As we speak Gillingham are continuing their meteoric rise up League Two (one defeat in seven) towards safety. There is an air of quietly confident optimism surrounding the team. An air which before was tainted by hatred and bitterness from all sides. One of the teams that have shimmered into sight as the Gills rise up the table is Newport County, a team who rose, then collapsed and then rose again and here to talk about them and Newport in general is exiled Devonian and honorary Welshman, The Robster. This folks, is excellent and the music selection is second to none. Thanks Rob.
Languishing in the bottom half of League Two is lowly Newport County. For some reason, The Exiles just cannot put a string of favourable results together this season and as a result, they’ve put themselves in danger of relegation, a situation they haven’t found themselves in for a few years.
It’s the latest chapter in the colourful history of Newport County, the second most popular sports team in the city (the first being the Gwent Dragons rugby team). Formed in 1912, the club started out in the old Southern League but became mainstays of the Football League Third Division South between 1920 and 1939 when they were finally promoted to the second tier. WWII interrupted their maiden Division 2 season, and on recommencing post-war, they were promptly relegated.
A further relegation followed in 1963 to Division Four where they remained until promotion in 1980. Their team that year included a young John Aldridge (who would later become a league title winner with Liverpool) and legendary lower-league striker Tommy Tynan (who later would become a legend at Plymouth Argyle – SWC). Both would be with the club during their most successful period. County won the Welsh Cup in 1981 which qualified them for the following season’s European Cup-Winners Cup. They made it to the quarter-finals where they met Carl Zeiss Jena F.C. of East Germany, drawing 2-2 in Jena before narrowly losing the home leg 1-0.
Sadly, it all came crashing down before the decade was over. County were relegated in 1986, and a second-successive relegation followed in 1987. They were now a non-league team and they never recovered. Financial mismanagement at the hands of their American owner Jerry Sherman led to the club being unable to fulfil their fixtures, being expelled from the Football Conference and ultimately folding in 1989.
From the ashes, a group of supporters reformed the club later that year. Being appointed to the Hellenic League, they were forced to play their home games in Gloucestershire over the border in England as Newport Council, who owned the team’s previous ground Somerton Park, refused to allow them back owing to the old club’s unpaid debts. Promotion to the Southern League followed, a return to their homeland at the newly built Newport Stadium in 1994, and a High Court ruling in their favour which prevented them from having to play in the newly reformed Welsh National League, meant Newport County were on their way back up. Their ascent was completed when they were promoted back to the Football League’s fourth tier in 2013. Since then they forced an FA Cup replay against the mighty Tottenham in 2018, beat Leicester City in 2019, also in the FA Cup, and came close to promotion to League One (as well as also narrowly avoiding relegation again in 2017). Mike Flynn, manager and local hero, masterminded those giant-killing exploits, but lost his job at the helm after County’s dismal start to the 2022-23 season. Now managed by Graham Coughlin, they haven’t improved that much…
Newport’s music scene has also fluctuated, but it has its fair share of VIPs. One of our best known sons is the legendary Jon Langford of Mekons and Three Johns fame. Now based in Chicago, his latest project has been an annual release of triple 7” singles with various collaborators.
Down from Dover – Jon Langford (from ‘Songs of False Hopes & High Values’)
Benji Webbe is one of Newport’s biggest characters. My eldest daughter can testify to that as she got to know him through the gym she worked at. He is the frontman of globally-famous ragga-metal band Skindred, but SWC has specifically requested something by his former band Dub War, which to be fair, is a very good call.
Murder – Dub War (from ‘The Dub, The War & The Ugly’, 1993)
Some bands from the Newport area also became rather huge. The Darling Buds, from the neighbouring old Roman city of Caerleon, found themselves a part of the so-called ‘blonde scene’ alongside the Primitives and Transvision Vamp.
Burst – The Darling Buds (from ‘Pop Said…’, 1988)
While just up the valley, four make-up wearing upstarts crossed the Sex Pistols with Guns ‘n’ Roses and caused a storm. Well, several storms, actually.
Motorcycle Emptiness – Manic Street Preachers (from ‘Generation Terrorists’, 1992)
Of course, the 90s was a huge time for British music, Welsh music particularly, and even more so in Newport in which the Cool Cymru scene centred around the great TJs (now sadly no more). 60 Foot Dolls cut their teeth there.
Stay – 60 Foot Dolls (from ‘The Big 3’, 1996)
The scene also thrust the likes of Feeder, Novocaine and Flyscreen in our general direction. In fact, it’s here we can link back to our football team:
Carl Zeiss Jena – Flyscreen (from the ‘Size Five Leather’ EP, 1996)
But it’s not all loud rock & roll. Rap music’s greatest pioneers also hail from Newport, and are still going strong and have a unique link to Newport County AFC themselves:
(This link will take you to a video of Goldie Lookin’ Chain and Newport County launching the team’s new third kit inspired by the GLC themselves)
Hurtling back to the present… Bug Club don’t hail from the city of Newport itself, but are from the wider Newport county region, or the town of Caldicot and the neighbouring village of Magor to be precise. Everyone I spoke to about bands to include in this piece mentioned Bug Club. You may well have encountered them if you’re a 6 Music listener – I know Marc Riley is a fan. If not, well think what might happen if the Velvet Underground held a party and invited the likes of Steven Malkmus, J Mascis and Kim Deal. A lot of fun would be had, nearly as much fun as listening to Bug Club’s debut album ‘Green Dream In F#’ which came out a few months ago. To my shame, I never latched on in time to include in my 22 In ’22 rundown. Had I been a bit more on the ball, ‘Green Dream In F#’ would definitely have been on that list. They’ve released a couple EPs and singles prior to the album, but here’s the brilliant opening track from the LP.
Only In Love – Bug Club (from ‘Green Dream In F#’, 2022)
It’s amazing really how many rock heroes have links with The’Port. Donna Matthews of Elastica is from Newport. The guy who plays keyboards live with Saint Etienne is from Newport. And a bloke who was once in Bush is from Newport. Impressive, eh? And let’s not forget the cover of the Stone Roses single Love Spreads depicts a cherub on Newport’s Town Bridge (true).
I also ought to mention a certain fella called Joe Strummer. Heard of him? Back in the early 70s, this unruly ragamuffin worked as a gravedigger at St Woolos. He formed a band here and played his first ever gig at a long-gone place on Stow Hill. Apparently he became quite famous when he moved back to London. One of his mates at the time went on to have a son who is not only called Joe but has a band of his own called Idles. You may have heard of them too…
As is customary in this series, we finish with a band you (probably) won’t have heard of before but might do soon. The Nightmares make what they term “noir pop” and sound like they are influenced by their parents’ collections of 80s records. They’ve so far released a 6-track EP and a couple of singles, but their debut album is due this year.
The Falling Dream – The Nightmares (single, 2020)
(This link takes you to a news story all about Joe Strummer and it’s a cracking read)
Told you it was excellent – Next Week Tranmere Rovers