Known as the ‘land of song’, Wales has an inimitable musical heritage forged over hundreds of years. From the capital Cardiff to cities such as Swansea and Newport, the country is home to an incredible range of musical influences, from traditional Celtic genres and famous choirs to super groups such as the Manic Street Preachers and the Stereophonics. Add to that world-renowned singers including Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey and it’s easy to see why its lyrical prowess is renowned across Britain – as this musical round up explains.
Home to the world’s oldest record shop and a wide range of live music venues, Cardiff’s musical legacy promises something for everyone, from pop fans to head bangers.
Packed with industrial and musical history, The Coal Exchange in Cardiff Bay was once the centre of the city’s coal business and later, the heart of its buzzing live music scene. Having started life as a hub of industry in the 1800s, this grand building went on to house some of the biggest names in indie-rock in the 1990s, including the Super Furry Animals and the Manic Street Preachers. Now converted into a hotel, it was saved from demolition and preserved as part of Cardiff’s important history.
Opened by legendary Welsh singer Shirley Bassey in 1993, the city’s Motorpoint Arena has become a highlight of Cardiff’s music scene, welcoming many acclaimed local and international legends. A few of the well-loved Welsh artists that have strutted their stuff on this stage include rock goddess Bonnie Tyler, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Catatonia and the notorious heartthrob, Tom Jones.
Located in the shadow of Cardiff Castle, Clwb Ifor Bach is a three-storey venue that caters for many different tastes from folk to punk and is arguably at the centre of the capital’s modern music scene. Championing emerging artists and more established bands, Clwb Ifor Bach has welcomed acts such as local artists Cate Le Bon and Bullet For My Valentine, as well as the definitive American indie-punks, Pavement.
A historic landmark built in 1868 for the use of Scandinavian sailors in the Welsh capital, the Norwegian Church is now an intimate arts centre and music venue, known mainly for folk and acoustic gigs. In addition, the Church is also home to some fascinating artefacts that reveal a window into Cardiff’s past.
Hosts of the annual Welsh Proms, as well as jazz, pop and rock concerts, St David’s Hall also offers a chance to hear some of the country’s captivating choral ensembles, including the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales.
The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, now known as the Principality Stadium, is the national stadium of Wales. As well as being the home of Welsh rugby, it has also held stand-out concerts by artists such as the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. The first music event here was a special ‘Manic Millennium’ concert, which saw a line-up of Welsh rock gods including the Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals and Feeder strike their chords on New Year’s Eve 1999 – fans can watch this back in a recording named Leaving the 20th Century.
Did you know that Newport is said to be the location for Kurt Cobain’s proposal to Courtney Love after she performed with her band, Hole? In the 1990s, this Welsh city became known as the ‘new Seattle’, a must-play spot for emerging local bands wanting to cut their teeth, and international grunge and punk legends alike. In addition to the Nirvana frontman’s romantic act, many native bands made Newport the centre of an evolving music scene, creating venues with a lasting legacy.
Once at the heart of the city’s boundary-pushing live music scene, the legendary TJ’s became Wales’s answer to New York’s CBGB in the early 1990s – a venue for the thriving post-punk and grunge movements that were spreading across the world. As well as big names such as Sonic Youth and Hole, local bands Super Furry Animals and Stereophonics also took to this stage. Although now closed, the original owner’s grandson has opened El Sieco's on nearby Market Street, which pays tribute to the musical energy and interior style of the original venue.
Since opening in 1992, Le Public Space, often known as ‘Le Pub’, has forged a reputation as being one of the best small venues in Wales. This community-run music venue has a vibrant reputation for being a space for loud bands to play to an intimate crowd. Local bands Kids in Glass Houses and Mclusky have played the venue several times, both being big supporters of this important indie venue.
Nestled on the tranquil south coast of Wales, the city of Swansea is home to some truly unique music venues. Both big and small, they help showcase some of the best in traditional and modern Welsh music.
An impressive open-air concert venue, some of the biggest names in Welsh music have sung and danced across the stage at Singleton Park. Welsh chart-toppers Stereophonics and child-star-turned-national-treasure Charlotte Church have both played here, the latter topping the bill when she was just 14-years old.
Originally a wine cellar in the 1400s, The Vault at the No Sign Wine Bar has enthralled artistic locals for generations and even made an appearance Dylan Thomas’ short story The Followers. A unique 250-capacity cellar, it often welcomes local and touring bands to perform in its intimate surroundings.
Sin City is a buzzing independent venue known for putting on a range of live music, from fresh local bands to established blues, rock and metal artists, including the Cardiff-based band, Himalayas.
Inspired to discover some famous Welsh warblers? Check out our Wales-themed playlist.