Wales

TJ's: The John Sicolo story by those who knew him

John Sicolo
Image caption John Sicolo with the tree in TJ's where Kurt Cobain was said to have proposed to Courtney Love

The story of the legendary Welsh music venue TJ's - and the man behind it - is told in a Radio Wales programme later.

This year marks the 40th year since TJ's was opened by former merchant seaman John Sicolo, who died last year.

Under his helm, more than 5,000 bands, including some of the greatest names in music started off or played there.

Former Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews, who also performed there, narrates how the venue was a cultural "bridge between Wales and the world".

Matthews, who played there when Catatonia was just starting out and played there again when the band had made it big, said: "People from Wales could embrace the world through TJ's but similarly, TJ's attracted artists from all over the world to Wales."

TJ's was started by John Sicolo in 1971, first christening it El Sieco's before renaming it TJ's Disco.

It soon developed a reputation as a place for up-and-coming bands to make a name for themselves after it was championed by BBC DJ John Peel.

Image caption Cerys Matthews said TJ's was a cultural 'bridge between Wales and the world'

Its roll call of bands include Oasis, Ash and the Manic Street Preachers, the Stone Roses as well as more homegrown talent Darling Buds and the Newport rap collective Goldie Lookin' Chain.

Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain is said to proposed to his wife Courtney Love when she was performing there with her band, Hole.

And such the cosmopolitan nature of the club that it led to the New York Times describing the city as the "Seattle of the UK".

Poet Patrick Jones, brother of the Manic Street Preachers' Nicky Wire, describes how TJ's shone like a bright light to Welsh valleys teenagers who wanted to escape the "straight-jacket masculinity" of rugby clubs and the commercial disco scene.

Eggsy from Goldie Lookin Chain started going to TJ's as a young teenager.

He said the club was a huge creative melting pot in the days before the internet, with an influence far beyond music, inspiring people who also went into photography, fashion, painting and poetry.

The programme is produced by Sarah Dickins, who had been working with Sicolo for six months on how the programme would be testament to the bands who played there.

She said: "We met several times and talked about what he did and what he hoped to do."

'Tolerance'

Tragically, Sicolo, aged 66, died the day after her idea was commissioned by BBC Wales, so the programme turned into a tribute to the man as well as his venue.

She said: "What has come out about John is two things.

"One was that he would give anyone a chance, even people who hadn't been on stage before.

"The Darling Buds, who became quite big in the 90s, they actually only knew four songs when John let them play TJ's, and they went on from that to real success and ended up playing the [Cardiff] arms park.

"The other thing was tolerance. It was a place that was tolerant of all styles of music, all age groups."

"The programme isn't just about the music, it's about what made him the man he was - what was special about the man what was special about TJ's."

John Sicolo and the story of TJs is broadcast on BBC Radio Wales at 1900 GMT on Fri 25 March. It is part of Radio Wales Music Day

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