Wednesday 28 March
When I started drinking in Newport as a 16 year old, there was a bit of a scene. I don’t just mean bands, I mean a sort of togetherness. At that age, we went to TJs because we’d get in. To be honest it was a decent way of getting kids off the street; if you misbehaved, John Sicolo would clip you around the ear. It was 1992. Nevermind had just come out, TJs was full of plaid shirts, we moshed to L7. Happy days.
It wasn’t just TJs, though. The Riverside had local bands on every Tuesday. The Murenger also had an amazing jukebox. It’s still a good pub and has exactly the same people in it as 1992, but they’re not allowed music. Shame. The Griffin served mind-bending cocktails and also had an indie crowd. It’s shut now. Le Pub is still there, still has the jukebox, still has live music but it used to have local bands every Thursday so you knew where you were.
Obviously, TJs is a massive loss. It would be easy to blame that for Newport’s current state. Certainly it means there’s little chance of progression for bands. They used to play the Riverside, proceed to Le Pub and then play bills with touring American bands in TJs. The phrase ‘touring American bands’ isn’t heard much around Newport these days.
Michael Jones started putting on gigs in Newport as a teenager, in the later years of TJs, the majority of punk gigs were his. I asked him how he’d describe the state of the scene.
For a city the size that it is and with the location / transport links that it has – absolutely terrible. The reality is that whilst in years gone by there were successful shows in TJs / Le Pub and The Leisure Centre the infrastructure and variety of venue was limited meaning that it was only ever really bands of a handful of genres that regularly played in the City.
When any city / music scene has a dip in popularity of one genre it just means people are getting into another genre that the city already caters for – unfortunately with Newport it never really offered a wide range of shows / club nights for people.
It’s an interesting view. Certainly in Newport’s heyday the scene was primarily ‘punk rock’, whether is was played by the likes of the American tours or the more British influenced music of 60ft Dolls, Dub War, Novocaine, Flyscreen and the rest of the town’s crop of bands. Various people have tried to put ‘trendy’ indie bands on and got nowhere with it. That’s Cardiff’s job.
This is the other problem. Back when Newport was the ‘new Seattle’, Cardiff was pretty quiet. Clwb Ifor Bach had nowhere near as many gigs. Buffalo, Undertone and, indeed, Barfly, didn’t exist. It was actually Barfly that gave it a kick up the arse. Suddenly there was a venue with touring bands every night of the week. Clwb stepped up their game, other venues opened and now there’s a thriving scene.
Newport was always fiercely independent of Cardiff. Still is. Carl Bevan was in the thick of things in Newport during the nineties as drummer for 60ft Dolls:
Newport is still the ginger step child of the Welsh media, Newport used this as something to rail against during the first wave, if there is ever to be a second wave we shouldn’t forget that. It kept us vital and with a definable sound of frustration and desperation. Newport looks after itself, it has to. Cardiff is thriving on a cultural level and that’s fantastic but Newport is slowly dying economically and culturally.
He recognises the lack of venues in the city and the fact that there is only really one venue left carrying the torch.
Le Pub is a rock pool that is still vibrant with life. If that place closed you may as well tarmac this town and make it a car park for Cardiff as far as music goes.
Hopefully rock bottom has been hit. Newport bands are creeping on to Cardiff bills again; the likes of Science Bastard, Town, Dirty Goods, Saturday’s Kids and The Lash. 20 years ago you could survive in Newport; people liked the ‘us against them’ attitude. Now that simply isn’t an option, you have to get involved with the Cardiff scene and further afield. There’s still a DIY ethic and a number of these bands have funded their own releases and organised their own tours. Hopefully this attitude will get Newport off its knees. MJ