1978 felt like the year dot for me. Imagine hearing The Stranglers intoxicating 5 Minutes, The Outcasts crystalline You’re A Disease, Magazine’s Touch And Go or even The Only Ones – Another Girl, Another Planet for the first time. And that’s only from cd one. Previously I got excited by Sweet, Sparks then Alex Harvey and an assortment of bubble-gum probably best forgotten. But the cross-section which this year signified saw the excitement of music evolve in differing directions from Sham 69’s Borstal Breakout to the slow introduction of synthesizers, creating the feeling that something else was about to happen. It was a good thing the Sex Pistols exited that year, they said all they had to by that stage.
The next cd opens with Poly Styrene’s X-Ray Spex epic The Day The World Day-Glo which christens this compilation, and that’s one of things I remember most that year was the searing colour of everything from the clothes to the music and words. And yes that was even in Belfast too. Kung Fu International resolutely spat out by John Cooper Clarke is here, the crazy beauty of Ultravox’s Slow Motion as well. UK Subs – Live In A Car plays like a fiery rock n roll flipside to it all, there to remind you about the energetic nihilism still fizzing away.
Disc three begins with what the defining musical moment from that year Public Image Limited’s – Public Image which said so much in a precise three minutes it left you stunned, while proceeding to transform the landscape into what happened next. Then comes Stiff Little Fingers, Alternative Ulster and Scritti Politti 28/8/78 both stretching out politically charged guitars into the ether. One of the most beautiful songs ever written, You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory by Johnny Thunders follows. The Fall contrasts almost everything else, while The Jam’s In The Crowd feels unexpectedly twee in comparison now. 10.15 Saturday Night by The Cure is another forward pointer which meant everything to me that year, though it was the following year I got to see them live at the Ulster hall supporting Siouxsie and the Banshees. Not all of the music may be wonderful but that is also down to personal taste, however what still shines remains excellent. This being Cherry Red you also get fantastic sleeve notes highlighting all that vigorous fun plus the detail of insight this time from the hand of David Wells.
The Punks I hung about with from 1978 cared about three things: music, clothes and attitude. Despite popular belief we even had a great time doing so, just like anywhere else. What we didn’t like too much was being told what to do, how to think. Which is why Punk appealed to those of us in the first place. We didn’t like the Police, we didn’t want the IRA who tried to blow the place to pieces killing everyone in the process, and we couldn’t abide the confirmatory of Paisley’s DUP or for that matter the mindless sectarian slaughter imposed by either side’s self-appointed masters. You found yourself somewhere in-between. Outside of what was considered normal. But what you did have was music. Punk pulled people and resources together, more often than not.
Following compilations of the sounds emanating out of Manchester, Scotland, Sheffield and Liverpool, Northern Ireland‘s output from 1978 to 1982 has now been catalogued across 3 CD’s of 74 tacks. Plus of course the film, lending the title, Shellshock Rock is included on DVD.
Shellshock Rock is a 46 minute documentary on what was happening in and around Belfast Punk by 1979. John T Davis made what was the first of three features on the music scene capturing the spirit of the time, rough and ready, filled with life. What you see on the screen is the feel of grainy film, spliced and exposed reflecting memory right back at you. It has achieved legendary status since providing a snapshot of some of the bands, clubs along with everyday scenes from Belfast city centre. Today it feels like Derek Jarman channelled through the inspiration of Davis mentor D. A. Pennebaker, who filmed Dylan’s 1960’s UK tour and the Monterey Pop Festival while later collaborating on Depeche Mode ‘s American concert film, 101 among many others. The deliberate resolution projects like an abstraction pulling apart light from darkness, exposing ghosts of the past. Yet there is something almost poetic about the way it all seems suspended in time, so close to the heart. When it was first released the film even found its way to various screenings in NYC at clubs Tier 3, Hurrahs, The Mud Club, The Peppermint Lounge, Club 57, and CBGBs. There is also a great interview with the filmmaker containing this heavy-duty prose: Shellshock Rock is not about Punk. It is Punk.
The film inevitably arrives at the Great Victoria Street, home of Good Vibrations Records, greeted by the enthusiasm of Terri Hooley celebrating the labels first release from Rudi, Big Time: You drive your daddy’s car, But you drove it far too far. You’ve got so many things, But they’ll see you in the end…
Incidentally you can also see Gavin Martin/ Dave ‘Angry’ McCullough’s infamous, essentail fanzine Alternative Ulster (many others fuelled things too) pinned to the wall, intercut with the band live at one of the early venues where Punks played the Glenmachan Stables. The quality of the documentary lies in the fact that various venues like The Pound and Chester’s in Portrush expands the story beyond the capital as does the music highlighting the diverse record labels on offer. Also featured are Rhesus Negative who disappointingly only have this short recording of Love In Vein from 1978 to document an intriguing potential, plus The Outcasts playing You’re A Disease from their excellent debut release at Wizard Studios from that same year.
1979 might feel a little after the fact compared with other cities in the UK and how music was evolving, shooting off into different directions with the incorporation of electroinic sounds. It’s even been said that Belfast and its surrounding counties where the last bastion of Punk itself.
The Music Compilation.
The music begins via the strum of Mickey Bradley’s bass guitar on The Undertones frankly perfect True Confessions from their EP for Good Vibrations, the one with Teenage Kicks. Then unexpectedly takes a turn towards power-pop/ Springsteen-esque styled American rock n roll, guitar solos and all. However, The Idiots arrive to rescue the Punk flag with Parents. But to be fair a sizable portion of this isn’t really a Punk compilation expanding its scope to catalogue the styles found on various other labels, chiefly via George Doherty’s Rip Off Records which started in 1978 and released a large part of the music around. He also, not so incidentally, produced Rudi’s classic Big Time for Good Vibes as well as The Outcasts first EP from ’78 the equally brilliant Frustration on IT Records. They were also the first to release N. Irish compilation album, Belfast Rock likewise in 1978. Not so into the more R&B based stuff, but none the less captures moments in time. Although, it has been said that an early visit by Eddie and the Hot Rods was as much a catalyst to ignite minds.
By the time you hit the second CD opening with Stiff Little Fingers, Suspect Device which still remains one of the most powerful pieces of political realisation (alongside Alternative Ulster) to date. Have to say that Ruefrex’s lyrical One By One is just as powerful in other ways. The Outcasts, Magnum Force spikey skank is magnificent, while Rod Vey’s curious, electronically charged Metal Love stands out too. As does the twisted effects of Stage B’s mesmerising, Light On The Hillside.
The third disc has Rudi, the always excellent Defects, Shock Treatment along with a refreshingly different Dogmatic Element to end.
Dig With It (buy it) editor Stuart Bailie’s introduces it all with an in-depth analysis of lived-in events. While Spit Records Sean O’Neill provides further lowdown on the bands, alongside personal testimony from various members themselves. By the way the definitive book on NI Punk is his co-authored It Makes You Want To Spit.
Not having heard a lot of this music for a long time it’s great to hear just how great most of the Punk output remains, feeling vibrant, even timeless.