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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