‘Hometown’; well, most admit an affection for a city: grey, tangled streets I cycled on to school, my first cigarette in the back lane, and fool, my first botched love affair. First everything. Faded torments; self-indulgent pity.
The journey to Cardiff seemed less a return than a raid on mislaid identities. Of course the whole locus smaller: the mile-wide Taff now a stream, the castle not as in some black gothic dream, but a decent sprawl, a joker’s toy facade.
Unfocused voices in the wind, associations, clues, odds and ends, fringes caught, as when, after the doctor quit, a door opened and I glimpsed the white, enormous face of my grandfather, suddenly aghast with certain news.
Unable to define anything I can hardly speak, and still I love the place for what I wanted it to be as much as for what it unashamedly is now for me, a city of strangers, alien and bleak.
Unable to communicate I’m easily betrayed, uneasily diverted by mere sense reflections like those anchored waterscapes that wander, alter, in the Taff, hour by hour, as light slants down a different shade.
Illusory, too, that lost, dark playground after rain, the noise of trams, gunshots in what they once called Tiger Bay. Only real this smell of ripe, damp earth when the sun comes out, a mixture of pungencies, half exquisite and half plain.
No sooner than I’d arrived the other Cardiff had gone, smoke in the memory, these but tinned resemblances, where the boy I was not and the man I am not met, hesitated, left double footsteps, then walked on.
By Dannie Abse from Poems, Golders Green (1962)
Additional information:Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.
The River Taff (‘Afon Taf’ in Welsh) is a river in Wales. It rises as two rivers in the Brecon Beacons; the Taf Fechan (little Taff) and the Taf Fawr (great Taff) before becoming one just north of Merthyr Tydfil. Its confluence with the River Severn estuary is in Cardiff. The river supports several species of migratory fish, including salmon, sewin (sea trout), and eel.
Tiger Bay (‘Bae Teigr’ in Welsh) was the local name for an area of Cardiff which covered Butetown and Cardiff Docks. Following the building of the Cardiff Barrage, which dams the tidal rivers, Ely and Taff, to create a body of water, it is referred to as Cardiff Bay. Tiger Bay is Wales’ oldest multi-ethnic community with sailors and workers from over 50 countries settling there in the 1950s.
Again the soldiers fill the valley. Driven by necessity The men forge cannon And the women spin cloth for uniforms in their parlours Soon, the snowdrops. Young wives weave boots from palmetto fronds And aunts save their piss For the nitre that makes All the sloshing about in tears And furnishes the men in war.
Soon, the primrose. The children in the little games Have nothing to say of war But die. The older girls knit socks for the dying. The young men cut up the bodies playfully Notwithstanding history’s immanence And not yet fearful of the waking From their drunk and bloody spell.
Soon, the cuckoo And the cuckoo-flower; Cuckoo-pint: Arum and wake-robin And navelwort and pennywort And all the crazy flowering Of even the monocotyledonous plants. And in the lacunae between horrors Much is fulfilled as the comedian entertains And flaps the colours of war hanging From rope made of Spanish moss.
By Dic Edwards
Information: Dic Edwards (born 1948) is a British playwright, poet and teacher of creative writing. His writing often touches upon political and social issues, nationalism and democracy.
Now she’s ninety I walk through the local park where, too cold, the usual peacocks do not screech and neighbouring lights come on before it’s dark.
Dare I affirm to her, so agèd and so frail, that from one pale dot of peacock’s sperm spring forth all the colours of a peacock’s tail?
I do. But she like the sibyl says, ‘I would die’; then complains. ‘This winter I’m half dead, son.’ And because it’s true I want to cry.
Yet must not (although only Nothing keeps) for I inhabit a white coat not a black even here – and am not qualified to weep.
So I speak of small approximate things, of how I saw, in the park, four flamingoes standing, one-legged on ice, heads beneath wings.
By Dannie Abse from Welsh Retrospective
Interesting fact: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.
Amy Speace is a folk/Americana American singer-songwriter from Baltimore, Maryland. National Public Radio described her voice as “velvety and achy” and compared her to Lucinda Williams. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee. A former Shakespearean actress, her music has received critical acclaim from The New York Times, NPR, The Sunday London Times, Mojo Magazine, etc. Speace’s song, Weight Of The World, was recorded by singer Judy Collins on her 2010 album Paradise.
As soon as you walked in there was a guy in a t-shirt acting as the doorman with a clipboard checking if you had bought tickets. There seems a lot more space in this bar area now. If every person who had a seat in the performance room came in here there would still be plenty of room to move about. You can see the kitchen area behind the bar where there’s a stone oven to cook the pizzas which they seem to specialise in.
Every time some pizza came past it looked nice enough with some fresh salad. To me though there was a particularly acute rancid smell to them. It was probably a certain sauce or something I just found an unappealing smell. I’m not sure how to describe it but as we were sat near the door it assaulted me a few times unintentionally.
There were about 20 people initially and by the time it started 50 or so had assembled in the audience. It really wasn’t that many and no one was sat upstairs (well Amy’s mother along with the guy controlling the lights and sound on his iPad but not any paying customers). Amy isn’t that well known here ‘but is on the rise’ as far as people are concerned like some other American folk singers who didn’t get larger crowds until they had come here a few times to build up word of mouth. It’s an intimate venue but indeed it wasn’t filled to capacity sadly. Presumably it is the pizzas helping to keep things ticking over.
Since the last time I was here they’ve removed more of the hard wood church pews and replaced them with stackable chairs and small tables. I suppose it’s to create a sort of ‘cafe bistro’ performance venue atmosphere. The table I was sat at was wobbly so you dare not lean on it but I’m sure the other tables were more sturdy. There are rows of chairs on the side (under the stairs), a few rows of chairs at the back and tables to the front. So if you’re unlucky and arrive later when there is unallocated seating you not only are sat with far less space for yourself but will also be watching the performers from behind people eating too. Oh and there are pillars too but that only restricts a few very specific seats and they’ve clearly tried to counter that by giving more space for the performers more floor space, to stand further forward, than previously.
No one was eating during the performance, unlike the last time I was here, but I don’t know if that was enforced by the venue or just a coincidence. When Amy came out she commented on the pizza to the effect of something like ‘surprising to find nice pizza in Cardiff’. I think most performers find it odd but all really like the acoustics of the former chapel so it’s a bit of a trade off.
We were sat downstairs by a pillar but with a good ¾ view (i.e. not at the front nor side of the performance area). There isn’t a raised platform stage area and the floor looks very scratched up now as the varnish has gradually been worn away by equipment being moved about. Someone walked by before the start smelling of toilet fragrance aerosols… or maybe it was a very cheap perfume? And it lingered… nasty. Not the venues fault but it was such a strange smell I couldn’t help but note it. The venue is perfectly fine smell wise but this perfume and the pizza were very pungent.
8.05pm the performance began.
Amy was wearing a long navy dress with small diamond patterning and white pixie boots. It reminded me of the sort of dress country singers wore in the 1970s.
She told stories between the songs about her parents’ religiousness (the father is a lapsed baptist who gave her a big, leather bound, white bible while her mother is a Catholic and there was an unspoken agreement the children would be raised Catholic) and political e.g. How she is a folk singer so her being a liberal should be a given to some degree yet some complain saying they thought she was going to do songs like a Country singer (i.e. the stereotypical Texan republican who loves their country blindly). She had her son in her fifties and named him Huckleberry as her husband teaches Southern literature and she thought it would be unique… only to discover someone else had also used that name.
Amongst the songs she performed were the following:
She performed most songs with an acoustic guitar connected to an amp but one or two she did sat at the grand piano too.
At 9.03pm there was an interval. A staff member rushed in zealously seeking empty glasses to take off tables. It got to the point he seemed to be eyeing up half filled glasses as if ready to claim them as having been abandoned if people were not sat next to them to ward him off. Out by the bar Amy’s mother was selling CDs of three of her albums, t-shirts and apparently one album on vinyl. Amy would sign them too. About 10 or so minutes later the second half began suddenly signaled by the lights suddenly being turned off again.
While performing she forgot the lyrics to a few of her songs so a friend had to look them up for her. It was fortunately made more charming rather than awkward. Earlier she had joked at other performances she had had to do that too.
After she remembered and performed the first forgotten song a guy shouted “got there in the end” which the classic sardonic Welsh sense of humour. It’s not meant in a bad spirit but I imagine it so easily could be misread as such if people are not familiar with it… and let’s face it when you have visiting foreign artists I do often wonder if it gives a bad impression and if it’s affected the chance of people coming back again. However Amy mentioned how polite British audiences are as American ones have to be made to shut up and often will throw things at the performers. British audiences chuckle while American audience guffaw it seems. Probably it makes it easier to read the tone of the room compared to more reserved audiences.
She had gone up Snowden and it was the first time her parents were touring the UK. She seemed hung up, like all visiting American artists, on the whole ‘divided nation’ aspect of America at the moment regarding Trump and said Britain probably is too now due to Brexit. She joked politicians need to get better hair and some exercise in reference to Trump and Boris Johnson.
At 22:25 the concert ended after she said she would do a false ‘walk off and encore’ by turning away a few seconds rather than walk out the room. She did one of the last songs acoustically without her guitar plugged in. Oddly it might have been better to do that more in this venue but I guess everyone is used to instruments being amplified these days that just having the instrument sounds less ‘authentic’ somehow…
It was very enjoyable. The stories actually felt personal rather than just a script she rattles off to every audience. It’s a bit concerning she forgot the lyrics to her own songs though. But overall it was very enjoyable. I recommend seeing her if you’ve the chance though it is one of the few occasions where I’ve seen a performer forget their own lyrics which in a less seasoned act would be criticised as being unprofessional.
Parking is still the biggest issue the venue faces really even with it’s relatively small capacity. Park on the road side and if you can’t then you’ll have to park further down or in a residential space. There are no real alternatives to be honest but that’s the cost of it being in a community’s former chapel.
P.S. Here are some names of other acts coming here soon if you want to look them up… The Magpies / Daisy Chapman / Maz o’connor / Emily Mae Winters / Mr Tea and the Minions / Morganway.