Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love in Newporttop
Back on 10 December 1991, local promoter Simon Phillips was continuing his remarkable run of bringing great bands to South Wales, with a bill featuring Courtney Love's band Hole, Northern Irish rockers Therapy? and indie noiseniks Daisy Chainsaw. It would have been a great gig anyway, but it's entered the Welsh musical book of legends, because of the involvement of a certain Kurt Cobain.
The Nirvana frontman was on his own UK tour at the time, and it was known that he and Love were having a relationship. Indeed, the previous week on Channel 4's The Word, Cobain had been spectacularly - and complimentarily - rude about Love.
That evening, Kurt arrived in Newport in a hire car (some say a Skoda, some say a Lada, most agree it broke down) and came to hook up with Courtney. Mike McKeegan from Therapy? says the bands bonded: "That gig was great. We'd been at TJ's a few times before and the whole tour was looking forward to finishing up in Newport.
"The three bands were getting on well and there was plenty of socialising before and after the shows. We'd heard rumours that Mr Cobain was lurking around on the periphery of the tour on his days off so it was nice to see him show up down at TJ's."
As far as McKeegan is concerned, their own set went well. "It was a great show all round, Daisy Chainsaw played a blinder then we squeezed through the crowd to get set up. Our gig went great as well, I recall it was carnage. The much-loved John Sicolo stood guard down the front keeping the throng from hurting themselves (and us) and 25 mins later we were finishing up, dripping with sweat. We then lugged our gear offstage with my brother barking at a startled Cobain to get off the drum case he was standing on. Good times."
Cobain himself had nearly not got in. Promoter Simon Phillips takes up the story. "Courtney Love had come in late and I'd taken her through, too late even to do a vocal check. Some time later this guy came shambling up and I challenged him because he went to walk straight in. I said, 'That'll be £5, mate' or whatever it was and he muttered something pretty unintelligible. He had hair all over the place and I was thinking he may be one of those occasional people we got who just wandered in off the street, coming in by mistake.
"The second time I challenged him he brushed his hair off his face and said, 'I'm with Courtney' and of course then I recognised immediately who it was. What was nice was at the end of the night Kurt shook my hand and said, 'Thanks man, you've got a nice venue here'."
As Phillips says, Love herself was late for her band's set. Local musician and journalist Christopher Rees recalls, "Courtney was very late coming onstage (she was - ahem - with Kurt in a car outside) so when the band were all set up onstage ready to go, they called 'Courtney! Courtney!' and she came barging through the crowd, bumped into me and almost knocked me off my feet."
The set itself was raucous as expected, with Hole yet to have had the radio hits that their subsequent album gave forth. One gig-goer, Dave, recalls, "You could get really close to the stage; Courtney had a baby doll dress on and legs up on the speaker, which drove the crowd wild. Johnny S [Sicolo] was managing the stage as she was in danger of being mauled all over."
Rees adds, "At the end of the set she threw her Fender Jazz Master to the floor and stood on it like it was a surf board. The guitar was pretty wrecked by the end. There were loads of people wearing Nirvana 'Bleach' t-shirts; Kurt Cobain was walking around inside the venue with big round sunglasses on and hardly anyone seemed to recognise him or bat an eyelid. The other thing I remember is that Courtney Love had loads of 'love bites' on her neck. I think it was my first ever visit to TJ's and a pretty memorable one too!"
It's from this point that fact and fiction blur; the Chinese whispers of time were given a helping hand by arch-publicist and TJ's owner Sicolo. Kurt, he told this writer and many others, is supposed to have proposed to Courtney under the plastic tree that stood near the entrance to the club. That 'fact' was part of the canon of tales which have given TJ's its 'Legendary' epithet. It would be nice for there to be at least grain of truth in the legend, so we think that maybe Sicolo 'encouraged' Kurt to propose to Love - maybe for the second time - because he was nothing if not canny in the development of his venue.