated by her style and grace, and her music choices showed me I could be bold and unusual with my performance.

Burlesque Cardiff’s first outing was with 25 of us crammed onto the tiny stage at Ten Feet Tall, but we’ve come a long way since then. Our current home is at the majestic Guilford Hall, just around the corner from Gwdihw. It’s unusual to perform burlesque in a Masonic Hall, but it works for us! FooFoo LaBelle has put together some incredible shows for us, including a tribute to Hollywood, some memorable characters such as Beetlejuice and Tony Montana, and even some Mexican all-female wrestling thrown into the mix. She sets a new theme for each show, choreographing group routines, as well as performing her exceptional solos. We also have the gorgeous pole dancing doubles with Sminxie and Cariad Cwtch, to add an extra bit of tease to our shows.

Some of the starlets currently performing with Burlesque Cardiff are: Miss FooFoo LaBelle, Poppy Vanguard, Sandy Sure, Miss Betty Blue Eyes, Evie Wonder, Katie Von Cupcake, Sunshine Sparkle, GiGi Sextone, Scarlet Blush, Molly Toff Cocktail, Sassafras Sundae and Luna C Fur. Each performer has a unique style and our fans are equally fabulous! I love being a part of Burlesque Cardiff, because no two of us are the same. We are of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. Our troupe does not conform to consist of only skinny young girls – we are all different and that’s what’s so great about being a Burlesque Cardiff girl. We’re like a family, we support and love one another, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Cherrie Pips hails from Kidderminster, and moved to Cardiff to study for a Fine Art degree. She loves photography and collecting photographic paraphenalia. She teaches photography classes during each term at Celtic Learners Network, an adult learning initiative set up in 2010. She currently lives in Canton.

Cherrie was photographed in the bar upstairs in Ten Feet Tall by Ffion Matthews

 

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