Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Cardiff's gig venues (current and former) ranked

On an internet forum that I frequent, somone posted about a "gig venue ladder" in London that bands would ascend, with certain venues marking a 'promotion', similar to how football teams get promoted. I decided to do something similar for Cardiff, including lots of venues that sadly no longer exist, which I've marked as RIP.

I've put the venues into "divisions" using football terminology that makes sense to me. I've also included some of the acts I've seen in the venues. I blogged about some of these gigs in the past, so this gives me an excuse to link to some of those old posts.

In each division there are several venues and they kind of jostle for eminence within that division, so the listings within the divisions aren't in priority order. I've also probably missed some out - feel free to add venues in the comments and suggest where they should be placed. If you think a venue should be promoted or demoted, then let me know.

Conference level (these are basically pubs)

Sam's Bar (now called something else) (my mate Matt's first ska punk band)

Toucan Club (RIP) (Matt's second ska punk band)

Gassy Jack's (RIP?) (Lush - this was a pre-tour warm-up gig I think; it's a weird one!)

Flyhalf & Firkin (RIP) (Ruth)

League 2

Students Union Y Plas, which used to be called Solus (Jaret and Erik from Bowling for Soup on an acoustic tour - I don't have a gig review but here is a photo)

Fuel (Tony Wright)

Barfly (RIP)

League 1

The Point (RIP) (Nizlopi)

The Globe (Ben Taylor, The Hoosiers, Ward Thomas)

The Gate (I have been to loads of events at The Gate but I don't think I've actually been to a gig)

Millennium Music Hall (RIP, although I think this might have reopened) (Terrorvision)

Astoria / Forum (RIP) (Cathy saw Oasis there in 1994)

Chapter Arts Centre (Boothby Graffoe, who made this joke!)


Students Union Great Hall (Terrorvision, Bowling for Soup - although I don't mention the venue in this review, I'm pretty sure it is this one)

Tramshed (Barenaked Ladies, Terrorvision)

Clwb Ifor Bach (Nizlopi) - Clwb Ifor Bach has a cachet that elevates it to Championship status despite being smaller than some other venues.

Coal Exchange (RIP) (Tom Jones recording a TV special)

Premier League

Wales Millennium Centre

Cardiff Castle 

St David's Hall (Del Amitri, Dennis Locorriere, Morrissey)

Motorpoint Arena - used to be the CIA (Counting Crows, Bastille, Stereophonics)

Cooper's Field (Florence & the Machine, You Me At Six as part of the Olympic Torch celebration)

Champions League

Cardiff City Stadium

Millennium Stadium (U2)

There are two things I really noticed from this. 

1) Loads of smaller gig venues in Cardiff have disappeared. I can't think of venues that have replaced them, which reflects me going to fewer smaller gigs more recently. (Before the pandemic obviously!)

2) There is a parallel stream of venues. So a band wouldn't go from the Great Hall to St David's Hall on subsequent tours. It would depend on the age and status of the band. It's more likely they would do the Great Hall, then the CIA/ Motorpoint on the way up to being big enough to play the stadia, then be doing gigs at St David's Hall on the way back down when their fan base was older and preferred to sit down. In most of the divisions there are gigs that are more suited to certain bands and styles of music.

So, which venues have I missed? And which are in the wrong division? 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Senedd 2021 election comms review preview

I've been reviewing election leaflets since 2007 - here's a page with links to my previous reviews. I didn't do the general election in 2019 because I was profoundly depressed with politics at that point and I couldn't face it. But I did count up the leaflets and record them on my chart of election bumf.

Retroactively, we can see that Labour gave out a lot fewer leaflets in 2019 than they did in 2017, the Liberal Democrats reappeared and UKIP was still flat-lining.

Anyway, this year I'm picking up the reins again and will soon be reviewing the leaflets we have received. However, I am changing how I review these leaflets this year by reviewing what the parties promise as SMART Goals versus Vague Objectives. A SMART Goal is something that has specific, measurable promises that can be assessed as being delivered. So, for example, "we will build 20 new schools in Wales by 2025" is a SMART Goal. In 2025 we will know whether or not that promise has been met. Saying something like "we want every child in Wales to receive a high quality education" is a vague objective. Yes, that's very nice, but how will you know that's happening?

Alongside points for SMART Goals, I'm also going to award points for the following:

- number of items (double points for leaflets that are bilingual)

- contact details (a point for each method)

- points for each candidate photo with a bonus point for photos with the party leader

- a point for each "endorsement" from someone else on their leaflet

And I will ding points for each Vague Objective and the following: 

- throwing shade (basically who do they slag off? A point for every target regardless how many times they go for it)

- photos of politicians from other parties, photos of the area that don't include the candidate, and using stock photos of people (photos of news events don't count)

- any typos I spot 

Plus there will be a bonus category of "Pandemic Points" for how many times the pandemic gets mentioned (directly or indirectly), which could be used as a tie-breaker if the points equal out.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Snack of the Month - Bamba Peanut Butter Puffs

Cathy brought these home after taking a trip to Home Bargains. I opened them to enjoy while watching the final game of the Padres home series against the Dodgers last night.

These look a bit like Wotsits. Taste nothing like them though. Cathy reckoned they tasted like dehydrated peanut butter - "it starts off like packaging, and then turns into peanut butter". 50% of their ingredients is "peanut paste", so that's probably why.

If you like the taste of peanut butter - and I do! - then you will like these. I found them very moreish and the bowlful didn't last very long, barely an innings of the game I was watching. They are filling though. I didn't feel like eating another snack afterwards so that's a point in it's favour. However, they didn't eclipse Ding Dong, which was my snack of the month in January.

Also, I thought this was a fun weird foreign snack, but it turns out the company that makes them, Osem, is wholly owned by multinational conglomerate Nestle, which puts a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm for them. 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Park Life (Victoria Park, Canton)

On Easter Sunday we went out in the sunshine to Victoria Park in Canton. It's one of Cardiff's bigger parks, with a big play area, a splash park, lots of trees and flowerbeds and a caff selling ice creams.

It also has a statue of a onetime resident of the park, Billy the Seal. We took a selfie with him.

Billy was discovered in with a catch of fish when a trawler docked in Cardiff in 1912. He was subsequently kept in a small pool in Victoria Park where he lived until 1939. After he died, it was discovered that actually Billy was a female seal. Her skeleton is now on display in the National Museum of Wales. Billy was later the subject of a song by folk group The Hennessys, who also wrote a song about The Grangetown Whale. 

Incidentally, Grangetown now has a whale mural.

But back to Victoria Park, I really liked this yellow tulip that had snuck into a bed full of pink tulips. How to make sure you stand out!

And we also saw this, which I have on authority from my friend Sarah, is a squirrel nest. But to us it looked like Groot when he extends himself into a ball to protect his friends at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy.

On that cultural note, we bade farewell to Victoria Park. Until next time.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

When religion and politics intersect

Political discourse took an interesting swerve over Easter. The Conservatives put out a meme poster on Good Friday that caught my attention.

From a theological point of view, the use of an empty cross to mark the day the gospels report Jesus was crucified, is slightly ironic. From a political point of view, the symbolism is equally as empty. I was left feeling this was posturing along similar lines to the insistence on Union flags being flown from government buildings and being in the background of Zoom interviews. It's a nationalist tangent trying to link in to a cultural heritage of being a 'Christian country'. The Tories were trying this ten years ago (I blogged about it angrily then), and it's making a reappearance.

The linking of politics with religion is often included in lists of 'signs of fascism'. So it wasn't a surprise to see comparisons on Twitter of the Conservative meme with Nazi propaganda.

Previously, there have been British political parties that have tried to co-opt Christianity for their cause. This is one such example:

This poster campaign was some time ago now. The BNP has disappeared, outflanked by UKIP, the Brexit Party and the Conservative Party, which seems to have moved to the right with each passing election.

If overtly aligning with religion is a known tactic of the far right, then what does it say about a government when it starts aligning with religion?

In a way, this intersection of politics and religion feels almost inevitable after the power demonstrated in harnessing the white evangelical vote by the Republican Party in America. (75% of white evangelicals voted for Trump last year; the theological label is practically synonomous with Republicanism now.) The recent Conservative electoral success has been driven by following the right wing American playbook and the government are doubling down on it. So it's only natural that they would eventually come and try to claim religion.

But not to be outdone, Labour leader Keir Starmer decided to do a publicity piece for Easter by visiting a church.

In his (now deleted) video, Keir describes the way the church in question, Jesus House, a large, black majority Pentecostal Church in London, has supported people during the pandemic, including recently hosting a vaccination centre.

This caused a slight problem for Keir, though. Jesus House has a track record of opposing LGBT+ rights and is accused of promoting "conversion therapy" to "cure" gay people of being gay. Conversion therapy is controversial. It's often likened to torture.

As can be imagined, this visit did not play well with Keir's support base. Here's an example.

It's surprising that Keir didn't know there could be controversy attached to this visit. Both Theresa May and Boris Johnson were criticised for visiting Jesus House, for exactly the same reason.

I'd put Keir's mis-step down to religious illiteracy. I get the sense that some politicians see "religion" as some kind of old fashioned benign relict of days past, acting as a stable force for good in society. But not all religion is like that.

Keir may have thought he could go along for the photo opportunity and praise the way Jesus House is hosting a Covid vaccination centre, and that would be it. But 'pick and choose' is a difficult game to play with religion because fundamentalism is a complete package. A politician can try to separate out religiously-motivated activity they agree with and activity they don't, but an unequivocal endorsement of a church implies endorsement across the breadth of the espoused creed.

For the fundamentalist evangelical church in question, supporting people during the pandemic and their opposition to marriage equality are both motivated by their belief system. There is no way of differentiating between the two in terms of where they come from. From their perspective, the wellspring is the same - trying to 'be true to the Bible'.

In his subsequent apology, Keir says he didn't know about Jesus House's opposition to LGBT+ rights, and that it was a "mistake". He took down the video on Easter Monday.

I predict there are going to be more attempts to use Christianity as a political weapon. The Conservatives have been cynically smarter in just co-opting Christian symbolism without the burden of having to endorse any activities motivated by a belief system. It's a fundamentally empty appeal to a sense of "Christian" without having to pick their way through the specifics of a creed.

They did it again on Easter Sunday.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Big Birthday Build

As we couldn't go out anywhere to celebrate my recent birthday, Cathy and I decided to splurge on a big Lego set and spend the day building together. The set we chose was one of the Lego "Modular Buildings". These are big models (nearly 3,000 pieces) and we have built a couple of them before. 

There is always a story built into these sets. In this one, the doughnut shop next door to the police station is the victim of repeated theft. This is being reported on the front pages of the newspapers being sold in the little kiosk next door. All becomes clear as the build progresses and it becomes obvious who is thieving doughnuts and how. (They also explain it in the instruction book.)

The doughnut shop looks very welcoming with an array of baked goodies.

There are always lots of hidden jokes and extras in these sets. Like a secret tunnel under the police cell, which is one of the first things you build. It comes complete with a spoon, which is presumably the digging implement used by the tunneller.

The police station interior is very detailed. I particularly liked the "murder board" on the second floor, although I imagine this would actually be the "doughnut theft board".

The stairs are a very clever build, using pieces normally found in castle walls.

Above the doughnut shop is a little apartment with a record player.

This is also the way the doughnut thief is stealing the doughnuts!

We built the first two storeys of the building on my birthday before calling it a night.

We finished it off the next day. The third storey included the interview room with an old-fashioned reel-to-reel recorder.

In addition to the microbuilds inside the police station, there were exterior details too, like the ivy climbing up one side of the building.

And so on my 'Birthday Boxing day' we completed the build.

Now we have the fun task of finding somewhere to put it!

Monday, April 05, 2021

Album review - Gospel by Mica Paris

Recently I was in a shop and heard a song I liked, so I googled it and discovered it was a song released by Mica Paris in 2020. I played it a few times online and still liked it, enough to add the album, called Gospel, to my wishlist. It subsequently became a birthday gift from Ian and Viv (thanks guys!), and I've given it a few listens since.

In the sleevenotes, Mica talks about how her voice has matured and fits into the gospel sound. The album is about hope in a troubling time (which is one way of summarising 2020) and she says how she hopes it will uplift and encourage people. 

The song that introduced me to the album is an original track called Mamma Said. I really liked the line "Don't you know your darkest hour is only sixty minutes long." (Here's a YouTube link.)

There is another original track on the album, along with a mix of ten other hymns, spirituals and covers. The spiritual I found most interesting is Go Down Moses, probably because that's not one I know very well. Oh Happy Day is delivered well too. A slow-paced version of Amazing Grace doesn't add much to the album though, possibly because I'm overly familiar with it, but mainly because on an objective level it's actually a pretty dull tune. Motherless Child is a traditional spiritual and I like this version, although I prefer the version sung by Darius Rucker on a different covers album.

The covers include (Something Inside) So Strong, I Want to Know What Love Is, and A Change is Gonna Come. Mica offer perfectly reasonable versions of all of them. There's also a cover of Human by Rag'n'Bone Man, which is probably the most recent track to be featured. That's a fairly well-covered song now, but I like this version. 

The best cover on the album, though, is I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. I've always loved that song, ever since I started listening to U2 albums back when I was a teenager. It still resonates with me. Bono has joked in the past that he likes it when people who can actually sing cover the song. Mica sings it really well and it's easily the next best track on this album after Mamma Said

Overall, I think this is a great album. If Mica releases more albums in this vein, then I'd definitely be interested hearing them.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

March 2021 End of Month Review

So, that's March done and dusted. We are one quarter the way through 2021, and definitely a year into the pandemic now. On that note, the big personal pandemic-related event for me in March was being invited to have a Covid vaccination (blogged about here).

March also marked the one year anniversary of my work team's hasty "temporary" departure from our office when we discovered the ward above us was where all the patients with Covid were being parked. In the past year my team has successfully transitioned to working from home and we even had a meet up on the Spring Equinox for a takeaway cup of coffee and socially distanced walk. 

There has been a slight loosening of the various Covid restrictions and that meant I was able to get a hiarcut for the first time since October! I needed it.

Lockdown hair!

For a couple of days before my trim I kept singing "Goodbye, Lockdown Hair!" to the tune of Candle in the Wind as I walked around the house. It amused me if nobody else. It was so nice to have a cold neck again after my trip to the barbers.

The 21st March was Census Day. One big change for me compared to ten years ago is that I said that I was a Welsh speaker. It's funny to think that potentially a researcher 100 years hence will read my records and see that I went from not being a Welsh speaker to becoming one. I don't get to use my Welsh as often as I really should if I want to maintain my fluency. I want to attend further classes, but I found the Zoom version of Welsh classes less enjoyable, so I'm waiting to see if it will be possible to continue in real life classrooms any time soon.  

Zoom is a fact of pandemic life, though. I've been a member of the British Thematic Association, which is for all 'thematic' stamp collectors, for several years now. I've helped them start running Zoom presentations for people to talk about their collections over the past few months. In March I was the presenter, talking about my collection of stamps featuring the Statue of Liberty. 

My presentation included the two postcards pictured above, which had a personal connection. Cathy sent one of them to me, which was part of the impetus that got me focused on collecting the Statue of Liberty on stamps. I enjoyed presenting, but there was a bittersweet aspect to it when I dug out my collection and found some notes that my dad had written to me about some of the stamps.

The notes from Dad were poignant as we also saw the two year anniversary of his sudden passing. It was also the one year anniversary of my friend Ben's death, who died a year to the day after Dad. (This photo of me and Ben was taken on Shrewsbury Town's first trip to Wembley in 2018 - a very wet day and a defeat in the Associate Members Cup final.)

On the one year anniversary of Ben's death a lovely online memorial service was held. We were sent an order of service beforehand and it included a fragment of poetry that Ben really loved. It feels like a fitting way to end this monthly report.