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Monday, 1 May 2017

Save Womanby Street

The huge social media response to the submission of planning applications for flats and a hotel in Womanby Street, combined with Fuel Rock Club being hit with a noise abatement order ensured that the march to City Hall was well populated and supported by a community that is wierdly attached despite the wide range of cultures and tastes that exist within it.

Arriving at Fuel only 15 hours since I left it summed up why I was there. On Friday evening I'd seen local band Slob play their first ever gig to about 30 punters, Merthyr death metallers Chaos Trigger lay waste to venue and headliners Krysthla destroy everything in their path. There is no where else in Cardiff where you'd have got this line up playing.

The Street was packed from top to bottom and there were smiling faces. Everywhere! A protest march against decisions made by soulless bureaucrats whose intention is to concrete over everything that is different and independent, a march about something that has the potential to impact on thousands of lives and everyone had the biggest smiles. This was brilliant. It got better. Campaign organiser Daniel Minty appeared above the newly reopened Moon Club and, after some thoroughly entertaining megaphone cock ups, he stirred the crowd with a lovely heartfelt speech which accurately captured the views of the assembled masses. Protection of the arts and live music in a unique environment. Huge thanks to Daniel for his consistency and determination.

Off we went to City Hall, a huge human snake comprising the different members of South Wales alternative community, as we appear to be badged. You all looked pretty normal in my eyes. Heavily inked ladies chatted with bearded rockers, youngsters waved placards on their parents shoulders and the samba band blasted out their tunes as they led the way, accompanied by the three local MPs, Jo Stephens, Kevin Brennan and Stephen Doughty. Towards the back of the procession chants of "oggi oggi oggi" were matched by Fuel's Rob Toogood whose own megaphone antics included the chant "what do we want", response "metal", "when do we want it?" to be met by a wall of death metal growls "nnnnooooowwwwww". Brilliant stuff.

It was astonishing to see the looks of the average punter in the streets as we marched by, as it was clear most didn't have a clue what we were about. I didn't see any negative responses as we passed some of the plastic chain bars and restaurants and most shoppers were friendly with a couple even coerced into joining the march. These are the same people whose night out in Cardiff involves the horrendous St Mary Street mile, lined with bars that play the same manufactured music, serve the fight inducing lagers and shots and where every weekend the police are tested. Walking through St Mary Street a few hours later in the evening was both frightening and intimidating, and for a 47 year old bloke in the City I had lived in from birth until three years ago this makes me sad. The sanctuary of Womanby Street was so welcoming by comparison ... and we were not alone in expressing this sentiment.

The march arrived on the lawn outside City Hall where the crowd, by now a thousand plus in number gathered to listen to a couple of speeches. One of SWS's organisers, Ewan Moore kicked things off with an emotional narrative. And then we had the politicians. The leader of the Cardiff Lib Dems was up first, and after the hecklers had been hushed Elizabeth Clark provided the first sound bites of the day. With local council elections only days away, this was a fantastic opportunity to make a real statement. Despite some references to past time spent in the Horse and Groom there was little in her speech which reassured me that Womanby Street would be any safer in the hands of the Liberal Democrats. Next up was Plaid AM Neil McAvoy, whose recent conduct record has been less than impressive. His aggressive response to a heckler at the front was interesting, and whilst I appreciated that some may be unimpressed with his record, he did work hard to get his point across. Whilst I dislike the man and his manner, his stark message that the real issue for protection of live music venues sits in Cardiff Bay was accurate. The final speaker was Phil Bale, labour councillor for Llanishen and leader of the City Council. His limp and generic speech was lacklustre and again didn't provide me with any reassurance whatsoever about any protection for Womanby Street. The hushed crowd didn't heckle, just listened with the resignation of those who know that the fight is far from over.

Ewan's final thanks were echoed with cheers and applause before the crowds melted away, many back to Womanby Street. We had a detour, grabbing some drinks and food before heading back to Womanby Street about 8.30pm. The street was bouncing, The Moon busy and full of live bands, Clwb open for business and in Fuel the first round of the Metal to the Masses competition.

A day of high hopes, of solidarity and of a clear demonstration of the strength of feeling. The disappointment of the local politicians' performances was understandably high. This is however, just the start and the strength and commitment of all those who gathered and use any of the venues in Womanby Street is growing. Look up the pages on Facebook and twitter. Womanby Street must not die.

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