For many years, before I got into “proper” clubbing – far too late, I know, I know – my idea of going clubbing on a Saturday night meant going to an indie club.
To be honest, things have come pretty much full circle for me now; I’m far too old to go clubbing at all now, but on the odd occasion that I do, it’s far more likely to be to an indie club than a bass-pumping house music chugging one.
When I first lived in Cardiff, that would mean going to Subways – nothing to do with sandwiches, feel free to insert your own joke about having a foot-long here if you so choose to do – a subterranean bar with a tiny dance floor which had a pillar plonked right in the middle of it, which was as renowned for the toilets flooding as it was for the music it played.
Subways closed in the early 1990s, which pretty much left either Clwb Ifor Bach (or The Welsh Club as it was colloquially know to non-native speakers such as I), or, more often, Metros as your bona fide alternative music venue.
Like Subways, Metros was also an underground club in the very literal sense of the term, but was a much bigger beast than Subways had ever been. And for a year or so, I managed to get in free, thanks to some friends of mine.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, I used to drink regularly in a pub called The Tut ‘n’ Shive on City Road in Cardiff. Now demolished, I loved that pub like no other, and usually spent two or three nights a week in there, and both nights (and often days) at the weekends.
Consequentially, I was on first name terms with the bar staff, the landlady, and many of the regulars. It was the closest I ever came to being part of a bar like in Cheers; I can count on one finger the amount of times I went in there and didn’t know anybody. Truly, everybody knew my name (and sometimes, I could remember theirs).
One Saturday night, one of the bar staff – a lad called Dave, who since he also had a shaved head and glasses, was often asked if we were related, and vice versa – approached me and told me that he and the rest of the staff were going to Metros after work, and I’d be more than welcome to come along too if I wanted to. Dave and I had become friendly over the years I spent drinking there, and whilst we haven’t really been in touch for a few years now – since I left Cardiff, just over ten years ago – for a few years we were pretty good mates.
Anyway, I’d had a few by chucking-out time, and whilst my mind and body quite fancied the idea of carrying on into the wee small hours, my wallet was less enthusiastic. Not a problem, Dave advised me, for they had a deal with the club: staff from The Tut get in for free. All I had to do was not appear too pissed, pretend to work at the pub, and I’d be in.
And so off we traipsed, after they’d finished all the wiping down of tables and mopping of floors. It was about a 10 minute walk into town, during which time I sobered up enough to seem, I thought, inconspicuous when trying to get passed the bouncers.
Although, one did stop me, and tried to get me to pay.
“But I work at The Tut, with these guys,” I protested, puffing my chest out in faux-indignation, trying to appear taller and bulkier than I really was.
“Oh really. I’ve never seen you with them before,” said the shaved ape. “What’s the name of the landlord?”
A trick question. “Well, it’s Keith’s name over the door,” I replied, “but he doesn’t have much to do with the day-to-day running of the pub, not since…oh, you know…” (Legend had it that Keith had been beaten up by some ne’er do wells he’d been ejecting from the pub years ago; he now walked with a limp, assisted by a walking stick) “…so his missus Debs runs the show these days…”
Being a regular in a pub certainly pays off sometimes: “In you go then.”
The DJ at Metros had a playlist not dissimilar to what I tried to do years before when I DJ’d at Uni: anything indie-ish could get played, and he/I would try to encompass as many different sub-genres as possible. He wasn’t bothered whether one song sounded good next to the preceding one, his ony concern was getting people to dance for as long as possible, and work up enough of a thirst to spend money at the bar. And because the club was underground, it was always ridiculously hot; sweat would vaporise, collect and solidify on the ceiling and then drip back down on you.
But the fun of this approach, as a punter, was that you never really knew what would come next. One night I remember channeling childhood country dancing lessons along to The Proclaimers one minute, then wafting imaginary puffs of dry ice to The Sisters of Mercy the next.
And here’s the best thing about Metros, something I’ve never encountered in any club before or since: open until 4am, at around 2am they would start serving free toast. No, not a euphemism or code word for some kind of interesting drug: actual toast.
It was here that I danced to hip hop for the first time, if you can call it dancing. It was to a tune which the DJ would often drop, but which I nor anyone I knew, recognised.
Asking the DJ what a particular tune was equals a definite no-no at Metros, as I found out.
“‘Scuse me mate,” I once ventured, “what’s this tune you’re playing now?”
The enquiry brought a withering look from the man behind the decks.
“Fuck off” was the response.
For whilst he liked playing a wide-ranging spectrum of indie-esque tunes, he didn’t like people knowing what they were. Knowledge is power, and all that.
And so it was that, in those pre-Google days, it wasn’t until many years later that I found out what that hip-hop tune I liked enough to dance to was.
And of course, it was Llŷr who cast light into that particular shadowy corner for me.
“Do you mean this?” he said, after he let me pathetically attempt to describe (and, if memory serves, beatbox) it to him:
More soon. I’m off for some toast.