Set The Controls for the Dark Side of the Moon
I’ve had variations of this podcast going for two years now but I always lose track of time at St Pats. Well, this madness will cease now because I am unleashing upon the world two hours of Irish punk rock, new wave, underground and just plain rock-n-roll THUNDER.
Well sure, if you’re going to nit-pick a lot of it isn’t very thunderous. Instead it is sort of bittersweet and catchy. Especially the bands from Belfast. I mean, the fact that so many of the greatest practitioners of the sweet Irish hook were from war-ravaged Belfast is one of the great musical dichotomies of our time, ya’ dig? Southern California with all of its sun and surf had all the anger while Belfast with all of its hate and war had the sweet choruses. Listen to Ten Years by The Starjets and try as hard as you can to get the amazing refrain out of your head. Can’t do it. Listen to the guitar line in Overcome by Fumes by the seminal Belfast punk band Rudi and try not to get a smile on your face. Same holds for Shock Treatment, P45, The Tinopeners, Protex, and The Tearjerkers.
Of course not all of the bands from Belfast were sweet and hooky. There were some pretty gnarly punk bands from the area as well. One of my favourites were The Outcasts. Formed by the Cowan brothers, The Outcasts went on to release a couple of great LPs into the 1980s. I’ve included their song Frustration from their very first single in 1978. Another great Belfast band that occupied the rougher end of the spectrum was The Defects who moved to England in 1982 and had moderate success with their classic LP “Defective Breakdown”. Also Victim, who I first heard of on the great KBD Records site. Their “The Teen Age” 7inch EP is a stone cold classic in my opinion. Finally, we have Stiff Little Fingers, also from Belfast, whose classic song Fly the Flag, I’ve been listening to now for twenty-five years and it still does not get old.
Like any scene with this many great bands, the Belfast scene also had a great independent record label entitled Good Vibrations. It was run from the Belfast record shop of Terri Hooley and released important singles by the cream of Northern Irish punk bands including Rudi, Victim, The Outcasts and The Undertones.
The label was extremely active during its first couple of years, releasing 18 records in 1978-79 not counting represses or reissues, but by 1980 the releases were drying up, not because of a lack of local talent but because of financial problems. Several singles were cancelled, the “Ulster On A Thin Wire” sampler LP was cancelled, and apart from a number of projects that had already been ready to go or had external funding the label was quiet during 1980-81. It made a few aborted attempts to revitalize itself but the zeitgeist it captured occurred within its first three years. Owner Terri Hooley can be heard at the end of this podcast with his novelty song Laugh at Me.
In case I am conveying the misconception that only Belfast had an active scene, let me point out one of the very coolest bands on this podcast; The Radiators From Space. I have included their amazing punk rock track Blitzin’ At The Ritz from their classic first album “TV Tube Heart” which came out in 1977. The Radiators From Space came from Dublin and included Philip Chevron who would go on to join The Pogues. Another great band that were not from Belfast were The Moondogs from Derry who released an amazing album entitled “That’s What Friends Are For” in 1981. The Moondogs unfortunately couldn’t quite shake a misguided Undertones comparison and were tragic victims of the curse of Todd Rundgren. They split in November 1981. At one point they had their own TV show on Ulster Television. Next, we have the very inconsistent Boomtown Rats from Dun Laoghaire, south of Dublin; with their untouchable 1977 track Lookin’ Out For Number One.
Of course my favourite Irish act of all time The Undertones came from Derry. The Undertones released a string of singles and two amazing albums in the late 1970s that everyone should own. The entire concept of Ramones style three chord ramalama with a classically trained Irish Tenor misfit teen kid crooning over it is just so utterly goddam genius. It can never be replicated and it probably can never be matched. Of all of their tracks Jimmy Jimmy is my favourite.
Although the lion’s share of Irish bands during the new wave / punk era were either relatively streetpunk like Stiff Little Fingers or power-pop like The Undertones, there were a few pretty decent post-punk acts from Ireland as well. Probably the coolest was The Threat from Dublin whose sole release The High Cost of Living sounds like John Lydon fronting No Trend. Definitely recommended shite. Dogmatic Element from Bangor, south of Belfast, was a great post-punk band as well. Their track Just Friends is from their first 7inch from 1982.
As the 1980s wore on and new wave / punk began to morph into alternative / underground, quite a few Irish bands ended up in heavy rotation on the MTV Sunday night show 120 Minutes. A lot of them, like Cactus World News, were just terrible but a few were really good. Blue In Heaven from Dublin, melded Joy Division style atmospherics with Iggy style vocals to create some pretty intense music in the mid-1980s. A very underrated band. A little less consistent were That Petrol Emotion, The O’Neill brothers post Undertones project from Derry. They released some great singles for various indie labels, most notably Demon, and then signed to Polydor Records (and later Virgin) but they failed to deliver on their initial promise. They eventually split in 1993.
One of the truly influential Irish bands, My Bloody Valentine, started in 1984 and really bridged the gap between 1980′s underground rock and the 1990′s alternative nation. The song Kiss The Eclipse is from their second EP, 1987′s “Sunny Sundae Smile”. It was the only release I ever really liked by the band. Once the shoegaze thing really kicked in I lost interest.
A band that would have never appeared on 120 Minutes was Belfast’s own Pink Turds in Space. Along with The Ex and Rudimentary Peni, I think Pink Turds in Space were one of the best Anarcho-Punk acts of the era. Their song Indie Shit is from 1991. The most recent song on this podcast is by Therapy? from Larne. It’s from their great 1994 release “Troublegum”.
And that’s about it. I rounded everything off with a bunch of pub-rock style punk tunes by bands like Clive Culbertson, Pretty Boy Floyd and the Gems, and Midnite Cruiser. It’s also worth mentioning that I did not include U2 because
A. I don’t want to get sued
B. I don’t really like U2.
I considered adding The Pogues and The Nipple Erectors but those bands were actually based in England. They are made up of Irish ex-pats. There was so much good music from the Island itself that I didn’t have room to cover the Irish Diaspora. Maybe next year, I can do a second podcast of Irish bands that are not from Ireland. That would be pretty cool. Next year I’m dedicating a Dropkick Murphys song to Matty. I added Mama’s Boys for all you Teezar freaks. Finally, I added Thin Lizzy cuz its Thin Lizzy. Nuff said.
Big check shirts – Shock Treatment
Fly The Flag – Stiff Little Fingers
Kiss The Eclipse – My Bloody Valentine
Jimmy Jimmy – The Undertones
Thinking About The Sun – Spies
Striker – Midnite Cruiser
Junior Criminals – Victim
Sharon – Pretty Boy Floyd and The Gems
Contrast Disorder – The Doubt
Popularity – Protex
Overcome By Fumes – Rudi
This System Is Here – Ex-Producers
Bondgae in Belfast – Androids
The Rocker – Thin Lizzy
I Wanna Be a Popstar – The Moondogs
Teenage Love Song – P45
Busy Signal – Clive Culbertson
Change Your Mind – Blue In Heaven
Good Thing – That Petrol Emotion
Indie Shit – Pink Turds In Space
HOLDING UP WELL – The Steppes
High Cost Of Living – The Threat
Lookin’ After No. 1 – The Boomtown Rats
Johnny Johnny – Control Zone
Frustration – The Outcasts
Defective Breakdown – The Defects
Ten Years – Starjets
Young Rebel – Family Of Noise
Blitzin’ at the Ritz – The Radiators From Space
Murder Mystery – The Tearjerkers
Just Friends – Dogmatic Element
I Can Help – Peasants
I’m Not Your Type – Tinopeners
Burnin’ Up – Mamas Boys
Die Laughing – Therapy?
Laugh at Me – Terri and the Terrors