Heartbeat of the City: A Tribute to John Sicolo

John Sicolo on the cover of the special Frug! edition in his honour

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.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Heartbeat of the City: A Tribute to John Sicolo

  1. brian bradford

    My name is Brian Bradford and i am the nephew of the great Uncle John Sicolo, and on behalf of all the family i would like to thank you all for the tributes we have recived .We have lost a great father,grand father, brother , uncle and friend. He will be missed. I thank you for doing such a nice artical on John and the club TJs , I have so many fond memories of when me and my brothers when we were growing up , we coundnt wait to go to Newport and have a steak in Uncle Johns steak house, which was called Ceader place . When my mum, (who was Johns sister) got married she left Newport and moved to Norwich .All our summers easters and xmas was spent in Newport, and a lot of that time was spent with Uncle John. I myself , along with my brothers were fans of the punk rock music and the kinda music TJs were promoting , so when Uncle John told us he was going have live music playing in the club , and it was punk rock we could not be leave it . He had just turned in to god. When he first started having bands i was still a bit young and Uncle John would only let us stay and watch them set up the equipment and then we would go upstairs to the flats , have a curry , then hang out the window and throw things down at the crowds waiting to get in to TJs, then falling asleep to loud heartpounding punk rock , it was great .I have spent a lot of time in Tjs and around John , so i have a lot of very happy memories of the man, but i just laughed when i read your artical and you mentioned the secret Theropy gigs. I was standing right beside him , in the front of the stage at one of those shows , and if any one remembers ,i was the guy who fell in the drum kit , when the crowed rushed forward.As always john had it all under control, i was picked up and brushed off and spent the rest of the night being hit on the head by the bass player and pulling people out of the mayhem, while Uncle John spent the night dishing out the punches and getting away with it . This was my wife to be, who is from the U.S and is not in to punk rock , her first in experiance of TJs ..What a night ..I moved to the U.S in 1996 where i have lived now for 14 years , i have always kept in touch with Uncle John and we often talk about what was going on in Tjs. He was always excited when he had a good band playing that night , and would tell me “watch out for this one , they are going to be big” . When i made a trip home to Norwich , I made sure that enough time was allowed to go to Newport and have a curry at Johns house which was always in order ,then a night out in the club, followed by staggering up the stairs to the flats or crawling around the corner to Johns house. Unfortuntly i will not be able to fly home and attend the funeral , but my heart is there with my family …Thank you once again for the artical on John …R.I.P. Big guy…

  2. kaigalles

    Hi Brian, thanks for the reply and sharing those stories.

    Like so many people John meant so much to me and I owe so many happy memories (and drunken TJ’s nights) to him. It’s amazing how many people have left tributes on Facebook, Twitter, etc, saying even though they didn’t know John or had never even met him, they are still so upset because of the impact he had on their lives.

    Sorry you can’t make the funeral. I’m sure there will be lots of photos from the day though. Kai

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