Rocking Views at the Gower

A few years ago after a night out I took a calculated risk with my health and bought a shish kebab from Caroline Street. It was one of those warm summer nights where no one wants the night to end. Finding no where else to sit, I plonked myself down to share the kebab with my then-girlfriend on the kerb in the middle of St Mary Street.

About halfway through, over the shouts, screams and songs around us, I heard some clicking. I looked up to see a man, wearing a tight black t-shirt and jeans, taking our picture. The camera he was holding looked like it would max both mine and my girlfriend’s overdrafts. I didn’t know it at the time, but the man taking our picture was Maciej Dakowicz.

I still remember the exact words we exchanged. ‘It’s OK,’ he said, in an accent I didn’t quite recognise. ‘I just want to take your picture. Can I take your picture?’

‘Carry on,’ I said, slightly bemused. ‘I couldn’t care less.’

He smiled as he said, ‘OK, thank you. Just do what you were doing. Pretend like I am not here.’

So I did what he asked, and munched on my kebab, battling my girlfriend for control of the lamb as Mr Dakowicz clicked away at us surrounded by empty polystyrene boxes. After less than a minute, he said thank you with a big smile, and swiftly moved on to the next scene he could find; he was lost in the crowd within twenty quick paces.

I tell you this little story to put things in context. We were relatively sober, my girlfriend and I, when Mr Dakowicz took our picture. Such was the crowd due to the warm night weather, we didn’t have the chance to sit anywhere except where we were. I imagine that the scene would have made a good picture; pardon my pretentiousness, but themes of sharing or gluttony spring to mind here. However in the wrong hands this picture could push an agenda showing our beloved city to be no better than the biblical Gomorrah.

It is this type of negative press coverage that has spurned some amongst us to action. Helia Phoenix and Adam Chard run the wearecardiff blog, and together with Simon Bradwick they are making a feature length documentary that will offer a more balanced view than the one portrayed in the national press. Over the bank holiday weekend, Roath fundraiser Wayne Courtney put on an event in the Gower Pub called Roath Rocks to raise funds for this film.

Before we go on, I just need to address what is going on in your head. I know that this is a blog about Cathays – so why cover an event called Roath Rocks? The thing is with Cardiff is that the borders are fluid. Brains Brewery themselves say that the pub is in Cathays – but if you can show me where Roath ends and Cathays begins down there, I would be eternally grateful.

The old-school vibe in the large first-floor events room couldn’t have been better for such an event. Unlike the boozy shenanigans often taken out of context on St Mary Street, the Gower’s patrons were too busy dancing and having a good time to fall over or puke on each other’s shoes.

‘The whole weekend was a massive success,’ Wayne Courtney said about the event. ‘And the feedback has been amazing. People came from as far as Weston Super Mare, Swansea and Bridgend. And of course the pub took amazing profits.’

The whole building was the heart and soul of Cardiff that night – warm both in heat and atmosphere, and good natured too, with people dancing on chairs and tables as if the morning would never come. Little could stop the fun of listening to the sped up Cab Calloway and Ray Charles covers from the band playing at the time.

Not only did this gig raise money for a group of dedicated local bloggers and promoters but the pub did very well out of this venture as well – but not to the detriment of the surrounding community.

‘The Landlord said that the Friday night was the first night since he’s managed the pub that all three areas (the pool room, the lounge and the function room upstairs) have all been full at the same time,’ Helia Phoenix said. ‘It was packed, and how great is it that we are managing to increase their business like that too?’

I wish the filmmakers all the best in this venture. You can tell that everyone involved in this film is a committed individual who knows that action leads to success. But just as their film will not conform to the Daily Mail ‘Booze Britain’ view of our city, it may not change everyone’s attitude. But seeing the other side to that out-of-context debauchery in the Gower over the weekend has certainly changed mine.

(If you like the sound of this project, you may want to consider donating to make sure it happens – even if you’ve only got a pound to spare. Head here: http://www.indiegogo.com/We-Are-Cardiff-the-film-Phase-2?c=home&a=332021)

@_JoaoMorais

Street Art with The Vulture

Did you know that for all the talk of government spending cuts over the past 20 months in the papers, just one pound in twenty of the proposed cuts has actually been implemented so far? Only God and the Heir Apparent to the Baronetcy of Ballentaylor (aka George Osborne) know how far and how deep things will go. But one thing you can be sure of is that The Arts are always the first to lose their funding, and they always lose the most.

Not that it bothers some people, though. In the early hours of last Thursday morning, when most places still open are kicking people out the door, I went out to see a street artist, who goes by the name The Vulture, in action.

The first thing I noticed on his blog and Facebook page is how his work reminds me of the illustrator Ralph Steadman (who believe it or not was also brought up in Wales). Steadman is known best perhaps for his many collaborations with Hunter S Thompson, such as the illustrations adorning Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. There’s certainly a Steadmanesque ring to The Vulture’s work, and indeed much like Ralph and Hunter S. before him, he relishes in the anti-establishment role.

“Where I’m from, art just wasn’t cool in school,” he tells me. “And it was less cool when we got older and it moved into white walled galleries with people talking nonsense. Street art gives creativity a bit more freedom, or at least an alternative route.”

So even if Osborne cuts all money to the arts except to the most inaccessible and highbrow of companies, the creative movement in the UK is still likely to thrive, albeit in a different form to one that which we know now.

When I text the Vulture one night and ask if he’s still up for showing me how it’s done, he replies saying to meet him at the Woodville at midnight and to bring a bike. Fair enough, I think, I don’t know what I’m doing.

When I ask him about this, he tells me,

“I find personally the best time of day is just after lunch with a high visibility jacket, but I have to say there is something exciting about being a part of the after-hour society.”

We scout around the main walking routes through Cathays. He tells me that anyone can put a piece up down an alley where no one can disturb you, but you soon get bored of that and you want people to see your work anyway,

“I make street art simply because I don’t need to tick boxes to get my work seen,” is how he puts it. “The other reason would have to be public accessibility.”

It normally takes him around six minutes to paste a wall, put up a print and re-paste the front, then finish off with a street art pen. He finds a place on Salisbury Road, at the bottom end opposite the Dough cafe. It’s my job to look out for anyone who might tell us off, and to time him. After a few minutes he asks me how much time has elapsed. I look down at the stopwatch on my phone, taking my eyes off the bemused group of drunk people walking past.

Just as I look up to tell him that it has been four minutes and thirty-nine seconds, a police car goes past very slowly. The two officers look more puzzled as to my purpose rather than the more familiar site to them, someone putting up a work of art in the middle of the night. I tell The Vulture to stop and he looks round, but lucky for us the cops don’t stop.

They continue at about 20mph up the road, past Tesco and Noodlebox and the greasy spoon place and they indicate right, as if to go down Lowther Road and under the bridge into Roath. But at the last minute something changes their minds, and they take a sharp left down Glynrhondda Street, heading past Koko Gorillaz.

The Vulture tells me that they must be going around the block to come back, and he puts his paste brush in his bucket. He runs across the road and heads past Dough and down Cranbrook Street. I’m out of breath by the time I catch up with him, and slightly ashamed that I couldn’t concentrate long enough to do the one job I was asked to do. But this is the first time I’ve ever had to look out for the police and take pictures at the same time, so at least I have that to remind myself of.

As we catch our breath and spark up a rolly each down Cranbrook Street, I take the time to ask him where his inspiration comes from,

“I think I’m Inspired by people more than anything else,” he says. “Especially the person you may be, the person under the carefully crafted expressions that hide your true intentions.”

It comes through in the piece he’s put up this night as well. In the picture, a man is being eaten by a television with a particularly vicious pair of gnashers. He’s trying his best to escape by pulling a piece of string attached to a board. Originally the board was to say ‘TV Dinners,’ as a reference to the picture, but he doesn’t want to make things too obvious and goes for his signature instead. When asked about the absurdist nature of the work, he says,

“I would definitely say my work is inspired by many hazy three o’clock in the morning conversations.”

It’s something that people can definitely appreciate. When we go back a few minutes later so he can do the finishing touches with a special graffitti pen, another group of people go past, walking back from town or maybe the Pen & Wig. They all say how they like the piece and they like what he is doing, but we can’t stay long to appreciate the glory in case someone else who doesn’t like it comes along. Such is the life of a street artist.

Can you write a play on a page?

To celebrate their opening, Sherman Cymru are inviting you to write a page on a play which will be stuck to the walls “to christen the sparkly new walls, loos, doors and bars”.

We thought it was actually quite an interesting idea and set our Cathays blogger, Joâo Morais to write a play on a page. We’re going to submit it now.

“Everyone has a story to tell and this is a great opportunity to get your short story on a page and on display in our lovely new theatre for everyone to see.  We’ve already received some really brilliant tiny plays. The exciting part of this project is that everything we receive is guaranteed to be displayed around the building,” said associate director Roisin McBrinn of the project. “This is as much about trying and sharing as it is about interacting with Welsh writing talent. Even our 4 year old Sherman Sherberts are giving it a go. Then, from 5 March, the public will have the chance to come and view their work and to be entertained (or enraged) by some super mini plays! Everyone has a story to tell and this is a great opportunity to get your short story ona page and on display in our lovely new theatre for everyone to see.”

If you think you have what it takes to write a Play on a Page, all entries must be in by 4 March. The plays will be displayed from 5th March. Email your entries to playonapage@shermancymru.co.uk

For some inspiration, enjoy Joâo’s work:

______

GALE FORCE NINE by Joâo Morais

SCENE 1

CROMARTY and BAILEY are in an office. They are writing at separate desks, facing each other. A phone is ringing on BAILEY’S desk.

CROMARTY: Bailey, answer that damn phone, please. I hope it’s not another order. We’re almost drowning as it is.

BAILEY: I’M DROWNING, I’M DROWNING IN GERMAN BIGHT, GALE FORCE NINE

CROMARTY: What the hell, Bailey? Stop messing around and answer the damn phone. We can’t lose another minute with all these orders.

BAILEY: ALL YOUR VIKING, SOUTH EAST ICELAND I’M MELTING, MODERATE OR GOOD, GALE FORCE NINE, GALE FORCE NINE
CROMARTY: Dear god, Bailey. Have you gone quite mad? Pull yourself together, man. Don’t let the stress get to you. It will all be OK after next week, I promise.

BAILEY (Banging on desk): GALE FORCE NINE, I’LL KILL YOU SHANNON, ROCKALL AND FORTIES ARE DEAD, THUNDER AND LIGHTNING, GALE FORCE NINE, GALE FORCE NINE, GALE FORCE NINE

CROMARTY: Oh no.

(End of Scene 1)

SCENE 2

SIR is writing at a desk. CROMARTY comes rushing into the room, and stands panting in front of him.

SIR: What’s the matter, Cromarty? Come on, out with it.

CROMARTY: It’s Bailey, Sir. I fear he’s gone quite mad. He’s let the stress get to him. He can’t stop shouting what sounds like a murderous version of the shipping forecast.

SIR: FASTNET, SANDETTIE LIGHTVESSEL AUTOMATIC IS BURNING, GALE FORCE NINE

CROMARTY: Oh no. Sir, it’s me. Not Bailey. Help me, Sir.

SIR: I KILLED FINISTERRE, I SPLIT DOGGER, I THROTTLED HELIGOLAND, GALE FORCE NINE, GALE FORCE NINE, GALE FORCE NINE

(End)

______

Making the Case for Another Street Party

Were you there? On the day of last year’s Royal Wedding, a massive street party was held on Miskin Street, right opposite Sherman Cymru. Peaking at a good few hundred people, it must have been one of the day’s largest provincial gatherings in commemoration outside of the two mile radius of St Paul’s Cathedral. But this wasn’t your normal ‘Cry God for England, Harry and St. George’ type of snivelling celebration that was all over the next day’s papers. No way, Mrs Queen, as Benjamin Zephanaiah might say. Sure, it had similarities. In a British street party – the Miskin Street one and a more traditional celebration – you might expect to see the following things in abundance:

  • Beer
  • Dancing
  • People having a good time
  • Good-natured fun
  • Community spirit

And indeed these attributes were evident all around Miskin Street that day. You might not know this, but Cardiff had the highest number of applications per capita for street parties for any city other than London. You can see a good example of a nice, traditional Cardiff street party here.

Didn’t it look nice? It had all the characteristics outlined above, and some nice, twee music to go with it. You know what I mean. The kind of music that they don’t even play on Radio 2 any more.

Now have a look at the videos of the Miskin Street Party.

You may have noticed a difference or two. In case you haven’t, these are the elements of the Miskin Street Party not found in a more traditional one:

  • A picture of the happy couple in all their publicly-funded splendour
  • ‘Congratulayshons Will n Kate’ painted on an old, stained conjugal bedsheet hung between two lampposts
  • ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ played ad infinitum ad nauseum
  • Colonial bunting
  • Pompous deference to anyone due to the luck of genetics and heredity
  • Jolly hockey sticks
  • Hand-wringing justifications for state-sponsored scrounging

If you ask me, it seems that I made the right choice that day in the party I attended. I went to the party in Miskin Street and had an amazing time, instead of watching Uncle Barney sneak an extra two shots of rum into the eight pints of fruit punch he made. I met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. And I would like to go to another one this year.

In case you hadn’t noticed, last week Mrs Queen celebrated her 86th birthday. As a result of this, we, her loyal ‘subjects,’ are expected to celebrate her 60 years of scrounging by throwing parties in her honour. Even though she won’t turn up. Even though it should be a private event celebrated with family and friends. Even though we don’t know her, and will never meet her, and she upholds the bizarre notion that she is better than us and can rule over us and must have money from us every year for the rest of our lives, because she deserves it, and because tourism will collapse if she doesn’t get to wear the crown. Even though she is only number 17 on the list of top twenty UK Tourist Hotspots.

So the Council will be awarding us the opportunity to go out there and celebrate in the street. Can you think of a better place than Cathays to hold another street party like the last one? There aren’t many families who would scoff at such an event, and there’s a huge number of people, because the Landlords around here are trying to squeeze as many people in each house as if we were living in Dickensian London or the Valleys at the height of the Crawshay’s coal-mining days.

And as there are so many students around, this would be the perfect way to break up the exam timetable, what with the Jubilee weekend being half-way through it (and with a weekend followed by two bank holidays, there will be no exams scheduled).

If throwing another street party sounds like a great idea – and when is having a good time and having a few drinks with your friends, both established and new, and bringing the community together, not a good idea? – Then do yourself a favour and look at what you need to do to make it happen on this link. http://www.cardiff.gov.uk/content.asp?nav=2%2C2870%2C3145%2C6291

There’s not much to do, but it needs to be organised sooner rather than later. If you happen to be a promoter, this is an excellent way to get yourself and your night noticed. The Royal Wedding Street Party gave Xpress Radio and Cardiff Uni’s Live Music Society 100 times more publicity and kudos than they could have got from any other traditional form of advertising. Glam Nightclub got in on it too, and gave away free vouchers for the first 100 people to approach their reps and grab a street party flyer. That is something that people won’t forget in a hurry.

So I leave it with you now, and I hope to meet you in a few months. If you tell me you decided to hold a street party like the one in the videos because of this article, let me know and I’ll buy you a can of Scrumpy. I’m nice like that.

Failing that, let’s not fall for the media propaganda and celebrate this Diamond Jubilee as they expect us to. Wouldn’t it be more fitting to reflect back on the Queen’s 60 years of public service? Do we have to farcically rejoice when we can commemorate instead? The queen is probably the most photographed woman the world has ever known. At the National Museum of Art in Cathays Park at the moment is an exhibition of some of the more famous snapshots taken of her. As well as these are ones where we are allowed to see the woman behind the monarch, in a series of intimate family photographs, and pictures taken when she was caught off guard. We see her looking tired and bored, or laughing along with some working class person who’s life could not have been more different from her own.

This is how we should think of her at the Diamond Jubilee – not waving to an adoring crowd of subservients all too eager to bow and curtsy. Or we should have a giant drunken street party and say cheers for the extra bank holiday.

Skip-Raiding and the Art of Walking

Art and walking have a long history together. There’s an obvious connection, when you think about it. The practice of observation, when coupled with the basic human desire for expression, find the perfect meeting point in art.

One of the founders of the St. Ives Group of artists was the leading 20th century modernist, Margaret Mellis. Walking the coast, she would later create bright driftwood sculptures from the vivid and colourful pieces of fishing boats and summer houses she found washed up on beaches. Another important St. Ives artist, Alfred Wallis, took up painting in his seventies after a lifetime at sea, and spent most of the 1920s and ’30s painting on the backs of grocer’s boxes and scrap pieces of ply.

Maybe it’s the new experiences around every corner or at the top of every hill, but few activities which at first may seem so radically different are actually so connected. The Turner Prize-winner Richard Long goes for long hikes through nature which are often subsequently described as the art itself, and its physical manifestation in the gallery (such as the textwork A line of ground 226 miles long, Wales shown in the National Museum of Art in Cathays Park until recently) being arguably the documentation of the artwork, rather than the work of art.

But while the art of walking and using scrap ‘found’ objects as art can seem like techniques of a specific time and place, they actually couldn’t be more relevant to life in the second decade of the 21st century. Having hit peak oil production and living under austere Westminster sanctions, the rise of inflation means that things are only going to get worse before they get better. An artist using ‘found’ objects and travelling by foot would therefore be highly allegorical, considering the times.

John Abell, a bohemian artist living in Cathays, is a great example of (to paraphrase Laurel Thatcher Ulrich) a private life epitomising a public event. Calling himself a ‘dedicated skip-raider,’ John uses wood he finds on walks around the urban areas of Cardiff to create large woodcut prints, which he then prints on high quality Fabriano paper with oil-based inks. After having had his work exhibited regularly in group exhibitions, John has recently had two solo shows, in Swansea’s Elysium Gallery and the Emporium in Bristol.

“Walking is extremely important to me, for a number of reasons,” John says, when asked about his artistic practise. “I find the wood I use for my prints on urban treks. Cathays is full of houses being refitted and is always packed with skips. Walking is my transport of choice; a time to think and connect with the environment in which I live. I suppose I have my best ideas in the shower or whilst strolling.”

And strolling is the operative word here. John’s practise comes through in his artwork. Wandering round the streets of Cathays looking for MDF and ply means that John covers a massive distance. There is no word in English that best describes this mode of aimless wandering. In French, the person walking with purpose yet purposefully without cartographical direction is known as a flâneur; think of it as someone with the mindset of a local tourist, a detached yet intimate observer of the immediate city scape.

The ideals of the flâneur have no doubt put a social and anthropological aesthetic into John’s work. Normally, he will tour as much as he can during the daylight hours when his stockpiles of wood are low, and then go back to reclaim the find at a later time. Or in his own words, “[I go out] for observation any time. For getting materials, late. After the builders have gone home.”

Seeing both the daytime and night-time of the city and seeing how they change has affected his work no end. John’s large prints are filled with heartbroken figures and tall haphazard buildings. This may be imaginative and highly metaphorical, but they could only come from experience and observation.

Pressed further about his favourite spots, John is understandably reluctant to say. But he will give us a few clues, saying “I find most of my wood down alleys. Northcote is good. Roath and Cathays terraces, always getting gutted. Shops getting fitted – loads of my work is done on shelving, that’s why the dimensions can get rather demented.”

Despite all this, John still finds that his main influences do not come from the Mellises and the Longs of this world, but more from the artistic fringe. Whilst the practise of walking and using found objects may be similar, John’s work is radically different from these two aforementioned establishment artists. John’s prints are no doubt influenced by the German Expressionists; Kirchner and Beckmann also did woodcuts, though perhaps without using such arbitrarily shaped pieces of wood. John says that “[the] artists who really move me are the most unpretentious I suppose, people with an honesty and uniqueness of vision. To name a few, Van Gogh, Kahlo, Alfred Wallis and the notorious Billy Childish.”

And that’s not all. Clearly a lover of art, he also finds affinity in antiquity. “Medieval woodcuts are amazing, they were the photography of their time, they depict everything from courtly love to executions. I love Russian peasant Lubok prints, books of crude prints normally made by priests in the middle of nowhere. They look fresh, the kind of thing that would be called ‘outsider’ now.”

Indeed, the future looks bright for any young artist who sees opportunity where others may see recession. Asked about the future of his work, John is decisive on one thing: “The Sherman Theatre refurb is gonna pay out when they do the interior!”

@JoaoOwainMorais

Check out John Abell’s blog at http://johnabell.blogspot.com/

What to do in Cathays for a Fiver

This is your typical opening to a blogpost where you get heavily patronised for being alive in the month of January. It’s always the same. You get to this time of year and everything you read is telling you that you enjoyed the Christmas season a bit too much so now you’re skint and bloated. If this is you, forget about town and the chain pubs and do something local and cultural instead, and it won’t only be your wallet thanking you – your brain will too. Here’s my list of top things to do for under a fiver for the rest of the month in Cathays:

Sunday 14 January – Rest of month: Captain Scott: South for Science Exhibition 12pm – 5pm at the National Museum Wales, Cathays Park

Why go to this? Because you’re not a true Cardiffian until you’ve had a Claaark’s Pie and you love Captain Scott. Ever since he set sail in the Terra Nova from the Docks in 1911 (ever seen the Lighthouse in Roath Park Lake? It was erected in his honour) the people of Cardiff have taken Scott and the rest of his four-man-strong team to their hearts. In this exhibition you can learn all about heroic failure and the stoicism of a certain type of gallant Englishman – one of the expeditionaries, Captain Lawrence Oates, famously said on this fateful journey, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time’ (Ladies: google him. He was quite the rugged dish).

Thursday 19 January – Cardiff Literary Salon feat. Almanac.15 7pm – 10pm at Cardiff Arts Institute, Park Place

A Salon was a bourgeois French conversation party held by an inspiring and informative host, with the intention of enlightening and entertaining its participants. Its main ethos was that conversation itself was an art form, and an often neglected one at that. In this Welsh version (held in a pub, naturally) your MC for the night will be writer, poet and editor Susie Wild. This is a great chance to see her perform – she could keep a whole room entertained for hours with her poems and short stories, which are amusing satirical observations on the human condition. Listening to her on stage, you get the impression that she’s known you for a long time, in that Proustian fashion that every time you read something and it clicks you’re actually reading about yourself. Expect talks and readings from contributors to the anthology Almanac 15, the yearbook of Welsh Writing in English, and an audience question time slot – this is one not to be missed.

Thursday 26 January – An Art Experience 7pm – 11:30pm at Kama Lounge, Woodville Road

The opening day of an exhibition by a group of Newport Artists, there’s nothing better than the private view (just a posh term; everyone is welcome) of a gallery exhibition because they’re always free, there’s normally free or extremely subsidised wine (and sometimes free food as well) and you get to look really cool and cultural even if you don’t know why the performance artist is eating the crisp packet and throwing the contents on the floor. Expect live music at this event at the Kama Lounge too, so you’ll be getting a lot of bang for your buck.

Friday 27 January – The Big January Sale 5pm – 10pm at Kama Lounge, Woodville Road

Wait, didn’t I just say the Kama Lounge? Well, the place is so amazing that they have two great events in two days. How about a January sale for some of the best independent fashion brands around? There will be loads of Limited edition T’s, one off designs, big graphic prints and vintage jewellery on the go. Or you can just do a spot of window shopping without the pane of glass in the way.

So there you go. Four events, two weeks. If it isn’t enough (or you get paid by the end of January) go to the Pen & Wig Beer Festival, 23-29 January. There’s normally an excellent selection there anyway, so see how many of the local guest ales you can try over the week and let me know which ones to drink…. @JoaoOwainMorais