First published in the Swn Festival magazine back in 2013 Bill Cummings’s piece about his favourite Cardiff venue The Welsh Club (Clwb Ifor Bach), is republished in celebration of Venues Day earlier this week.
Thirty years old this year Clwb Ifor Bach or The Welsh Club is a Cardiff institution. Named after a 12th Century Welsh lord who kidnapped an oppressive English Earl, it’s a venue that has lived up to its name as a bastion of Welsh culture, albeit with quite a lot less medieval violence involved. As far as we know. Located on an unassuming lane across the road from the regal Cardiff castle, the uninitiated may not even given Womanby St a second glance. But to an ever changing, and still growing group, Clwb is a cornerstone of Welsh culture, and a cherished hub for the Cardiff music scene. Some might find it hard to believe, but there was life on this street before Clwb – the beautiful red bricks once doubled up as a British Legion and Middle Eight Jazz club on weekends. Flourishing in the blues boom of the 60’s, maybe it’s hardly surprising that the opening of a Welsh language member’s club in the same building ended up spawning the innovative host of experimental loveliness that Clwb is now.
Often referred to locally as ‘Y Clwb’, or ‘The Welsh Club’, it began life being Welsh only – the members Green card requiring an ability to speak Welsh or a commitment to learn. To this day, the ability to speak Welsh is essential for working there. Despite the fact that the rule was relaxed in the late 90s, Clwb still promotes Welsh speaking through its bilingual booking, employment and promotion policies: this in a city where Welsh is still the minority language.
Clwb Ifor Bach began to establish itself as a music venue fairly quickly; bands and artists from the breadth of Wales found their way through its doors and onto its legendary stages. The rise of ‘Cool Cymru’ in the 90s, saw Clwb play a leading role in the increasing exposure for Welsh based acts like Manic Street Preachers, Sixty Foot Dolls et al alongside Welsh-Speaking outfits – Super Furry Animals, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Catatonia. The break through into the wider listening public’s consciousness sparked a shift in Clwb’s booking policy as the venue sought out even more diverse shows.
Throughout its thirty years, Clwb has played host to acts from around the United Kingdom and the World, as one of the cities only medium sized venues it has always acted as a magnet for some of the world’s best emerging and adventurous artists. It has played host to the likes of UK electronic icons Autechre, Pavement, Roots Manuva, Scroobius Pip and in 2001 they secured a sell out a headline set from The Strokes.
Guto Brychan programmes the Welsh Language artists at Clwb, and says it’s a venue bands love to return to –
“Dyl and Mei from Race Horses first performed here while still in school with the band Mozz. Their first show with Radio Luxembourg was at Clwb Ifor Bach and when they morphed into Race Horses they still came back to perform here on a regular basis. To have them choose Clwb as the venue for their final gig and the emotional nature of the occasion was definitely a highlight.”
Down the years crowds have enjoyed out of town gigs from the likes of incendiary Scots Idlewild, American Folk like Anais Mitchell and recently a soul bearing performance from former Gene frontman Martin Rossiter. It’s Clwb’s ability to draw talent to the Welsh Capital that is part of its unique and enduring appeal witnessed now every year at Sŵn. Shows from Islet, Gindrinker, Sweet Baboo et al consistently depict just how pivotal Clwb Ifor Bach remains to the Welsh music scene. It is also a testament that the likes of Gruff Rhys, Future of the Left and Bullet For My Valentine have chosen to launch their albums with low key shows at Clwb, showing the esteem with which it is still held.
As well as the quality of gigs, it is perhaps Clwb’s legendary ‘atmosphere’ that’s always made it a special experience of an evening. Listen Up! (Cardiff’s longest running indie night) in particular every Wednesday was in my student years a three floor hive of activity and enjoyment: downstairs 60/70s grooves, in the middle floors you could chill out with a cocktail and playstations, and upstairs was Clwb’s indie disco. Teeming with friendly faces, the relaxed dress code and reasonable drinks contrasted sharply with the rising popularity of the commercial dance clubs in the heart of town. And not many of them would take quite as kindly to your inebriated request for Explosions in the Sky at 1am.
To this day Clwb’s range of club nights features everything from hip hop and electronica and funk and has even become a major venue for dance music with Aperture regularly promoting packed nights. The fact that crowds perhaps more usually used to glowing Neon cylinders and ultra-modernist-club chic have regularly returned to the sticky-bricked aesthetic of Clwb is testament to not only its assured musical policy, but its ability to create both excitement and communal warmth (often more literally than you may anticipate) in equal measure.
Local turntable master Mr Gareth Potter has been playing Funk, Soul and much more at the venue for 16 years points to Clwb’s rich and varied musical history as a reason for its lasting legacy “Clwb has always had an ‘open music policy’ and an eclectic passion for all forms of music not just one specific genre, and that’s probably what’s kept it going as all the others venues have fallen by the wayside “
This broad musical and booking policy provides endlessly intriguing listings at Clwb, with promotions that reflect promote local talent from Cardiff, Wales and the music scenes beyond our own borders. At a time when live music is being challenged in a difficult economic climate and venues around them are struggling Clwb is still a beacon of sound for Cardiff’s music scene, so raise a glass, here’s to thirty years of Clwb, and hopefully thirty more!