Swn Fest 2016 for Get The Chance

I can usually be found at one venue or another on Cardiff’s Womaby Street most weekends, so when Sŵn Fest time rolls around it can feel akin to a party in your own living room… only with more bunting, balloons, and bands of course. This is just one key element to Sŵn’s enduring success; the sense of community between organisers, venues, acts and fans alike. Whether you’ve travelled from far and wide or you live ten minutes away like I do, everyone’s there for the same reason – to discover the most exciting up-and-coming bands and artists, filling Cardiff’s best-loved intimate venues with a welcoming and buoyant atmosphere. 2016 sees the festival reach double figures, and I was lucky enough to join the party and celebrate as Sŵn turned ten years old!

This year, Sŵn Festival begins early for me. On Wednesday, 19th October Pembrokeshire-born filmmaker Kieran Evans brought ‘Be Pure. Be Vigilant. Behave.’ to Cardiff’s Premiere Cinema for its global premiere. As a dyed-in-the-wool Manic Street Preachers fan, a one-off screening (for now, at least) of any of Evans’ work with the band, complete with a Q&A hosted by the inimitable Simon Price, is not to be missed. The film, shot during several dates of the Manics’ 20th anniversary tour of their groundbreaking 1994 album The Holy Bible, is as uncompromising and unrelenting as the record itself. Evans had pre-warned me in a short Twitter exchange that “there will be strobing…”, but after attending two dates on the THB20 tour myself, I knew that would only serve to make it a true account of the gigs; I was seeing black spots in front of my eyes for days afterwards. Evans’ focus on the fans, as much as the band, throughout the film illustrates the impact the album continues to have on its audience – not one face is captured missing a lyric, nor a word of the excerpts that have come to be such a distinctive feature of the record. They sing every song back to the band, their eyes never flickering away from the stage, with, dare I say, even more conviction and fervour than James Dean Bradfield himself.

After the “visual and sonic assault on the senses”, as Evans’ describes the film, we are treated to a Q&A session where he reveals he is working on a “more personal” documentary with the Manics, provisionally titled ‘Escape From History’, to follow on from the more fact-based ‘Freed From Memories’ film that was included in the 20th anniversary boxset edition of Everything Must Go. This time, Evans says, there will be more focus on how the three remaining band members coped with the disappearance of their long-time best friend and fourth Manic Street Preacher, Richey Edwards, in February 1995, the difficult question of if and how to carry on as a band, and the resulting album Everything Must Go. Evans also deals with pleas from audience members for ‘Be Pure. Be Vigilant. Behave.’ to get a DVD release or other screenings around the country, mostly passed on by other fans that were unable to make it to Cardiff. While he makes no promises, particularly as “DVDs don’t sell anymore”, I think it would be a real shame for Manics fans across the world not to have the opportunity to see the live expression of an album we all hold so dear. Evans also reveals how the film’s title was settled upon, in keeping with the tradition of naming his album-based works with the band after lyrics from their songs (see: ‘Culture, Alienation, Boredom and Despair’ and the aforementioned ‘Freed From Memories’). During discussions with the band’s bassist Nicky Wire, the idea of ‘Suntan and Napalm’ from “ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart” was suggested and so, less seriously but perhaps just as fittingly, was ‘Sterilise Rapists’ from “Archives Of Pain”. Joking aside, Evans’ assertion that The Holy Bible is “a cultural statement unlike any other” is a description truly befitting of the Manics’ masterpiece and how vital it evidently remains more than twenty years on.

 

A couple of days later on Saturday afternoon, I collect my press pass from the warm and welcoming volunteers at the Castle Emporium and set off to find my new favourite bands. Unfortunately, I don’t get a chance to explore the Music Museum – a joint venture between Swn and Cardiff University – in the Castle Arcade over the weekend but having been told it will be open until mid-November, I’ll definitely be whiling away a couple of hours there sometime in the coming weeks!

My first port of call from the wristband exchange is the BBC Gorwelion/Horizons stage, housed upstairs in O’Neills, to see North Walian four-piece Fleur De Lys. Their brand of indie rock comes complete with non-stop catchy hooks and striking Welsh language vocals, while the sense of joyful abandon inherent in their live shows makes them an unforgettable first find of the weekend.

My obsessive habit of arriving early for gigs pays off in style when I get to Clwb Ifor Bach half an hour early for Matt Hitt’s Drowners. I squeeze into the very back of the packed-out downstairs room to catch a few songs from Bryde, and I’m immediately glad I did. Moving seamlessly between powerful chords and gentler melodies, and with a voice that is equal parts PJ Harvey and Stevie Nicks, I’d like to think it was meant to be that I stumbled upon Bryde’s performance as I haven’t been able to stop listening to her music in the days since. Bryde plays Clwb Ifor Bach again on 2nd November for Swn’s Hair Of The Dog That Bit You gig, a “one-off post-Swn new-band-chaser” that is not to be missed.

Dashing upstairs to join the already sizeable crowd collecting for Drowners, I don’t have to wait long before the band grace the stage exuding New York cool. Expecting an aloof, detached performance I’m pleasantly surprised to see a band who unashamedly look like they’re having a great time, and promptly check my preconceptions where I stand. I’d been sold on seeing Drowners after learning that frontman Matt Hitt was a Rhondda boy and that the band were named after Suede’s debut single – a surefire winner with me. But although their name might come from Brett Anderson’s boys, their sound is more akin to The Smiths and The Cure mixed with more modern indie flavours like The Walkmen and We Are Scientists, destined to fill indie disco dancefloors here and across the Atlantic.

As I wind my way back downstairs, the growing audience for Shells catches my attention, and my decision to join them turns out to be an excellent one. Distinctive vocals on a bed of dreamy melodies helps the captivating delivery of her songs stick in your mind long after the performance, and it’s little wonder she drew such a big crowd at one of the busiest periods of the day, surely leaving everyone who saw her enraptured.

After catching up with friends at a nearby bar and sharing all the tips we have for who to try and catch tomorrow, we cross to the other side of Womanby Street to The Moon Club and we’re lucky enough to get there before they are forced to employ a one-in-one-out policy, evidence of the venue’s popularity and stellar line-up of acts. As we thunder upstairs, I’m unable to hide my excitement that I’m finally getting to see Mclusky* live! After being a fan for a mere twelve years, they don’t disappoint and are an obvious highlight of the whole festival for me. I’ll treasure the memory of being part of a packed-to-the-rafters crowd, screaming along to every witty, clever lyric that I never really thought I’d get to hear anywhere else than through my headphones sat on the X4 bus.

Post-Mclusky*, I escape the sweatbox that The Moon Club has fast become and get my breath back on my way to O’Neills for Tibet who are closing the Gorwelion/Horizons stage. It’s the perfect finish to the night with Tibet’s energetic indie pop sounding bolder than ever, and there’s a belief shared between everyone I speak to that the band will be playing on bigger stages and to bigger crowds in no time at all.

My first visit on the Sunday afternoon is to see Cardiff’s own Winter Coat who are declaring the Girl In A Band stage at Clwb Ifor Bach open. Carving their own niche in the dream pop genre, Winter Coat strike a wistful note between melancholy and careful optimism, and are the perfect antidote to the chilly October air with their melodies evoking a fresh, Spring-like feeling.

Winning the award for Best Band Name of the weekend (against fierce competition from Strong Asian Mothers and Scott And Charlene’s Wedding) are Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS? One of my favourites of this year’s festival, HYESTJFAV (because I can’t keep typing that out!) have come all the way from Finland to fill the top floor of Clwb with their synth-laden garage rock. Running from 60s girl group melodies to 80s electro-pop and back again, HYESTJFAV continue the rich tradition of wonderfully alternative bands from Scandinavia and I, for one, can’t wait to hear what they’ll do next.

Another big draw to The Moon Club comes in the form of Let’s Eat Grandma, a teenage girl duo from Norfolk who I’m highly excited to see as I’ve heard so many plaudits thrown their way already. Hearing their darkly ethereal alternative pop, with influences far beyond their years, leaves me in no doubt that the praise is completely warranted. Imagine if Kate Bush and Robert Smith had a child and left Nico to babysit, and you’ll be somewhere along the right track towards the thoroughly unique brilliance of Let’s Eat Grandma.

CwCw are next on my list of must-sees over at Undertone, the basement venue beneath 10 Feet Tall on nearby Church Street. Hailing from Blackwood, around eight miles from my hometown of Tredegar, I’m not about to miss the opportunity to support talent from my little neck of the woods. Formed at school (just like another Blackwood-born band I’ve previously mentioned!) if this taste of the band’s indie-folk sound is any indicator of what’s to come from them it won’t be long until their dream of being snapped up by a record label is realised. Special mention must be made to the tireless Young Promoters Network for curating such a successful stage at Undertone on the Sunday, and for slinging a free lei my way on entry!

My final show of the weekend comes from Stealing Sheep, an all-girl trio from Liverpool signed to the wonderful Heavenly Records, who are appearing on the Make Noise stage upstairs in O’Neills. Doing my research beforehand, I saw the term “genre-defying” used a lot in regards to them, but I’ll give it a try… Let’s say, early-80s influenced electropop with a psychedelic edge, given an unexpectedly folk-like slant. Sort of. I’ve always admired bands that are difficult to pigeon-hole, and Stealing Sheep are no exception. With their live show full of energy and conviction, they are the ideal way for me to finally wear myself out and sign off from Swn 10.

It cannot go without saying how much work goes into making Sŵn Fest such a success, from the organisers and volunteers to the venues and the acts themselves, so a huge thank you and congratulations for a thoroughly enjoyable weekend has to go out to everyone involved! As someone who is constantly looking to discover new music, the weirder and more wonderful the better, Sŵn is continuing to prove itself unparalleled in offering fans of just about any genre the opportunity to enjoy the best venues in Cardiff and uncover the next big things!

Gwdihw Cafe Bar (for The CDF)

It’s starting… Winter is coming. It won’t be long before those frosty grey mornings and inky dark evenings begin to creep in. But here at The CDF we like nothing better than to offset the lowering temperatures of the fourth season by settling down somewhere cute and cosy, and one of our favourite places to do just that is Gwdihw Cafe Bar on Guildford Crescent.

Gwdihw is very hard to miss if you pass by; thanks to the work of The Ladderless Window Painting Company back in June, the front of the bar is a burst of bright colours, cheerily inviting you in. You’ll find a friendly reception to match its welcoming exterior from the staff behind the bar who were happy to answer even the age-old student plea of “what’s the cheapest drink you have?”, talking us through their all-year-round student discount offers.

If your days of studying are behind you, Gwdihw is still a great place for drinks offers, particularly on Gwd Mondays which boast “50% off booze, all day!”. Gwd Mondays provide something fun and different every Monday of the month including, but in no way limited to, comedy open mic nights hosted by James Dunn to Northern Lingo Bingo with Katie-Louise Green. There’s plenty going on during the rest of the week too though, such as regular gigs at the bargainous price of just £3 or £4 to see some of the best up-and-coming talent from Cardiff and beyond; look no further than the fact local songstress Maddie Jones has chosen the bar for the release party of her new E.P. on 29th October, which promises to be a night to remember.

The venue also plays host to eclectic monthly clubnights such as Pleasuredome (for all you 80s /electronica fans) and Mise en Bouche (for funk and reggae lovers), and even a night to show off your video- and board-game prowess, affectionately called Cardiff Geek Party. Our favourite event, however, might just be the Sundae Sessions on a Sunday afternoon, where you can relax with your drink of choice (whether it’s from their impeccably well-stocked bar, or something a bit warmer from their selection of high-quality teas and coffees) and one of their delicious warm paninis if you’re hungry, and enjoy stellar performances from the best local artists the city has to offer.

One of the factors which makes Gwdihw so special and particularly appealing in the winter months is their beer garden. In fact, it’s probably a bit reductive to refer to it simply as that. Stroll through the bar to reach their outside space and you’ll find a quirky selection of seating, from the more traditional picnic benches to a comfy collection of armchairs on the right, and a cosy little alcove to cwtch into on the left. Better yet, the garden has a roof and several small heaters lining the walls to keep you warm and protected from the elements!

So, a venue with friendly staff, top-notch bands and events, beautifully kooky decor, and an oh-so-cosy heated beer garden… Why aren’t you there now?!

Swn Festival 2015 (for The CDF)

[6th, 7th and 8th November 2015]

Arriving soon after the end of the Rugby World Cup which lit up our city, this year’s Swn Festival looks set to showcase another facet of what makes Cardiff the place to be – the capital’s thriving music scene. Across the weekend of Saturday the 7th and Sunday the 8th of November, Swn Fest returns for 2015 with another huge line-up, just as you’d expect if you’ve ever been before, playing in a variety of venues up and down Womanby Street and beyond. But if you’ve never been to Swn, let us at The CDF try and persuade you that 2015 could be just the year to experience it!

Swn Fest entered the world in 2007 after co-founders John Roston and BBC Radio One DJ Huw Stephens began working on an idea to bring a smaller version of the Texan musical showcase festival South By South West to their own corner of the world, utilising the growing number of live venues and plethora of local, largely unsigned, bands in Cardiff to create an eclectic music festival in the heart of the city.

It was an idea loved by thousands of like-minded music fans, if the volume of attendees each year since its inception is anything to go by. It’s not difficult to see why Swn is regularly nominated for the award of NME Best Small Festival, even winning the title in 2013, when you consider the calibre of acts who have graced their stages over the years. Bands who have gone on to become headliners in their own right such as The Vaccines, Alt J, Disclosure and The Cribs (who have performed at Swn twice, in 2007 and again in 2012) after calling in to Swn Fest indicate that there are plenty of undiscovered future stars to be found at the festival if you know where to look.

And that’s where The CDF can help you out, because we’re nice like that. We’ve been keeping a keen eye on the steady stream of line-up announcements this year and it looks to us like the high quality of bands and artists we’ve come to expect from Swn has once again been delivered in spades. With well over 100 acts playing across the two days, there’s bound to be something for everyone no matter what you’re into!

For those who dig the city’s increasingly eclectic DIY scene, “bipolar anti-garage rock band” My Name Is Ian and all-girl indie-pop trio Peaness are the most recent additions to the bill, along with the lo-fi power-pop of Personal Best and the “incorrigibly intelligent, darkly comical” uniqueness of musical collective Quiet Marauder.

And if it’s singer-songwriters you’re after, Swn 2015 certainly has plenty to share with you. Part of BBC Cymru’s Horizons initiative, songstress Violet Skies’ evocative and personal songs re-define the word ‘cinematic’ with her heartfelt lyrics and pretty melodies. Fresh from a short period of rest after a summer of festivals, Delyth McLean – another Horizons alumni – is bringing her impressive, bilingual vocals and increasingly confident stage presence to Swn too, following performances at HubFest and No.6 Festival. Another bilingual Welsh artist, Aled Rheon, is also one not to be missed; a folk troubadour with his heart on his sleeve, pouring emotions and reflections into his songs.

Another exciting proposition at this year’s fest is David Owens’ collaborative effort with the Young Promoters Network to present ‘The Wolves Of Womanby Street’, starting on the Saturday afternoon. Reportedly featuring a “potentially classic Swn secret set”, rock and roll upstarts Chapel Row and ska-punkers Upbeat Sneakers will hit the Moon Club stage before a highly-anticipated set from their fellow Merthyr Tydfil boys Pretty Vicious. Following a host of festival appearances over the summer and their first proper tour, the much-hyped heirs to the Brit rock throne are sure to pack the venue to the rafters and create one of those special “I was there” moments.

To celebrate the opening of Swn Fest 2015, a special event is being held the night before, Friday 6th of November, at the wonderful Abacus Rooms in St David’s House on Wood Street, which is becoming a more regularly utilised gig venue as well as a valued creative space and art gallery. From 5-11:30pm gig-goers will be treated to performances from the likes of Houdini Dax, Wylderness and Amber Arcade, and – even better – The CDF has been told the evening is free to those possessing weekend wristbands and to the acts playing at the festival.

On the subject of tickets and wristbands, they are available in weekend or day form at the price of £47 and £25 respectively. Tickets should be swapped for wristbands at the wristband exchange on arrival, and these will grant you entry to all venues hosting Swn Fest performances. Tickets are also being issued once again this year for 14-17 year olds, at £23 for a weekend ticket or £13 for either day. However, as some venues have their own age restrictions, people under 18 will not be able to access the entire festival but many of the gigs happening in the daytime before late-eveining will be happy to accomodate younger persons.

All tickets can be booked in advance through the Swn website or via the Dice ticket app, where customers are not required to pay a booking fee. Any tickets which remain unsold by the weekend of the festival will be available to buy on the day, but as these tickets are higher in cost and Swn so often sells out in advance (with only 200 tickets left at the time of going to press), it would be wise to get yours as soon as you can if you want to enjoy an array of up-and-coming acts and maybe even discover your new favourite band!

HUBFest 2015 (for The CDF)

We’re No Heroes – 29/08/15, The Moon Club (pictured above)

Saturday night at The Moon Club saw Cardiff-based funk purveyors We’re No Heroes take to the Bluebox Promotions’ stage for a performance which the band themselves described as “the largest we’ve ever sounded”.

Recalling a look first seen in their ‘Wildlife’ music video, the trio braved Pollock-esque paint-splattered all-in-one suits despite the rising temperature in The Moon Club as the crowd fed off the band’s energy and enthusiasm and bounced along to every song. Turning around from our vantage point at the front, if there was anyone in the venue left standing still – we couldn’t see them! Typically of We’re No Heroes it was a loud and lively set, with riffs and grooves aplenty, which included fan favourites such as ‘Atlantic Heart’, latest single ‘Voodoo’ and a brand new as-yet-unnamed song which closed their show. It wasn’t a memorable gig just for the band members, however, but also for the happy couple who got engaged mid-set! Not that that was enough to faze the band – “Crazy things like that seem to happen all the time at our gigs!” they said.

Speaking about their status as HUBFest special guests, as revealed exclusively by The CDF, We’re No Heroes were pleased to be gaining recognition in a city which they say has a unique sense of camaraderie and community in its music scene. Having started out playing student house parties, “which used to get shut down by police a lot”, the ambitious and hard-working band herald The Moon Club as their favourite intimate venue to play in Cardiff and loved setting their HUBFest 2015 performance there.

Going on to explain that they feel their live experience should be different to what they offer on record, in that they have a more raw and improvised live sound, the band are looking forward to what the future holds for them both in the studio and on stage.

 

Howl – 30/08/15, The Moon Club

Having previously referred to The Moon Club as their “spiritual home”, it seemed only right that Howl should stage their highly-anticipated final gig at a venue they hold so dear. It was also fitting that theirs was one of the closing sets of HubFest 2015, so festival organiser and Howl frontman Grant Jones could end the weekend on the most triumphant note possible.

Grant, plus drummer Tom Rees and bassist Marcell Davies, formed Howl in 2012 and in the three years since the band have gained a fervent following in Cardiff and a fierce live reputation amongst both fans and fellow musicians. There could be no stronger evidence of this than the sight of The Moon Club absolutely jam-packed to the rafters, to the point where the crowd were spilling out into the stairway and the doorman had been told no-one else was to be granted entry.

From the very beginning of their set, Howl’s audience left no question as to their adoration of the band and their music; at the first blast of their unique experimental blend of blues, garage and pure rock and roll, feet were stomping and arms were flailing, and by only the second song a parade of crowdsurfers had sailed over our heads already. The energy and intensity of the show was obvious in an almost comedic fashion as a steady stream of fans, looking dazed yet thrilled, in various states of undress, made their way out afterwards, leaving a visible fug of heat and sweat behind them.

Having explained their parting of ways in a personal statement released on social media, citing “individual decisions … that call time on culmative creations of a brotherhood, leaving it firmly immortalised in the past”, after tonight… Howl can be sure that they ended things with a roar.

 

The Bastard Executioner (for The CDF)

Who needs the Hollywood Hills when you can have the green, green grass of the Welsh Valleys? The team behind new American series The Bastard Executioner must have thought just that when they decided to set the fictional drama against the backdrop of Llanharan and Cardiff. The CDF spoke to one of its stars, Darren Evans, about filming in his native Wales, and what we can expect from the highly-anticipated series.

The historical epic is set in the early fourteenth century and whilst its writers have ensured that an air of secrecy shrouds the plot, Darren was able to tell us that the story focuses on Wilkin Brattle, a former knight of Edward I, who is haunted by the ravages of war and wants to settle down into the quieter life of a farmer. But when circumstances beyond his control force him to pick up his sword once again, it can only end in “the bloodiest battle of all”. The narrative also features elements of the Madog ap Llywelyn rebellion, which Darren likened to “as much a history lesson as an acting job”, helping him to learn more about the fascinating history of Welsh revolution.

The Bastard Executioner began life as an idea executive producer Brian Grazer had about a character who “deals with the highest order and the lowest order” in his morally-complex work as an executioner. After developing a concept with Sons Of Anarchy writer Kurt Sutter, the series was given the green light in December 2013, whereupon Sutter and director Paris Barclay travelled to the UK to seek out potential filming locations. It was at this point they called on the Wales Screen service for assistance. Wales Screen is part of the Welsh Government’s Creative Industries Sector, and encourages film and television productions to use Welsh locations, crews and facilities. Their team’s detailed local knowledge helped Barclay and Sutter decide on South Wales as the perfect corner of the world to set their show. After perusing possible sites such as Caerphilly Castle and Fforest Fawr, the village of Llanharan was chosen as the ideal shooting location where, prior to the beginning of filming in March 2015, a permanent set of a medieval town was constructed. Designed by Giles Masters, who Darren heralds as “an absolute genius” in his field of set design, it even has its own castle!

The Bastard Executioner is also one of the very first major productions to utilise Cardiff’s Pinewood Studios facilities. Boasting 70,000 square feet of shooting space across two stages and an additional floor, plus 70,000 square feet of mixed-use production space, Pinewood is set to bring a host of exciting ventures to Wales in the near future. Darren is very vocal about his hopes that projects such as these will open up more opportunities in his home country for those behind the camera as well as in front of it, “showing that you don’t necessarily have to move to London to find work”. In fact, Darren believes that even aspects of Wales we’re not so fond of, such as the infamous “dark weather” could be a draw for certain types of productions; although they haven’t suffered with summertime downpours too often on set, he says Wales’ weather “has actually helped with the tone of the show”.

Despite being an American production to be shown on American TV, The Bastard Executioner’s cast is largely British; a notable exception being Sutter’s wife Katey Sagal, another Sons Of Anarchy alumni. With Lee Jones as the eponymous executioner, star of True Blood Stephen Moyer takes on the role of Milus Corbett and Matthew Rhys, who is best known for US shows Brothers & Sisters and The Americans, appears as recurring character Gruffudd y Blaidd.

Familiar faces from closer to home include Port Talbot’s Kyle Rees as Calo Caine and Darren himself as orphan Ash y Goedwig. Rees was most recently seen in BBC drama The Interceptor and as the pivotal character of Carl the miner in the BAFTA award-winning film Pride. Darren will be recognisable to many from films such as Submarine and Hunky Dory, and also as the much-loved Danny Two-Hats in E4’s My Mad Fat Diary, where he received plaudits for his comic touches while educating viewers about the realities of teenage mental health. Along with filming The Bastard Executioner in South Wales, Darren is also busy travelling to and from Bristol where he is reprising his role as the Chef in the second series of Galavant, a musical-comedy set in medieval times and another series made in Britain for American TV. As their parts in The Bastard Executioner will see them beamed into living rooms across the US, the young actors are sure to see their profiles rise on both sides of the Atlantic.

The show was given a shot of publicity over the summer when it was announced that global music superstar Ed Sheeran would be a recurring character in the series, playing the ambitious protégé of a high-ranking church elder, known as Sir Cormac. Speaking earlier in the year about his hopes to surprise people with the nature of the show and his part in it, Sheeran said, “It’s really, really dark. It’s gruesome … I wanted to be in something people don’t expect me to be in”. Sheeran was also responsible for another blitz of media attention the show received last month, when he was pictured on a night out in Cardiff with his co-stars. Darren was happy to assure us how “lovely, down-to-earth and genuine” Sheeran was both on set and off, and described meeting him as a dream come true for such a big fan of his music.

The Bastard Executioner premiers on US television channel FX on the 15th September for a ten-episode run. At present, there’s no word on if or when the series will be shown on British TV, but fingers crossed they won’t keep us waiting for it too long!

Rugby World Cup: A Brief Welsh History (for The CDF)

Known the world over as one of the most welcoming and atmospheric cities for sports fans, Cardiff will be playing host to eight Rugby World Cup matches this autumn. With the tournament principally hosted by England, their Rugby Football Union has gifted the Millennium Stadium six pool-stage games and two quarter-finals. Don’t panic if you’re a bit of a rugby novice though – The CDF is delving into Wales’ history in the competition, and taking a look at how the men in red are preparing themselves for 2015’s tougher-than-ever contest.

Originating nearly sixty years after its football equivalent, the inaugural Rugby World Cup was co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia in 1987. New Zealand defeated France 29-9 at the final in Auckland, becoming the first team to lift the tournament’s Webb Ellis trophy. The cup is named in honour of the schoolboy who is said to have invented rugby by picking up the ball and running with it in hand during a game of football in 1823. While New Zealand beat Wales in one of two semi-finals, with France winning against Australia in the other, Wales went on to secure third place which remains as their best-ever ranking in the competition to date.

Any mention of the next World Cup in 1991 immediately brings a certain well-worn quip to the mind of anyone who remembers Wales’ hugely unexpected 16-13 loss to Western Samoa in the pool stages. Exclamations of “Thank God we weren’t playing the whole of Samoa!” echoed around the country long after the tournament had ended. The Welsh team fared no better in their subsequent performance against Australia, leaving their underwhelming campaign to judder to a disappointing halt. It was a far more successful World Cup for the Wallabies as Australia emerged as champions, beating England 12 points to 6 in the final at Twickenham.

South Africa was chosen to host the contest in 1995, their first opportunity to participate in a Rugby World Cup following the end of the sports boycott that the country’s apartheid regime had caused. Again, Wales unluckily failed to progress further than the pool stages, suffering a 34-9 defeat to New Zealand and an agonisingly narrow 24-23 loss to Ireland. South Africa powered to victory, resulting in an iconic sporting moment as the new South African president Nelson Mandela presented the Webb Ellis cup to Springboks captain Francois Pienaar, as immortalised in the 2009 film ‘Invictus’.

1999 saw Wales take a turn as the host nation, eager to present the brand-new Millennium Stadium to the world as a fortress of Welsh rugby. A change in the qualification rules meant a total of 65 nations competed to qualify, and the number of participating countries rose from 16 to 20 for the first time. Although later defeated by eventual winners Australia, France overcame New Zealand 41-34 in their semi-final with the result still regarded by many as one of the tournament’s biggest upsets. Wales made it a step further than 1991 and 1995 to reach the quarter-finals, but lost 24-9 to Australia, the first country to lift the cup twice.

In Oz in 2003, Wales once again reached the quarter-finals but exited the competition at the hands of New Zealand in a 53-37 defeat. England triumphed over the host nation in the final by 20 points to 17 and became the first Northern Hemisphere winners of the Rugby World Cup. The match is perhaps best remembered for Johnny Wilkinson’s heart-stopping drop goal, securing England’s victory with only twenty-one seconds left on the clock.

France was the host nation for the tournament in 2007, a year which saw South Africa win for a second time and Argentina become the first country outside of the Six Nations and Tri-Nations teams to reach the semi-finals. Wales’ performance, however, harked back to the infamous Western Samoa loss for many Welsh supporters with another shock defeat to a Pacific Island team. No-one expected Wales to crash out of the competition so early, but after taking on Fiji in a game which saw eight tries between them, Welsh hearts were broken to the tune of 34-38. After a dismal Six Nations campaign earlier in the year this was all the media needed to cast doubt on several key players and place then-coach Gareth Jenkins under intense public scrutiny. It was a dark time for Welsh rugby, until Warren Gatland arrived in December 2007 to galvanise the Welsh team once again.

New Zealand took another turn as hosts in 2011, where their close but low-scoring 8-7 victory over France made them the first nation to win the World Cup on home soil twice. Wales escaped the pool stages this time, along with South Africa who pipped them by just one point in their 17-16 clash. After trouncing Namibia by 81 points to 7 and beating Samoa 17-10, Wales went on to avenge their 2007 loss by whitewashing Fiji 66-0. Triumphing over Ireland in the quarter-final, hopes and spirits were high as Wales met France in their semi-final. Crushingly, after a controversial decision in only the seventeenth minute which saw referee Alain Rolland issue a red card to Wales’ Sam Warburton, the team were left to struggle on as 14 men, bereft of their captain for more than three-quarters of the match. The Welsh World Cup dream lay in tatters as the depleted side narrowly lost out to Les Bleus 8-9. A matter of heated debate to this day, many believe Warburton’s sending off was unjustified and that, by rugby law, his tackle was only a yellow card offence. Irrespectively, that was the end of Wales’ chances in 2011 and they were forced to settle for fourth place behind Australia in third.

And so we arrive at the preparation stage for the 2015 World Cup – an exciting time for the city of Cardiff and the nation as a whole. Wales are housed in Pool A, along with England, Australia, Fiji and Uruguay, which is being touted as one of the toughest groups in the competition. Following gruelling training camps in the sweltering heat of Qatar and the super-high altitude of the Swiss Alps across the summer, the squad have now returned to training at their Vale of Glamorgan base, which boasts an altitude chamber and cryotherapy room to ensure the boys remain at the peak of physical fitness. Their evident hard work and dedication should make coach Warren Gatland’s final squad selection a difficult task. With the team likely to feature such experienced and well-loved players as Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and George North, we may also see newer faces included such as Rhys Webb and Liam Williams who thoroughly impressed both fans and pundits alike in this year’s Six Nations campaign.

Wales’ pre-World Cup warm-up match against Ireland on the 8th August was chosen as the perfect opportunity to debut the team’s brand-new Under Armour kit, which the WRU say is “inspired by national heritage and fused with cutting-edge innovation”. The inspiration behind the colour choice is said to be the ancient superstition that adding oxblood to something would strengthen its structure, and the gold trimming is a nod to the precious rarity occasionally unearthed by coalminers underground; a nod to Wales’ proud mining history.

The newly kitted-out Welsh squad aren’t the only ones busy preparing for the tournament, however. The city of Cardiff is also bracing itself for the arrival of hundreds of thousands of rugby fans from far and wide over the two-month period. A study commissioned by England Rugby 2015 estimates that an incredible £316m will be spent in Cardiff across the duration of the competition, handing a huge economic boost to the city and its businesses. This includes money from ticket revenue, infrastructure investment, and from visitors splashing out on entertainment, food and drink, and hotels. In an interesting clash, the opening weekend of the World Cup is also when the city’s latest influx of students are due to arrive for the new academic year, so one thing’s for certain: Cardiff is in for a very lively autumn!

Even if you weren’t lucky enough to bag yourself a ticket to any of the matches at the 74,500-capacity Millennium Stadium, you can still immerse yourself in the electric atmosphere of rugby in the capital by heading to the Arms Park ground next door; home to the Cardiff Blues regional side. A giant screen will display the opening ceremony, all of Wales’ matches, and the eight games being played at the stadium throughout September and October. As a RWC Official Fanzone, the area will also offer music and entertainment including DJs, choirs and street theatre alongside food and drink stalls and activities suitable for children of all ages. Best of all, The CDF has been assured that entry is completely free!

 

 

Street Art in Cardiff (for The CDF)

From Roath to Splott to the city centre, you’ll have been hard pushed to miss the fascinating collection of street art springing up around Cardiff in recent years, turning the capital into an urban, outdoor gallery with pieces commemorating Welsh history and culture, adding colour to empty spaces, and even provoking debate on the subject of censorship in art. Popular works include Zed1’s ‘Love Thy Master’ on the side of Porter’s on Bute Terrace, Phlegm’s majestic Welsh dragon overlooking City Road, and several large murals along Northcote Lane including a piece by Mexican artist Le Super Demon. To learn more about this upsurge in street art, The CDF spoke to illustrator Phil Morgan, whose eye-catching artwork adorns many a city wall, and to the collective behind the Empty Walls street art festival, The Modern Alchemists.

However you spend your time in Cardiff – be it in the shops, the pubs or even just waiting at the bus station – it’s likely a piece of Penarth-born illustrator Phil Morgan’s inimitable street art will have caught your eye somewhere in the city. Bold and colourful with touches of humour in every one, his pieces add vibrancy and talking points to areas as diverse as Clwb Ifor Bach on Womanby Street and Roath Park Primary School. Having begun his career as a freelance illustrator by producing artwork for Crayon Skateboards, Phil says he first became involved in painting on the street when he produced a wall mural for Milgi on City Road in Roath. The alley behind the vegan restaurant and bar is home to his painting based on Kanye West, cleverly using the eatery’s shuttered windows as Kanye’s trademark glasses. From there, Phil became involved in The Modern Alchemists’ initial Empty Walls project which was part of the Made In Roath arts festival in 2013. Creating another wall mural, this time in a lane just off Pen-Y-Wain Road, he crafted a giant Loch Ness Monster-esque pencil printed with the motto “School Is The New Cool”.

When The Modern Alchemists invited him to participate in the following year’s Empty Walls festival, Phil created the much-loved ‘Dude Looks Like A Welsh Lady’ piece on the side of the Abacus Rooms art space in the city centre. Some seven months after its creation the ‘Dude’ was threatened with being covered up after the city council received a complaint from an anonymous member of the public. With the news sparking a wave of support for Phil and the painting, the idea of covering it up was thankfully dismissed. Speaking on the subject of the controversy for the first time, Phil says “art is there to be looked at, talked about, love it or hate it. Art is always going to shock or divide people’s opinion. If you love a piece of artwork, share it. Tell people about it. If you don’t, then keep your opinions to yourself.” Long live the ‘Dude’!

The idea of an Empty Walls festival in Cardiff was dreamt up by artists Helen and Sam, collectively known as The Modern Alchemists, who run the aforementioned Abacus Rooms in St David’s House on Wood Street. Wanting to create a sense of community among artists in the city and provide a central platform for their own and other artists’ work, Helen and Sam established the gallery and creative space a little over a year ago with the help of Promo-Cymru. Having experienced a lack of opportunities and forums for young artists, the duo developed an ethos of “if we’re not allowed to go to someone else’s party, we’ll just have our own!” So, with assistance from the Made In Roath festival and a small Arts Council grant, The Modern Alchemists’ first foray into street art took place around the streets of Roath. The following year, they decided to develop it into a bigger affair and moved the festival to the centre of Cardiff to spruce up the corporate scenery of the inner city shops and office blocks.

Visible from The Abacus, just across the road, is Helen’s favourite piece from the 2014 Empty Walls festival; Welsh artist Phlegm’s skeletal mythical creature, based on the old Welsh tradition of Mari Lwyd, can be seen snaking its way down the side of Marland House. Sam’s favourite is a little further afield, a colourful piece on Inchmarnock Street in Splott by French artist Russ, who was inspired to create the painting after reading an anthology of Dylan Thomas’ poetry. They both agree, however, that the best part of the festival was its DIY community aspect – creating an international network of artists from all over the world who travelled to take part and share their artwork with the city. They are also proud, and rightly so, of the public’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to the street art that has sprung up to decorate the city, as they say art should be about interaction and “a dialogue with the public … something different going on in their landscape”. Having taken around a year to plan the Empty Walls festival of 2014, The Modern Alchemists chose to rest the idea for 2015, focusing instead on producing their own collaborative exhibition, ‘Smoke Without Fire’, which explored the themes of control, ritual, the unknown and the uncanny, and ran throughout July at The Abacus. They are, however, already considering a possible summertime return for the project next year as Sam ruminates on the idea that “street art doesn’t necessarily have to be just painting”, and that the next festival could be based on temporary art and alternative crafts such as sculptures, installations, billboards and projections. As Helen fittingly concludes: “there are lots of possibilities… It’s exciting!”

Freshers @ Gwdihw

Presented by Native Events, this Freshers @ Gwdihw gig gave me serious cool points amongst my fellow new students when I was able to take them to one of my favourite venues safe in the knowledge that they were bound to enjoy three of the best up-and-coming bands in Wales and the West.

Dharma Violets (which is an excellent band name, may I just say) kicked the night off with their unique brand of rock, often reminiscent of mid-90s indie but with a fresh edge, played with passion and precision.

Next up was an energetic performance from sibling-fronted band Why We Love, deploying a charming combination of heartfelt vocals and sweet, joyful melodies you can’t help but dance to. The foursome are from Bristol but frequently play in Cardiff to their growing fanbase in the city, as seen at August’s Hubfest weekend where they blew everyone away on The CDF’s Night Jar stage. Currently working on their second record after the success of their ‘Fake A Death’ EP, Why We Love will be back in Cardiff on the 30th October at Womanby Street’s Clwb Ifor Bach.

And then came Rainbow Maniac. Following their own Hubfest performance at The Moon Club, I had heard nothing but good things about the four-piece who offer their music to anyone who likes “that rock and roll”. I very much do, and so I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about. They didn’t disappoint for a minute, having squirrelled themselves away to hone their sound before sharing the result at gigs throughout the year. It’s easy to see why the band have developed a sizeable following in their native South Wales, showcasing their vintage-tinged songs complete with funky riffs and dynamic drumming. An impressive cover of The Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’ saw plenty of people crowding onto the dancefloor in front of the stage and Rainbow Maniac kept them dancing into a frenzy until their final, riotous song.

As the only event with ‘Freshers’ in the title that I actually went to… I chose well.

Straight Outta …Merthyr?!

There’s something in the air in Merthyr. To be fair, there always is. But this isn’t the smell of late-night kebabs and beer-soaked pub carpets, or even the stench of the bins behind the Wyndham Arms. It’s the sound of a crop of new bands rising up from the town, pulling free of uncertain futures in one of Britain’s youth unemployment black spots.

Merthyr was recently featured in Channel 4’s “poverty porn” series Skint, which concentrated largely on the town’s high rate of unemployed benefit claimants. Showing residents of Merthyr and the surrounding area living on or below the breadline, the programme attracted criticism from the local community who bemoaned the “disappointing portrayal” and its “patronising” and “exploitative” nature. They also felt little explanation was offered to viewers for the town’s economic downturn and lack of job opportunities, giving very limited attention to the area’s rich history of coal mining and iron and steel works. Where these industries would once have offered the majority of the community jobs for life, this has long ceased to be the case.

However, just one month after Skint’s initial airing, the town centre played host to the second annual Merthyr Rising Fest which was established to mark the historical uprising of the town’s working class inhabitants in 1831. Chiefly a celebration of the “radicalism and creativity of the town” the festival in May gave a platform to guest speakers, artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers with stages in Penderyn Square and the beautifully-renovated Redhouse Cymru. With the rising itself described as a “violent climax to many years of simmering unrest among the large working class population” it doesn’t prove too difficult to find certain parallels between the circumstances which caused the 1831 Merthyr Rising and the political and economic climate of present-day Merthyr and beyond. For the town to mark the occasion, each year, of where the red flag of revolution was first flown during the revolt against increasing levels of unemployment and drastic lowering of wages can only be a good thing. And it looks as though this year’s festival helped to inject some rock and roll rebellion into the town’s youth, featuring blistering performances from newer local bands such as Chapel Row, Local Enemy and The Moon Birds alongside more established acts such as Henry’s Funeral Shoe, Florence Black and Kizzy Crawford.

Exuding the same cool rock and roll spirit of The Libertines and The Strokes before them, Chapel Row are fast becoming faces to remember. They’re already pulling in impressive crowds, most notably at a recent Young Promoters Network gig at the Redhouse, and their relentless riffs and thunderous drums combined with the edgy and unaffected vocals of frontman Diggs Galliers (a rockstar’s name if ever I’ve heard one) mean I’ve barely been able to get their songs out of my head. ‘Flick It In The Ashtray’ is the sound of being young in a Valleys town, looking for an escape and having the unjaded determination to find it, and new track ‘Same Old Story’ is another slice of achingly cool guitar-heavy rock to prove Chapel Row are definitely not just a tale of style over substance.

Local Enemy, formerly known as The Plan before a swift name-change, are another gang of Merthyr natives whose uproarious riffs and swaggering vocals were on display at both Merthyr Rising Fest and the New Crown Inn’s most recent indie night, following on from a mini tour with Cardiff’s Wet Painttt in May. Latest singles ‘Weekend Rockstar’ and ‘Take Control’ are full of angst and energy in equal measure, resulting in uncomplicated and unpretentious rock at its best. Taking to their Twitter account last week to reveal photos of time spent in the studio, Local Enemy promise “big things to come!”. Judging on their form so far, this is news we should all be excited about.

Originally formed as a one-off, Molly’s Boulevard came to be after members of ska band Upbeat Sneakers decided to try something a little different. Reminiscent of the cooler sounds of Britpop but with a modern slant, first single ‘Same Time, Same Places’ bounces confidently between indie and post-punk, with plenty of attitude but no affectation. Reportedly written, recorded and mastered all in the space of a week, ‘Same Time, Same Places’ exhibits distinctive vocals and life-affirming lyrics, and should serve as unbeatable encouragement for the boys if that’s the impressive quality they’re capable of producing in only seven short days.

The sound of Merthyr in 2015 is nothing if not diverse, however, with bands such as Paint Happy and The Moon Birds deviating from the rock and roll formula and mixing a range of genres to create their own unique sounds. Paint Happy’s innovative blend of rock and hip hop, beats and riffs, has scored them notable support slots with the likes of Nights and Safari Gold and they’re gaining a well-deserved reputation for their energetic live performances and tireless gigging. The Moon Birds, who are hoping to release their debut E.P. later this year, boast influences as diverse as jazz, blues, indie and funk, and will no doubt be bringing their “highly improvised” live shows to increasingly bigger crowds and venues before the summer is out.

And then, of course, there’s Pretty Vicious. Formed in the spring of 2014, scarcely over a year later Merthyr’s favourite sons have played the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury to rave reviews and were hand-picked by Nicky Wire himself to support the Manic Street Preachers at their momentous Holy Bible gig at Cardiff Castle. The band signed to Virgin EMI Records in January following an incredible label bidding war, on the strength of one incendiary track – ‘Cave Song’. Championed by then-Radio One DJ Zane Lowe, frontman Brad Griffiths says the song is about “knocking about on street corners when there’s nothing to do, and having to find your own fun”, which is and probably always will be the quintessential struggle of a Valleys teenager. Copious comparisons have been made musically, lyrically and vocally between the young band and Brit rock heavyweights such as Oasis and the Arctic Monkeys, and their chance to prove their mettle and live up to the hype comes later this year when they set off on their first proper UK tour. In any case, one thing’s for certain; Pretty Vicious have sparked a somewhat unexpected stream of young and talented bands from their hometown, and all eyes should be on Merthyr now to catch their rising.

Them Dead Beats – Give Us A Minute E.P.

Promising “a pure, filthy whirlwind of raucous rhythm and well-directed energy”, Them Dead Beats’ debut EP ‘Give Us A Minute’ delivers all that and more. Twinning garage rock and blues to produce their own unique rock and roll sound, the two-piece have quickly gained a reputation as an exciting prospect on the Cardiff music scene. Playing tirelessly across South Wales and beyond, the band are becoming known for their frenetic live shows – featuring the odd stage invasion – and their chaotic live energy is conveyed effortlessly on this record.

With drummer Rhys Gallivan setting an unrelenting pace, guitarist and singer Matt Taylor’s gravelly vocals fit the EP’s swing from punk to blues and everything in between. At just one minute and thirty-six seconds long, rollicking opener ‘Sharpshooter’ is the perfect introduction to Them Dead Beats; gaining airplay from ex-Kids In Glass Houses’ bassist Shay on his influential Nation Radio show and featured in David Owens’ Welsh music playlist for WalesOnline, it’s part fuzzy garage rock, part catchy punk sing-along. ‘Pop And Stop’ and ‘Call Them Sweet’, the only song to run longer than three minutes, sets the record’s stall out as just the right accompaniment to forthcoming summer nights spent dancing and necking whisky on the rocks. Recorded at Stompbox Studios with producer Todd Campbell, whose diverse credits to date range from En Garde to The People The Poet, Them Dead Beats create a pleasantly surprising full and bold sound for a duo whose comparisons with the White Stripes might lead you to expect a more stripped back affair.

‘Give Us A Minute’ is available to pre-order from Them Dead Beats’ Bandcamp page: https://themdeadbeatsmusic.bandcamp.com/releases, but if you’re after a physical copy the band will be launching the EP with a show at Undertone, Cardiff, on 18th June where entry is just £3, or £5 to also get your hands on a CD copy. With support from Wet Painttt, In Bliss and Everyday Heroes, it’s sure to be an unmissable night!