I’ve been getting more and more obsessed with Tumblr. I find myself dipping into friends’ pages like a nervous Web 2.0 stalker, favouring hanging on the edges of a messy party while I pluck up the guts to get stuck in. Infact it’s more a fear of what I know is bound to happen once I do eventually Tumbl over myself that scares me.
A culture slut’s wet dream – quick, edible chunks of sound and film posted and spread about the site by an incestuous network of followers and followees – Tumblr’s demanding enough just pouring through the pages and lapping up the inspirations and obscure references to new and old, without having to create and stir your own into the mix.
And there’s the crux of it. My mind is a hoarder’s fantasy – the cultural equivalent of those quiet souls who find it impossible to discard anything until you hear of their tragic death, crushed under piles of used cereal boxes, election pamphlets and BT directories. This is a mind that struggles to remember presents given and received but can recite gig dates and support bands on command – ask me who supported Dinosaur Jr at Cardiff University in 1993 and I’ll tell you it was Superchunk and Come (both amazing), that it was a Friday night, 26th February and grunge upstarts Sloan played the Hanging Gardens (now ‘Solus’) upstairs afterwards. Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.
Last night I dreamt I went to Novocaine’s reunion gig. It was in a factory that had been turned into an arts installation. Novocaine played under a dismantled atom bomb hanging from the ceiling. The gig was preceded by a short film about Novocaine, mostly starring bassist Russell and strangely set in Cardiff Bay. John Sicolo was in the audience, as was Jacko, the ace Novocaine guitarist who disappointingly is not part of the reunion. Many of the other great faces who I used to watch Novocaine carve up TJ’s with in the 90s were there – through the foggy daze of post-dream memory I can still see Bard, Ali, Carlton BM and Parfitt. Even my new dog Patches was there. The gig was fuggin ace.
I think my subconscious is slightly excited about July 10th – the TJ’s in the Square gig, celebrating the life of John Sicolo.
The full line-up of TJ’s in the Square is GLC, Darling Buds, Novocaine, Flyscreen, Rollerco, Doctor Bison, Disco, Varispeed, Bad Samaritans, Elephant Rescue Plan, 2Rude and Detached.
Most people only met John Sicolo one of two ways. Traipsing up to the TJ’s entrance for one of its legendary Friday or Saturday discos you’d encounter a burly frame that was as far away from punk-rock as the Seychelles is from Newport.
Chances are you were still young enough to grab a ‘half’ on the Red & White bus from the valleys, full of Thunderbird and bristling with the anticipation of your first club-night. Psyched-up enough as you approached that famous front door, any swagger would be instantly neutered by a bear-sized paw on your shoulder and that classic “Alright girls/boys, no trouble tonight, ok?” greeting. Delivered with ‘a voice of gravel and honey’ (as described beautifully by Jonathan Hodson on John’s tribute group on Facebook), that line was always meant to be intimidating but you knew it was the earnest, puppy dog eyes that came with it that demanded the respect.
Myself, well I met John the only other way you would do in TJ’s. A less intimidating, but equally brutal introduction – shoved straight at him, my cowered head making impact with his broad chest and that ever-patient face smiling back at me as he effortlessly pushed me back into the throng from whence I came. If you attended any one of the thousands of intensely memorable gigs that TJ’s has hosted since the 1980s then I expect you met John for the first time in exactly the same way, careering around the pit to Jesus Lizard, Shellac or Drive Like Jehu before finding yourself face-to-face with the great man.
For me TJ’s was always as much a culture as a club and as a reflection of this there were no terror-dog bouncers you’d find at similar venues. Even at the biggest gigs, like the ‘secret’ Therapy? shows or the infamous Rocket From the Crypt gig where 650 people crammed in to the cave, there was always John right at the front with a big wide smile and one or two trusted lieutenants, a constant buffer between the band and the the living, swirling entity that was the TJ’s crowd. Classic John, right at the centre of everything.
*This article will also feature in the special edition of Frug! magazine in honour of John Sicolo. Frug! played a pivotal role in celebrating and promoting the unprecedented explosion of new music in Newport in the mid-nineties. Music nurtured through John’s work at TJ’s. The fanzine was single-handedly run by Andy Barding, who put out the infamous I Was a Teenage Gwent Boy compilation in 1994. If you have any special memories of John Sicolo please share them with Andy Barding.
The John Sicolo tribute issue of Frug! is available here. You can make a donation – as little or as much as you want. You can also read it online here.
The flicker of fairy lights. The taste of a forest on a wet day. The sound of a backroom deep in a David Lynch dream. Harbour boats bobbing on a slow tide. An empty armchair letting slip the secret of a past owner. Hope Sandoval lounging on a carousal, legs swinging over the side, watching the glitter blur of each slow revolution.
Skeletal love-torn hymns that waltz to their own heartbeat. This Mortal Coil. An ice-crisp voice that seems to live behind your eyelids; but only when you close them. The ritual of elegant decay that is only revealed through timelapse video – even that Nine Inch Nail one for Hurt showing a rotting fox carcass in reverse. Victoria Legrand purring “Your wish is my command” on Wedding Bell, pulling the melody down into an Abba daze before releasing it back into the air. Nico and Marianne Faithful and Francoise Hardy.
Felix are delicate like ribbons blowing in the afternoon breeze delicate. Vulnerable, pastel chamber pop swept with minimal piano and cello while Lucinda Chua’s verbose vocals undulate overhead. The sparse, distant piano stirs with the grace of Nyman and Satie, while echoing Rachel Grimes’ haunting arrangements in Rachel’s.
Seemingly effortless like a summer’s day – at times they evoke the feeling of walking through long grass, touching the tips with your fingers – there’s more than a trickle of melancholy; of reminiscence; of elegant but cutting honesty – Chua’s pining love on the Debussy-like ‘Death to Everyone but Us’ for instance. These are quiet melodies to silence a room. Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes slowed down to a crawl; Cat Power stretching awake; Max Richter curling up with Antony and the Johnsons. As soft as your slow breath as you read this.
This list is more like it
It’s 30 minutes to Christmas! Come and join in a mass Christmas singalong of The Magic of Christmas by HUNKS and Friends. Released through Self Raising Records, all proceeds go to the RSPCA and it features all these amazing people: Bright Light Bright Light, Jen Long, Los Campesinos!, Airborne Toxic Event, Dananananaykroyd, Sky Larkin, Slow Club, James Yuill, Copy Haho, Sound of Arrows, Sparky Deathcap, My First Tooth, The Venus Stare and Pulled Apart By Horses.
The Magic of Christmas is a delicious, sweet groovy singalong, an unapologetic ode to the wonder of Christmas. Buy it this year and stick it on all your future Crimbo compilations next to Sufjan Stevens and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special soundtrack.
“It’s Christmas / everything’s awesome of Christmas / everyone’s smiling at Christmas / That’s the magic of Christmas / woo-ah!”
Tomorrow, on Christmas Day right after Top of the Pops plays Rage Against the Machine I’m putting The Magic of Christmas straight on – it’s my Christmas No1.
Watch it below but then get it here at Itunes for 79p or at Amazon for only 69p!!
Find at more about the Magic of Christmas here and here