Dempseys Was Crucial / by Mark Daman Thomas

In case you didn’t know, the news in Wales is: Gareth Bale (alongside Brains) is opening a ‘Premium Sports Bar’ in Dempseys, Cardiff. Now, before I begin, yes, I’m aware I ran away to the hills so I don’t get to have a big opinion on this as I don’t live in Cardiff anymore. Also, yes, there are much worse things happening in the country for me to get hysterical about. Nevertheless, here goes. 

According to Wales Online “There was anger over the closure of Dempseys, until now” (now being when Gareth Bale announced his news). Well, I’ve got news for you, Wales’ premier news site. I’m a bit angry and annoyed about it and here is why. 

This photo taken yesterday by my friend, @TomosMonpot, who I likely met in Dempseys really hit home. No more Music & Live Bands in Dempseys.   

This photo taken yesterday by my friend, @TomosMonpot, who I likely met in Dempseys really hit home. No more Music & Live Bands in Dempseys.   

This is bad news for culture, art and music. Dempseys as a music venue and meeting place was crucial. From my experience there has always been a concern amongst Welsh music biz types about the lack of ‘midsize’ venues in Cardiff. The 300 - 1000 type of thing. Problem is, there is now a bigger problem with a lack of grassroots, micro-gig sized venues. The entry level 80 - 200 cap is where I have pretty much always put on gigs and played gigs. Dempseys was the type of place people, budding promoters and bands could take a risk and put on a night in the centre of town. I think it was about £90 all in to hire. It was a the perfect place to put on a small gig. 

As Shape, we put on the likes of experimental harpist Rhodri Davies, Bahrain-via-London psychonauts Flamingods and did an album launch for the Mowbird LP we released in there. We played an Islet show there at the Shape showcase at SWN 2009. It was all good fun and an ideal place to put on these art focussed, niche gigs. It’ll be much harder to find places for these type of gigs in Cardiff now. 

I wrote on Emma's back for the poster for the Shape gig at SWN09. Please note the spelling of Dempseys. Well, we could hardly photoshop it out could we. 

I wrote on Emma's back for the poster for the Shape gig at SWN09. Please note the spelling of Dempseys. Well, we could hardly photoshop it out could we. 

The venue closing is sad, but what makes it worse is the blandness of what is to follow. Gone is the folk, jazz, avant rock, pop and Twisted By Design. No more performances or invention. No longer a hub of the music scene where like minded souls met, formed bands, exchanged ideas and collaborated. The focus will now be on absorbing Sky Sports, over priced food and consumerism. A soulless, corporate place where they want zombies to have a 'banter' about the football, not thinking or having any ideas. Get in line. No one expressing anything other than frustration at referees and punching the air for goal celebrations. 

This is such a Cardiffy thing to happen. Anything to water down culture and identity for sports and big brands. I saw someone on Facebook refer to it as 'cultural vandalism', sounds about right to me. For context, I do actually like football. I’m addicted to the never-ending soap opera. It is junk food for my hungry mind, I know football has no real nutritional value and always results in disappointment but I love watching it. I watched pretty much all home internationals when I lived in South Wales for 13 years. I first saw Gareth Bale play live when he was 17, dominating the left flank for Wales v Cyprus in 2009 alongside about 5000 other people in a ghost town Millennium Stadium. But I love music more and I’m worried about the knock on effect of this latest closure. 

I don’t want to hate on Gareth for this too much for this but the lack of imagination on show here is overwhelming. I appreciate he is excellent at kicking a football around on the grass but he did go into full stereotypical footballer mode in the inane promo vid… “We hope to have the best burger in Cardiff”. Flipping heck, really? (Good luck with that though as the guys at Uncle Sams on Crwys Rd won’t give that trophy up without a fight). Maybe it will be a place where people go and have an above average time. I hope so but it has got big shoes to fill.

Of course Gareth doesn't care about the upstairs function room with its little gigs. Gareth & Brains care about money, not creativity or community. This is a commercial investment. I don't know anything about the economics of Dempseys, maybe Brains was losing considerable amounts of money a month so it had to make a change. I’m feeling quite negative but I know these things ebb and flow and fingers crossed something will pop up soon to replace the gig space, but there was something about Dempseys. We’ve lost a highly valuable live music venue and in it’s place, a super rich footballer’s vanity project. So long, Dempseys. Thanks for the fun.

Anyway, we're doing Islet recording right now so I best get back to listen to the drum take. Thanks for reading.