This Ones for the Freaks
You'll have to excuse me. I'm about to be mawkish and sentimental and nostalgic. But we all know that at least 90% of pop music and its culture is built upon mawkishness and sentimentality and nostalgia-for-the-moment-as-it's-being-lived, so perhaps you'll forgive me my moment of weakness.
I want to talk about a venue. None of your Barflys or Kokos or other polite, sanitized moneymakers playing host to the denizens of the NME Radar page and charging three pounds fifty for a bottle of Guardianista-approved Belgian beer. Oh no. I'm talking about the sort of place where the toilets (which are not gender-segregated in any practical sense) are always flooded, and the floor's covered in so much beer and sweat and fuck-knows-what-else that baggy trousers become a biohazard, and it's Red Stripe straight from the can or nothing, but you don't give a shit about any of those things because it's yours.
That description might fit any number of beloved local shitholes, but if you've lived anywhere in South Wales during the past 40 years, you'll already know that I'm talking about 'the legendary' TJ's.
The first time I went there was May 6th, 2000. The night started out with Slipknot and finished up with Britney. I drank what then seemed like a copious amount of vodka, spent the night jumping around in a crowd of people aged between (approximately) 14 and 60 and sporting every ridiculous/glamorous/hideous anti-fashion statement known to man, met my first love, and woke up in the morning smelling like sweat and stale fag smoke and feeling like I'd just had an epiphany.
Of course it wasn't perfect. These things never are. There was drama. (There were teenagers. Of course there was drama.) There were the aforementioned toilets. People bitched about the music policy. (Too much metal, too much ska, too much pop, too much punk. Not enough metal, not enough ska, not enough pop, not enough punk.) Sometimes they declared that everything had gone shit since they started going, and they were never going to be seen dead there ever again, only to be found propping up the bar or leaping around in the moshpit two weeks later. People always came back.
For kids in the area around Newport, for whom getting to Cardiff or Bristol and back was a logistical impossibility, TJ's was the only chance we were going to get to see bands like Goldblade and One Minute Silence and Skindred and AntiProduct, and sure, that's one of the reasons for its 'legendary' status.
But there's another. Unlike the newer and shinier venues that have popped up to take its place, for kids like me, TJ's was a haven. In a town where a Marilyn Manson t-shirt could get you stabbed, it was a safe place for goths and punks and moshers and skaters and people who you couldn't quite classify, but who were definitely too strange or sad or angry or arty or exuberant to fit any kind of mainstream mould. It gave us somewhere to learn to be ourselves. A lot of us grew up and moved on, to bigger cities and bigger -- and perhaps objectively better -- clubs. I've been to plenty, and I've never come across a sense of community quite like it. (And if 'sense of community' is one of those phrases that makes you want to vomit, it's only because 9 times out of 10 it's bullshit being spouted by policy wonks who wouldn't know a sense of community if said community collectively twatted them upside the head. This time it isn't. Trust me.) Sometimes we were there to get pissed, destroy. Sometimes we didn't want to talk about love, we just wanted to get drunk. Sometimes we hated each others' tastes in music. But nobody ever got shit for it. Nobody ever got seven shades kicked out of them for looking different. And you never, ever got the sense that the people who ran the place were in it for the money. For the clientele (and honestly, if the Manics had written "Underdogs" ten years earlier, it could have been an unofficial anthem), it was a sanctuary.
John Sicolo, the venue's owner, died last month. The venue had been in dire financial straits beforehand, and yesterday his daughter announced that its doors would have to remain closed for good. Oblivion, in the form of yuppie flats or another fucking kebab shop, awaits.
I'm not going to speculate about bad business decisions. I'm not going to harangue the people who stopped going, or the promoters who moved to venues in bigger cities. (I'm not going to harangue people. This might be the only time that ever happens.) Instead, I'm just going to say thank you -- to John, and to TJ's -- for giving me a place to misspend my youth.
It won't be forgotten. This one's for the freaks.
Who's Played TJs
Add N To X, Alice Donut, Arab Strap, Babes In Toyland, Bikini Kill, Bluetones, Boss Hog, Brainiac, Buzzcocks, Catatonia, Catherine Wheel, Chumbawamba, Cornershop, Cranberries, Dickies, Down By Law, Echo & The Bunnymen, Elastica, Fish, Fugazi, Girls Against Boys, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Green Day, Groop Dogdrill, Hole, Huggy Bear, Jesus Lizard, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Lemonheads, Man Or Astroman?, Manic Street Preachers, Mansun, Mercury Rev, Misfits, Mogwai, My Bloody Valentine, My Life Story, Nation Of Ullyses, New Bomb Turks, New Model Army, NOFX, No Means No, Nova Mob, Oasis, Offspring, Pecadiloes, Pop Will Eat Itself, Primal Scream, Rancid, Redd Kross, Rocket From The Crypt, Royal Trux, Salaryman, Scarfo, Scott 4, Selecter, Shed Seven, Shellac, Skunk Anansie, Snuff, Supergrass, Test Department, Therapy?, Urge Overkill (with St Etienne DJing), Urusei Yatsura, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Wedding Present...
Kurt Cobain's been there and so has Rik
Mayall, who was a very nice man and got all the bar staff pissed at
his expense. Richey Edwards used to hang out there at the weekends too...