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.