LIVE REVIEW: The Family Battenberg @ Clwb Ifor Bach (02/12/23)

Fun for all the Battenberg Family, in the legendary ‘Welsh Club’

As soon as we saw that The Family Battenberg were playing Clwb Ifor Bach, we got out the magic marker and circled the date on the calendar. We would have made the effort if they were the support band, but this was to be their first headline slot at the most iconic of all the Cardiff venues.

As the day approached,  I posted on the gig lift-sharing page, ‘Get Me To The Gig On Time’, offering a lift. Scottie quickly responded to say he had been too slow and it was now sold out. I panicked.  I don’t remember buying tickets. “It’s got an asterisk next to it on the calendar”, Megan informed me. Our code for, ‘we have tickets’. I checked my e-mail and, sure enough,  we have tickets.  Panic over.

On the night we head down to the big city and park up in the NCP at the end of Womanby Street. It’s quite expensive in the day but I’ve used in the evening before, they have a discount evening rate. And it means we can get leave our coats in the car and not worry about the minus six temperatures when coming out of gig: it’s only a few hundred yards to the car park.

The car park is quite busy, we have to go up, and up, and up. And as we ascend each level, we note the scrapes on every single ramp. The car park is designed to maximise the number of cars they can squeeze in, meaning a ramp wide enough to accommodate the turning circle of anything bigger than a Smart Car is an unnecessary frippery.

We drive all the way up to the ninety ninth floor, squeeze into a space three inches narrower than the car and head for the lift. The sign says ‘maximum of eight people’, but it refuses to take six of us. Two of the other fat bastards had to get out.

We are early for the gig,  the doors haven’t opened yet, but the City Arms is rammed, so we head up to the other end of the street and The Mad Dog Brewing Company, a microbrewery bar overlooking the Castle. It’s only the second time we have graced their bar with our presence  but it is already vying for the position of our favourite city centre pub. It is frill free, serves decent beer, the staff are friendly and the punters down to earth. The City Arms held the title of my favourite pub for many years, but the Mad Dog has the advantage of lots of places to sit.

As we sink into a rather comfy leather sofa, I check our tickets on the ticketty app thing. I do a double take. A few days ago I had forgotten that we had tickets,  now I’m staring at an app that tells me we actually have four tickets! Megan checks the family WhatsApp to reveal the her boy and his bird were supposed to be coming.  They had also forgotten.  Bloody kids.

I try to get shot of the tickets on Facebook,  but with the doors just opening, it was a tall ask.

Clwb Ifor Bach is the longest established music venue in the ‘Diff. Spread over three floors it has been THE place to catch the cream of upcoming bands for over forty years. With a capacity of three hundred and eighty,  the top floor has played host to a who’s who of independent artists, from Goldie Looking Chain and The Manic Street Preachers, to The Subhumans and Conflict. Plans are afoot for the venue to expand into the derelict building next door to create a new five hundred capacity venue

Meanwhile, tonight’s gig is on the ground floor. Until very recently, I could count on one hand the number of gigs I had been to down here, but they seem to be increasingly using it for live music. It is a nice capacity; I’m guessing around one hundred and fifty. There’s some seating for us old gits and a raised area along the one side for the short gits.

The doors had not been open long when we arrived, but it is already rammed. Service at the bar is quite quick though and we are soon sat surveying the crowd. It’s an interesting mix. Although the band are quite young, there’s quite a cross section of age groups in the house – Family Battenberg family members maybe?

The fact that The Family Battenberg can sell out a headlining show, all be it downstairs, shows that they have built up quite a following in the short time they have been together. They already have several festival appearances under their belt, including Green Man, Swn, All Roads and The Laugharne Weekend.

They play an interesting brand of chunky rock that takes inspiration from the seventies and the twenties, bypassing the various heavy metal scenes that evolved in between. Their sound is heavy, but funky, with occasional hints of psychedelia. They play it with confidence and a huge grin. And it is an infectious grin, because it stretches from the front of the stage to the bar and back.

They hit the stage with a minimum of fuss and let rip. Despite them not having a lot of physical releases under their belt – your best bet to hear them is Spotify – they are among friends who seem to know all of their tunes. They kick off with ‘Ghouls’, closely followed by the single  Feed Yer (Nganga). Their other singles Runny Honey and Rocket Dustbin also feature. Their familiarity with the crowd adds to the warmth of the gig, with banter exchanged between tunes and more of those smiles. Yep, smiles are definitely the order of the night.

The smiles turn into outright chuckles when they are joined on stage by support band, Getdown Services, for a rendition of Slade’s ‘So here it is Merry Christmas’. Arms are thrust aloft, hips are swung from side to side and heads are thrown back signing along. It’s the 2nd of December. We will let them off. Just.

They finish off with Fuzzy Features, their first ‘release’ and what is becoming their ‘stairway to heaven’ crowd pleaser. And then they be gone. No encore, but we will forgive them because they don’t actually have that many tunes to fill up a set list.

Any frustration at the lack of tunes is tempered by the anticipation of what they might be releasing next – and the thrill of catching an amazing band on the rise. Hopefully this Spotify nonsense will eventually morph into an actual CD or vinyl for us oldies in the not too distant.

The thrill of this band on their way up is magnified by the knowledge that they are not a one off. Cardiff seems to have a bit of a scene going at the moment, with the likes of Dactyl Terra, Cosmic Nod and Lacertilla, to name but three. It really is a great time to be a music lover in South Wales.

As the gig ends, we pour out into the winter’s night and back to the car park.

It turns out the night rate they used to have has been scrapped. TWENTY THREE FUCKING QUID FOR FOUR FUCKING HOURS. C@*TS. That’s just wrong, literally, on many different levels. (Now you know why I was waffling on about the car park at the beginning of this gig review.)

But hey. Family Battenberg. This is exciting.