One year ago this weekend a handful of miscreants from Newport, South Wales, got together to do something special. Our friend, John Sicolo, had died a couple of months before – and we wanted to give him a send-off. A very big, very loud send off.
John had been the owner of TJ’s, the city’s most colourful and important live music venue. It had been our second home (or in the case of the young people who lived above the club, our first home) and John had been our friend and ally on a journey of adventure and self-discovery.
It might have passed some people by, but for a couple of years in the mid 1990s the Newport music scene was brilliant, bristling and vitally important to world culture. Bands like 60ft Dolls, Novocaine, Dub War and Flyscreen led a massive local shout-out to the world. This was the sound of the South Wales borderland screaming to be heard over the wider pre-Britpop landscape. As Michael Cole of 60ft Dolls so brilliantly put it at the time, the prolonged feedback, the fierce drums, the screeching vocals were the sound of Newport people desperate to find their voice and break free.
The New York Times called Newport the New Seattle. We people in the middle of it all got on with making a fantastic noise.
John had been the glue at the centre of all that, so when he passed away in March 2010, it’s really not surprising that the city was stopped by (literally) thousands of mourners outside his funeral.
And then we went further. An open-air tribute gig was organised, TJ’s in the Square, for July 10, 2010. A stage was booked, a fanzine was produced, a CD was compiled and – most importantly of all – most of those mid-1990s bands who had rocked our world (and John’s) went back into the rehearsal rooms ready for a one-off return in honour of the man we called The Big Guy.
The Darling Buds, Rollerco, Doctor Bison, Novocaine, The Drains, Flyscreen Disco… all got together for the all-day show. Local funny boys Goldie Lookin Chain put in a cracking set, and TJ’s regular visitors Goldblade played an astonishing tribute. It was great to see a good few thousand people turn up to see John off in massive, guitar-led, very noisy style.
The council reported record footfall in the city centre. There was no trouble. Newport’s two MPs watched the show, including Paul Flynn – who delievered a galvanising speech from the stage.
We let balloons off for John, we sang, we shouted, we made a right bloody racket and we made it all happen ourselves, driven by love for our mate John and love for music. Not bad for a bunch of Newport miscreants.
Do we believe in the power of rock’n’roll? Yes. We do.