The new Seattle?

60ft Dolls

Last updated: 29 September 2009

Music journalist Andy Barding was editor of Newport's Frug fanzine when the eyes of the music world turned on the town in 1994. He recalls the time at which Newport was dubbed 'the new Seattle'.

Bigger things like Britpop may have been just around the corner, but for three years or so in the mid 1990s the Newport music scene stood out as a force to be reckoned with.

I was lucky to be near the epicentre of this cultural explosion as proprietor of local DIY fanzine and record label Frug!, and as one of a handful of promoters serving the legendary TJ's venue.

It started with a photocopied celebration of local noisemakers The Cowboy Killers and The Flemgods, and ended with the New York Times' eminent rock critic Neil Strauss declaring the Gwent town to be "the New Seattle" and myself the Bruce Pavitt (Seattle label Sub Pop mogul) of the whole affair. Local MP Paul Flynn picked up on the buzz, tabling an Early Day Motion in Parliament congratulating Newport's fine roster of musicians.

It was the spark that eventually gave 'Cool Cymru' bands like Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia, Stereophonics and Super Furry Animals a chance to push their Welshness onto the world stage, but Newport's mob were always resolutely against flag-waving of any kind.

Richard Parfitt of 60ft Dolls says, "Newport is a border town, historically and politically at odds with both England and Wales. You would never see a Welsh flag on a Newport band's stage. Never. We saw ourselves as underdogs and left the flag-waving to others. London was interested, but we were just doing our own thing."

60ft Dolls
60ft Dolls

The Dolls, Novocaine, Flyscreen and Dub War (later to morph into Skindred) typified a scene that drew strength from this total irreverence. Newport's young musicians had been weaned on a regular diet of hardcore punk bands brought to TJs by local concert co-op Cheap Sweaty Fun, and the attitude of these foreign upstarts rubbed off. The town quickly declared independence from both the London-centric music industry and the milder indie being peddled a few miles up the road in Cardiff.

Paul Devine, singer with Deep Valley Orgasm, recalls, "Nobody cared what kind of material you did. If you were a Newport band, they'd come and support it. You only have to listen to the I was A Teenage Gwent Boy compilation LP to see the huge variants in style and approach but that attitude is there in spades".

Bands like Five Darrens, Rollerco, Flyscreen, Tearooms of Babylon, The Sidneys and Suck were guitar-based but otherwise unconnected stylistically though a boisterous, feedback-soaked sound tended to prevail. Mike Cole of 60ft Dolls famously described the typical howling vocals and guitars as "the sound of Newport people screaming to get out".

From 1993 to around 1996, Newport played to win. Touring bands like Oasis, Supergrass and The Stone Roses were systematically dismantled by determined local support acts who were not prepared to sit back and play second fiddle. It was an attitude straight out of late-1960s Detroit, typified by bands like The MC5 and Stooges.

Some of the groups secured international record deals, and went on to enjoy some success. But the greater outside world's new interest in Newport music didn't change the attitude.

Parfitt: "The NME came to town on a tip-off and thought they had discovered the spirit of rock and roll here in Newport. Then the New York Times and The Telegraph and The Guardian etc followed them down looking for a story; it was bemusing."

By 1996 or so, the Newport scene had all but burned itself out - leaving a wide open space for a new generation of Welsh bands to take over. After the goldrush, the streets of Newport fell quite silent.

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