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.
This list is more like it
It was only a matter of time. Google has launched a real time search, integrated into it’s search results pages.
Google Real Times streams information as it is happening on the web – for instance live updates, news articles, and Twitter feeds – on the actual page displaying your search query. Public Facebook pages and Myspace public streams are due to be added soon. The feature is now live and will take a couple of days to roll out across the world. It will also work on iPhone and Android.
I’m not sure how many musicians you can fit inside a hat but Rock Lottery will attempt it on Saturday morning. Twenty five musicians from 14 different bands will be pulled out at random by their musical legs to form five brand new bands. Five bands that will exist for one day only – and they have only have that day to write 20 minutes of new material and debut it at Dempsey’s in the evening.
As soon as the new bands are drawn, each new set of musicians will be locked up in their own rehearsal room, under pressure to write four or five new songs that will be startling enough to win Rock Lottery 2009.
Rock Lottery’s organisers predict that “friendships will blossom, boundaries will be broken, whole new genres will be born, musical differences will explode, and there will undoubtedly be disagreements, probably even tears. But by the end of it we will have experienced something completely unlike what’s gone before, and along the way we’ll have raised some money for a very worthy cause – the Paul Ward Memorial Fund.”
I heard my favourite album of the year in January, just thirteen days into the 365. Released as a digital download on 13 January, my only insight into Fever Ray, Karin Dreijer Anderson’s first solo record outside of the Knife, was its stark cover – Dreijer flanked against a paranormal lanscape of decrepit huts and overgrown wilderness.
By the end of the night I’d played Fever Ray four times, each time letting the ghostly, crow-black synths and temptuous beats scurry a bit more under my skin. Each time pushing sleep’s promise a little further away in favour of another exploration of that strange, addictive wilderness.
It wasn’t until its official release in March that I found out how fitting this first meeting was. Fever Ray was created in the months around the birth of Dreijer’s second child, a time when she found herself continually exhausted. Sleep and awake literally carved up into interrupted patterns with no control. The Knife’s chilling electronics have sometimes felt like the mystery between sleep and awake, but this time Dreijer fully entered the realm, choosing the actual exhausted moments of her new parent self to document when reality and imagination tease each other.
Tom McRae is to precede a full UK tour early next year with an intimate free show at Cardiff’s North Star this Friday, 11 December.
The singer-songwriter, whose eponymous debut in 2000 was nominated for the Mercury Prize, a Q Magazine Award and a Brit, will release his fifth album in February. The Alphabet of Hurricanes, an album in two parts, was recorded over three years in studios, hotel rooms and backstage in the US and UK.
McRae is a haunting and eclectic singer with an ability to make the most expansive halls feel intimate and warm. The North Star gig is a pretty unique opportunity to get even more up close and personal.