Motorpoint Arena celebrates 20 years as a major Cardiff entertainment venue

In September 1993, Dame Shirley Bassey walked onto the stage at Cardiff’s newest arts venue and performed some of her greatest hits.

Her two gala concerts held over consecutive days marked the launch of Cardiff International Arena (now known as Cardiff Motorpoint Arena) and since then, it has welcomed some of the biggest names in showbiz – and not just from the music world.

Famous audience members include Diana, Princess of Wales, who was in the Welsh capital in June 1995 to watch her great friend Luciano Pavarotti perform a charity concert in her name.

And during the last few years, the arena has also become renowned for hosting some of our favourite comedy stars, including Eddie Izzard, Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay.

One of those who has been there from the start – quite literally – is the Motorpoint’s House Manager Ray Morris.

“I was the first person on site in 1993,” he tells me. “I had an office in the basement when they were building the arena. At 7am, the generator would fire up and everything would move across my desk.”


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Ray still has the passes for the gala concert performed by Dame Shirley when tickets for the balcony seats were priced at £32.50.

He says they would now fetch around £75 for one of her shows.

“Tickets sold out straight away,” says Ray.

“At the time, our box office was in a little hut in the ice rink as it was run by the same company.

“I remember that we opened the doors for the first concert and it was pouring with rain and the rain was pouring down the glass in the foyer. The building was still a work in progress at the time.

“But the concerts were brilliant – she has a massive following.”

A few weeks later, the Queen travelled to Wales to officially open the building. Since then, Cardiff Motorpoint Arena has become one of Wales’ most popular venues.

Dame Shirley has returned to the arena many times and on one occasion, Ray, a former naval officer, had to walk onto the stage to present her with some flowers.

“When I saw the flowers I had to give her, they were starting to wilt and didn’t look great,” recalls Ray.

“I remember seeing a big bouquet that some of her fans brought in for her dressing room so I nabbed that to present her with instead!”

Two years after the building opened, international tenor Luciano Pavarotti performed in the Princess of Wales Concert of Hope to raise funds for Ty Hafan – watched by the princess.

Other highlights over the years include performances by singing legends like Diana Ross, Bryan Adams, Sir Tom Jones and Barry Manilow.

“Tom was the first Welsh artist to sell out a full week of shows,” says Ray.

He reveals how he and former general manager Graham Walters gave the Pontypridd-born singer a keepsake after one of the sell-out concerts.

“We presented Tom with a really expensive cut glass crystal bowl in his dressing room but when we walked out and the door shut, he dropped it on the floor and it smashed into thousands of pieces.”

Graham is now CEO for Live Nation, which runs the venue. He works closely with the Motorpoint’s current general manager, Phil Sheeran, to ensure it runs smoothly.

While Oasis, Blur, The Cure, Boyzone, Take That and Kylie Minogue are all on the list of performers, Ray admits that his favourite is Welshman Andy Fairweather Low.

“He was here supporting Eric Clapton and it was the first time in 20 years I’ve seen everyone in the audience take their seats to see the support act. He connected with them both nights for the full hour.”

While it’s first and foremost a music venue, like arenas around the country, the Motorpoint now puts on a host of comedy gigs.

The first one was by Eddie Izzard, who went to school in Porthcawl.

“Comedy is now a massive part of what we do. As soon as there’s a hint of something like Mrs Brown’s Boys, tickets are gone. We’ve got Lee Evans coming back in 2014 and tickets are selling massively as are those for Miranda Hart. Michael McIntyre did nine nights here once.

“I suppose people just want to get away from the doom and gloom and have a laugh.”

The arena also hosts many conferences, such as the recent Cardiff Comic Con event, and in October it will be one of the venues for world music market Womex 13 when it’s staged in Cardiff.

While Ray spends most of his time behind the scenes, he is a member of Cardiff Motorpoint Arena’s ‘house band’ along with Graham. So can visitors expect to see them taking to the stage?

“In 2008, we played on a small stage at Hyde Park before the Nelson Mandela Concert. We’ve played at our venue before but not in front of a paying audience but it’s something I’d love to do.”

When it comes to his personal highlights, Ray says there are too many to choose from.

“The whole 20 years has been fantastic,” he adds.

“I love the buzz of getting a show together.”

 

Cardiff Motorpoint Arena milestone events

September 9 10, 1993

Dame Shirley Bassey stages a two-night gala opening concert at Cardiff International Arena.

October 14, 1993

The Queen officially opens the venue.

June 4, 1995

Diana, Princess of Wales is the most famous face in the audience as she watches Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti during the Princess of Wales Concert of Hope which raises money for Ty Hafan.

October 14, 1996

Metal legends Metallica perform on a stage built in the shape of a guitar for their Poor Touring Me tour.

March 25 26, 2011

Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite les Folies tour is a spectacular show which has a stage that features a unique ‘splashzone’. The show has three pools – two on stage and one with a revolving three-tier cake lift in the pool. A total of 11,000 gallons of water are used for each show with technology featuring some of the large Las Vegas hotel fountain effects.

August 22 to 30, 2012

Comic giant Michael McIntyre performs a record-breaking sell-out nine nights at the arena.

March 1 to 3, 2013

To deafening screams from thousands of fans, global boy band sensations One Direction take to the stage for a string of shows on their sell-out Take Me Home tour.

Article source: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/music/cardiff-motorpoint-arena-celebrates-20-5927648