Real Cardiff

all roads lead to Cardiff

Read about

Real Cardiff
Bute Street
Charles Street
City Road
Flat Holm
The Four Elms
The Garth
Gorsedd Gardens
Hadfield Road
Lloyd George Ave
Mount Stuart Square
Newport Road

The Parks of Roath
The Pearl


Womanby St.

Cardiff Poets Map
Cardiff, New York
Shots of the Bay
and the City

More Scenes

Cardiff Fictions and

Hamadryad Park
The Bay
St David's Hall
The Museum
The City
Check Your Accent
Ffynnon Denis

to Cardiff

to site map

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 another story.

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.

Peter Finch

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

Why not.