Goldie Lookin’ Chain, in Le Pub. You can’t get much more Newport than that.
*Having read through this ‘gig review’, I realise that a lot of it is just a rant about Newport – written by someone not from Newport. For those of you that want to skip this ill-informed waffle, I have added a sub heading, ‘THE GOLDIE LOOKIN’ CHAIN BIT, for you to jump to.
Our day started out with lunch in the Queen Inn, Cwmbran. Met up with the offspring and ate Hunters Chicken. Back at the start of the year the Queen Inn had participated in the ‘veganuary’ thing, turning the whole menu plant based. They had more customers that month than any month in the fourteen years they had been running the place. Eight months in they are still doing a roaring trade and the menu is now permanently one hundred percent vegan. Even the Hunters Chicken. Much of the menu is ‘fake meat’, but is nothing like anything I have tasted before. It really is stunning and I highly recommend a visit.
I had never really thought of Cwmbran as being Newport, because it’s not, but it’s close enough for Goldie Lookin Chain to write a song about it (The Fresh Prince of Cwmbran), and the satnav tells me we are only sixteen minutes from the city centre.
Next stop on our day out is an exhibition looking back at the life of Joe Strummer during his days living in Newport. Before the Mescalaroes, Joe was in The Clash. Before the Clash he was in the 101ers. Before the 101ers he was a grave digger in St Wolos cemetery, Newport. And he called himself Woody.
The exhibition is on for a week and is in 88 Stow Hill. The publicity doesn’t say what 88 Stow Hill is, but after parking we walk up what is probably Newport’s steepest hill to discover 88 Stow Hill is closed. We discover later that they had decided to close a day early. Even though they had only been open in the working week when most people were in work; they decided to close when they were likely to get the most visitors.
This left us with five hours to kill before the gig. With me on driving duty this meant an alcohol free five hours to kill. So after a quick exchange of text messages, we found ourselves in Tiny Rebel, a bar owned by the local Tiny Rebel Brewing Company, in the company of some Newport mates who were doing their best to drink the pub dry.
As the way these things go, conversation flowed in all sorts of directions, from wedding invitations (or lack there of), and printing leaflets for takeaways, to the apparent joys of being polyamorous. We discussed the fact that one of the members of Goldie Lookin’ Chain is a councillor and had secured disabled parking for the mother on one of the gang.
At one point my mind wandered off. I looked up. At street level Newport town centre, sorry, City Centre, is pretty grim. It is the usual story of out-of-town retail parks sucking the life out of the town itself. Vape shops, card shops and twenty first century pawn brokers move in to fill the vacuum left behind. But if you lift your eyes above the bland, unimaginative, and depressing shop fronts, the architecture in the centre is really quite magnificent.
Above the shops you will see just how much craftsmanship, time and money that went into building the three and four-storey commercial buildings on Commercial Street, High Street, and the surrounding streets.
There are numerous elaborate clock towers, opulent window arrangements, and other interesting features which reflect the area’s history.
During the industrial revolution, Newport became a major port town serving the coal industry which resulted in a huge development boom in the latter half of the 19th century.
Newport city centre was designated a conservation area in 1987. The protected area extends from near the junction of High Street with the Old Green Roundabout in the north to the junction of Commercial Street and Hill Street in the south. It is just a shame you have to crick your neck to actually appreciate it. Even the Westgate Hotel, scene of the Chartist Uprising of 1839, looks like a collection of discount stores at street level.
When I were a lad there were two things that could be said about Newport nightlife. The first was that the centre was rough as fuck. It regularly topped the charts for the most violent town in the UK. Trips into town just for drinking purposes regularly ended with trying to dodge mass brawls and flurries of knuckles and boots. It seems to have calmed down a lot in recent years. The fact that less and less people are going out, no doubt contributing to this. Throw in the cost-of-drinking crisis and the town is a much calmer and quieter place than it once was.
When the card machine breaks down in Tiny Rebel – they don’t do cash – rather than downloading the ‘app’, we head looking for coffee and carrot cake. First of all we try the indoor market. It is a controversial place. Until recently it was your traditional indoor market, selling all sorts from fruit and veg, to comics, lace curtains and records. It has been revamped and is now home to Thai street food, juice bars and cheesecake shops. It’s modern, sleek and trendy. Some believe it has revitalised the town centre. Others believe it has ripped the character out of the place, with many long standing tenants being priced out by exorbitant rent. Including Kriminal Records.
We find a bar, that has stopped doing coffee for the night. We get excited when we find carrot cake on the menu of another establishment, only to find it is a fucking smoothie.
We head over to the Murringer, the oldest pub in town, dating back to 1530. It ws once thriving, but now, on a Saturday night, it is almost deserted, and the only drinkers are those that want to have a sit down and a chat with old mates and to be able to hear each other. My kind of pub these days. It is steadfastly independent and only serves the produce of the Samuel Smiths brewery, which was a round long before craft ale had even been thought of (1758 to be precise). We have a coffee, probably the only thing they sell not made by Samuel Smith.
Newport is undoubtedly a working-class town. It is twenty-four miles from Cardiff, but a world apart culturally. But is does have culture. By the bucket load. It has always been a hotbed of creativity, from the The Cowboy Killers, Sixty Foot Dolls, Novacaine and Dub War, through to Science Bastard, Rogora Khart and Pizzatramp (Ok, they be in Caldicot).
TJs became one of the best known music venues in the country, attracting bands from all over the word. Which is the other thing that can be said about Newport. it has always had a good live music scene. Frug fanzine was well respected and Rockaway Records, Diverse Vinyl and Kriminal records have been consistently been among the best records shops in Wales.
Many of Newport’s sons and daughters take a pride in their roots, revelling in it’s no frills underdog status and fly the flag for the city wherever they go; including Skindred and the ‘Newport Helicopter’, Bad Sam and their numerous songs about local characters and of course, Goldie Lookin’ Chain.
At last, I hear you cry. He’s finally writing about the GLC.
THE GOLDIE LOOKIN’ CHAIN BIT
Some twenty years ago I remember GLC bootleg demo cassettes going ‘viral’, before viral was even a thing. Handed around and copied by half of south Wales. At the time I remember thinking that they would never get official releases because A) they were pretty hardcore and B) because they would surely never get clearance for the samples. But what do I know? They were soon troubling the charts.
Then I remember predicting they would be a flash in the pan. Gone in two years when the joke wore off. Yet here we are, two decades later and still going strong. But what do I know?
Their brand of comedy hip hop is oft immitated, but never equalled. Their rhymes are bang on, their subject matter hilarious and, as was pointed out to me in the pub, their hip hop is the real deal.
Tonight they are playing the one hundred capacity Le Pub, which is celebrating thirty years of business this year. It hasn’t always occupied the same building though. It used to be a few streets away, around the corner from the Baneswell Express. The move came about when the landlord retired, but it was a blessing in disguise. What was a pretty cool pub venue has morphed into the best venue in south Wales. It is now a community owned project, run with a social conscience at the fore, with a recording studio, a live music venue and a fully vegan menu. It also regularly puts on the coolest of bands from the grassroots scene, along with occasional international artists that could easily fill venues with a significantly larger capacity. It has kept Newport on the map musically since the closure of TJs. It is the main reason I have for visiting the City.
Goldie Lookin Chain are a band that can fill venues ten times the size of Le Pub, but these local boys are happy to pay tribute to their local venue.
We stake our claim to a spot near the stage so we can get some decent photos, expecting a bit of a wait. But our timing was perfect. As soon as I had chosen my camera settings the band troop in from the bar, looking like prize fighters heading to the ring.
The stage is unusually free of the usual band paraphernalia, like, erm, instruments and amplifiers. There is just a table with their rider on and a laptop. Dare I say they are a boy band doing karaoke? Well I’ve said it now.
They kick off with a song about drinking which, I have to admit, I’m not familiar with. But the crowd love it, it’s a perfect kick start to the show, as is the next number, “Ice, Ice, Dildo”.
To say this is karaoke is obviously to do the band a disservice of epic proportion. This is an incredibly well rehearsed act with nine (I think it was nine, they didn’t keep still long enough for me to count) rappers throwing in rhymes in exactly the right place at the right time. This shit takes a lot of practice. And performing this live is just the end product that is the icing on the cake after cooking up some truly inspired lyrics. they should be nominated for poet laureates.
Almost all of my favorites are included in the set list.
‘The Alchemist’ – a homage to Sting “I’m an alchemist, I’m an illegal alchemist, in Newport”.
The chart hit, ‘Guns Don’t kill People’ – “guns don’t kill people, rappers do, I seen it in a documentary on BBC Two”
The one about Cwmbran, that was written before the Queen Inn turned vegan – ” Cwmbran’s not known for rape or killing
It’s a great place to go, if you’re chilling”
My personal favourite, Soap Bar – “Burned a new hole in my tracksuit today, Smoking Soap Bar without an ashtray”
The one that resulted in the FAW having to apologise to David Beckham, after they dedicated it to him before the Wales v England Game, ‘Your Mrs is a Nutter’ – “Last week, she ended up on a binge, She got off her tits and showed the bouncers her minge.”
The response to some upstarts that tried to take them on with their ‘Newport State of Mind’ (You’re not from Newport) – “Shirley Bassey, she’s just like the Queen, Not from Newport, and probably never been”
The banter between songs, inevitably, is just as witty as the songs themselves. There’s not a dry eye in the house. Or dry panties for that matter.
All good things come to an end and they wrap thing up with a version of ‘Your Mother’s got a Penis that is bordering on punk rock and has the whole house bouncing. “When she walks down the street, then she walks like John Wayne, I just seen her pissing standing up again”.
And then, at a mere ten of the PM, they are off – leaving everyone with enough time to get back on the piss – including Mark Steel, who is doing ‘research’ for his Mark Steel’s in Newport show later in the week. Nice work if you can get it. But he picked the right gig, it don’t get much more Newport than GLC in Le Pub. You knows it clart.