It finally dawned on me one day last summer that I think of Cardiff as home and have done for quite a while. It seems obvious now but it took a rare visit to the village that I grew up in to make me realise quite how much of an impact this city’s made on me.
I was back in England for a friend’s wedding and felt detached from the once-familiar surroundings. The accents didn’t sound right. Road signs were monolingual. I was a long way from the coast. People weren’t wearing pyjamas in supermarkets.
It was late last century when I first drove a car-load of belongings over the Severn Bridge with no idea of whether it would be a temporary or permanent move. To put a historical perspective on it: it was around the time the National Assembly for Wales was established, the Rugby World Cup was about to come to Wales and Cardiff Bay was preparing to open for business. As with many things in my life it turned out alright, more by luck than judgement.
Things were happening here. The promptly-constructed Millennium Stadium brought FA Cup finals and other major events to Cardiff while an over-budget, delayed Wembley Stadium was under construction. Cardiff City developed from third division mediocrity to Premier League hopefuls. Just last year the Swalec stadium put the Wales back into England and Wales cricket as the Ashes came to town.
Things outside the sporting world were gathering momentum too with gigs, clubs and daily trips to the basement at Catapult Records to keep tabs on new releases. It wasn’t long before I was immersed in music in Cardiff and I loved it. One of the main things that struck me about the city then – and it still does today – if you want to get involved, you can. This is where a compact capital city has its advantages.
I found my own slice of Cardiff, promoting and playing records at one of its true gems, Clwb Ifor Bach. It was one of the first places that really defined Cardiff for me when I arrived here. I managed to get a foot in the door, helping out at the now-defunct Hustler Showcase events and ended up doing a five-year stint with monthly club night Sumo.
Those heady days may be behind me but I still love that place. Guest DJs loved it. I’m guessing a few other people did too because they kept coming back each month: laser, smoke machine, and two spinning turntables.
Meanwhile, back in 2011, things are still happening here.
You only have to look to autumn’s Swn festival to see how well things can work in this cosy, friendly city. If anyone ever suggests that the ‘biggest bands’ don’t come here, the chances are they probably already have – and delivered a memorable gig to 100 grateful people in a city pub.
Whether you’re into music, arts, sports or something else, there are a lot of talented, creative, hard-working people in Cardiff and that won’t change any time soon. There are also a lot of people who know how to enjoy themselves. Often they’re the same people and that’s one of many things that make this city great.
Ten years after graduating from a journalism degree in Cardiff, Doug is still here and these days can mainly be found at home in Splott, at work for the Welsh Assembly Government in Cardiff Bay or running around Cardiff training for some event or other. Online: @dougjnicholls on Twitter or D_J_Nicholls on Flickr.
Doug was photographed at the Imperial Cafe by Adam Chard