This month Down on the Street makes its way to Wales to check out Cardiff, the birthplace of music legends such as Shirley Bassey, Ivor Novello, Cerys Matthews… and Shakin’ Stevens.
As much as I hate to admit it, Wales is definitely the reject of the UK when it comes to concerts; it’s like we don’t exist. It just seems a bit odd to miss out a whole country. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you have to pay a tenner to get in at the tolls on the Severn Bridge. Anyway, all moans and groans aside, Cardiff really is a great place to catch some live music and it’s the tiny, intimate venues that literally have sweat on the walls, which are the best places to see live music. Despite its gritty exterior, it really is a great place to see a few gigs and chuck up in the street on Sunday.
Despite larger bands such as Muse, The Foo Fighters and Beady Eye (Noel remembered us and that’s why he’s our favourite Gallagher) and many, many more that neglected Cardiff, we have had our fair share of outstanding bands and artists pay us a visit over the years. The bands that do visit us (Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, Madness, Jake Bugg) usually choose to play the good old Motorpoint Arena, which is probably the worst venue in Cardiff (seriously, the place is on its last legs; it’s like you’re watching a band play inside a tin of beans).
Few artists have braved a performance in the huge Millennium Stadium, which holds 72,500 adoring fans, a challenge for even the biggest of egos to fill. Very few bands have actually played in the stadium (Manic Street Preachers played the first ever concert there way back in 1999). The only other Welsh band to play in the Millennium is Stereophonics, who have played a few homecoming gigs there. Other artists that have braved the massive Millennium stage include: Paul McCartney, Oasis, The Rolling Stones and U2.
The student unions are definitely the places to be when it comes to gigs: drinks are cheap (£2 a pint), the venues are intimate, and you tend to enjoy the gig more because of this: everyone is engaged, you can be stood right at the back and still see every drop of sweat dripping from the lead singer’s forehead (maybe even the drummer’s, if you’re lucky). Another great thing about the student unions is that the tickets are always a hell of a lot cheaper: £20 for Miles Kane! £25 for Johnny Marr! Do I really need to say any more than that? It’s an offer you just can’t refuse.
If you fancy seeing bands that didn’t quite make it/are just past their sell-by date/waiting for their big break, then pop down to Clwb Ifor Bach. £2 on the door will get you in to see local bands like Trade Street Riot relive their glory days. They’re all pretty decent, even if they are a bit dad-like, but it’s always a laugh and you’re guaranteed a good night (even if the bass player looks like a maths teacher). Clwb Ifor Bach is also well known for hosting a lot of hardcore gigs, so if you’re up for a smack in the mouth or a scissor kick to the back of the head, head here.
7 DAY GUIDE TO GOING OUT IN CARDIFF
MONDAY – The Live Lounge is always a great place to have a drink and listen to some live music. They offer live music 7 days a week, all day and all night, and a DJ until 4am. The drinks aren’t priced extortionately and you can get a decent burger there too. What’s not to like?
TUESDAY – Enter karaoke night at Reflex and you could be in with a chance of winning £50! They play non-stop 80s music (not the crap stuff, either) all night and you can’t really go wrong with £2.50 cocktails and £1 shots… Uh, well, actually, a lot could go wrong.
WEDNESDAY – There’s a bar for every era in Cardiff. I recommend heading down to 70s bar Flares to kick start your Wednesday night. All drinks start from £1, so it’s perfect if you’re scrimping.
THURSDAY – Having scrimped, why not treat yourself to a quiet-ish Thursday at Revolution. It’s a bit pricey on the drinks side of things, but you can get a great meal there too.
FRIDAY – Start your weekend with a trip to Retro, ranked as the best bar in Cardiff. You can get your hands on cheap shots and cocktails while you dance like your dad. A bit of a cheesy night out, but one you’ll remember nonetheless.
SATURDAY –Head down to The Brewhouse, the best live music bar in Cardiff. Located in the old brewery quarter where the old Hard Rock Café used to be, they offer live music most nights and the atmosphere is great.
SUNDAY – Most people would head down to the Toby carvery by this point. But if you’re still up for it head down to O’Neill’s. there’s always live music, the food is cheap and the drink is even cheaper.
(A word of warning: unlike the student unions, who rarely check for ID and will serve you just for hitting puberty, bars and clubs are really strict with ID and will not hesitate to hand you a fruit shoot if you’re under 18.)
Cardiff is a surprisingly good place to shop when you think about it. Yes, it’s got the big shopping centres and the likes of Pretty Green, Fred Perry, Urban Outfitters and Doc Martens. But some of your best buys will be in the little independent vintage and record shops.
One of the guys that works at Hobo’s Vintage is the spitting image of Sergio Pizzorono, and the other is a sort of baby-faced Bob Dylan (ladies, I’ll give you a sec to compose yourselves and form an orderly line). In all seriousness, though, you will get some serious bargains here. Paisley, cord and tartan shirts only go up to £20, Levi’s shorts, parkas for £40 and a huge range of dresses from the 60s right up to the 90s. They stock both men’s and women’s clothes as well as a huge range of accessories: satchels, belts, headbands, sunglasses, scarves and the occasional Beatles or Star Wars mug. Also, the staff are really friendly and will make you feel right at home.
Cardiff is famous for being home to Spillers Records, ‘the oldest record shop in the world’. It’s also the most expensive record shop in the world. It’s worth a look, but Kelly’s Records is definitely the best record shop in Cardiff. Well worth braving the sickening aroma of the fish stall in the market to go and have a browse in Kelly’s. Take a deep breath and hold it until the third step of the stairs and you’ll be safe. There are loads of records spread out across the balcony, but the best ones are inside the actual shop (I managed to get a copy of Pink Floyd’s The Wall for £10). Don’t be afraid to ask for anything you don’t see, the staff are the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.
Just a short train ride away from Cardiff Central, in Cathays, is D’vinyl, the jumble sale of record shops. The selection there is fab, though the challenge comes with finding what you want. My advice would be to book the week off work if you’re planning a visit.
The funny thing is, despite having our own language, no one can actually speak a word of it! And even if they can, they tend not to because they’re probably the only one in the village who can, and that one person does tend to be the local Welsh teacher. So, you may not actually hear anyone speak a single word of Welsh, but you must be prepared for the dreaded “Whose coat’s that jacket?”, which makes no sense whatsoever and nobody can make head nor tail of it, yet everyone still says it. There’s also no escaping being called ‘Bewt’ or ‘Presh’; you will be addressed as either, regardless of age or gender.
DID YOU KNOW…
It may be hard to believe, but we don’t all stand on the mountain with a sheep under one arm, reading Dylan Thomas poems while singing ‘Sex Bomb’. Cardiff is home to the likes of The Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers and Feeder. Kelly Jones of The Stereophonics is originally from Aberdare, which isn’t too far from Cardiff. He still does gigs in his old local pub when he’s in town.