ALM. Hello Sean, to start, can you tell us something about yourself (age, city where you live, etc..) and explain to us when you first heard the word “Punk” associated with music and how you got into it (the first bands that you listened to and watched etc..)?
Sean. Hello there, I’m an aging punker closer to fifty than forty and these days I live in a very small village approximately 40 miles outside Belfast with my wife and two daughters, oh!, and my eight year old German Sheppard called Rudi. I explain my introduction to PuNk in the book It Makes You Want to Spit! which you can purchase directly from http://www.spitrecords.co.uk/. I’ll not spoil it for future readers or bore people who have already purchased a copy of the book!!
ALM. What are the best concerts you remember from those years? For those who haven’t read the book yet, can you explain to us why The Clash’s first gig in Belfast was cancelled?
S. It is well documented that the original proposed 1977 Clash concert in Belfast was pulled at the last minute because of insurance wrangles. My memories of concerts 30+ years ago are somewhat blurred as you’d expect, but my fondest memories are of seeing local bands Rudi and The Outcasts.
ALM. More or less I see that the most well known punk bands of these times played in Northern Ireland, but I haven’t seen anything about the Pistols… Did the Sex Pistols ever play in Northern Ireland? What other important bands (for you) were absent from that period? Were there any bands that refused to play there due to fear, threats or the political situation?
S. I think to say that most well know PuNk bands played here is a gross exaggeration. Between 1977 and 1982, there weren’t that many bands that braved the Irish Sea to play here. Those that did though, were treated like conquering heroes by the kids here, who were starved of live music because of the “troubles”. Many of these bands have fond and vivid memories of their trip to N. Ireland and we tried to tap into these in the Spit book. Their accounts give a great insight into life here at the time and they contrast greatly with the local bands perspective of their countries political situation. In many instances, situations which we didn’t take any notice of as we were living with them on a daily basis, made lasting impressions on bands playing here from out of town. The Sex Pistols, Sham 69, X-Ray Spex, Generation X, 999, The Jam, The Vibrators, Slaughter & The Dogs, Electric Chairs etc never played here. Some thirty plus years later, most still haven’t!
ALM. For a period of years covered by the book, we can see bands with both punk’77 style and from the named 2nd Wave of Punk. Did the punks support the groups equally or was there sectarianism depending on style, attitude, commercialism, etc..?
S. I can only comment from a personal perspective, but I was certainly never aware of any sectarian discrimination shown towards any band at any of the gigs that I attended. Religion was never on the agenda at punk gigs that was something which you left at the door. Young kids were sick to the back teeth of sectarianism, so why would they want it introduced at punk gigs?? Having said that, there were local band rivalries and rivalries between Belfast and Derry bands, much in the same way as you have North – South rivalries in England.
ALM. You talk about tensions between punks and rockabilly’s, but not as great as they were in London. What about relations between punks and other tribes, like mods, heavy’s, hippies and others? Was there much trouble between them?
S. Mods were certainly a problem. They hunted in packs and prayed on isolated punks. I had quite a few “run ins” with Mods back in the day. There was generally never any trouble directed towards punks from any of the other youth movements at the time though!
ALM. Following with the tribes and skinheads reference, I think apart from Control Zone, a member of The Outcasts and, I’m not sure, a member of The Defects (in some pictures I see a certain skin look), there were no more bands involved in the skin-Oi movement. Why do you think this was? Do you think it was because many of the English skins in those times started to identify with the National Front principles and, therefore, with the Loyalist side in Northern Ireland?
S. I think that is an over simplistic view of what was happening here at that time. The skinhead image re-emerged around 1980 and bands like The Outcasts did adopt the style for a short time and they did ride on the back of the Oi! Movement for a while too, although for my money, they always retained their unique original sound. Northern Ireland had lots bands in the Oi! mould, such as Rabies, Catch 22, Assault etc but sadly none of these bands ever made any recordings. Hopefully my web site will go some way to documenting such small bands history.
ALM. However, there were some bands that identified with anarchist ideas (Toxic Waste, Hit Parade, Stalag 17). Why do you think that this tendency was so important? Do you think this was due to the Crass´s first gig in Belfast?
S. The Crass gigs at the A Centre in Belfast in 1982 certainly acted as a catalyst for the local Anarchist scene with bands such as Toxic Waste forming as a direct result of the gig. By that time a lot of the original bands had either slit up or simply run out of steam.
ALM. People say that punk in Northern Ireland united both catholic and protestant young people unlike in the Basque Country where, for example, there was a big punk movement too. Here many bands were, and are still, closely identified with MLNV (Basque National Liberation Movement) and the armed struggle of ETA. Can you tell us more about the political context (situation) into the punk movement of Northern Ireland (because I don’t imagine Union Jacks at the concerts or people from the Loyalist movement…)?
S. As far I was concerned, such views and opinions were left at the door of punk gigs, and rightly so! I certainly never encountered such people at any of the punk gigs which I attended. PuNk in N. Ireland was like a third religion, an escape from what we were watching day and daily on the news in our living rooms. Why would we want to spoil our escapism? It totally broadened my outlook on life and enabled me to meet people from different religions which I would never have done had it not been for PuNk. Many of the friends I made during the punk years are still my friends today.
ALM. To move on to something else, all people know Good Vibration, the label that brought together many of the best bands of those times, but I was very surprised too after I read about a Christian punk label called Budj Records. Can you tell us more about them? Who were the Stryper (Christian metal band) of punk in Northern Ireland?
S. The story of Budj Records is covered in detail in It Makes You Want Spit! I have a copy of the Stryper album but only as I am a completist. I wouldn’t recommend the album to anyone unless is it’s in a bargain bin!
ALM. SLF, Undertones, Outcasts and Rudi had some impact and were very well known (some more than others), but in your opinion, who was/were the band/s treated unfairly and who deserved to reach a bit further? And, what for you was the most overestimated punk band from Northern Ireland?
S. GREAT QUESTION! – and one which I am currently attempting to address with my newly formed Record label – Spit Records – visit the web site at http://www.spitrecords.co.uk/. I aim to release lots of previously unreleased material from N. Ireland punk bands and document band biographies etc... on the site. Some of the bands will be well known, others are more obscure, but all will possess that unique Northern Ireland punk sound. It’s a project which really excites me. It’s liberating not having restrictions on the amount of text or photographs that can be used, as we were when we compiled the Spit book back in 2003. I am also in contact with lots more members of old bands now because of social networking sites etc... The site is very much a work in progress but I intend to add to it on a regular basis.
Be sure and check the site out and if anyone out there has material which they think I could possibly use, be sure and get in touch!
ALM. Stiff Little Fingers are one of my favourite bands, but I have read all sorts of criticism about them (arrogant, money-grabbing, Jake Burns expelling anyone he didn’t like…). I think that they are loved and hated equally. What is your opinion about SLF and all of these controversies about them? Do you like the band currently?
S. Below is a forward I wrote for Ro Link’s superb book on Stiff Little Fingers entitled Kicking Up a Racket. I think this piece explains quite eloquently my views on the band.
Stiff Little Fingers will always be synonymous with Ulster punk. Fact. Sadly, in many instances, as much for their “controversial” manager and co songwriter smith, as for their classic records of the late 1970s and early 80s. As a 14 - 15-year-old schoolboy back in the late 70s, I wasn’t at all concerned with who had written (or contributed to) the lyrics of their songs. To me, it was crystal clear that the band meant what they were singing and even better, they were singing about MY life and offering me alternative points of view. Their initial burst of raw energy on the Ulster PuNk scene was captivating and as soon as they transferred that energy to vinyl they were truly off and running and with the help of John Peel reaching far beyond where Belfast’s red busses stopped. Their initial self-financed 45 was / is an adrenalized classic. Their success generated much needed press interest in a Belfast punk scene, until then, totally ignored by the London music press (go check your old music papers my friend). If we hadn’t Fanzines such as Alternative Ulster we wouldn’t have been able to read about OUR bands at all! It’s kind of fitting then that one of Stiff little Fingers best known anthems shares the same title as our best-known fanzine. For the first time since the troubles started in N. Ireland music fans here had something to be proud of. There really is a great sense of pride when someone from your own wee part of the world “makes it” and this was no better illustrated to me that when I saw Jake Burns up there on Top Of The Pops in 1980 sporting a Northern Ireland football top, miming his tonsils off to "Nobody’s Heroes". The live gigs were manic with support bands often getting showered in gob (Stand up Big Self), but that’s another story. Once PuNk really did mean something more than just nostalgia. Stiff Little Fingers contribution to the Belfast music scene is incalculable. The fact that they can still cut it live today only proves to me that, THEY HAD THE SONGS.
Sean O’Neill June 2008.
ALM. And, what is your opinion about the Undertones playing and recording without Feargal? Do you like them currently?
S. I never try to get too precious about bands reforming etc. Obviously it’s NEVER going to be the same as seeing a band when they were young teenagers etc, but you can’t put a good song down. I’ve caught the band live a number of times since they reformed and they carry it off surprisingly well. It’s always good that such bands record new material as it keeps it interesting for both the band and the diehard fans. Although at many of these “punk festival” type gigs, all the punters really want to hear is the old stuff, which is a tad depressing at times.
ALM. I enjoyed the last Rebellion festival with The Defects concert and I see that The Outcasts will be in the next edition. Have you seen The Outcasts since their return? How are they? Do you like Shame Academy band? Are they still playing?
S. Yes, The Defects were outstanding in Blackpool last year. The current line- up of the band is really rockin’. I was in the crowd at Blackpool myself! As I type, The Outcasts have only had a handful of rehearsals since reforming and I’ve not gone along to any so I don’t know what they sound like. The 2011 line up of The Outcasts consists of three original members, namely Greg & Martin Cowan, Raymond Falls on drums and is supplemented by Petesy Burns & Brian Young, so this could signal the end of Shame Academy, but who knows!
Be sure and identify yourself to me this year if you see me there!
ALM. What is your opinion and what is your favourite song about Northern Ireland, like Sham 69 (Ulster), The Boomtown Rats (Banana Republic), and others?
S. That’s easy, my favourite song about Northern Ireland is "Concrete Curtains" by Big Self. The song title being an obvious reference to all the bricked up houses in Belfast at the time.
ALM. To finish, do you know anything about the Spanish punk scene? Have you been to Spain?
S. I’ve been to some of the Spanish islands on holidays over the years and my knowledge of Spanish PuNk is limited to compilations such as Bloodstains across Spain etc...
ALM. Thanks for all Seen, It’s time to tell us anything that has been left out and say goodbye...
S. Nothing to add. I think all bases have been covered. Thanks for showing an interest in the book and hopefully what I’m now doing with Spit Records will act as a companion to the book and enable both old and new fans of the Northern Ireland punk scene of the late 70’s, early 80’s to discover many more great bands and songs from one of the last punk strongholds in the United Kingdom. The debut release on Spit Records – a live Outcasts recording from the early 1908’a is currently on sale and available directly from http://www.spitrecords.co.uk/