Words by Alex Payne
Photo by Nathan Roach via TEG MJR
Cardiff’s musical pedigree is indisputable. In the final days of 2017 a formidable team composed of Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens, the CEO of Sound Diplomacy, and the leader of Cardiff Council, Councillor Huw Thomas, formalised it by declaring that Cardiff was “the UK’s first music city”. A powerful statement that confirmed a reality that many are already acutely aware of. Indeed, the Performing Rights Society revealed that the Welsh capital was the second most musical city in the UK, beaten by Bristol alone.
It’s very likely that many local readers will be rolling their eyes at the preamble; Cardiff’s musical reputation is so blinding that justifying it with a string of stats and surveys may seem like gross overkill. However, there’s a duality to that sentiment. Behind the pride, many are aware of the grim reality that looms over the city’s local scene. Venue closures have been coming thick and fast over the past year, with Undertones, 10FeetTall and Gwdihw all closing. This fatal trend isn’t new, either. Buffalo and Dempseys both closed in 2019 and 2017 respectively, and The Moon only narrowly avoided closure thanks to the “Save Womanby Street” campaign. While Womanby street, home to the aforementioned venue along with Clwb Ifor Bach, Tiny Rebel Cardiff, Bootlegger and Fuel, is the beating heart of Cardiff’s music scene, it cannot be all of it.
These testimonies from local residents echo concerns for Cardiff’s music scene, with many highlighting its importance for both the community, the economy and the culture of the city
At the beginning of June, the popular 1000 capacity venue Tramshed, announced that a proposed development of a four storey block of flats to the rear of the venue could force them to close, because the new build (dubbed T2) would hinder their ability to host acts. In their official statement, they also highlighted how if built, the new residents would be able to make noise complaints, which “would jeopardise the existing venue”. The venue opened just four years ago, with Ashley Govier, who at the time was Grangetown’s local councillor, hailing it as “a fantastic addition to the area”. Since the official announcement, almost two hundred comments objecting to the development have been filed on the planning site alone. These testimonies from local residents echo concerns for Cardiff’s music scene, with many highlighting its importance for both the community, the economy and the culture of the city. One Mr Thomas pointed out that the venue was “fast becoming the premier south wales [sic] venue for live entertainment”, while another praised the Tramshed for its ability to “attract culturally diverse acts, which is rare for a capital city”. Unfortunately, Tramshed isn’t alone, with a Mayor Of London-commissioned report in 2015 identifying that “planning and development” is now the third most pressing threat that venues face. Depressingly, iNews have reported that London alone had lost 40% of it’s small venues between 2008-2016.
Instability is an uneasy reality for venue owners at the best of time; they’re hardly an ideal “get-rich-quick” scheme. But this year has been increasingly dire, starting with unrelenting landlords, then worsened with a barrage of floods, before finally being slammed with the pressures of Coronavirus. To say that the recently announced £1.7 billion cash injection into the arts scene is a lifeline may be an understatement, but Daniel Minty, who runs a popular gig guide, stressed that “the pandemic has had a profound impact on the arts” and that there’ll be “a very difficult climb in the aftermath for many music venues – particularly those on the bottom”. Sure, Motorpoint Arena and Cardiff Castle allude to a sense of permanency. But Cardiff’s reputation hasn’t been earned simply by hosting rockstars. It’s earnt it’s accolades for the artists that have cut their teeth here, from Manic Street Preachers and Stereophonics to Budgie and everything in between. The rooms and bars that pepper Cardiff are a breeding ground to generation after generation of the music industry, and act as hubs for Cardiff’s communities. Tramshed may be safe – for now – but the rest of the scene is not.