Cardiff Music Scene

Kit Denison, Rosey Brown & Stephen Springate take you on a whistle-stop tour of the city’s most glorious venues.

What better place to start our guide to Cardiff’s music venues than our university’s very own student union? Every year the union hosts a large number of diverse acts across a number of gig spaces within the building. The biggest venue is the Great Hall which is generally the venue of choice for any touring band which isn’t quite yet big enough to fill the Motorpoint Arena, and last year saw such acts as Primal Scream, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Maccabees and Professor Green play. It also hosts the yearly NME Awards Tour, whose line-up this year included Two Door Cinema Club and Metronomy. For a more intimate show, the union also has the smaller venues CF10, Great Hall 2 and Solus, the latter being perfect to see a range of medium sized acts in a very intimate setting. Solus has recently seen such diverse acts as The Horrors, Maverick Sabre and Ghostface Killah and is one of the main venues of Cardiff’s Sŵn Festival, which saw The Joy Formidable triumphantly headline last October. SS

Forget Café Jazz, if you’re after great live jazz music and some delicious local ale, then head over to Dempsey’s, located   opposite Cardiff Castle.  Music takes place upstairs in a dark and dilapidated room, but the comfy seating and circular tables, each adorned with tea lights, give this venue an intimate and cosy feel.  Most music takes place mid-week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays typically) and you can expect to see some of the finest touring jazz musicians in Britain today; personal highlights so far have included the Mercury Prize nominated pianist Kit Downes and the locally-based Capital City Jazz Orchestra.  Do however, be warned that this is more of a ‘sit down and listen’ venue – not to say that idle chit chat is forbidden, but perhaps wait until you reach Live Lounge before having any full-blown pseudo-philosophical discussions. KD

Known locally as Welsh Club, this live music hotspot is surely one of Cardiff’s most important small venues.  Although Clwb has hosted its fair share of big names, (DJ Shadow, Foals and Bullet For My Valentine to a name just a few) it’s the best place in the city to see bands on the up.  From metal to pop and most things in between, there is a remarkably large range of live music on offer here.  In addition to the live music, regular club nights also cater to wide range of musical tastes, often simultaneously on different floors.  It’s often packed (particularly on club nights) and there is a bar on each floor – huzzah for convenience! KD
The outside might suggest some thriving music venue, packed to the rafters with happy punters, but don’t let the name and wafts of live music coming from within fool you. Once inside, you’ll realise that it isn’t in fact packed with indie kids and university students, but is instead full of drunken office parties and hen nights from  Bridgend, and it isn’t a hip little indie band on stage, but a covers band full of sweaty 40 year olds, probably playing Feeder or Stereophonics for the seventh fucking time that night. However, it’s free  entry, doesn’t close till 4am and whilst a night there may not always be good, it’s definitely fun. Just don’t go in with high expectations. SS

Gwdihw, tucked away on Guildford Crescent, is painted an unassuming bright orange, but that’s not the only reason it stands out. Gwdihw is a bar which puts on gigs of astounding variety and vitality. The range of musical tastes catered for is ridiculously broad; jazz, folk, rock, world music, indie, and reggae are just some of the styles you’ll find. Then there are DJs, charity, film and comedy nights, and of course, the regular Ukelele jams. It’s out of the way, and the drinks aren’t cheap, but a great reputation and some awesome music ensures it’s almost always packed out. Bands last year included East Park Reggae Collective, Yes Sir Boss, Bhangra Discotheque, and also local bands such as Under the Driftwood Tree and Inc. A. Gwdihw is at its best late at night, when everyone is jumping in the small space, drenched in sweat and shouting along with the band at the tops of their voices. Truly awesome. RB

The Full Moon, just opposite Welsh Club, is a newcomer to the Cardiff music scene, but it’s already proving itself to be a worthy contender. They’ve styled themselves as “purveyors of fine music and hard liquor”, and that’s about right, with their signature cocktail being called, worryingly, “Jar of Green Shit”. There are actually two parts to the building, The Full Moon, a bar which has three live music nights a week, and the Moon Club, which puts on proper gigs. So far bands at the Moon Club have included Niki and the Dove, and local bands such as the Lay Lows and Albatross Archive. Perhaps most memorable from last year is the microfest they set up, Glastnost. Meant as a kind of replacement for nostalgic Glastonbury goers, The Moon put on 5 nights of great, varied music, including bands such as Sheelanigig, Mr Woodnote, Afro Cluster and Smokey Bastard. Definitely worth heading down if you like your spirits strong and your music loud. RB

Based in what was once the city’s coal exchange (if you didn’t get that from the name) The Coal Exchange is one of Cardiff’s most historic and atmospheric music venues. Don’t let the remote location in Cardiff Bay put you off, as it’s just a 5 minute walk and a 10 minute train journey away from Queen Street Station. You’ll be rewarded with a diverse range of acts ranging from established cult legends such as Gary Numan and Patti Smith to more current acts such as The Temper Trap, Marina and the Diamonds and Guillemots playing in recent months. Due to the open floor layout it’s very easy to move back and forth between the bars and the standing area, creating plenty of breathing space and a relaxed atmosphere which I found to be a lifesaver in the relentless moshing of Flogging Molly! Whilst some months there may be barely anything worth seeing, at other times of the year it will offer a great and varied selection. SS

It may smell strongly of industrial strength cleaning products during the day but come nightfall, this horizontally-challenged venue offers an array of musical treats and delicious eats.  Events take place over three floors, (arguably four, if you count the awkward mezzanine floor) with a ritzy bar-cum-tapas restaurant occupying the ground floor.  The basement (dubbed Undertone, complete with a separate entrance) usually hosts louder events, which ranges from local and not-so-local indie bands to club nights; Cardiff’s only alternative gay night, Hell’s Bent, is often hosted here.  Although relatively small, it contains its own bar and a healthy ratio of floor space to sofas.  Up two flights of stairs is the second performance space, which also hosts a wide range of bands as well as occasional vintage markets and evening classes.  If you’re not feeling so fresh and can’t handle loud music or alcohol, the tapas served here is pretty incredible, not fiendishly expensive and I’m told the mocktails make a surprisingly tasty accompaniment.  KD


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