As you may, or may not be aware, over the past few weeks the creator of Cardiff’s favourite live music podcast has been sharing drawings of the city’s venues. These images combined will form a comprehensive map, highlighting the wealth and diversity of spaces we have here to support artists, all the way from their very first shows to the 75,000-seat stadium. Thursday night (November 2nd) sees its official launch at Clwb Ifor Bach, a venue that has sat at the heart of our music scene for more than thirty years, and recently had to be defended from the ever-looming eye of developers.
In swift response to this threat a campaign was launched to ‘Save Womanby Street’, the tiny pedestrianised strip of Cardiff’s city centre where Clwb is situated – home to an extraordinary number, for its size, of the places to be featured on Minty’s map. One Saturday afternoon in April, somewhere just shy of 2000 people gathered here and marched on city hall in protest against the application to build flats right against the side of the iconic building. With the backing of many local MPs and councillors, the campaign showed signs of real impact within weeks as Wales’ Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs announced her intention to amend current planning policy with explicit reference to the agent of change principle, and to allow for the designation of areas of cultural significance. Before the end of the summer this had been debated in the Welsh Assembly and unanimously agreed upon. Over the months that followed all appeared to quieten, when out the blue it emerged that the plans for development had been withdrawn, with no reason given; quickly Cardiff Council purchased the land, to not only prevent future threats but also with the aim of expanding the venue.
Now it’s time to celebrate our success, and how better to do so than with a beautiful and informative guide to everywhere Cardiff has to offer to live music fans! Oh of course, and a big party featuring performances from alt-rock live wires CHROMA and hip-hop violinist Mike Dennis, as well as a secret, to-be-announced-on-the-day headliner. Alongside these will be guest speakers in the form of Save Womanby Street founder Ewan Moor; one of the campaign’s earliest supporters, Cardiff Central MP Jo Stevens; national Music Venues Trust representative Jon Fox and Adrian Palmer from For Cardiff. Full details of the event can be found over on facebook, and just in case you want a quick reminder why these, and other grassroots venues need so desperately to be protected:
Cardiff’s live music scene is, without a doubt, blooming. The fairly recent addition of Tramshed brought the mid-sized venue which the city had been crying out for, completing the set so to speak. However the true wealth of this city (for music fans, at least) lies a 10-15 minute walk from there – a few metres of mostly-pedestrianised road (artists loading in and out are the only vehicular traffic) sandwiched between the giant Principality (formerly Millennium) Stadium, and the mainstream nightlife of St. Mary Street. Home to multiple grassroots venues including Clwb Ifor Bach, a 30-year-old, three-floor wonderland of bands and DJs; as well as pubs and even a vintage market which are often used as pop-up stages during the many festivals that take place along there, Womanby Street is the hub of live music in the Welsh capital.
In the past few months though this area has come under attack – first from Brains, the Welsh mega-brewery which has claimed back The Moon Club to be converted to a jazz and blues bar, and Dempsey’s (including upstairs live room Four Bars) which will be turned into a Gareth Bale-sponsored sports bar. On top of these blows, Wetherspoon have announced that The Gatekeeper, a strange anomaly on the otherwise locally-owned street plan to add hotel rooms above their current pub. Whilst on the surface this may seem to be a harmless development considering that it won’t directly affect any of the other properties, it is important to consider why this enclave has flourished in the way it has. A big contribution to Womanby Street’s success has to be its location – in the centre of town, the lack of residences nearby avoid noise complaints from loud music or late-night revellers meandering between the clubs. Taking this into account, the concern about having a hotel there is apparent – who will become responsible for ensuring these guests’ peaceful sleep? After only saving Le Pub in next door Newport by some determined fundraising to pay for soundproofing after such complaints almost saw them closed down a couple of years ago, the South Wales music scene is all too aware of the risks such venues face.
The first step to counter this new threat was a petition against Wetherspoon’s development, signed by thousands of people including musicians such as Frank Turner. If you would like to add your own name to that list, you can find it here. A much more active stance however is being taken by a campaign group working to protect the area by law, as a cultural night time economy. This includes encouraging the Welsh Assembly to see the agent of change principle adopted, which simply means that it would be up to the developers of the hotel to ensure they protect against existing noise from the street, therefore taking responsibility for preventing complaints away from the venues. In this scenario, Wetherspoon could carry out its plans without putting Cardiff’s live music scene in danger; let’s just hope that this street can be recognised for its cultural value, not just development potential.
Follow Save Womanby Street through facebook or twitter to keep up to date with the campaign’s progress, and to find out how you can help.