THE NIGHT POP STARS PLAYED TO 12 PEOPLE
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