The music and the laughter have disappeared from Guildford Crescent. Once home to independent businesses, including the beloved Gwdihŵ Concert Hall, the site is now a wasteland of weeds and discarded cans. The occasional poppy grows between patches of overgrown grass and overturned guardrails.
Staring at the peeling and once colorful facade that shields the disused ground from passers-by, Cardiff poet Cal Ellis sighed: “It looks like the setting of a Western. it was.”
For Cal, the demolition of Guildford Crescent – a row of 19th-century buildings that housed Gwdihŵ and two family restaurants – for a new block of 30-storey luxury apartments is emblematic of a wider malaise suffocating his town. native. “It’s not about taking that away and giving you something new,” the 26-year-old said. “It’s just, ‘We’re taking that away and building something that you won’t have access to. “”
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Over the past few weeks, Cal has expressed his frustration through a poem, The Dragon in a Bally, which he pasted on electrical boxes around town – prompting a flood of social media posts from strangers telling Cal how it resonated with them. “I am post Tiger Bay and this generation grew up seeing corporate horror and mass gentrification,” the poem begins, before raging on “forgotten locals in a united city” and “ scraps from the council fundraising pot”.
A few minutes’ walk from Guildford Crescent, the Cathays-born writer spoke to WalesOnline at the Little Man cafe in Bridge Street. Standing inches tall over the 6-foot-tall reporter, he was warm and quick to smile as he spoke of his passion for his city, but there was a quiet anger in his words.
He explained that the poem was inspired by the artist Revealist’s piece of a hooded Welsh dragon. “I saw it and was immediately blown away,” Cal said. “We have the best flag in the world, but this image gives it anonymity. It takes away the corporate character of the image. It’s the perfect representation of the Welsh underground for me.” You can get more Cardiff news and other story updates by subscribing to our newsletters here.
For Cal, it was an antidote to the “refined” version of Cardiff he associates with “I heart the ‘Diff” branded tote bags. The poet, who also sings in punk band Shackles of Shame, thinks many of the city’s ills can be traced to a “core” problem: “Cardiff is gentrifying at a rapid pace and very profit driven, not about the people, not about the culture and communities that make the city great.”
Cal, who spent his early years at Rhigos Gardens near Maindy Road, said: “Cathays then had more landlords, more families, more old people…Today the whole area feels like an extension of the United.”
As landlords bought up huge swathes of the neighborhood for densely populated student accommodation, Cal and his family were put on a price tag, moving to Gabalfa when he was 11. . “You look at the quality of the accommodation they’re placed in, it’s inhumane beyond belief. On a larger scale, the housing market in Cardiff is terrible. I have friends who have children but don’t aren’t going to come down the rental ladder, and the houses they rent out, they’re not places you should be raising a family.
“Gabalfa wasn’t a million miles away, but culturally it was a bit of a shock. It’s a tougher area, but there are lovely people there. Obviously in the more deprived areas , there will be a higher crime rate In reality it’s frustration isn’t And it’s something we see all over Cardiff now You look at the vandalism going on, people smashing statues of Snoopy and destroying trees in Bute Park These things to me are symptoms of a problem that is not being addressed.
Cal thinks a rent cap and a crackdown on rogue landlords would help solve the problem, but he also thinks Cardiff Council needs to do more to protect the city’s cultural institutions. Castle Emporium – a collection of quirky independent shops – and 10 Feet Tall concert hall are among closures in recent years, while Maindy Velodrome is under threat from possible school expansion and Porters – another venue music – should be bulldozed during a 35 story building.
“This is nothing less than a direct attack on local communities,” Cal said. “The Gwdihŵ thing – places are being demolished so they can build flats that people in Cardiff can’t afford. It’s obscene. It’s nonsense.”
Cal, whose band often plays Porters in Bute Terrace, hopes the bar can reach its £75,000 target to move. “There aren’t a lot of free music events going on [elsewhere in the city]”, he said. “But I don’t think the free gig scene should be solely the responsibility of independent companies. I remember the Great Weekend. They had a big funfair outside the Cardiff Museum and a stage outside City Hall with bands like Feeder. It was amazing – I was 14 and went to see Feeder for free, paid for by the town hall. Culturally, it had an impact on me. On the one hand it made me see possibilities and opportunities, but secondly I saw a compromise from the council – putting people in Cardiff instead of just building more buildings.
“When it ended [in 2013] I remember there were stabbings and stuff, but I don’t think the big weekend was the problem with knife crime,” he laughed. “Another times, it’s a symptom of a bigger problem.”
In a city center dominated by big chains, Cal sees the council-owned Cardiff Market as an “island” of independent businesses. “It’s my favorite place,” he said. “It’s real. It’s raw. And when tourists go there, they love it. I know there’s work to be done in the market but it’s not getting the funding. Newport now has a market brilliant, one of the best in Wales, Swansea even has a nice market, and the Cardiff market seems to be lagging behind a bit.
“But then you go to the Hayes and St David’s and even the bay, where it starts to look a bit like a tourist trap – really inauthentic, not very local. It’s like they’re trying to pass off a image of Cardiff as this city that it is not, to sell travel tickets and hotel rooms. It’s like they’re trying to make it a little bit London. Everything is really shiny and spiced with bunch of big chain restaurants dressed up to look like small chain restaurants.”
Cal has “endless” childhood memories of the Maindy velodrome, where Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas fell in love with cycling. Nearly 4,500 people have signed a petition to save the facility, but the council approved plans to expand Cathays High School on the site and move the cycle path to the Cardiff Bay International Sports Village. “It would be sad to see it go,” Cal said, but he was less critical of this project than others. “If you’re redeveloping for something that benefits the community, I’ll probably support it. But too often in Cardiff it seems like odd redevelopments for something really inaccessible and unnecessary.”
The writer has loved living in Riverside for three years, but worries about its rampant gentrification. “I don’t think it’s happened yet, but it’s in the middle. It’s the same as Grangetown. House prices are going up, there’s a lot more rental properties. Canton is pretty gentrified already. I don’t I’m not against development and moving forward. But we also need to remember the mistakes of our past. When we gentrify these neighborhoods, we split the cultural communities that made the city what it is.
Cardiff Bay’s regeneration has come at the cost of demolished homes, lost streets and a torn multicultural community, he claimed. “All I remember studying Tiger Bay in school was redevelopment,” Cal said, shaking his head. “I look back now and I’m like, ‘How boring to talk about this. Tell me about the fact that it was one of the biggest ports in the world and the first check for a million pounds was written there. There is an incredible history in Cardiff.
Enlightening, he moved on to his pride in his heritage. “In Cardiff and Wales as a whole, we have a spirit around us. We have a glowing confidence and spirit. I think we produce some of the best art in the world. It’s the same with all the oppressed peoples. It’s about bringing that trust back. In Cardiff you have a big underground community, a community of grassroots tinkerers.
The end of the poem reads like a rallying cry for this community: “Free thinking, creating around you. .here for pay, the Dragon in a bally is the flag we salute.”
Cal’s dream is to run a community space where people can perform and create everything from pottery to paintings. Set to start a Masters in Arts Management this year at Royal Welsh College, he wants to help improve opportunities for marginalized communities in his city. Over the past few months, two significant works of art in Cardiff that celebrated diversity have been painted – first the street art on the pillars around the old Debenhams store was washed away by the improvement district of business FOR Cardiff, then the iconic My City My Shirt mural in Cardiff Bay was removed by an advertising agency. Relocation officials described them as mistakes, but Cal believes they highlight the disconnect between the city’s artists and its “feather pushers.”
“If someone goes out and paints something on a wall that’s harmless and beautiful, that shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “It seems to be like that in Bristol. I was blown away by the amount of street art when I first went there. That little bit in Cardiff near the promenade is clearly not enough to satisfy the need for the community to speak out. Then you get the scenes that work against each other, where this artist says, “I had that there, you can’t take it off yet.” isn’t there just enough space?”