Tag Archives: Cardiff

An Ode to the Old Arms Park

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I’d been a Simple Minds fan since 1986, when my cousin Linden turned me on to them. Once upon a Time was one of the first albums I ever bought as a 12-year old, and I loved Live in the City of Light. Therefore, when tickets for the Street Fighting Years tour went on sale I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. It was the first gig I ever went to, and I still remember the buzz as the excitement built in the weeks leading up to the gig, and then during the day. The support bands were the Darling Buds, the Silencers and Texas (not the Pixies, as some sources state), an early highlight being Sharleen Spiteri calling us a ‘load of Welsh b*stards’ and storming off in a huff because, in truth, nobody was there to see her band and didn’t pay them any attention. There may have been a few projectiles in the form of little plastic bottles aimed at the stage. For me and the 56,000 others, it was all about the Minds.

I wasn’t such a big fan of the Street Fighting Years album, though in time the title track and Belfast Child went on to become two of my favourite Simple Minds songs. I was more into the stadium rock sound that preceded it. Important and relevant it may have been, but being so young, a lot of the political stuff about Apartheid and Nelson Mandela went over my head.

Musically, the Cardiff gig wasn’t perfect. The set was too heavily reliant on the newer, slow-paced material and, as far as I can remember, they played virtually nothing pre-Sparkle in the Rain. Until recently, the band has tried desperately to distance themselves from those early art-rock outpourings, and it is more than a little ironic that today those tunes sound a lot fresher than some of the albums they put out in their pomp. Jim Kerr has always been a fantastic frontman (“Lemme see yer hands!”) and even back then I could appreciate the relationship he formed with the crowd and the sheer effort he and his bandmates put in.

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Now, more than 25-years on, Simple Minds are still recording and touring. They endured some difficult times during the late 90’s and early noughties when they declined in popularity and lost major label backing, but in the past couple of years have experienced a renaissance and are back playing arenas again, if not stadiums. Paradoxically, they have returned to the style of their first few albums and tracks from that period feature prominently in their setlists, usually at the expense of material from the Street Fighting Years (1989) and Real Life (1991) albums. Last year they put out Big Music, their most acclaimed album in years, which pays more than a passing nod to their roots. They seem to be enjoying their Indian summer, which is good to see.

Despite being renowned as a rugby union stadium, a fact acknowledged from the stage by Jim Kerr that day, during this era Cardiff Arms Park (aka the National Stadium) attained a pretty good pedigree in attracting world famous recording artists. Michael Jackson had performed there the year before, and over the years it also played host to the Stones, David Bowie, U2, Dire Straits and REM, to name but a few during its tenure as Wales’ biggest and best music venue. Summer gigs there became a bit of a tradition among people of a certain age. The last act to put on a show there before the venue was demolished to make way for the Millennium stadium was Tina Turner in 1996. Bands still come to play at the Millennium Stadium, but it just doesn’t have the same allure as the old Arms Park, which has surely earned it’s place in the rich tapestry of Welsh culture.


Mike Peters – The Year of Strength Live @The Globe, Cardiff

 

“If a man can’t change the world these days,
I still believe a man can change his own destiny,
But the price is high that has got to be paid,
For everyone who survives there are many who fail,
I’ve seen my friends caught up in the crossfire,
All their dreams and hopes smashed on the funeral pyre.”

– Spirit of ’76

When the original Strength album was released back in 1985, it was a seminal moment in the history of Welsh rock. It was the sound of a band at the height of their powers, every chord, every word resonating with everyone with dragon blood running through their veins, and a fair few who didn’t. They were songs of despair and struggle, hope and triumph. Lyrically, it was an album born of it’s time, with songs about the the miner’s strike, growing up in a country with a dying industry, and working class life in the Iron Lady’s Britain. It wasn’t pretty.

“I’ve got ideas that I cannot deny,
If I stay I’ll be killed by the dreams in my mind,
Today I can’t find nothing nowhere,
Tomorrow I might find something somewhere.”

– Father to Son

The stadium rock sound of Strength marked a slight departure from the folky punk organized chaos of the Alarm’s debut, the songwriting was on-point, the playing tight and the production (by Mike Howlett, who had previously worked with Tears For Fears, OMD and Joan Armatrading) crisp and sharp. Absolute Reality, Spirit of ’76 and the title track all made the UK Top 40 singles chart, with the latter also becoming their biggest US hit. For a while, the Alarm were our U2, our Simple Minds. The Irish had the Troubles to sing about, the Scots had the Glasgow shipyards, and the Welsh had empty coalfaces and deserted mining villages. In their own ways, they all spoke for a lost generation. Every track on Strength is a classic, and it’s a mystery how the album didn’t sell as many copies as the likes of Unforgettable Fire and Once Upon a Time.

Thirty years on, not that much has changed, except I’m not an over-excited eleven-year old anymore. All the exuberance of youth has long since deserted me. Three of the four original members of the Alarm have also left, but the songs and the sentiments remain and are still as relevant today as they were in 1985. The band as it was then may be gone but Mike Peters still stands, guitar in hand. He even has the same hair cut. Despite his well-documented health problems, tonight he is on top form. It’s clear nothing can sap the man’s passion. As promised, he performs the Strength album in it’s entirety, though the songs have been re-imagined and rearranged to facilitate what is essentially a one-man band approach.

Some tracks are virtually unrecognisable from their original versions, but all have retained their power and allure. I must admit I was dubious when I first heard of the project to re-record Strength. If it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it and all that. But hearing the songs in this stripped-down form adds a whole new depth and clarity, bringing them kicking and screaming into the 21st century where they can be enjoyed in a new context. They are designed to complement the originals, rather than replace them.

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A quick word about the venue. I’ve been to dozens of gigs in Cardiff over the years but never been to The Globe before. It’s small. Very small. Intimate, even. Which suits me fine. I’m off those big soulless arenas and stadiums where you can’t see anything and the sound goes over your head. Maybe it’s a consequence of getting old. Set deep in the suburbs of Cardiff, the Globe used to be a cinema, and it retains some of that old-school character and charm.

Peters is a born storyteller, and the flow of the gig is punctuated by long raps about the music business and his experiences. As well as the Strength material and the between-song banter, he throws in a selection of lesser-known tracks from his extensive back catalogue. Set opener Howling Wind goes down a storm (sorry) and Strength-era b-side Majority, which has also been re-recorded and re-released this year on the companion album to Strength, is another highlight. There is the usual smattering of old standards like Unbreak the Promise and One Step Closer to Home, and the traditional set-closer Blaze of Glory gets an airing to the delight of the partisan crowd. It just wouldn’t be an Alarm/Mike Peters gig without it.

With no support act, all those stories and a two hour-plus gig, Peters gets more like Bruce Springsteen with every passing moment. He’s also the nicest rock star you could ever wish to meet, and possibly one of the busiest. The tour continues throughout the summer in Europe and the States. Catch it while you can.

Love, Hope, Strength


Cardiff City’s Championship Return

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Cardiff City kick off the new season at Blackburn on Friday 8 August. On paper, for the 2014/15 season Cardiff City probably have one of the strongest squads the Championship has ever seen. If anything, they have an embarrassment of riches all over the park. Of course, that poses its own set of problems. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer showed us last season how much he enjoys tinkering with personnel, formation and tactics. He’s going to have a field day trying to select a team from around 32 serious candidates.

For what it’s worth, here is my pick:

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Marshall

After last season’s heroics, his place between the sticks is virtually guaranteed.

LB: Fabio

At left-back it was a toss-up between him and young Declan John. Fabio has had an impressive pre-season, and gets the nod because the club have to justify his inflated wages somehow.

CB: Juan Cala

Looked decent after arriving on a free from Sevilla in February, and scored twice in his seven appearances. Should fill the gap vacated by Steven Caulker.

CB: Ben Turner

Closing in on a century of appearances for the club, Big Ben is a shoe-in at this level. His height and physical presence could be key.

RB: John Brayford

Spent last season on loan at Sheffield United, but the 26-year old is back and has a point to prove. In the absence of any stand-out right-backs at the club, I say give him a chance.

LM: Peter Whittingham

Recently signed a new contract tying him to the Bluebirds until 2017. The biggest debate is where his best position is. I think the left of midfield where he can put in some early crosses suits him best. His set-pieces could be crucial.

CM: Aron Gunnarsson

In danger of becoming the Forgotten Man, but the Iceland captain loves the club and knows what it takes to get out of this division. Great stamina and tackling ability. Will slot in neatly alongside new signing Dikgacoi.

CM: Kagisho Dikgacoi

I have high hopes for the South African international who has been handed Gary Medel’s number 8 shirt. Grabbing him on a free from Palace could prove to be a great piece of business.

RM: Craig Noone

Showed what he can do when given the opportunity last season. If he can stay clear of injuries, he could be vital to the team’s cause. Along with Whitts on the other flank, he’ll shoulder the bulk of the creative responsibility.

S: Adam Le Fondre

What City missed last season was a proven goal scorer. The new signing from Reading, where he scored 39 times in 104 games, should go some way to addressing the problem. Has been on fire in pre-season.

S: Javi Guerra

Another new signing. This spot could easily have gone to Machida or Jones, but I’m opting for the Spaniard’s guile and experience. Can drop deep when required.

SUBS: Simon Moore (GK), Matthew Connolly, Declan John, Kim Bo-Kyung, Matts Moller Daehli, Guido Burgstaller, Joe Mason, Federico Macheda.

Controversial selection, I know. On last season’s evidence, many would put Daehli somewhere in midfield. But personally I think he’s still a bit lightweight for the rough and tumble of the Championship. For the time being, I think we would be best served to bring him on late in games when teams are slowing down. There could also be a case to include Austrian international Burgstaller on either flank, but he is a bit of an unknown quantity. Kimbo isn’t in my team because he was awful last season. If he wants to get in he has to improve. He’s lucky to get on the bench. Kenwyne Jones wasn’t so lucky.

My book, From the Ashes: The REAL Story of Cardiff City, is out now:

From the Ashes

From the Ashes

Originally published by the Huff Post UK:

 http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/


Cardiff City’s Summer Signings – The Good, the Bad & the Average

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A few months ago I wrote a summary of Cardiff City’s summer transfer activity. Now all the players brought in have had a chance to show what they can do, I feel a quick progress report is in order.

Steven Caulker

The commanding centre back brought in from Tottenham for around £8 million slotted straight into the heart of City’s back four and has proved nothing short of a revelation. We knew he was good from seeing him during his loan spell at Swansea, but his passing ability, aerial presence and composure, have been invaluable to a side lacking experience at this level. So impressive he was soon given the captain’s armband.

Verdict: 9/10

Peter Odemwingie

The £2.2 million signing from West Brom arrived with some baggage but in all fairness, he started reasonably well. He was enthusiastic and ran hard. I say ‘was’ because he seems to have lost some of that urgency of late as City slumped to the bottom of the league. Being played in a lone striker role probably does him no favours, but to my mind he has a tendency to ‘go missing’ during games and a return of one goal in 15 league appearances is simply not good enough.

Verdict: 5/10

Andreas Cornelius.

The £8 million boy wonder who, if reports are to be believed, was at least partly responsible for Malky Mackay losing his job. Much has been made of his potential, but the fact of the matter is that at this stage in the club’s development, they need strikers who can score goals now. True, he spent the first couple of months of the season sidelined through injury, but judging by what little we have seen of him so far (7 substitute Premier League appearances and a couple of starts in the cups) the club’s number 9 is a mere shadow of the player we thought he was. Unfit, inexperienced and low on confidence.

Verdict: 3/10

Gary Medel

The £11 million record signing from Sevilla has featured in virtually every game this season in the holding midfielder role in front of the back four. He has been very impressive until the past few games, where he has started to look a little fatigued. The fans are divided over whether he was actually worth the money or not. I say he most definitely is. If we had a team of Gary Medel’s we probably wouldn’t break any scoring records (not that we would anyway) but we certainly wouldn’t lose many games.

Verdict: 8.5/10

Kevin Theophile Catherine

A snip at around £2 million and quickly proving one of the bargains of the century, rampaging right-back TC has wowed the fans with some powerful, direct displays. Just what you need and expect from a modern fullback. Gets caught out of position at times, but at 24 he is still learning and well on the way to establishing himself as the best full-back at the club.

Verdict: 7.5/10

John Brayford

The £1.5 million signing from Derby County arrived as one of the most highly regarded fullbacks outside the Premier League. However, apart from two League Cup appearances, he has been unable to force himself into the side and currently finds himself behind TC and veteran Kevin McNaughton in the pecking order. A big disappointment, though maybe through no fault of his own.

Verdict: 3/10

Simon Moore

The 23-year old was brought in from Brentford in League One as back up for goalkeeper David Marshall. And on the bench is where he’s stayed. He gets two points for turning up every week, which is more than some of the other players have done.

Verdict: 2/10

This article originally appeared in the Huff Post (UK):

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/cardiff-citys-summer-signing_b_4636965.html

Read my archive:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/

My book, From the Ashes: The REAL Story of Cardiff City is out now on Gwasg Carreg Gwalch:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/From-Ashes-Story-Cardiff-Football/dp/1845242130


Going Back to China.

Back to work in a few days. Bummer. Goodbye friends and family, hello unknown.

On September 1st I have to get up at 06.30, travel to Cardiff by car, get a coach to Heathrow airport (London), take a long-haul flight to Shanghai PuDong airport, get a public bus to Shanghai Hongqiao airport, take a domestic flight to Changsha, and hopefully meet up with a representative from my new school who will then drive me to my apartment on the outskirts of the city.

All in all the journey will take around 28 hours I guess, providing I make all the connections and don’t die in a fireball somewhere.

I’ll be honest, the thought is a little daunting. Before a long journey I get apprehensive. So many things can go wrong. Adding to my trepidation is the fact that I am starting a new job in a new school in a new area. I have been doing this for 5 or 6 years now, and it seems I spend most of my life ‘settling in’ and walk around in a permanent state of mild culture shock.    

I work as an ESL teacher in China, which I will blog more about in the future (I pwomise!). I don’t pretend to be a real teacher. My job basically amounts to entertaining disinterested Chinese university students and being the token ‘foreign expert,’ that gives an educational establishment added credibility. I actually have a foreign experts certificate issued by the Chinese government which assures me that I am, indeed, an expert at being foreign.

People who pursue this pseudo-career are usually faced with three employment options:

1: Volunteer work. This, in my book, is an instant no-no and geared toward exploiting graduates who need work experience. The parents invariably pay the schools, so why should the foreign teachers be expected to work for free?

2: Private schools. These offer a higher salary, usually 10-13,000 RMB (£1000 – 1300) a month, sometimes more, but you have to work up to 40-hours a week and usually have to pay for your own apartment, transport and everything else. In short, its like having a real job.

3: State-run educational establishments (schools, colleges and universities). These offer a lower salary (on average around 5000 – 6000 RMB, or £500 – 600) but as part of a ‘package’ that also includes a fully-furnished apartment, travel expenses, visa fees, health insurance, return flights back to your country of origin, bonuses, and sometimes even phone, internet and utility bills. The main advantage is a much lower workload, and lengthy summer and winter holidays. It isn’t difficult to pick up extra part-time work to make up the difference in salary if one is so inclined.

Having experienced both sides of the coin, I decided long ago that option three suited my needs better, mainly because the general life hassles are minimized and I get a lot more free time. During the 2-month winter holiday I usually do some travelling around mainland China, and in the summer (when I often change schools, and sometimes cities) I go back to Wales to spend time with friends and family.

During the holidays is when I can apply myself fully to writing. I don’t pretend to be a professional.  I’m semi-pro at best. I don’t make much money teaching, and I make far less writing. But one thing I have learned on this epic journey is that life is about much more than money. It is a sad fact that if I made more I would undoubtedly waste it on stuff I don’t need. A truly fulfilling life should focus more on personal happiness, freedom, independence, setting and achieving goals, and making a difference.

Chris Jay of Army of Freshmen once said, “If experience can be considered a currency, then I am a rich man.”

And I agree.

Probably the worst thing about living and working in the PRC, apart from the general weirdness of it all, is the government-sanctioned internet censorship. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, You Tube and most blogging sites, including WordPress, are blocked, which makes social networking a constant game of cat n mouse. For this reason, combined with my own general laziness, my blogging over the next nine months or so may be a little sporadic, so please try to stick with me!

 

 


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