Located on Womanby Street, a narrow alley located across the road from Cardiff Castle, Clwb Ifor Bach – you might find it referred to as ‘Y Clwb’, or merely ‘Clwb’, or ‘The Welsh Club’ if three easily-pronounced words of the native tongue is deemed a shade taxing – opened in 1983. It was initially a members’ club, one which sought to promote the Welsh language in Cardiff. While much of north and west Wales speaks Welsh as a primary language, Cardiff and the surrounding area is considered English-speaking first and foremost; this is reflected in the music that has emanated from the city over the decades, yet once Clwb Ifor Bach began to establish itself as a music venue, bands and artists from the breadth of Wales found their way through its doors.
The commercial ascendancy of a select few Welsh-speaking outfits in the mid-90s – Super Furry Animals, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Catatonia made the greatest inroads – sparked, even if inadvertently, an upswing and a greater eclecticism in the venue’s booking schedule. Memorable evenings in this decade included, among a sprawling list, UK electronic icons Autechre, the first and only Welsh show by Pavement (an early success for promo company Xplosure, who had a weekly band night which ran for some years), a just-pre-superstardom sell-out gig for Coldplay and a slew of monstrous rave-ups by hip-hop and dance promoters. Hustler covered hip-hop, funk and breakbeat, Silent Running brought every drum’n’bass icon under the sun to Cardiff and Radius maintained high house and techno standards. Names scattered among Clwb’s backhistory include DJ Shadow, Roni Size, Scratch Perverts, 808 State, LTJ Bukem and Roots Manuva, to name a mere handful.
The rule on which the club was established – that membership, for which one was given a card, required an ability to speak Welsh or a commitment to learn – was relaxed in the late 90s. Staff members are generally expected to speak the mother tongue, though, and things such as gig posters in the venue are bilingual where possible. The broad ‘vibe’ of Clwb Ifor Bach, friendly and bereft of dress codes or pocket-vacuuming drinks prices, stayed much the same, as the 21st century found South Wales spawning a glut of new bands (and rappers, DJs etc). Reflected in events like Radio 1 Live In Cardiff (October 2000) and labels such as Boobytrap, Ifor Bach was more of an epicentre for loud activity than ever. A disarmingly warm show headlined by The Strokes, in the summer of 2001, was one especially destined to stick in the memory of those who snared a ticket.
It’s 2008, and Clwb Ifor Bach has driven its foundations further still into the earth. Promoters and club nights have come and gone (although some, have been extant for over a decade now), and so have other music venues. Live music has been on both the top and bottom floors since 2005; the capacity on the top floor has recently been increased, yet there are still plenty of sell-out shows. It’s not at all unknown for some proper famous boys to choose it for an ‘intimate’ gig on the down low – Super Furry Animals, Lost Prophets and Bullet For My Valentine are three recent examples. Notable shows in the last 12 months have come courtesy of Blood Red Shoes, Dead Meadow, Turisas, Foals, Black Lips, Future Of The Left, Los Campesinos!, The Cardiacs and Surgeon; prominent promoters at the time of writing include Forecast, Music Events Wales, Pedigree Falcon, Holodeck, Aperture, Sumo and Lesson No.1. Got designs to be among that list? Call up the venue. There’s always room for more of this sort of spirit.
Oh! What’s an Ifor Bach? It’s a who, not a what – Ifor Bach was the Welsh lord of the Cantref of Senghennydd, who in 1158 kidnapped the oppressive Earl of Gloucester and thus had hero status bestowed on him. He’s a symbol of sorts for those in Wales who don’t give in or take the easy route. Some people even named a music venue after him.