'A beacon of democracy for the world': Goldie Lookin Chain rapper says Newport should not fear losing its Chartist mural

Council says £600,000 cost of moving artwork not financially viable as it faces destruction to make way for £100m shopping centre

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The Independent Online

A leading member of the Welsh comedy rap collective Goldie Lookin Chain, who doubles up as a Newport councillor, has said the city may lose its famous Chartist mural but never its status as “a beacon of democracy for the world”.

Rhys Hutchings, elected as a Labour representative to St Julian’s ward last year, told The Independent on Wednesday that Newport should not fear losing the 1970s work after the public artwork was denied listed status by Wales’s heritage body, Cadw.

The 35m (115ft) mural, a mosaic of 200,000 pieces of tile and glass, was created in a walkway off John Frost Square by artist Kenneth Budd in 1978. As reported on Tuesday, it now faces destruction to make way for a £100m shopping centre.

The rapper, who is known in the band as Zardoz, P Xain and Dwain Xain Zedong and who grew up in Newport suburb of Allt-yr-Yn, has taken “a few days off” council duties as the GLC are currently on a UK tour.

He formed the collective in 2000 and their hits, peppered with frequent references to their hometown, include "Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do", which reached number three in the UK charts.

Speaking from the group’s tour bus on its way to The Old Fire Station in Bournemouth for Wednesday night’s gig, he said: “It’s not really about the mural, son. It’s about the Chartists. Big up the Chartists. There is so much else in the city about Chartism that you can talk about.

“Just mention the Westgate Hotel to someone who knows about Chartism and see what they tell you. Somebody put a teddy bear on the roof of the hotel, by the way. There are many, many symbols in the Newport that are a fantastic way for people to start speaking about Chartism and what it means to Newport and to the wider world.

“We’re a beacon of democracy – if you can get that message across that’ll be superb.”

The Westgate Hotel was attacked by Chartists during the ‘Newport Rising’ of 1839 when up to 5,000 supporters marched with intent on liberating fellow Chartists who were reported to have been taken prisoner in the building. The group eventually retreated with dozens of people killed and many more wounded. It is this fatal confrontation that the city’s mural depicts.

Newport city council said their hands were tied by Cadw’s decision and that an attempt to relocate the mural would cost £600,000 and was therefore not financially viable.

A spokesperson for Cadw said on Tuesday: “The Chartist Mural in Newport has not been awarded listing status principally because it fell short of the criteria to be listed at the national level on grounds of its special architectural interest.  The quality of building to which the mosaic is attached is poor and the underpass itself has no intrinsic design merits. It was also felt that there was no specific association between the location of the mural and the Chartist uprising.”

Mr Hutchings, who’s also a governor of St Julian’s primary school, claimed that he hadn't made too much of his public profile during his 2012 campaign which saw him elected with 971 votes after a recount.

He told the NME at the time: “Me and the guys I was running alongside all put out leaflets with brief descriptions of us all and on that was a bit about being in popular hip-hop band Goldie Lookin Chain. A couple of people recognised me, but I genuinely think the last thing people expected was a member of Goldie Lookin Chain to knock on their door and say ‘Hi, what are your local issues?’ It’d be a bit like Sting turning up at your front door.”

A spokesman for Save Newport Art said: “Next year is the 175th anniversary of the Newport Rising. Destroying the Chartist Mural isn't a fitting celebration.”