Wales

The latest chapter in the Legendary TJ's story

TJ's Image copyright Jaggery/ Geograph

Only in a special kind of nightclub could the landlady kick Iron Maiden off stage because she was trying to sleep upstairs.

But the unexpected seemed to happen at Newport club TJ's, such as Kurt Cobain apparently proposing to Courtney Love after her band Hole played there in 1991.

Such tales and the calibre of acts it attracted led DJ John Peel to add the word "Legendary" to its title while Magazine FHM put it in its "Top 50 nights out in the world" in 1997.

Although it closed in 2010 after the death of owner John Sicolo, his grandson Ashley will open a new venue on Friday that he hopes will help put the city at the centre of the south Wales music scene once again.

While it is called El Sieco's - TJ's' original name - and has moved from Clarence Place to High Street, its walls are a collage of the famous faces who played there through the years, with Mr Sicolo hoping to soon start putting regular band nights on.

The story goes back to 1971 when John opened Cedar's Restaurant with then wife Vivienne and owes as much to chance as anything, according to Mr Sicolo.

"It wasn't meant to happen. I don't think grandad had any intention of putting live bands on. But a promoter came to speak to him and it all played on from there," he said.

Image caption Dub War's Benji Webb with Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown at TJ's
Image caption John Sicolo (left) and Trilby with a reveller at TJ's
Image caption Liam Gallagher of Oasis performing at TJ's

In 1974, it became El Sieco's before changing its name to TJ's in 1985, with Mr Sicolo adding: "Some say it was after Trilby [his partner] and Jeanette [his sister], the two women is his life.

"But it also could have been Trilby and John's."

Dean Beddis, 51, from Ebbw Vale, remembers visiting for the first time and seeing Trilby cutting people's ties off with scissors and throwing them into an ornamental tree by the entrance.

"It was a rough and ready, spit and sawdust place that attracted bikers, punks, all sorts. John would sort out trouble, but I think people were more scared of Trilby," he said.

"I can remember Iron Maiden had played a gig somewhere else in the city and just got up on stage at about 1am.

"She came down and told them to shut up because she was in bed. They said 'but we're Iron Maiden', and she replied 'I don't care who you are, I'm trying to sleep'."

Other people would turn up, including Rik Mayall, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Stone Roses, while they were recording in Monmouth and John Peel, who became good friends with John Sicolo.

By the 1990s, it helped draw comparisons between Newport and the grunge music scene in Seattle, attracting acts such as The Offspring, Green Day, Muse and Oasis just before they hit the big time, while Catatonia filmed the video for single Mulder and Scully there.

As for the proposal story, Mr Beddis added: "Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love were both definitely there and John said it happened.

"Why he would do it in front of John, I'm not sure. I don't think anyone will ever know for sure."

He described Mr Sicolo as looking like "a bigger version of Tom Jones", who created "a happy environment everyone felt part of".

Image caption Musician and Monster Raving Loony party founder Screaming Lord Sutch was a friend of Mr Sicolo
Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionDean Beddis says he feels lucky to have visited TJ's
Image caption Courtney Love sings at TJ's as John Sicolo acts as security (left) and her then boyfriend, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana at the club

Of the thousands of gigs, about 300 were put on by promoter Simon Phillips under his Cheap Sweaty Fun banner between 1986 and 2007.

Despite the names he helped attract, though, he said it was not always glamorous.

"I remember a barman said to me that bands play TJ's twice - once on their way up and once on their way down," he said.

He described fielding calls from worried parents because their teenagers were travelling to TJ's from hundreds of miles away and some gigs drawing in just a handful of people.

"It was a hole. But you show me anywhere else in the world that offers cutting edge, influential music that isn't.

"There's very little money to be made [from live music], people won't invest. We did it despite economics.

"There was rain coming through the roof by the mixing deck, the toilets were full of water. It was the people who went there that made it," he said.

While few bands now travel to Newport and Mr Phillips watches gigs mainly in Cardiff and Bristol, he added: "We have venues in the city, we just need promoters.

"It won't be me, as I'm 62 now, but we need someone to make that leap of faith and bring them to places like El Sieco's again."

The legend started in 1971 when John and Vivienne Sicolo opened Cedar's.

As the latest chapter begins, she said: "Everyone loved John. He'll be looking down hoping Newport people enjoy it again."

Image caption Vivienne Sicolo opened Cedar's restaurant with her ex-husband
Image caption John Peel (left) was a good friend of Mr Sicolo and is believed to have first used the name The Legendary TJ's
Image caption Ashley Sicolo hopes the new club will also act as a museum of south Wales music memorabilia

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