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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Cardiff rocks to cafe beat
By Nick Dermody
BBC News Online

Tom Jones stage suite from the 1970s.
Tom Jones' neoprene suit is the star attraction at the Welsh venue
It has taken more than 30 years to make it down the M4 from London, but the Hard Rock Cafe will soon be open for business in Cardiff.

After two decades of global expansion, mostly recently launching in Moscow, the city centre restaurant and bar chain which celebrates rock'n'roll legends and lifestyles has finally found the venue it needs in the Welsh capital.

And in the firm's tradition of decking out its venues with music industry memorabilia, almost 500 artefacts - including items of clothing, posters, photographs and 33 guitars - are going up on the walls.

A 70s rhinestone suit which made Tom Jones sweat while performing on stage is taking pride of place in the in-house exhibition whose traditions began at the very first cafe which opened in London in 1971.

Other items include one of Madonna's many basques, the white shirt and black camisole Britney Spears wore on the video of Baby One More Time and a pair of Elton John's platform shoes.

Madonna poster signed by the star
One of a kind: A Madonna poster signed by the star features at the Cardiff Hard Rock Cafe

And for Stereophonics fans there is even a guitar signed in happier days by all three members of the band - including the now-ousted Stuart Cable.

The Hard Rock Cafe's curator of memorabilia, David Holle, has flown in form Orlando, Florida, with six big containers stuffed with items to decorate the walls of the Cardiff venue, the flagship watering hole of a development on the former Brains Brewery site on the city's St Mary Street.

The first of the contents have been positioned as the contractors prepare to hand the site over to the cafe's owners in readiness for the venue's official launch on 13 October.

The idea is to work to the exhibition plan he drew up using the blueprints he was sent of the layout, but it is not always as simple as that.

He said: "Things change when you get here, for example there's a plasma TV where Madonna is supposed to be and there are always walls that were never in the plans.

"Where things go is all about balance with restraint, so the walls have lots of things on but without making people bored."

Where and how the cafe comes by the hundreds of items it needs to pad out its increase empire - 20 more stores are planned worldwide in 2004 - is a story in itself.

The top worn by Britney Spears in her Baby One More Time video
Video vamp: The top Britney Spear wore making Baby One More Time

In addition to scouring music auctions for likely artefacts - the most ready source of new material - the firm keeps an eye rival firms which are selling up.

Tom Jones three-piece dark blue neoprene suit with rhinestones was bought at auction and is the most expensive item in the Cardiff exhibition, at $5,000 US.

The cafe also chats up its star-studded clientele for new material. The Stereophonics donated a guitar after Kelly Jones was stunned to see one of BB King's guitars on a Hard Rock Cafe wall.

But sometimes it is even easier than that to acquire new artefacts, especially when a one-time high flyer is down on their luck.

"You never know when someone famous will need money and is prepared to sell everything they own," said Mr Holle. "Believe me, it happens."

David Holle with Elton John's platform boots
Well heeled: David Holle tracks down rock memorabilia such as Elton John's platform boots

Something else that also happens once too often is over-enthusiastic cleaners wiping off what they think is graffiti on the many signed guitars in the place, he added.

"I bring in my own special polish now which won't wipe off any of the signatures!"

Like many businesses which rely mainly on the tourist trade for its income, the Hard Rock Cafe chain had a tough time as many people stayed at home in the wake of the September 11 attacks in America.

But it has invested 3m in its Cardiff venue, which seats more than 100 restaurant customers as well has having a bar licence until 1am, at after a five-year search for a suitable site.

Even though it has been a while in coming, Cardiff is now a destination for Hard Rock Cafe groupies everywhere.

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