PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

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MULLY
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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by MULLY » 29 Jun 2009, 00:44

SLF - Live at QUB (filmed by BBC NI) - classic stage invasion!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEuvDvuY ... re=related

8)

AND... (ain't seen this before??)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlEkRqfv ... re=related
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Hatchetman
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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by Hatchetman » 01 Jul 2009, 23:57

Fxck me Mully, you've been busy mate! Some good stuff there, especially enjoyed the Ruefrex interview :wink: :lol:
You going to Sham 69 + Shame Academy this weekend?

cheers
GT

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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by MULLY » 02 Jul 2009, 12:54

Hatchetman wrote:Fxck me Mully, you've been busy mate! Some good stuff there, especially enjoyed the Ruefrex interview :wink: :lol:
You going to Sham 69 + Shame Academy this weekend?

cheers
GT
Hi GT - indeed I am attending the aforementioned gig. I assume you will be there too. Got an e-mail from Seany the other night and he says he'll be goin' too.

With regard to the Ruefrex interview - Paul's answers were good but thought the questions were a bit... :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: only kiddin' mate. Still got Da Dolls on in yer kitchen?? 8)
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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by Hatchetman » 02 Jul 2009, 21:39

Yeah, I'll be at the Sham 69 gig mate but only cause Shame Academy are playing. :smt004

You've been lurking on other forums again! :lol: Yep, NYD's still in the kitchen all set to go again on Sunday as I prepare the roast!

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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by MULLY » 03 Jul 2009, 01:14

Part Ten - now the intellectual bit 8) A treatise on Punk in NI

Punk Music in Northern Ireland: The Political Power of ‘What-Might-Have-Been’

Martin McLoone, University of Ulster, Coleraine

Punk nostalgia has been going on now for a long time.The tenth anniversary years (from 1986-89) established the trend (and the market) for the phenomenon of punk nostalgia, and the first wave of CD compilations and band rereleases emerged to fill the need. The summer of 1996 marked the twentieth anniversary of the UK’s ‘summer of punk’ and instigated a period of punk nostalgia in Northern Ireland that has hardly abated since.

The Sex Pistols reformed that year and went on a world tour that included Belfast. If there was a general feeling that the Pistols were basically in it for the money (it was called the ‘Filthy Lucre’ tour!), nonetheless, the tendency was to excuse this in the band that had begun the movement and which had made its name from ripping off the record companies so memorably twenty years earlier. The Pistols’ gig in Belfast was greeted with a fair amount of nostalgic press coverage and was an excuse to revisit the local punk scene that, it was argued, was inspired by the original Pistols in the seventies (especially Johnny Rotten’s dictum that ‘anyone can become a Sex Pistol’). Thus Northern Ireland’s leading political / cultural magazine Fortnight ran a cover feature (‘Did punk rock the troubles?’) and offered a competition to win free tickets to the Pistols’ Belfast gig (‘Tie-breaker: In no more than ten words explain why The Sex Pistols changed your life’) [1].

A year later the focus of attention was on the twentieth anniversary of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of June 1977 and The Sex Pistols’ memorable party-pooping ‘God Save the Queen’ the biggest selling single in Jubilee week but denied its no. 1 chart position through ‘establishment’ chicanery). However, by 1997, the catalyst for the emergence of punk in Northern Ireland was regarded to be The Clash rather than The Sex Pistols. According to journalist John Bradbury, the 1977 concert by the band was the main catalyst for kick-starting the Belfast punk rock scene (Bradbury claims December but it was probably in October of that year) [2]. The concert was, in fact, cancelled (the excuse was a problem with insurance but throughout 1977, throughout the UK, punk rock concerts were cancelled regularly as local councils and nervous promoters reacted to the moral panic that followed the infamous Pistols’ television interview with Bill Grundy). The disappointed Belfast punks who turned up for the gig in a sense found each other. The evening ended up in a riot and the RUC found themselves battling a different kind of ‘white riot’ to the ones they were used to. On that night, in other words, the individual punks of Belfast coalesced into ‘a scene’ and many of the bands that would emerge in the next few months could trace their genesis back to these events.

By the time of the Queen’s golden jubilee in 2002, punk was itself celebrating its silver anniversary and the coincidence was particularly noted by Observer correspondent, Henry McDonald. As the aging aristocracy of British rock music (including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Rod Stewart and the remnants of Queen) assembled at Buckingham Palace for the Jubilee garden party, McDonald was in ironic mood: The Irish should be ashamed over our national indifference to the jubilee. To allow such an auspicious occasion to pass without public celebrations, major documentaries on television, concerts, films, reflective newspaper features and commemorative souvenirs is a downright disgrace. The failure to impress upon our young people the historical significance of this important anniversary is to rob them of the legacy of freedom so hard won, indeed so epitomised by the very institution to which we pay homage to this year. We are talking here, of course, about punk rock and its silver jubilee [3].

McDonald need not have worried. By the end of that year there were in fact two films celebrating punk in Northern Ireland, Tommy Collins’ Teenage Kicks - The Undertones and Roy Wallace’s independent video, Big Time which McDonald himself reviewed in glowing terms in a follow-up article on punk [4]. At the very end of the year, the death of The Clash’s Joe Strummer occasioned another piece by McDonald on the importance of punk music to his generation growing up in Belfast in the 1970s at the height of the Troubles [5]. McDonald endorses Bradbury’s opinion that The Clash were the real catalysts in the birth of punk music in Northern Ireland. This is not surprising, given the overtly political nature of many of Strummer’s pronouncements back in 1976/78. In December 1976, for example, as The Clash set out as support band on the much troubled Sex Pistols ‘Anarchy’ tour of that month, he defined the band’s political principles in very unambiguous terms: ‘I think people ought to know that we’re anti-fascist, we’re anti-violence, we’re anti-racist and we’re procreative. We’re against ignorance’ [6]. This combination of radical politics and multi-cultural solidarity was particularly attractive in the sectarian political culture of Northern Ireland, especially for the emerging punk sensibility that McDonald and Wallace celebrate. Joe Strummer and The Clash came to represent an ideal that was in marked contrast to the dominant political modes of late 1970s Belfast - be these the establishment politics of the parent generation or the violent and blatantly sectarian politics of the paramilitaries. Strummer’s death in 2002, therefore, was not just an occasion to lament the passing of one old punk; it was also an opportunity to once again celebrate an ideal that never quite became a reality - and to lament the lack of this ideal in the present.

McDonald and Wallace are, of course, self-confessed ‘old punks’ themselves and they constitute part of the formidable old punk presence in the media throughout Britain and Ireland. In Northern Ireland, this presence also includes (among others) independent writer John Bradbury, rock journalist Stuart Bailey and BBC producers Owen McFadden (ex-drummer with Belfast punk band Protex), Jackie Hamilton (ex-guitarist with The Moondogs) and Michael Bradley (bass player with The Undertones and the man who has assumed the mantle of ‘keeper of the flame’ for the band’s reputation) [7]. This presence in the media of so many of the class of ’77 is one reason why punk nostalgia has been so rampant in recent years. However, it is not the main reason and it is not why this nostalgia is worth considering in more detail.

The question of punk nostalgia is an interesting and contradictory one anyway. Andy Medhurst has pointed out that part of the problem is the very unsentimental nature of punk itself:

A central thread in punk’s semiotic and ideological repertoires was its scorchedearth, year-zero attitude to tradition and the past … whereas nostalgia often springs from an attempt to seek consolation and security in times gone by. Getting nostalgic about punk is worse than a contradiction in terms, it’s a betrayal, trading in punk’s forensic nihilism for a rose-coloured cosiness [8].

As Medhurst acknowledges, though, the situation is more complex than this. On one hand there is a musicological consideration. It remain difficult today to fit the raw, angry sound of first-generation punk rock into the contemporary mainstream musical soundscape of easy listening radio and golden oldie retrospectives; by the same token, it is difficult to reconcile the anarchic, do-it-yourself values of 1977 with the current generation of formulaic, designer punks. This gives old school punk a continuing resonance beyond the sentimental. More importantly punk music was itself part of a broader and deeper movement of dissatisfaction with the political and cultural establishment and this is one reason why the contemporary radical sensibility is inclined to look back at punk music and its attendant culture with something akin to longing. The contemporary mood is one of a bland sentimental acceptance mirrored in a popular music dominated by TV manufactured teen idols or retro styles without substance. Quite simply, the young are no longer revolting.

In another way, though, Medhurst considerably overplays punk’s radical impulses. His is the punk of the metropolitan centre rather than of the provinces and the situation for punk (and for punks) was very different outside of its art / pop epicentre on the King’s Road. Paul Cobley has noted the dilemma for the provincial punks, denied the protective environment of London’s cosmopolitanism. Punk, he argues, was a considerable affront to a host of deep-rooted values, including class, masculinity, ‘decent’ behaviour, locality and tradition:

That punk had to negotiate a set of pre-existing national attitudes is well-known; but … the fact that these attitudes were even more formidably entrenched outside the main urban centres meant that being a provincial punk represented a considerable leap of faith. The social context of the provinces therefore made the punk ‘phenomenon’ a much different proposition from that which has been so slavishly rehearsed in written accounts [9].

Cobley was talking about his experiences of being a punk in Wigan but his point is all the more pertinent for Belfast. In some ways, late-1970s Belfast and punk were made for one
another. If there was an element of ‘the abject’ about punk - gobbing, vomiting - there was no more abject place in the Western world than Northern Ireland, specifically Belfast, in 1977. The deep-rooted traditions that Belfast punks had to negotiate were not only those that punks nationally had to contend with but also included the IRA, the UDA, the INLA, the UVF, an armed RUC and an unreliable UDR. Johnny Rotten had only to name-check them in his music to gain some street credibility but Belfast punks had to deal with them every day.

McDonald’s Observer columns and Roy Wallace’s video demonstrate that punk nostalgia is not just about fond remembrance of a golden time in the past (though there is undoubtedly an element of this). Rather punk nostalgia is about ‘what might have been’ - nostalgia, in other words, for a sense of a better future and a nostalgia that is given added political poignancy by the nature of sectarian politics in contemporary Northern Ireland. What is being remembered and what is being longed for is the opportunity that punk music once offered of an imagining beyond the sectarian politics of Northern Ireland’s older generation. In this regard, punk was not just a revolt into style. It was also a revolt into the substance of a new politics. The non-sectarian nature of the original punk ideal is central to Wallace’s video and is at the core of McDonald’s articles. For example, he remembers the summer of 1978 and being stopped by a police patrol in Great Victoria Street in Belfast as he walked along in a procession of young punks:

When an old cop started taking our names and addresses he looked flummoxed. There were punks from the Glencairn estate, Divis Flats, Ardoyne, the Lower Shankill and the Markets. It must have been the first time since 1969 that he had encountered a large group of youths from working-class republican and loyalist areas that were not trying to kill each other [10].

McDonald’s ‘old cop’ may be a rhetorical flourish but it is significant. If the punk explosion in Britain was a revolt against the complacent certainties of the parental generation (the one that most fully enjoyed the consumer boom of the 1960s), in Northern Ireland it was a rebellion against the complacent certainties of a sectarian political culture that had delivered nothing but social disharmony and communal breakdown. Twenty-five years later, the situation is no better. The political context, in other words, for McDonald and Wallace’s nostalgia is precise. During 2001-02 in Ardoyne, in north Belfast, sectarian divisions amongst the working class were so bad that young Catholic primary school children had to run a gauntlet of abuse to get to school each morning and elderly Protestant residents were afraid to go to the local post-office to pick up their pensions for fear of roaming Catholic youths. Judged against these horrendous examples of communal breakdown and social disharmony, the punk imaginary of the late 1970s now looks positively life-enhancing. And therein lies the irony: the original British punks, epitomised by Johnny Rotten’s sneer, may have spit their venom at the hippies but punk in Northern Ireland offered a confrontational style that in the end seemed to endorse the old hippie dream of peace, love and understanding [11]. Punk music in Northern Ireland, in other words, was an original ‘community relations council’, emerging from the bleakness to offer hope when despair and negativity was the more usual response.

It is important though to emphasise that this reading of punk is not just a contemporary re-appraisal of events, tinged with well meaning but naïve sentimentality. Wallace’s Big Time video is primarily a homage to the celebrated Belfast entrepreneur and punk facilitator, Terri Hooley. However, it also pays homage to an earlier film on punk music in Northern Ireland, John T Davis’ celebrated Shellshock Rock (1979) made in the eye of the storm itself and the original progenitor of the thesis.

Shellshock Rock - Politics

In its own low key, almost subterranean way, John T Davis’ film has been a remarkably influential cultural document. For a start, it introduced the world to an original and significant stylist who has gone on to make some of the most interesting and visually exciting documentaries of the last twenty years. It also introduced a set of concerns that were, in many ways, ahead of their time and which Davis has remained committed to throughout his career. In a series of major documentary films down the years he has explored the significance of popular music to a sense of personal and communal identity in Northern Ireland and tracked this against the influence of American popular culture and its myths. In an influential two-hour documentary, screened at prime time on ITV, he probed the significance of the road myth and its music in America and its influence further afield (Route 66, 1985). He returned to the subject in 1991 in his celebrated study of itinerant life in the USA in Hobo. In two films in particular he explored the relationship between bible belt USA and Northern Ireland, especially through their fundamentalist religion and their shared love of country music (Power in the Blood, 1989 and Dust on the Bible, 1990). Davis’ celebrated style and musical obsessions are all in evidence in embryo form in Shellshock Rock.

It is perhaps not so surprising, then, that the film should have caused the controversy that it did at 1979’s Cork Film Festival. Originally chosen and scheduled for a screening on the second last day of the festival, the film was mysteriously dropped during the festival week itself. The only explanation that Davis was given at the time was that the film was withdrawn because it was ‘technically not up to standard’. Davis organised press screenings of the film off the main festival programme and the response was very positive. Subsequently, the festival director and the selection committee which had rejected the film came in for some trenchant press criticism. (The festival director later retracted the comment that the film was technically not up to standard.) The idiocy of the Cork festival decision was confirmed later in the year when the film won a silver award at the International Film and Television festival in New York [12].

Davis felt at the time that the film was banned for political reasons. The film does indeed have a particular political message but it is more likely that it was banned for moral and aesthetic reasons. There is a certain racy vernacular in the songs and in the comments made to camera (also there is one incidence of ‘mooning’) and this was always going to annoy a conservative and complacent middle-class jury. The film’s energetic style - rapid editing cut to capture the break neck speed of the music, a moving, hand-held camera caught in the swirl of youthful energy - was equally challenging. In its own way, Shellshock Rock showed up the huge gap that by then existed between the southern cultural establishment and the culture of the streets. Looking back at the whole controversy now, especially through the prism of the Celtic Tiger economy, it seems like an incident from another planet and not just another time. With hindsight, we can see that it brought into focus a deeper set of contradictions that ran through a southern Irish society on the cusp of significant social and cultural change. It is hardly surprising that a few years after this controversy, public funding for the Cork Film Festival was withdrawn and the festival suspended pending a complete overhaul of its structure and staffing. It reemerged in the mid-1980s under a younger and more clued-in management team and in 1989 it finally repaid its debt to John T. Davis by organising a retrospective of his work a full ten years after the controversy over Shellshock Rock.

By this time, Davis had established his reputation as an accomplished documentary filmmaker, renowned for a visual style and a body of work that was wholly original, eccentric and challenging. His central obsession was to explore popular music in its socio-cultural context. To achieve this, he developed a particular style that became his visual signature. This involved an exploration of the relationship between sound and vision on film, often deliberately disengaging one from the other to set up a puzzle in the viewer’s mind, drawing attention to the context in which the music is played or heard simply by laying it out as an enigma. This is mirrored in his choice of shot, ranging from the aerial or panoramic long shot to disorientating big close-ups. This style reaches its most developed form in his disturbing and challenging exploration of Ulster’s fundamentalist Protestantism in 1990’s Dust on the Bible but the style is there in embryo form in Shellshock Rock. It proved too much of a challenge for the aesthetic conservatives of the Cork selection jury.

The style, of course, is at the service of the politics of the film. The constantly moving, hand-held cameras catch the immediacy and vitality of the music scene at the turn of the year 1978/79. By this stage, punk music in Northern Ireland had already begun to break out into a wider audience. Stiff Little Fingers’ first two singles, ‘Suspect Device’ and especially ‘Alternative Ulster’ (both 1978) attracted wide attention, and The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ got the band onto television for the first time in October 1978 (the single eventually reached no. 31 on the British charts). Shellshock Rock explores the breadth and depth of the punk scene, especially in Belfast and Derry, and captures on film a number of bands who were destined not to make it (including Rudi, whose single ‘Big Time’ was the first to be recorded on Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations label and which provides the title track for Roy Wallace’s video twenty-five years later). In many ways, Rudi - the band that didn’t make it - are presented in the film and certainly in the video Big Time as the heroes of Belfast’s punk and, in contrast to Stiff Little Fingers, represent a sense of authenticity and anti-commercialism that was central to the punk ethos overall.

This brings to mind Jon Savage’s analysis of punk’s central paradox:

Built into Punk from the beginning was not only a tendency to self-destruction but a short shelf-life. Despite what many of the groups professed, the movement enshrined failure: to succeed in conventional terms meant you had failed on your own terms; to fail meant you had succeeded [13].

The utopian moment of punk - the moment when the young working-class people of Northern Ireland crossed the sectarian divide in the name of a shared new imagining - resides with the bands like Rudi, The Outcasts, Protex and The Idiots who did not make it. The paradox now is that the challenge they posed back in the late seventies is still the challenge that contemporary Northern Irish political culture is faced with.

In Shellshock Rock, Davis intercuts a number of live performances of these bands (including Stiff Little Fingers and The Undertones performing their two most famous songs) with interviews of the punk musicians and their supporters. Through the live music and the interviews a picture emerges of this new space - mental as well as physical, musical as well as social, economic as well as political - that has been opened up in an otherwise claustrophobic world.

The film opens to the ethereal, heavily echoed sound of The Idiots singing the chorus from the film’s title track: ‘For I am so afraid ... For I am so afraid … ’ (a refrain that is repeated later in the film and gives an eerily appropriate sound for the tracking shots of Belfast’s darkened streets that occur throughout). This refrain is heard over very rough footage of a punk rock gig, shot in a grainy, smoky blue and strobe-lit to achieve a disorienting and maybe even alienating combination of sound and image. The film then cuts to the first interviews, three young punks who begin to put some substance to the slightly otherworldly feel of the opening sequence. They articulate what is the political message of the film and five points in particular emerge.

First, like punk elsewhere, indeed like all post-war youth subcultures, the Belfast punks articulate a general anti-establishment philosophy - a rebellion against conformity in general and against their parents in particular. Second, however, it is the sectarian nature of their parents’ culture that is seen to be the main problem, the designation by society of religious labels and the consequent division of young people into opposing religious camps. The third point emerges logically from this rejection: punk music and the punk scene in general is all about giving an identity to the young that would allow them to come together with a shared set of cultural beliefs and tastes that are beyond religious and political norms. This is the key political message of the punks and it underpins the whole film. It is emphasised later in the film when, in voice-over, a young punk notes that after 2,000 deaths nothing has been achieved: ‘Who wants a united Ireland? Who wants to be in the United Kingdom or anything?’ The fourth point that emerges from the interviews is one that is also emphasised many years later by the former punks interviewed in Wallace’s video. The space that was created for this coming together was Belfast city centre itself, at this time abandoned and deserted at night by everyone else except the security forces. The darkened and empty city centre provided a meeting place where the overwhelmingly working-class punks could get together outside the sectarian pressures of their home housing estates. The venues for live music were seedy pubs - the Harp Bar and the Pound - and the meeting place was Terri Hooley’s record store on Great Victoria Street. As Terri Hooley himself says in Big Time, after years of bombing and sectarian murder in the mid-1970s, when the nightly carnage of assassination and sectarian murder reduced Belfast to pariah status, it was the punks who began the revival of the city centre in 1978.

The final point that emerges from the interviews is perhaps the most utopian. The punks in Belfast are anxious to differentiate themselves from the London punk scene of two years earlier. This is dismissed as a passing phase, a fashion and a mere empty style that lacked the social and political edge of its Belfast counterpart. The English punk scene was essentially a negative style while punk in Northern Ireland was a positive social and cultural force. It was, according to the punks themselves, destined to last because it was engaged in a process of establishing an alternative to both the parent culture and the culture of dissent that was represented by republican and loyalist paramilitaries. It did not last, of course. The dirty protests and the Republican hunger strikes of 1980/81 raised the sense of the abject beyond that of a mere subcultural style. The political temperature was raised and as the music and the styles elsewhere transmuted from new wave to new romantic, the punk scene in Belfast collapsed back into sectarianism. This ‘dissent from dissent’ is important, nonetheless, for understanding the nature of the punk moment in Northern Ireland and for understanding the kind of nostalgia that it generates twenty-five years later.

Shellshock Rock - The Music

If the interviews and voice-overs in Davis’ film carry the political narrative of the film, then the music provides the central focus. Appropriately, Davis cuts from the first set of interviews to footage of Stiff Little Fingers performing ‘Alternative Ulster’ live at the New University of Ulster. The sequence has all the energy and excitement that we associate with the live punk scene, shot in close-up and edited rapidly to match the band’s breakneck delivery. ‘Alternative Ulster’ was Northern Ireland’s first punk hit in the UK and has come to symbolise the attempt to forge an alternative politics by the province’s severely bored, annoyed and disaffected youth. The film cuts from the live performance to an interview with the band in the dressing room after the show. Lead singer and guitarist Jake Burns talks about the threats the band has faced and the political danger that is inherent in championing an alternative cultural space beyond the clutches of both the political mainstream and the political opposition represented by republicanism and loyalism. Again, the message is clear: it is easy to be oppositional and alternative in cosmopolitan Britain but more difficult in Ulster where one’s kneecaps (or even one’s life) are at risk. Jake Burns articulates a viewpoint that valorises his band as heroes and pioneers, pushing a message of hope and a new beginning against formidable paramilitary odds.

Objectively, of course, this is true and it is the one characteristic of the punk scene in Northern Ireland that was not replicated anywhere else in Britain or Ireland. It requires no great courage in cosmopolitan London to wear a tee shirt showing the face of the Queen defaced by a pin; it is quite another matter to do so in loyalist Belfast. Equally, it requires an act of substantial bravery in the republican areas of the city to reject the platitudes of the parental culture when these are invested with so much patriotic sacrifice, oppositional rhetoric, and carry a substantial physical threat about collaborating with the enemy. However, in some of the other interviews in the film, Shellshock Rock suggests that there was less than universal approval of Stiff Little Fingers’ approach to the situation in Northern Ireland amongst the punks themselves. To some extent, this was the result of ‘local knowledge’. The band had been well known in the city as a heavy metal covers band until a visiting English journalist, Gordon Ogilvie, turned them into a punk band and helped to write the kind of songs that he knew would go down well in Britain. The band’s first two singles, ‘Suspect Device’ and ‘Alternative Ulster’ and their first album Inflammable Material (1979) left no doubt as to their subject matter. However, the feeling persisted at the time that this was a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ band that exploited the situation in Northern Ireland for commercial gain and spoke more to the disaffected British audience than it did to, or for, the Northern Ireland punks.

If Stiff Little Fingers preached about an alternative Ulster, then the Undertones lived the alternative and wrote about it by ignoring the political situation completely. In Shellshock Rock, the band performs the hit single ‘Teenage Kicks’ live, and the contrast here with the Fingers could hardly be greater. The Undertones played a form of power-pop driven by a superb twin-guitar ‘wall of sound’ in support of singer Feargal Sharkey’s choirboy warble and the melodic wit of John O’Neill's lyrics. The sound and the performance is every bit as frantic and as energetic as the Fingers’ raw agit-prop but the content is very different (the film later features The Undertones playing ‘Here Comes the Summer’). The Undertones made a particular point about their subject matter. The opening track on the their second album Hypnotised (1980) is a song called ‘More Songs about Chocolates and Girls’. This is an ironic nod to the title of Talking Heads’ 1978 second album, More Songs about Buildings and Food (already a quirky, ironic comment on the po-faced seriousness of the times). However, it is primarily a statement of intent and it is hard not to see in the title and in the band’s whole stance an implied criticism of Stiff Little Fingers (and perhaps even of the Clash, with whom they toured in the USA in 1979).

Jon Savage noted the contrast between the two bands - Stiff Little Fingers’ ‘Belfast social realism’ as opposed to The Undertones’ ‘incandescent pop / Punk flash’. More problematically, he describes The Undertones as the ‘missing link between the 13th Floor Elevators, the Stooges, and Irish traditional music’, a remark which exudes more than a trace of Irish essentialism. But the musical and lyrical contrast between Northern Ireland’s two most ‘successful’ punk bands is clear enough. Savage quotes a 1990 comment by Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey that reinforces the point: ‘People used to ask early on why we didn’t write songs about the troubles: we were doing our best to escape from it’ [14].

It is ironic that twenty-five years later some of the band members seem to have regrets now about their decidedly apolitical or anti-political stance of the time. In Tommy Collins’ affectionate portrait of The Undertones, guitarist Damian O’Neill discusses this point. What is interesting is his revelation that the band’s resolutely apolitical attitude had already begun to crack by the time of the hunger strikes of 1981. O’Neill claims that the band were on Top of the Pops doing their single ‘It’s Going to Happen!’ on the night that hunger striker Bobby Sands died. He wore a black armband for the occasion. The song’s chorus, he reveals, (‘It’s gonna happen, happen / happens all the time / It’s going to happen, happen / ’til you change your mind’) was a vague but nonetheless heart-felt reference to the impasse over the hunger strikes and an appeal to Margaret Thatcher to change her mind.

When The Undertones broke up the O’Neill brothers were to assuage any residual guilt they felt about the band's lack of politics by forming the much more politically charged That Petrol Emotion in 1985. However, as Shellshock Rock shows, in 1978/79, The Undertones captured the mood of the times and the aspirations of the punks better than most other bands through their aggressive concerns with adolescence and sex. In a way, ‘Teenage Kicks’, by being about the ordinary, was an extremely political statement in the highly charged, extraordinary atmosphere of Northern Ireland at the time. In Collins’ film, BBC DJ John Peel, the man who championed The Undertones back in 1978, is being shown around the Bogside area of Derry by the remaining members of the band. He makes reference to the famous line in The Sex Pistols’ ‘Holidays in the Sun’ about ‘taking a cheap holiday in other people’s misery’ to articulate his queasiness about being in Derry and living off the memory of that misery. The accusation, however, is more appropriate to the agit-prop lyrics of Stiff Little Fingers (aimed primarily at the non-Ulster punks) or to the Clash’s posed photo opportunities at the barricades in Belfast in 1977 (one of which later became a notorious and much criticised tee shirt). What punk nostalgia today shows was that back in 1978-80, in Northern Ireland’s briefly flourishing punk scene, the aggression of the music and the anti-establishment culture of punk in general was utilised to express an ironic political position.

For Northern Irish punks, the establishment then meant their slightly older siblings as well as their parents. Their opposition was to the status quo as well to those aggressive and violent opponents of the status quo who had reduced daily life to the abject. Punk was a third space beyond the fixed binaries of these opposing forces; it gave a sense that, pace Rotten, there could be a future, if not in England’s dreaming, then certainly in Northern Ireland’s re-imagining.

Shellshock Rock remains an important document of a moment in recent history when music and a subcultural street style coalesced to challenge dominant political orthodoxies. That these orthodoxies were themselves often ‘oppositional’ only adds to the social significance of that moment. As contemporary politics in Northern Ireland wrestle with the polarised sectarianism of working-class communities, the sense of that future, the ‘future perfect’ of punk, looks increasingly attractive.

NOTES

[1] Fortnight, ‘Did punk rock the troubles?’ (July/August, 1996, pp. 28-31).

[2] John Bradbury, ‘Big time, you ain’t no friend of mine’, Causeway (September
1997), pp. 40-5.

[3] Henry McDonald, ‘Safety pins will be worn. Why the deafening silence over this
year’s other significant jubilee?’, Observer (2 June 2002), p. ?

[4] Henry McDonald, ‘Punk remembered. Big Time celebrates music that kept the
spirit of individual freedom alive’, Observer (1 December 2002), p. ?

[5] Henry McDonald, ‘No ordinary Joe. The death of the Clash’s lead singer robs us
of a remarkable man’, Observer (29 December 2002), p. ?

[6] ‘Star Quote: Joe Strummer’, NME Rock ‘n’ Roll Years (BCA, 1992) p. 295.

[7] See, for example, Bradley’s interesting notes on the songs on 1999’s compilation
True Confessions (Singles = A's +B's), and his four-part history of the band (the
transcript of a radio series he wrote in 1999) to be found on the Undertones’ official website
(http://www.theundertones.com/).

[8] Andy Medhurst, ‘What did I get? Punk, memory and autobiography’, in Punk
Rock: So What? The Cultural Legacy of Punk, ed. Roger Sabin (Routledge, 1999), pp.
219-31.

[9] Paul Cobley, ‘Leave the capitol’, in Sabin, Punk Rock: So What?, pp. 170-85.

[10] McDonald, ‘Safety pins will be worn’, p.?

[11] A further irony, of course, is that ‘Rotten’ was the alter-ego of a secondgeneration
Irishman named John Lydon - a fact which in retrospect considerably
complicates the both the political and the cultural dimensions of metropolitan punk.

[12] ‘Punk film lifts silver award’, Spectator (23 November 1979), p?

[13] Jon Savage, England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock (Faber and Faber,
1991), p. 140.

[14] Savage, England’s Dreaming, pp. 596-97.
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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by ghettodefendant » 15 Jul 2009, 12:50

ABSOLUTELY SUPERB.

cheers Mully - really enjoyed reading that and watching the clips.

Forum gold indeed.
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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by MULLY » 06 Sep 2009, 15:52

http://www.beyondthewire.org/about

New web-site featuring soon to be broadcast documentary.

Click on the links and scroll down the page for further information about the bands, Good Vibes, etc...
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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by mickinblack » 06 Sep 2009, 16:03

Talking of punks in Northern Ireland
Did you see fergal Sharkey today on the Big question, now this man dont approve of internet downloading and wants people cut off he they download.

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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by theraven1979 » 06 Sep 2009, 19:47

They're trying to get this one through.

He's a cock for supporting this . Anyone hear Stephen Fry's podcast on this recently - He had some very valid points from a different angle

Jim
mickinblack wrote:Talking of punks in Northern Ireland
Did you see fergal Sharkey today on the Big question, now this man dont approve of internet downloading and wants people cut off he they download.
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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by mickinblack » 06 Sep 2009, 19:53

No i didnt hear Mr frys intake on this is it downloadable anywere lol..
Be intersting on what he as to say.
theraven1979 wrote:They're trying to get this one through.

He's a cock for supporting this . Anyone hear Stephen Fry's podcast on this recently - He had some very valid points from a different angle

Jim
mickinblack wrote:Talking of punks in Northern Ireland
Did you see fergal Sharkey today on the Big question, now this man dont approve of internet downloading and wants people cut off he they download.

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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by Toiler On The Sea » 06 Sep 2009, 22:26

"They don’t come much better than The Stranglers when performing live; there is no pretence, no hiding place, just superb music"

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Re: PUNK IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Post by Mad Hatter » 07 Sep 2009, 19:01

This has been an absolutely cracking read. Thanks for all of the time you have obviously spent in doing this. 8)

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