For twenty five years, from 1985 to 2010, South Wales had a music venue that was quite literally known around the world. Newport’s TJs. Local lad Nathan Jennings is now in the process of putting together a film documenting the history of this slice of rock and roll history.
Nathan is currently on the hunt for videos, photographs and stories of the venue. If you have anything to contribute, visit his new website for the project.
It is fair to say, TJs was a bit of a toilet. But that was part of its charm. It seemed to mutate almost every time you went there. It expanded and shrunk, the stage kept moving around the venue and the toilets were like an open cesspit. It had started out with the walls covered in some strange wire and concrete concoction to make it look like you were in a cave. As modification were made bits of the cave were removed but they seemed determined to leave bits of it on the wall. On one occasion I recall watching Citizen Fish whilst there was a huge wheelie bin in the middle of the dancefloor to catch the water that was leaking from upstairs. Whether or not it was rain water or a burst pipe I never got to find out.
But despite the venue being a shithole, it did have a few magic ingredients:
1. John Sicolo: the owner. An ex merchant navy cook who was larger than life and made the place open house to anyone who wanted to put on a gig. Whilst he was no musician, without his generosity and faith in the young guns of Newport, the South Wales and even the UK music scene would look very different today.
2. Bands and promoters: Looking back it is hard to believe now, but the likes of Green Day, Oasis, Fugazi, Offspring, Joe Strummer, The Manic Street Preachers and Primal Scream were regularly turning up in this tiny little club in one of the most unfashionable towns in the country. On top of that local bands such as 60 Foot Dolls, Dub War and Novocaine (to name but three) all cut their teeth there. At one point I the 90s the venue was often jammed with record company A&R men looking to sign the next big thing.
Key to all this were the promoters. Whilst Peppermint Iguana put on a few gigs with the likes of New Model Army, Tofu Love Frogs and PAIN, a very special mention has to go to Cheap Sweaty Fun, the boys that turned TJS from a local live venue to an internationally renowned venue that was an essential stop off for any band on their way to the top.
3. The people of Newport: The Port has always been the poor relation to neighbouring Cardiff. But in some ways, that is what has made Newport what it is – staunchly working class, tough, uncompromising and unpretentious. If a Newport crowd took to a band they would be passionate and enthusiastic, making a TJs moshpit a place few cage fighters would dare to step.
If you have any stories from TJs, why not get in touch with the makers of the film and share your experiences of this unique piece of rock and roll history.
To listen to an interview with Simon Phillips, the man behind Rockaway Records and Cheap Sweaty Fun promotions, listen to our cloud cast from the Peppermint Iguana Radio Show