Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Standing Where The Point Used to Be

I am standing on Mount Stuart Square, about five hundred yards from the waters of Cardiff Bay. It is a warm and sunny April evening - the busiest part of the day is over, and aside from a few stray pedestrians and the odd seagull, the street is more or less deserted.

Before me looms the spire of St Stephen's, a Gothic-style church and Grade II listed building that has stood on this corner for more than a hundred years. Back in the noughties, this place was a 500-capacity music venue called The Point; I can still remember spilling out onto this very pavement, exhausted and ecstatic, in the middle of a sticky August night in 2006. Broken Social Scene had just finished a gargantuan two-hour set, plus multiple encores, and I (a shaggy-haired GCSE student, just barely fifteen years old) had been in the thick of the crowd for the whole thing, jumping around and sweating buckets and shouting for them to play I'm Still Your Fag. That show at The Point remains one of the best gigs I've ever attended - The Rolling Stones were also in town that night for a concert at the Millennium Stadium, and I must say that I feel a little sorry for the thousands of people who spent the evening with Keith and Mick instead of with Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning and goodness knows how many others.

The following year, I saw another great show at The Point: Willy Mason was touring his second album, If the Ocean Gets Rough, and he and his band stopped off in Cardiff for an evening of lush folk-country-blues music, a screening of Jim Henson's 1982 classic The Dark Crystal. The film was projected onto the wall behind the band as they made their way down the setlist, and so songs like Simple Town and Where the Humans Eat and The World That I Wanted were accompanied by muted footage of wise Mystics and self-serving Skeksis and whatever Fizzgig is supposed to be. Halfway through one number, Willy's laptop ran out of battery, bringing the movie to an abrupt end, at which point the band ended the song mid-bar and immediately cleared the stage. Feeling a little unsatisfied, we in the audience hooted and hollered until Mr Mason returned to the stage and rounded the night off with a wonderful solo rendition of his signature rallying cry Oxygen.

I have many other memories of The Point. There was the time I went to see Half Man Half Biscuit and spotted my DT teacher amongst the people singing along with Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo and 99% of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd. There was the time Franz Ferdinand played an intimate sold-out show there and brought along as their support act a Chilean band called Panico, who sold small bags of their drummer's chest hair alongside the Franz T-shirts on the merch desk. There was the time I tried to pass as an eighteen-year-old and was quickly caught out when the bouncer asked me when I was born and my maths skills cruelly deserted me. ("The fourteenth of August." "Yeah, what year?" "")

But all of these memories are nine, ten, eleven years old. In early 2009, The Point's owners announced that they would be going into liquidation and that The Point itself would be closing down. A notice posted on the venue's website explained why:

To all customers, promoters, fans, bands and supporters of The Point Cardiff Bay

It is with deep regret that we announce the closure of the venue today. On 27th February 2009 the Director of The Point Cardiff Bay Limited signed the appropriate notices to call a meeting of creditors pursuant to S98 Insolvency Act 1986.

A number of factors have contributed to this situation. Many of you will be aware that during 2008 we began receiving noise complaints from one or two neighbours that had moved into the new apartments that have been built next to the venue. After some difficult negotiations with the Cardiff City Council we undertook a huge amount of work to soundproof the venue in an attempt to secure its future. While that has largely been successful, the burden of the debt that we took on, together with greater restrictions in our banking facilities and more difficult trading conditions in the last few months, as well as the loss of revenue whilst the refurbishment works were undertaken, has meant we are unable to meet our current liabilities and have been left with no option but to seek voluntary liquidation.

Many people have put their heart and soul into making The Point the magical venue that it is and we have received huge and loyal support over the years from fans and bands alike. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for that support. It is a very sad day for us and for the live music scene in Cardiff.

St Stephen's church still stands in Cardiff Bay, but it is no longer anything more than a building - no longer a place of worship, no longer a turning cog in the city's culture, no longer a place for music fans to gather and watch performances that they'll remember for years afterwards.

There are other great music venues in Cardiff, of course - Clwb Ifor Bach, Gwdihw, Fuel, The Globe, The Big Top, Tramshed, Undertone and Buffalo are all alive and kicking at time of writing - but their own futures are far from guaranteed. The local live music scene is currently in crisis, and as things stand, there's a very real possibility that some of the capital's favourite hotspots will go the way of The Point before long. Dempseys, for years the home of Cardiff's famous Twisted by Design indie night, has closed and will now be converted into a sports bar. Just last week, The Full Moon sadly and abruptly shut its doors after creditors "lost confidence" in the bar's "long term sustainability". Fuel Rock Club is under pressure after receiving a noise abatement notice from Cardiff City Council. Even Clwb Ifor Bach - a local institution, est. 1983 - could be in trouble if plans to put a new block of flats right next door to the venue are somehow allowed to go ahead.

And while I'm obviously not the one making noise complaints and building apartments where apartments don't belong, I can't help but feel guilty. I've been very lazy on the live music front lately; I'm constantly hearing about gigs that I'd like to check out, but all too often I'll come home from work on the day of the show and decide that I haven't got the energy to go back out again. It's not even like I just skip small local acts - last year, Titus Andronicus played a gig at Gwdihw, and I couldn't be bothered to walk twenty minutes to see one of my favourite bands in a space scarcely any larger than the living room where I spent that Wednesday evening instead. I'm not a long-haired, wide-eyed teenager any more: I'm a long-haired, bleary-eyed adult, and I've allowed myself to believe that I can support independent music venues by blogging and tweeting instead of by going to gigs, getting my hand stamped, and buying a drink while I wait for the show to start. If Cardiff does eventually lose all of its cool little venues, I honestly don't know that I'll have any right to complain.

But even if I'm missing 99.9% of what this city's live music scene has to offer, I'd still like to keep it going so that younger and/or more energetic fans can have the same experiences I had when I was still eagerly attending as many gigs as possible. Happily, Cardiff's loyal gig-goers aren't prepared to let their favourite haunts disappear without a fight, and there are plenty of easy ways to pitch in with their efforts right now. The people behind the Save Womanby Street campaign are currently working hard to persude local politicians and decision-makers to protect the likes of Clwb and Fuel from closure,  and just yesterday, a group calling itself the Creative Republic of Cardiff launched a crowdfunding campaign to 'reboot' The Full Moon.

Whether you live in Cardiff or not, I hope you'll join me in supporting these campaigns as they strive to ensure that we don't lose any more of our venues to the kind of problems that turned The Point - the place where I was blown away by Broken Social Scene, the place where I was treated to a sneak preview of a Franz Ferdinand album that wasn't due out for months, the place where I watched Willy Mason singing folk songs in front of fantasy muppet monsters - into just another building in Cardiff Bay.

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