LIVE REVIEW: The Cult, The Alarm, The Mission @ Cardiff Castle (04/07/23)

‘Where were you hiding when the storm broke?’ Nowhere, because there was no ‘Shelter from the storm’ and Ian Astbury ‘loves the rain’

For years I avoided going to gigs in Cardiff Castle. It just sounded wrong, totally at odds with how I like to see bands live, up close and personal. I accidentally ended up with tickets for the castle last year. Primal Scream were due to perform the ‘Screamadelica’ album in Cardiff Bay, but the venue was switched for reasons I’m still not clear on. (Review of that gig here innit)

But do you know what? I actually enjoyed it. It turns out it’s actually quite a good venue.

So when it was announced that The Cult were playing there, we snapped up the tickets.  Which is a doubly odd thing given I had shunned every opportunity to watch The Cult for the last thirty years.

The run up to the gig had been blessed with almost two months of rain free sunshine. Can it be a coincidence that a line up that included three bands that have songs about rain prompted the skies to pour wet stuff onto the crowd at the alfresco gig? I think not. The spirit walker was having a laugh. Besides, can’t be having goths getting a suntan.

I say three bands, but the elephant in the room is that there were actually four bands on the line up. I had been intending to check out Lili Refrain. To be blunt, I know nothing about them. As we sat in the new crafty type micro-brewery pub thing (Mad Dog Brewery Taproom) opposite the castle, watching the rain bouncing off Castle Street, my thirst to discover new music was somewhat dampened. We opted to wet our insides rather than our outsides. So I’m still none the wiser as to what Lili Refrain sounds like. Sorry .

The smell of damp goth

We waited for the rain to ease then headed into the castle to catch the last half of the set by The Mission. Try as we might, the security on the main gate didn’t care about our Cadw membership, so we had to join everyone else and enter from the rear (behave yourself) of the castle. We were soon trooping past a bedraggled looking bunch of music enthusiasts. It looked a bit like a scene out of Game of Thrones, but rather than the smell of scorched earth and blood, there was a slightly rancid whiff of damp goths and patchouli oil.

I’ve lost count the number of times I saw The Mission ‘back in the day’*. (*That’s an odd phrase. It means different things to different people. For the yoof of today, they could be taking about last week, but in this case, I am talking about the 1980s.) I was hungry for live rock music, was fed up of the likes of the Exploited, and hated the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, so Goth was a reasonable alternative. I was never a Goth myself, they were just part of the musical smorgasbord I was devouring at the time We went to see the likes of The Mission, The March Violets and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. It’s just what we did. Some of those bands inspired additions to my record collection, others didn’t. The Mission didn’t. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them, I enjoyed watching them live, I just didn’t love them.

As we walked into grounds, sussing where we wanted to stand, I could hear that Wayne Hussey’s voice has stood the test of time and is still deep and rich. The main thing that has changed with time is the loss of the long leather coats and the wide brim hats. Although we missed the start of the set, I’m confident that my favourite, ‘Shelter from The Storm’, their borderline plagiaristic rock and roll classic, is yet to come. Particularly as ‘It’s raining cats and dogs and I’m soaked right through the skin’ (ish). It doesn’t come. I ask around later and discover that they don’t play it very often now, and they didn’t play it tonight.

The Mission

With all the bands tonight having peaked in the 1908s (with the possible exception of Lili?) the crowd is full of old faces. The time between bands is spent catching up with friends old and new. We eventually find ourselves stood with a mixed gang from Devon, Oxford, Croydon and Cardiff. All of them have at some point in the past ‘followed’ one of the bands on the bill. I’m not sure if it is a thing these days, but there was a time when certain bands had a cult (excuse the pun) following. People who would pack their bags, stick out their thumb and hit the road to see a band multiple times on the same tour. I did it to a certain extent with New Model Army, but there were a far more dedicated crew that would go literally everywhere to see them. They even had a name, ‘The Militia’. I recall there was at least one tour where NMA sold season tickets for the tour.

It wasn’t a ‘groupie’ or fan-boy/girl thing though. There was no idol worship, it was just a social thing. A camaraderie between people who shared a taste in music, meeting at motorway service stations, meeting in pubs, divvying ip places on the guest list, climbing on each others shoulders at gigs, sharing suggestions for places to kip. Spear of Destiny had a big following, as did, Pop Will Eat itself, Gaye Bykers on Acid, Play Dead, Sex Gang Children, The Meteors, The Mission, Fields of Nephilim, Sister’s of Mercy and The Cult. The Alarm also have a massive dedicated following and they are on next.

The Alarm

I admire what the Alarm stand for. They have always stood for good causes, done lots of work in the community and helped upcoming bands. It is difficult to dislike them. But I’ve never proactively liked them enough to buy any of their records or go out of my way to see them. There are too many other bands out there doing similar stuff and dong it better. I have caught them a few times live, mainly at festivals when they couldn’t be avoided. And to be honest, I have half enjoyed them. It is surprising the number of well-known songs they have that I recognise. Tonight, they kick off with ‘Sixty-Eight Guns’, probably their most famous hit then shorty after role out ‘Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke”. Most of the crowd are loving it, so fair play to them.

There was no shelter from the storm so we couldn’t hide anywhere when the storm broke, but by the time The Cult hit the stage, the rain is hiding backstage. Not quite performing on the crowd, but we knew it was there threatening to make a guest appearance.

I was at The Cult’s first ever gig. That’s not quite as cool as you might think at first glance. They had already made a name for themselves, first as Southern Death Cult, then Death Cult. So by the time they came to do their first gig as simply ‘The Cult’, they were already capable of filling the two thousand capacity Lyceum Ballroom in London on 20th May 1984. The band performed fifteen songs that night, which were recorded live and edited down to nine songs for release as a live album included with the first 30,000 copies of the ‘Dreamtime’ LP. That debut album was a corker, and for a few years I made the effort to go and see the band as often as I could, hitching and sofa surfing around the country.

The follow up album, 1985’s ‘Love’, saw them break through to the mainstream commercially and contained the brilliant ‘Spirit Walker’ and ‘Rain’. The hitch hiking continued.

With producer Rick Rubin at the controls, 1987’s ‘Electric’ album saw a marked departure from the goth sound that had made them towards a much heavier, metallic sound. I still went to see them a few times, I am, after all, quite partial to a bit of heavy metal now and again, but this new Cult sound was not for me. That was the last album I bought by them and as the eighties clicked over into the nineties, I stopped making the effort to go and see them, or indeed pay them any attention at all. I felt they had become a bit of a parody, taking the dabbling in native American fashion a little too far. “Boogie till you blow chunks” my arse.

Hello Cardiff – The Cult are in town.

The Cult played Cardiff Student’s union recently and the thought of going did not even cross my mind. Yet strangely, when they announced they were playing Cardiff Castle, a venue I had also turned my nose up at until recently, I was hooked. Tickets were purchased pretty much the day they went on sale. After a break of over three decades, I was actually looking forward to seeing what The Cult had to offer.

As they hit the stage, I could see that the First Nation chic had been toned right down, which was a good sign. And as Billy Duffy strummed his first riffs, I was transported back to those sofa surfing days. They may have wandered down a different path to me for the last half of my life, but somethings never change. Duffy is the Riffmeister General. And I’m a sucker for a good riff.

Billy Riff giving it welly

Much of the first half of the set is new to me, but I warm to it immediately. I’m not about to rush out and buy the new album (especially if the prices in the merch tent reflect what it is going for), but I’m certainly not going to diss what they are doing.

We go for a bit of a wander, and I make a point of standing to the right of the stage to try and get a few shots on me phone with the stage and the castle tower in the background. This truly is a unique venue.

After an hour or so we get the golden oldies, ‘Spiritwalker’, ‘Rain’ and ‘She Sells Sanctuary’. I smile. I’m a happy chappy.


It is odd. When I was a callow youth I used to mock people that went to see bands like the Rolling Stones. “They’re ancient man, they have been around fifteen years, what do you want to see them for?” I didn’t get it. Yet here I am watching a band that has been around for almost forty years. I think I get it now – although I would still prefer to see and up and coming band in a small club – I get it.

After the last chords of ‘Sanctuary’ echo through the grounds quite a few leave, they think it’s all over. I look at my watch. I think otherwise.

Billy riffing on the big screen for the old punks standing at the back.

After an appropriate break, they return with ‘Peace Dog’, and ‘Love Removal Machine’ for their encore. We get some extended riffing, bordering on a guitar solo and a drum solo long enough to be cool, short enough to not be showing off. Then it really is over.

A venue I had refused to visit until last year, a band I have refused to watch for three decades, on a Tuesday night. In the rain. On paper it was nothing to get excited about. In reality, it was a great night out. Sometimes you just have to go with your instinct.