THE NIGHT POP STARS PLAYED TO 12 PEO­PLE

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - DAVID OWENS Re­porter david.owens@waleson­line.co.uk

I MAGINE be­ing perched on the edge of some­thing mo­men­tous, but hav­ing no idea of what glo­ri­ous fate was about to be­fall you. The evening of March 2, 1989, had started much like any other for Cardiff Univer­sity med­i­cal stu­dent Nick Robert­son. Lit­tle did he know that by the end of the night his life would have changed.

He’d read about a band in the NME who were play­ing his adopted city that evening. Sadly, there was lit­tle en­thu­si­asm for the gig from his house­mates in Llan­bled­dian Gar­dens, in the city’s stu­dent hub of Cathays.

Lit­tle mat­ter, he de­cided to walk the half mile or so to The Venue on Charles Street and set out alone.

At the same time, Francesca Mur­phy, who was in a suc­ces­sion of well-re­mem­bered lo­cal punk and al­ter­na­tive Cardiff bands such as The Cy­der­fex, French Let­tuce and the won­der­fully named Sis­ters Of Mur­phy, was sat in the Panorama pub on David Street, around the corner from Charles Street, sip­ping a pint with her then boyfriend, keenly an­tic­i­pat­ing the night’s en­ter­tain­ment at the city’s lat­est live mu­sic des­ti­na­tion – The Venue.

The 250-ca­pac­ity Venue on Charles Street had only been open two weeks when it wel­comed the band that would change the face of Bri­tish mu­sic.

Housed in a base­ment, that was twothirds con­crete bunker, one-third live mu­sic venue, it was owned by enig­matic al­ter­na­tive night­club im­pre­sario Pete Lough­lin, who sadly died last year.

On the evening of March 2, 1989, Ian Brown, John Squire, Mani and Reni, col­lec­tively known as The Stone Roses, walked out on The Venue stage to be greeted by an au­di­ence which could only be de­scribed as sparse.

“I re­mem­ber it was a hor­ri­ble night and it was pour­ing down,” says Nick, now 48 and a GP in Devon where he lives with his Welsh wife and their four chil­dren.

“There was only a hand­ful of peo­ple stood around cwtch­ing plas­tic glasses of beer. It wasn’t an aus­pi­cious start. There couldn’t have been more than 15 peo­ple in the venue.”

Nick re­mem­bers the sound was loud and the band were in sub­lime form.

“They were re­ally tight. They all looked like they were get­ting on and they had great be­lief de­spite the small turnout. It was in­cred­i­ble to see them at this point be­fore the money, the drugs and the man­age­ment fall-outs got in the way.

While Nick’s mu­si­cal life was be­ing changed, an­other by­stander wasn’t quite so im­pressed.

Francesca, now a 57-year-old re­tired li­brar­ian, had ar­rived at the gig with her boyfriend, ready to give The Roses a chance.

“There was a lot of buzz about the band,” she re­calls. “I al­ways read the mu­sic pa­pers so any­body who they were talk­ing about I would give them a lis­ten or a look if they were play­ing lo­cally to see what the fuss was about.

Un­for­tu­nately, as the say­ing goes, “you don’t get a sec­ond chance to make a first im­pres­sion” and cock­sure Ian Brown, a man not short on self-be­lief, turned Francesca off im­me­di­ately.

“I think it was his at­ti­tude, he just got up my nose and I know that was partly the point, it was part of their whole thing,” she re­mem­bers. “I think he just an­noyed me and I couldn’t get past it.”

As for The Venue, it only lasted an­other year be­fore it shut with mount­ing bills. The Venue’s next in­car­na­tion was to be gay club The Exit, but for many years now the base­ment on Charles Street has lain idle, a derelict bunker of ex­posed bricks and mor­tar.

Nev­er­the­less, if you lis­ten closely enough amidst the dust you’ll hear the dis­tant echoes of a youth­ful upris­ing that still re­ver­ber­ates to­day; an evening that saw one of the great­est rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time emerge from the shad­ows, blink­ing into the light.

The Stone Roses played a gig in Cardiff in 1989

Francesca Mur­phy

Nick Robert­son

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