The Four Elms
Lloyd George Ave
Mount Stuart Square
The Parks of Roath
of the Bay
and the City
St David's Hall
Check Your Accent
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City Road is a run-down inner-Cardiff city thoroughfare.
It's thick with car showrooms, Asian restaurants, Spar 24-hour groceries
and boarded, abandoned shops. It runs from the student land of Cathays,
through the five-way death junction of City, Albany, Richmond, Crwys
and Macintosh, to the closed and decaying Royal Infirmary on Newport
Road. It's a street everyone knows but hardly anyone loves. Up until
the middle of last century it was known as Heol-y-Plwcca after the gallows
field at its northern end. Here, in a plot known as 'the Cut Throats',
more or less where the Road has its junction with Albany, stood the
town gibbet. Nearby were plots called Cae Budr (the defiled field),
Plwcca Halog (the unhallowed plot), and Pwll Halog (the unhallowed pool).
Today they've got side streets built across them and are happily called
Strathnairn, Glenroy and Keppoch. The grimness has been vanquished,
buried under backgarden clay and foundation, forgotten. There's a bakers,
a Lebanese fast-food and an army surplus store selling Italian combat
jackets, imitation pistols, folding shovels and camouflage water bottles.
For a brief time City Road was called Castle Road, after Roath Castle,
the former great house which now runs bowls, drinking, the Night-Writers
creative writing group and tennis as The Mackintosh Institute.
But since Cardiff had a bigger and more important Castle elsewhere names
had to change. Innocuous, anodyne City Road the thoroughfare
became. In the old photos it has trolleys and trams running down it
and the street lamps are gas. But the buildings look more or less as
they do now - little development, few add-ons, no rebuilds. Under the
onslaught of more than a hundred years of south Wales drizzle City Road
has simply crumbled. The gloss has gone from its surfaces. Today it
is seedy, edgy, slightly wrecked, and, yes, exciting - all by turns.
Cardiff's 1980s live-writing manifestation, Cabaret 246,
began here, in the upstairs room of the Roath Park. Cab was an outgrowth
of Chris Torrance's famous Adventures In Creative Writing nightclass
held in the Department of Continuing Education at Cardiff University.
Torrance's bohemian beat generation meets the south Wales rain approach
had wide acceptance. Everyone from the hippest of street punks to
retired policemen have passed through the bearded, woollen-capped
bard's hands. Half of Torrance's appeal is that he listens to what
his students have to say. The rest lies in the sheer breadth and openness
of his recommended texts. Torrance's required reading sprints from
ancient Japanese haiku to contemporary New York dope celebrations
via Blake, Pope, Coleridge, Corso and the whole of the UK small press
scene. People sign on for his year long class and twelve months later
they sign on again.
The first Cab was a public performance of that class's output put
on in the best venue they could find. This turned out to be upstairs
in an obscure, out of city centre pub with poor parking but the right
rent and the right beer. Given the literary antecedents of the area
the choice wasn't all that bad. In the sixties John Tripp had staggered
and shouted in the nearby curry houses - famously being always the
last to leave and collecting the tips left by others as he went. At
a time when the city had little better to offer, J P Donleavy came
here for six popodoms and a meat Madras. Members of Cardiff's earlier
poetry performance platform - No Walls - although they never actually
performed in City Road spent a fair amount of time in its pubs, clubs
and cafs. Geraint Jarman, David Callard, Huw Morgan, Fred Daly and
I were often seen at the Bongla Bhashi or the Curry Mohal - although,
curiously, never at the pub then known as Poets Corner. This was where
I tried to sell copies of my sixties literary magazine, second
aeon, to hard-bitten fag and beer working men who suggested that
I was not only not as good as Wordsworth but also a Nancy. But that's
Cabaret 246 - as a performance poetry organisation - grew out of
that first night at the Roath Park. Torrance's class boasted some
pretty powerful voices, although they had yet to learn their trade.
Ifor Thomas, Topher Mills, and John Harrison were all Torrance protégés.
Where did I fit in? As a 70s sound poet used to performing to empty
halls and rooms containing only the organiser and his sandwiches,
Torrance's invitation to take turn as a guest was welcome enough.
I did my Cobbinesque best. No one understood a word.
Literary events, of course, do not need patrons. The writers themselves
are generally audience enough. With little or no promotion Cabaret
246 began to attract the crowds. It was throwing up the same kind
of outrage and invention as did its famous precursor in pre-WW1 Zurich.
Smoke machines mixed with chain saws. There were domestic appliance
percussion orchestras , strobe lit dancing, verse delivered while
wearing gas masks, books ripped into paper chases, and poems set on
fire. Sound poetry re-emerged from its late fifties doldrum for another
brief blur of glory. The short story took new life as a bar stool
pastime. Writers jostled to out invent and out perform each other.
Torrance, file in bag and flask in pocket, watched from his bar stool.
For a brief time Cab was white hot.
Change, as ever, is the driver. It is a fact of life when renting
pub rooms that on your most important night for decades you'll turn
up and find the landlord, through some long standing and utterly incomprehensible
arrangement, has already let the space to someone else. You'll be
there at 8.30 with your props, your audience and your special guest
bought in with Arts Council help and travelled all the way from Edinburgh
to be faced with a lounge rearranged to resemble a board room and
every chair taken by beer drinking hobbyists at their AGM. And so
it was. The landlord moved on to The Flora in Cathays where there
was no space and the incoming Roath Park tenant wanted no further
truck with writers. Cab shifted to better, wilder and much more destructive
things at Chapter, the Gower in Gwenith Street and then the city centre
Four Bars. City Road returned to its regular cycle of quiet violence,
24 hour shopping, loonies, drunks and dopos. In recent times it has
become the centre of Cardiff author lloyd robson's Making Sense
of City Road project which merges photograph, found text and verse.
Check it out.
back to the top
A pamphlet of poems and a hard-backed novel will accelerate at the same speed when you chuck them down a stairwell.
Fiction always ends
Tall writers are older than short ones
Poems grow spontaneously overnight
You can learn most of what you need from a book simply by carrying it about.
Fixing buggered metre is as easy as unplugging the sink
Say hello often enough and you'll soon be famous
Write by saying you have.
Make it up