Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Memories of a thousand* gigs #3

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

#3: Masters In France
Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff – 23rd February 2013
Support: Candelas, The Winters
Also in attendance: Mrs Robster

Without a doubt, this show goes down as the strangest I’ve ever been to. Both Mrs Robster and I like Masters In France quite a lot. Hailing from North Wales, they started out as a Welsh language act, but have more recently ‘defected’ to the Saesneg tongue, in their music at least. While at the time of writing they remain unknown to most, their steadily-growing profile has coincided with an evolving sound which now uses a lot more electronics than in their early days. Consequently, they find themselves making promotional videos for IKEA  as well as picking up an increasing amount of airplay on quality music stations.

Our expectations therefore were of a pretty rammed Clwb Ifor Bach (or Welsh Club, if you prefer) with a hardcore following at the front and more recent converts observing from the peripherals. We were correct only in part…

Tucked away in a cobbled side street a stone's throw from the Millennium Stadium, Clwb Ifor Bach (or the upstairs part of it at least) is aesthetically the perfect place for a gig – bare-brick walls, minimal décor, low lights and intimate in its capacity.

But it’s absolutely bloody freezing!

Cardiff in February is not known for its balmy climate, so while you don’t ask that a place be heated to Saharan extremes, when you daren’t take your coat off for the entire evening for fear of catching hypothermia, surely something’s wrong? Sod the cold drinks at the bar, they’d be better off selling hot soup.

Things started getting a bit odd as a few more people filtered in shortly before the first band came on stage. We noticed a few ladies in the audience who weren’t kitted out in your average gig-going attire. High white stilettos, for instance – I wouldn’t want to be in a mosh pit next to someone with those on her feet!

The first band, known as the Winters, were as forgettable as… erm, something I’ve forgotten about. What I do I remember is they sounded like Keane without tunes (as if sounding like Keane with tunes wasn’t bad enough), with the charisma to match. Candelas, who followed, were an altogether different proposition. Singing almost exclusively in Welsh, their punk-pop evoked memories of fellow countrymen Datblygu and early Super Furry Animals.

And here is where it felt a little more strange. You see, not only do Candelas perform in Welsh, but they also converse with the audience in Welsh too. This resulted in neither I nor Mrs Robster – nor the small group of Oriental people behind us – having a clue what was going on.

Now, for the record, I am absolutely not anti-Welsh language. On the contrary, being a bit of an amateur language scholar, I love the fact the oldest surviving language of our shores – and one of the oldest surviving languages in the world – is still very much active and enjoying something of a renaissance. I have attempted to learn a number of simple Welsh phrases, though I would never consider myself to be a Welsh speaker in any capacity. To my utter shame, I have still not learnt to sing the Welsh national anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers), nor the classic folk song Sosban Fach (The Little Saucepan) which is usually given an airing at Wales rugby internationals (I recently sat silent at the Millennium Stadium and let Daughter #1 do the honours with the crowd, much to my embarrassment…). I have no excuse – to my Welsh friends: Mae'n ddrwg.

Cardiff, however, is not exactly a Welsh language heartland; it is a cosmopolitan city where you are more likely to hear Malaysian, Chinese, Polish or any number of Arabic languages over the native tongue. That said, Clwb Ifor Bach does offer membership to those who speak, or are actively learning, Welsh. So it’s no real surprise there was a significant element of the crowd who were able to follow the between-song banter and understand what the songs were about. So despite my ignorance of the language being entirely my own fault, I couldn’t help but feel I was at some kind of private party I hadn’t been invited to.

This continued when Masters In France appeared. So the lyrics were English, but still that chatter was Welsh. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of chatter…

I know I’m not alone in this – one of my absolute pet hates is people who talk incessantly at gigs. All the way through. Paying little or no attention to what’s going on onstage, just constant talk talk talk. WHY BOTHER GOING? Stay home or go to the pub – let those of us who actually paid to see the band enjoy the music without hearing your inane conversations (or seeing the entire show through your fuckin' phones that you insist on holding up right in front of my face)! I admire artists like Tori Amos who tell these people to shut up or leave.

Masters In France didn’t however, so the chatter remained. This exemplified the strangeness of the show even further. The fuller the place got, so the percentage of those present who were there for the live music seemed to diminish.

And then it dawned on me – this being a Saturday night, and Clwb Ifor Bach doubling as a nightclub and gig venue, this was the after-show crowd, the members, the clubbers. It was not your average gig crowd, as I suspected at the start of the night. Yes, the hardcore element at the front were lapping it up, and many of us around the edges did actually enjoy Masters In France – and why not? They are a very good band, to the point where Mrs Robster actually vocalised her approval of them afterwards (a rare honour). But it never actually felt like a ‘proper’ gig as I would define it - where the live music and its performance are priorities one, two and three; everything else is almost insignificant. I mean, that’s how I went into it, but I came away wondering what exactly I’d just attended. Many of those there could not have cared less about the bands; a very odd state of affairs indeed.

Mrs Robster and I left just behind the Oriental trio who were probably thinking much the same as us. On our way out, the bouncer notified us there was no readmittance – but like, why would we want to come back now the show was over? Then I noticed the queue of young people in their dressy attire, patiently waiting for the likes of us to leave so they could get in and join the party now the bands were finished.

For some, the night hadn’t even begun…


Addendum: It is worth pointing out that not every gig I’ve attended at Clwb Ifor Bach was like this. On the contrary, my next visit to see Public Service Broadcasting a few months later was a totally different experience. The place was rammed, it was warmer (mind, it was June) and the vast majority were there for the music. A cracking show too! But the Young Knives show the following November was notable for the constant cold draft that seemed to emanate from every nook and cranny…


  1. Rather strange, 'cos here in Germany you'd have to pay full entry until the band would finish their set ... this clearly separates the crowd into gig attenders and clubbers, the latter wouldn't show up before the band has gone basically.

    1. It is strange Dirk, I'm not sure I understand it myself. Maybe because it has a membership scheme, they can get in to certain events if it isn't a sell-out. Maybe I've got it completely wrong though.

  2. here in leeds the warehouse did the same,gig till 10' o clock then very popular night club, so the "special " people would turn up early just to get in, some sights were unbeliveable (it was a dressy crowd, and very gay ) so us sweaty t-shirt wearers got a ... treat...???