A few months ago, some would have you believe there is a crisis in Cardiff’s music scene but, as one leading promoter suggests, there’s just been some realignment in the sector and things are again thriving across mutiple venues, from stadium down to entry level. Allan Glen reports
What a difference a year make.
Twelve months ago the live music scene at club level in Cardiff appeared to be taking a bashing, particularly on Womanby Street, where the 80-capacity Full Moon was repossessed on behalf of creditors and Dempsey’s (cap. 150) closed to make way for a sports bar.
If that wasn’t enough, Clwb Ifor Bach (250) faced the prospect of a block of flats being constructed nearby and the threat of noise complaints.
Yet, a year on, rising phoenix-like, the Full Moon’s team are back in business as The Moon (180), while, following a high-profile campaign from a group calling themselves Save Womanby Street, the planned development near Clwb Ifor Bach was withdrawn.
So does all this indicate a crisis, as no doubt some would suggest, or an opportunity for Cardiff’s live music scene?
Mike Jones, promotions director at The MJR Group, which operates Tramshed (1,000) and The Globe (350), believes it to be the latter.
In fact, he believes live music in the city is as vibrant as it has been for a long time.
“There have been well-publicised issues with venue closures, but the biggest problem in my eyes was more the lack of new talent coming through, on both the performance and business sides,” he says.
“The music scene is strong, probably the strongest it’s been since about 2007. If you have those lines of new talent coming in, the other more practical issues will generally sort themselves out.
“I think we’re beginning to get that next batch of talented, ambitious young people coming through,” says Jones.
Also reporting good business growth is Alex Luff, events and operations manager at the Principality Stadium (65,000), whose shows this year include Live Nation Entertainment promoted Beyoncé and Jay-Z, the Rolling Stones (AEG Live) and four sell-out shows with Ed Sheeran (Kilimanjaro Live and DHP Family).
Acts confirmed for 2019 include Take That (SJM Concerts) and Pink (Marshall Arts).
“This has been a huge year for us, operationally, and one we are hoping to increase on next year,” says Luff, who is particularly proud of the venue’s retractable roof, unique for a UK stadium.
“Because of the roof we can also provide a rehearsal space for stadium shows, and we’ve now done that for quite a number of acts,” he says. “Artistes will come into Cardiff to launch their shows but will actually arrive a couple of weeks beforehand to rehearse and build the stage.
“So for example, Beyoncé and Jay-Z came here from a Paris rehearsal studio and ran through the whole show with full production before the opening night in Cardiff.”
With the economic impact of the stadium’s record year on the city estimated at approximately £198m, up £50m on the previous year, Luff adds the shows are a major deal for Cardiff and beyond.
With the Manic Street Preachers playing the very first concert there on New Year’s Eve 1999, the stadium will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year.
The Principality Stadium also offers an arena configuration with a capacity of approximately 20,000, which can be flexible depending on demand.
Also taking advantage of the healthy market is Cardiff City Stadium (34,000).
“In the past we have held one or two events per year, and we now have a licence that allows numerous events on three weekends,” says Wayne Nash, head of operations at the stadium. “There are good logistics here and easy access for all events.”
Acts playing the stadium include Stereophonics, promoted by Kilimanjaro Live, with tickets from £35, Bon Jovi (£40, AEG Live), Rod Stewart (£55, Cuffe & Taylor) and Elton John, (£45, Marshall Arts), who is returning to play the stadium next year.
Since opening in 1982, St David’s Hall (1,956) has earned an enviable reputation among touring acts, and is the National Concert Hall of Wales.
Artistes playing the venue include Gary Numan (promoted by SJM), Level 42 (AEG), Mogwai, John Grant (Clwb Ifor Bach) and Deacon Blue (CMP Entertainment).
“Our USP is the volume and diversity of our programme, which is unrivalled across Cardiff,” says Neil Collins, assistant marketing manager. “Across our 300 shows per year, we host classical, rock, pop, folk, contemporary jazz, opera and comedy.
“Also, the quality of the sound in our auditorium is world-renowned, especially for classical concerts, but also for rock acts such as Echo and The Bunnymen [SJM], who we hosted recently, and for acoustic sets from other artistes such as Biffy Clyro [LNE].”
As a major regional promoter, Orchard Entertainment events director Pablo Janczur promotes up to 50 shows a year across the city, with shows including Catfish and The Bottlemen and Pete Tong & The Heritage Orchestra presents Ibiza Classics at Cardiff Castle (10,000), with tickets from £32.50 and £49.50 respectively.
Orchard also has Nick Mulvey and Nick Lowe & Los Straightjackets at Tramshed, along with Machine Head. Happy Mondays and Mike Peters and The Alarm at Cardiff University Great Hall (1,500), Idles and The Feeling at Tramshed, Fickle Friends at The Globe, The Shires at St David’s Hall, Don McLean and Belle and Sebastian at Wales Millennium Centre (1,800) and Alexis Ffrench and Gogo Penguin at RWCD Dora Stoutzker Theatre (370).
“It’s a diverse, healthy scene at present with Cardiff bands such as Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard and Boy Azooga breaking through,” he says. “The city attracted a record number of stadium and large outdoor shows in 2018 and 2019 is also looking positive.”
This is a view supported by Ben Gehler, assistant head of venues at Cardiff University, whose two spaces host up to 60 shows a year.“ Last year we saw a higher ratio of shows selling-out than we had experienced in previous years,” he says. “In general, it was a very strong year for us.
“In the main there have only been minor adjustments over the past two years,” says Gehler. “We have spent some time tweaking the in-house PA in both rooms, adding extra boxes for coverage in the Great Hall and updating the amplification in Y Plas [1,000]. A brand new EPoS system has also been installed to improve customer service at the bars.”
There are also ambition plans for the venue, as he explains, “Our aims are to replace the Great Hall stage entirely in the next year or so and completely refurbish the balconies to allow for much improved disabled access.”
Acts playing the venue include Stereophonics (Radio X/Global), Father John Misty (DHP), Nelly, Johnny Marr (both AEG), The Specials (AEG/Metropolis Music), Mastodon, ‘A’, Steve Aoki, Hollywood Undead (all LNE), Saxon, The Wombats (Kilimanjaro), Stiff Little Fingers (Eastside Events), The Vaccines (Crosstown Concerts), You Me At Six (SJM/LNE), Stefflon Don, Mabel (both Crosstown) and Coheed and Cambria (SJM).
As for the local scene, Gehler believes that while there is much to offer national promoters, agents and acts, the city requires inward investment.
“There has been a really impressive surge of young, local talent in the past couple of years, but Cardiff does struggle in comparison with other major cities,” says Gehler. “There have been a number of marquee shows in the Principality Stadium which doe improve the reputation of Cardiff as a music city. However, there is the need for a large arena to cater for other major shows.”
Overall, though, there is a positive sense of community, he believes.
“Staff from a large number of venues meeting from time to time to see what can be done to further drive the appeal of Cardiff as a great musical destination.”
With approximately 450 shows a year across its two venues, Tramshed and The Globe – 180 in the former and 250 in the latter – The MJR Group plays a significant role in Cardiff’s live music scene.
MJR’s Mike Jones believes the venues offer unrivalled access to not only audiences, but also for artistes, agents and promoters.
“Tramshed is simply the best venue of our size in Wales,” he says. “We get the basics right, and the marketing, production and everything else is just at a very high standard throughout. We were also quite lucky to have a perfectly square frame to work with before the build, so we could map everything out exactly to the needs of both artistes and promoters.”
Acts playing the venue include The Orb (One Inch Badge), Kelis, The Levellers, Skindred, UB40, Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes (all in-house), Half Man Half Biscuit (The Gig Cartel), Nines (Metropolis), Bryan Fallon (DHP), The Hunna (LNE), Miles Kane, The Flaming Lips, Slaves and KT Tunstall (all SJM).
“As promoters, we know what promoters want and that’s very important,” adds Jones.
Also doing good business is The Globe, where artistes include Crowbar, The Bluetones, British Sea Power, Alexander O’Neal, The House and Garage Orchestra (all in-house), Metz (LNE), Yellowdays (AEG), Freya Ridings (Orchard), Akala (Clwb Ifor Bach) and Against The Current (SJM).
“The Globe has a wonderful family atmosphere, first and foremost,” says Jones. “We don’t have a high turnover of staff and the artistes remember most of those working here every time they return. The other big selling point is the layout of the room. It’s wider than it is deep from the stage, and with the balcony hanging over the top it’s a very intimate show.”
Buzz in the air
With approximately 280 shows a year over the two rooms, Clwb Ifor Bach’s live manager Adam Williams is also buzzing about a particular act.
“The Cardiff music scene is in a really exciting place at the moment with Boy Azooga, Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard and Gwenno dominating the music press across the UK,” he says. “It’s really exciting for us to be able to see artistes we’ve worked with locally for years, growing.”
Despite that vibrancy in the city, Williams points out that the lack of another theatre-style venue is an issue.
“What Cardiff has is a tremendous lack of medium-sized venues,” he says. “There is a major need for 2,000 to 3,000-capacity spaces and, without one, we’ll always be that major city that loses out on those shows.”
SAlso working at entry level is Gwdihw Café Bar (100), which has built a reputation for supporting a variety of artistes, from folk and blues to live electronic and hip-hop. Among the acts playing the venue are Year Of The Dog, Thee Manatees, SuperChango and Inc.A – all in-house promotions.
According to Danny O’Reilly of Gwdihw Events, which promotes the shows there, “It’s fantastic at the moment. There is a really great mix of local talent, and bigger touring acts.”
In summing up, Clwb Ifor Bach’s Adam Williams agrees, but says that even without a another larger theatre-style venue, the current infrastructure and a strong emerging act sector puts Cardiff in a good position for growth and expansion.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing what happens over the next few years, as there are a lot of artistes based in Cardiff who we’re really excited about.”