Celebrating Shellshock Rock, four decades down the line

High Rise: Stiff Little Fingers, on their way to breaking through via the uncompromising Inflammable Material LP

Seeing as our TV sets were seemingly full of depressing images from the aftermath of bomb damage and troops patrolling streets at the time, it’s good to have a celluloid reminder of something more positive going on in late-1970s Northern Ireland.

Good Vibrations, the 2012 Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn-directed film, told that alternative tale with a little license and plenty of swagger, while Tom Collins and Vinny Cunningham’s splendid 2001 documentary Teenage Kicks: The Story of The Undertones and Chris Wilson’s cracking Here Comes the Summer: The Undertones Story 11 years later told another side of the ground level story.

But perhaps the first notable film to emerge, in this case during those dark days of The Troubles, was John T. Davis’ 1979 documentary short, Shellshock Rock, an insightful study filmed in grim times that – despite its half-lit, scratchy, hand-held shots – comes over four decades later as a priceless document of that era, its focus an array of young punks – from the well-informed and right-on to the frankly naive – voicing frustration at being told what to do by their peers, instead choosing to get their teenage kicks watching live performances in tucked-away venues from bands deemed deemed disrespectful or irreverent in wider circles, and certainly with a wilful disregard of the established sectarian divide.

The plight of Northern Ireland throughout that period is well documented. As an outsider  I don’t feel I can go there, in large part. But this is more about the unifying impact punk rock and everything that came in its wake had on the country’s youth. Whilst violence, disenchantment and danger became everyday obstacles, punk provided a means of expression beyond the political landscape, with the spirit of those times at least partially captured through Davis’ lens in 1978.

Now, 41 years after its initial release, it’s being reissued by way of a celebration of that movement and a document of those times, alongside an impressive, somewhat exhaustive triple-CD collection including many rarities. There are 74 tracks all told, from approaching 50 bands, and it comes in hardback book format, the songs recorded during a period that arguably breathed new life into the country’s musical culture.

Looking at this collection with 2020 vision, so to speak, there are glaring holes in that it paints the picture of a very white male environment. Where were the Northern Irish equivalents of Poly Styrene, Pauline Black, Pauline Murray, and The Slits? We have to wait right to the end to hear a female lead vocal. But maybe that’s just how it was at the time, band-wise, with this more about exploring punk and the post-punk landscape over there back then, offering something of a celebration of the power of music and a youth movement that provided hope for the future when it was really needed.

Key bands featured on the Shellshock Rock: Alternative Blasts From Northern Ireland 1977/84 collection include Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones, The Outcasts, and Rudi, all four also starring in the original film, plus more who offered real crossover potential, not least The Moondogs and Starjets. But I won’t just stop there, here taking a brief journey through those six dozen-plus numbers and profiling the groups behind them.

Any collection opening with The Undertones and ‘True Confessions’ is alright by me, part of that amazing Teenage Kicks debut EP on Good Vibrations, a label which understandably features heavily here. Did the O’Neill brothers’ buzzsaw guitars ever sound more urgent across the spectrum, and did Feargal’s wondrous warbling vocal ever seem as innocently raw and innocent?

Many acts featured were new to me, the first of whom Midnite Cruiser, the spirit of punk R&B coming through on their sole single ‘Rich Bitch’ and its B-side, with pub rock credentials even more evident with next contributors the Duggie Briggs Band, delivering a Shellshock Rockney standard (have I belatedly invented a new genre there?) on ‘Punk Rockin’ Granny’, while their other track here, ’42 Hours Late’, suggests they may have been Portadown’s answer to Bruce Springsteen (although I’m not sure what the question was). Meanwhile, North coast outfit XDreamysts‘ ‘Dance Away Love’ suggests a Phil Lynott influence, and they’re one of a few here who supported Thin Lizzy and one of several who recorded sessions for BBC Radio 1’s John Peel, a big supporter of the NI scene.

If one band put a smile on your face more than any other in John T. Davis’ film, it’s The Idiots, who provide a punky ‘Parents’ from autumn ‘78 here, of which guitarist Barry Young adds, in relation to the first song he ever wrote, ‘All I was trying to do was write about what was more relevant to me, as someone who had just turned 16, rather than the big ideas of anarchy or world rebellion. The Idiots got together out of a shared love of this exciting new punk music, having a laugh and enjoying the odd bottle of cider. Musical ability wasn’t too high on our priorities, but we were game enough, and we improved as we went along, becoming more confident. Looking back at it now, I have a lot of good memories of mad nights out and crazy, innocent fun. I’m just glad we recorded this as a testament that punk really was for everyone and changed the rules for good.’

I recall my mate Steve adding Starjets‘ ‘War Stories’ to an early compilation that came my brother’s way, and these London-based West Belfast ‘pretty boys of the new wave’ offer that track, still a corker all these years on, plus ‘Any Danger Love’, frontman Terry Sharpe going on to co-found The Adventures and secure more Top of the Pops coverage. As for Ali McMordie’s pre-SLF outfit The Detonators‘ ‘Cruisin”, there’s a reinvented Jonathan Richman feel, the band showing why they were chosen to support Buzzcocks when the seminal Manchester band played the Ulster Hall in September ’78. And Ballymoney trios No Sweat also impress with the new wave pop of ‘Start All Over Again’, sort of The Jags meet Thin Lizzy (not least due to its duelling guitars). But there’s more of a Stranglers feel to Pretty Boy Floyd and The Gems, a former showband reenergised by punk, initially as a sideline. There’s a story attached to that change of focus that you’ll have to buy the boxset to read. It’s not pretty though. Like many of the bands, they went on to try their luck across the Irish Sea, in their case including a backup band link with Auf Wiedersehen Pet actor and past Heavy Metal Kids frontman Gary Holton.

The Stranglers are also arguably channelled on Blue Steam‘s ‘Lizard King’, something of an oddity but interestingly so, from a band who just about cracked the UK top 100, with help from Peelie. And I like Jumpers‘ ‘Baby C’Mon’, another shot of R&B, complete with harmonica (perhaps I should say harp), a one-off project for producer George Doherty, backed by the afore-mentioned Gems. Cobra’s ‘Lookin’ for a Lady’ was another one-off single, with its B-side here, the band straight outta Belfast with something of a new wave Motorhead feel, providing the kind of impassioned oddity that makes this collection a joy.

Tinopeners make two contributions, a melodic teenage outfit with Ramones and X-Ray Spex-like qualities, inspired by fellow East Belfast outfit Rudi and so fresh here. And then there’s Clive Culbertson, whose name comes up a lot across these discs, and who despite success south of the border became better known for his production and session work with names like Van Morrison, the Chieftains and Cliff Richard. We also find Clive later with 1980’s The Sweat, who were No Sweat until a threat of legal action from Pete Townshend’s Eel Pie Records, whose band of the same name had been around a while.

‘Suzy Lie Down’ by Cramp carries raw energy, a one-off single from an outfit concentrated on Coleraine, Portrush and Portstewart’s live circuit. When Peelie played this, he pondered over the airwaves ‘what those guys would do if Suzy lay down’. Two members later turned up in North coast melodic four-piece Minor Classics, featured elsewhere on two Clive Culbertson-produced tracks with Boomtown Rats-like tendencies, unreleased before 2010’s Rip Off Records Sing Sing compilation. It’s a shame they released just one single, March ’82’s ‘Sign Language’, one of the last on Chiswick Records.

Lenny & the Lawbreakers give us a punked-up version of Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, while The Androids, led by Joe ‘Zero’ Moody, supply two uncompromising numbers from the original Shellshock Rockers compilation. Bangor’s The Doubt sound a blast too, represented here via two tracks completing the first CD, the sleevenotes telling us, ‘Rehearsing in their singer’s living room and fuelled by nothing more than cider and ham sandwiches, The Doubt’s sound began to take shape and they began to play as many gigs as possible, using teenage enthusiasm and stupidity to overcome obstacles such as not having any transport and being underage for licensed premises. On one particularly memorable occasion a human train of ‘roadies’ carried all the equipment necessary for the gig a couple of miles to a beach. There, dozens of purloined extension leads were run across a main road from a friend’s house and the band risked life and limb to play a few songs’. Now that’s punk rock.

Who can forget the first time they heard Stiff Little Fingers? And that pure power and bite is relived here with the inclusion of October ’78’s vital debut 45, ‘Suspect Device’ and April ’79’s mighty ‘Gotta Getaway’. Jake Burns, the afore-mentioned Ali McMordie, Henry Cluney and Brian Faloon spring from the traps, the band who inspired by The Clash to write about their own experiences, with help from Gordon Ogilvie, truly nailed the zeitgeist of Belfast life back then, setting out their stall on ‘Alternative Ulster’, the single in between, and landmark debut LP Inflammable Material.

Protex, also featured in the film, are next to hit the spot, a melodic new wave feel evident on ‘Strange Things’ and ‘Strange Obsessions’, a take on life delivered in time for the ’80s from another band initially inspired by that iconic Clash visit. In fact, at first they used the name Protex Blue in honour of the Westway’s finest, but ‘evidently, they had absolutely no idea that the song was, in fact, about condoms’. Debuting in ‘78 at Knock Methodist Church Hall, Belfast, success to a point – short in the scheme of things but sweet all the same – followed via interest from Terri Hooley and Good Vibrations, Rough Trade, Kid Jensen and Polydor, while they studied for A-levels. Next came Adam & the Ants and Boomtown Rats supports, the band by then London-based, a subsequent North American tour part-caught on film by John T. Davis on another project.

Next up, Ruefrex carried something of the air of Howard Devoto for these ears, their ‘One By One’ single among Good Vibrations’ earliest, darker in feel, a touch of dystopia from a band living in a place where escape from reality surely appealed. In fact, slow-burner ‘The Perfect Crime’, also included, featured not only on the original Shellshock Rock film but also Good Vibrations.

Lunar Force: The Moondogs, leading lights of Cherry Red collection, Shellshock Rock, and teatime TV stars to boot.

After that, Ballymoney’s The Faders sound fairly soothing with the Nick Lowe-like ‘In It For the Kicks’, and then we have The Zipps with ‘Don’t Tell the Detectives’, another who briefly swelled bills in Belfast and on the north coast. ‘Self Conscious Over you’ by The Outcasts will be more familiar, a classic angsty punk love song followed here by ‘81’s darker ‘Magnum Force’, tackling the Troubles head on, from a band also remembered for ‘Just Another Teenage Rebel’, a single I recall being covered in more recent years by The Undertones. And I have to admit that Victim’s sparky contributions from 1979 and 1980 were new to me, despite the band having relocated to Manchester. You certainly hear the progression between tracks, very of that time and Buzzcocksy.

Undertones fans won’t need an introduction to the work of fellow Derry outfit The Moondogs, who initially included John and Damian O’Neill’s brother Vinnie on bass. They positively sparkle on both sides of debut 45, ‘She’s Nineteen’, including ‘Tones-like guitar, those links leading to UK and Irish dates, Peel’s support and even interest from legendary boss Andrew Loog Oldham (see the sleevenotes for that tale). To give a flavour of this band’s story, I’ll just focus on 1981, when Granada approached them with a view to giving them their own teatime TV show. Further radio sessions and gigs followed, plus the ‘Talking in the Canteen’ and ‘Imposter’ (produced by Kinks legend Ray Davies) singles, before the band headed to New York to record their debut LP with Todd Rungren in late May. But, according to their biog, ‘That’s What Friends Are For proved to be an ironic title for the long player as the band split up halfway through recording. Warner Bros bought Sire Records and began to clean out the cupboards, and it seemed that The Moondogs would be dropped without the album ever being released. On their return to Derry, the band went en masse to the bank, collected their publishing and recording advances, paid the VAT and declared themselves bankrupt. With a few pieces of paper, it was over, and the following Monday The Moondogs went and signed on the dole. However, unbeknown to the band Todd Rundgren had finished off the album, and Sire released it in Germany later that year.’

There’s more of an ’80s feel to the two selections from Rod Vey, a Belfast lad in his early 20s dividing time between Queens Uni music studies and professional sax playing and session work for Rip Off Records, here messing around to great effect with electronics, another artist who went on to work with big names. And we definitely seem to be in post-punk, darker territory by the time we reach Stage B‘s ‘Light on the Hillside’, the band fitting in a filmed Toyah support tour slot before a 1981 break-up. Meanwhile, there’s a big sound to The Tearjerkers (their forntman once with Midnite Cruiser) with ‘Heart on the Line’, yet that’s a mere B-side for this Portadown outfit, who managed a Thin Lizzy support, a couple of Peel sessions, and a little TV and further radio before splitting. And the same goes for Aftermath, here with ‘Mixed Up Kid’, and also supported by John Peel and RTE’s Dave Fanning.

RTE favourites Male Caucasians looked to Dublin and Scoff Records to release ‘For the Night’, somewhere between Graham Parker, the Boomtown Rats and Split Enz maybe, the band’s Pat Cunningham explaining, ‘I gave up the boring day-job and concentrated on writing and gigging – we played around Belfast, Dublin, Cork and many places in between. It gave me an identity, a sense of belonging and a sense of possibility: we were going somewhere. The music provided an escape from the tribal politics and the drab reality that was Belfast then. ‘For the Night’ is the sound of that escape.’

Reflex Action provide both sides of 1980’s ‘Spies’ single, its school of The Clash skank’ a favourite of John Peel’s wife Sheila, and according to Paul Bradley, ‘a neat embodiment of the NI post-punk music community’s gift for dismissing sectarianism’. He adds, ‘Roughly half unionist and half nationalist, we, like many of our gigging peers, ignored sectarian divisions’.  Fair play to them. And disc two ends with fellow Belfast combo The Rattling Throntons‘ ‘The Whistle Song’, Rockpile-esque and from their sole EP in 1980. They played a cocktail of mod-punk covers alongside original material, their name taken from some cheap Chinese cassettes bought to record rehearsals, early bass player Andrew Thompson revealing that the ‘recording was funded by us putting on matching blue shirts and trousers and playing horrendous C&W covers under the name Bandit’, adding, ‘There was no commercial market in NI for our music, but plenty of demand for bad country music.’

So to disc three and Terri Hooley’s faves and NI punk pioneers Rudi, represented by a radio version of ‘Steps’ – among my favourites on this boxset – and 1981’s ‘When I Was Dead’, produced by Paul Weller. Some might suggest ’Big Time’ should be here, but like ‘Teenage Kicks’ and ‘Alternative Ulster’ we’ve all got that, right? Formed in 1975 by East Belfast schoolmates, they progressed from glam and rock’n’roll to a punk direction, inspiring Terri Hooley to set up his label and missing out on a deal with Polydor as they refused to sack drummer Graham ‘Grimmy’ Marshall, who the corporate considered a ‘madman’. As it was, while Grimmy stayed, Gordy Blair (bass) was turfed out soon after (later joining The Outcasts), and as a three-piece – Grimmy plus fellow founder members Ronnie Matthews (guitar, lead vocals) and Brian Young (guitar, vocals) – they signed to Tony Fletcher and the afore-mentioned Weller’s Jamming! label. In fact, as Brian Young put it, ‘Grimmy was the heart of the band, and was there from day one right through to the bitter end, alongside Ronnie and yours truly.” In that next spell, Weller took the band on tour. But fate conspired when The Jam split and the label folded, Rudi also deciding to call it a day.

Ex-Producers’ ‘The System Is Here’ sounds more like The Jam at their most blatantly political, the band meeting at school in West Belfast, starting in 1978 as Blitz – inspired by SLF and Rudi – before becoming The Producers, with personnel changes en route. The key further name change followed, the new line-up receiving radio airplay and featuring on a January ’80 Belfast edition of BBC TV’s Something Else, finally becoming a three-piece but never receiving the breaks they craved. They split in 1982 but re-emerged in 2004.

There’s real punk charge from The Defects – the vocals bringing to mind Ade Edmondson’s Vyvyan from The Young Ones – on Christmas ‘81’s ‘Dance (Until You Drop)’, which quickly sold out 2,000 copies, and presented here with its B-side. Formed in Belfast in summer ’78, they first performed Never Mind The Bollocks and The Clash covers, later borrowing money from parents to set up Casualty Records, before a deal with London’s WXYZ Records, alongside label and tour-mates Anti-Nowhere League and Chelsea. Key UK dates and a tour followed, plus the ‘Survival’ 45, the band living on a Chelsea Wharf houseboat moored next to Lemmy’s, regularly partying with Girlschool, Motorhead and various other rock‘n’rollers. An Ulster Hall date supporting the later version of The Clash was their finale, but they resurfaced in 2003, recording for Punkerama Records and still gigging far and wide.

The new wave/power pop of ‘Radio Songs’ and its cracking B-side follows from Strike, who played around Ireland, with various press and radio interviews, supporting the Boomtown Rats at the Ulster Hall in Belfast when the headliners were topping the UK charts, A&M Records expressing interest at that stage. And there’s a similar new wave vibe to The Singles, who hailed from the Portadown/Lurgan area, more aligned to the mod revival than the punk scene. They recorded with producer George Doherty, leading to one-off single ‘TV Deceives’ in 1981, included here with previously-unreleased demo ‘I’m Only Asking’. They split soon after, two members going on to synth-pop band Shadow Talk, who had a minor hit in 1983 (and who I saw support The Fall and Serious Drinking at Surrey Uni that year).

Another pleasant surprise for this scribe was the rather jerky, angular ‘Mr Mystery Man’ by Belfast’s Shock Treatment, whose members included Davy McLarnon, who leads Shock Treatment 21 to this day, and original vocalist Barry McIlheney, best known for his writing at Melody Maker, subsequent editorships at Smash Hits and film mag Empire, and much more. The track chosen is a tribute to his Dad, who died when he was just 19, and it’s a corker. The band formed around ‘78, inspired by bands like Eddie and the Hot Rods, Dr Feelgood and the Ramones, signing to Good Vibrations in early 1979. Their ‘Room to Move’ EP included ‘Belfast Telegraph’, with follow-up ‘Mystery Man’ on their DAB label in 1981.

There’s a Graham Parker/Elvis Costello/Joe Jackson vibe to ‘Put It Around’ by The Nerves from Newry, formed by the three McCaul brothers, previously The Mash. By March 1980 they were a four-piece playing their hometown and across the border in nearby Dundalk, and occasionally Belfast and Dublin. A demo tape left in Terri Hooley’s shop eventually led to a rare offer to record an LP. They received airplay from RTE and Downtown, the Notre Demo album recorded in Dundalk in late 1980, recorded and mixed in 46 hours for £400, a limited 1,500 pressing well received. A Battle of the Bands win at Ulster Hall led to finals at The Rainbow in London. There was also an early ‘81 Irish tour.

The Peasants shared a history with Protex, members of both playing in The Incredibly Boring Band. They issued one 7” EP, ‘Here She Comes’, pressed in limited quantities in 1981 before they split. And it’s a real pleaser, very ‘60s West Coast US in feel. And there’s a similar cross-Atlantic vibe with East Belfast combo Acme, formed in late 1978 as Acme Music, ‘sustained on Clash records, Protex gigs and Olde English cider’. They supported Rudi and The Outcasts, their pleasing contribution here early ‘81 demo track, ‘Jealousy’, with an Edwyn Collins feel.

Big Self formed in Belfast in the late ‘70s, the line-up swelled to a five-piece in 1982 by bass player Gordy Blair (ex-Rudi and The Outcasts) turned saxophonist. On a reggae-influenced canvas, they developed their sound and signed to Eire’s Reekus Records, first two singles, ‘Surprise Surprise’ (included here) and ‘Don’t Turn Around’ (its B-side featured here) both Sounds singles of the week. Relocated to Brixton in early 1983, they recorded LP, Stateless in Dublin the following winter, with 4 ¾ out of 5 stars in Melody Maker, losing the quarter-point due to an 18-month release delay (the distribution company went into liquidation). Several well received shows and festivals followed, plus John Peel and Kid Jensen BBC radio sessions, and BBC and RTE TV appearances. They bowed out in 1986 at Dublin’s Self-Aid festival.

Act Together: Belfast five-piece Katmandu. It took a move to Dublin to crack it. (Photo courtesy of Sean Hennessy)

Belfast five-piece Katmandu formed in 1978, yet frontman Marty Lundy – who died recently – had featured on the city’s club circuit since 1974. After 18 months writing in their home city, a Dublin move followed, regular gigs there establishing them, 1980 debut single ‘I Can Make the Future’ garnering major label interest and leading to TV appearances both sides of the border. The track chosen, ‘Get My Act Together’, the B-side of ill-fated 1982 second 45, ‘Coma’, carries a rather splendid Bowie meets Roxy Music feel. But it wasn’t to be, the band returning home and going no further.

The Boots & Braces label’s 1982 United Skins compilation shows us another side of the story with two belters from Control Zone, Tony McGartland explaining, ‘When bouncers at a local nightclub started using their fists to show their authority I found myself barred from the venue for wearing Dr Marten boots, not the sort of thing the new disco boom wanted to see. As bouncers laid into young skinheads and punks, Control Zone responded with a new anthem, ‘Bloody Bouncers’. “And ‘Johnny Johnny’ could have been the story of anyone who got into trouble, got on the wrong side of the law and managed to survive on the streets.’

The old punk thrill resurfaces via Electro-Motive Force, formed in the winter of 1980, previously named White Noise until a new line-up. With guidance from manager James Tweedie, they released a self-titled four track 7” on their Surge Records label in 1982 – two tracks featured here – with 500 copies pressed and soon proving hard to come by. Picture sleeves are particularly rare, a couple of hundred stolen from a band member’s car shortly after release, thus becoming a much sought-after NI punk artefact.

And finally, Dogmatic Element offer both sides of Summer ’82 post-punk single ‘Strange Passion’, and I’m pleased to finally hear a strong female voice through Alison Gordon, reminiscent of Leeds’ Girls at Our Best on the (preferable to me) B-side. They formed in 1980, rehearsing in the basement of a loyalist pub in Newtownards and a chapel hall on Sundays, debuting live at July ‘81’s ‘Project Bangor’ gig to a full house in their hometown. Building a reputation for energetic live shows, novelist Colin Bateman managed them for a time, setting up the Cattle Company label to release 7” singles in 1982 and 1984. They also released several cassette-only EPs, put down at Bangor Drama Club, recorded a couple of Downtown Radio sessions, and played on TV’s Channel One in 1984. Extensive gigging included support slots with Rudi, The Outcasts and Poison Girls, several line-up changes following before a 1985 split after a residency in Larne.

Back to the Shellshock Rock film included, and what strikes me is how young the acts look and how much passion for their art shines through. Through footage in the studio and live shows in sweaty clubs to vox pops on busy Belfast streets, there’s also a realisation of how far away that world is now, and how far off an eventual ceasefire they were too – another 20 years of suffering following before Ash, Bono, David Trimble and John Hume congregated on stage at the Waterfront Hall, the peace process finally in motion.

John T. Davis certainly captures the passion of Good Vibrations’ label founder, Terri Hooley a real star here, flicking (victory) Vs while pogoing in his record shop to Rudi’s ‘Big Time’, the first 45 he put out in a momentous year in which he took on the majors and won.

The boxset also features written contributions in its tie-in hardback book from music writer and WriteWyattUK interviewee Stuart Bailie, who featured on these pages after the release of 2018’s excellent Trouble Songs: Music and Conflict in Northern Ireland.

He suggests in his narrative that the original film is ‘regarded as a design classic’, and adds, ‘International fans have long considered the value of punk and alternative music out of Northern Ireland. It’s perceived as the real deal, the proof of concept, a place where music engaged and informed to an inspiring degree. Some of us believe that it pre-empted the dynamic of the peace process. The bands of Belfast and beyond created a scene entirely of their own making during those times, punk forging alliances that reached across sectarian boundaries and pushed back against a culture of traditions and establishment which seemed to offer very little to the country’s youth.’

As the boxset sleeve notes suggest, ‘Nowhere was punk as necessary and as life changing as it was in Northern Ireland’. And that’s something Shellshock Rock director John T. Davis also acknowledges in his notes.

He writes, ‘When I think back to 1978 and my days as a young filmmaker, I realise how fortunate I was to have been in the right place at the right time. I had the privilege then of documenting a brief and fleeting moment in the history of the Northern Ireland conflict.

‘It was a time when a small but brilliant chink of light shone in the heart of darkness, a shaft that split traditional values asunder. Out of the bombs, bullets, and bullshit came a movement more powerful than the hate and propaganda.

‘Terri Hooley said, ‘New York had the haircuts, London had the trousers, but Belfast had the reason’. Punk rock was bringing together kids from both sides of the sectarian divide, Catholic and Protestant teenagers uniting in the name of their music and what it stood for, far more important to them than social or political conformity.

‘I first became aware of this phenomenon when invited to a Stiff Little Fingers concert, hearing ‘Alternative Ulster’. I was compelled. Here was a film waiting to be made.

Shellshock Rock is not about punk, it is punk! This is the key to its longevity. Every trick in the book was employed during the production – friends worked for free, and Heath Robinson was never very far away.

Big Time: Rudi proved to be star turns of both Good Vibrations and Shellshock Rock (Photo courtesy of Colin Henry)

‘We had to be creative and ingenious in the execution of ideas, there was no real cash to oil the machine. What money was available came from community arts and myself.

‘For a small backhander to friends in the processing department at local TV stations, my raw film footage was developed along with that of the 6 o’clock news. Punks and paramilitaries in the bath together!

‘In the editing we couldn’t afford a work print, so the reversal master was cut – something fraught with problems and seldom done. The rolling credits were filmed by setting the artwork boards on top of my childhood model railway cars and pulling them along the track with string while the rostrum camera filmed from above.’

He also stresses that the film could not have been made without Terri Hooley assuring the punks that he had his seal of approval.

‘Terri ran Good Vibrations Records and I had known him when he was part of the Dublin Road Folk Club – long before Punk ever came to Northern Ireland, when Belfast was R&B city, in the days of Sammy Houston’s Jazz Club, Van Morrison and Them.’

It seems that his film really took off when it was pulled from 1979’s Cork Film Festival on its premiere night, John adding that, ‘After that everyone wanted to see the banned movie!’.

It went on to win a silver award at that year’s New York Film and Television Festival, with screenings in Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and North America. But it was the NYC exposure that its director recalls with most affection.

‘The Americans could not believe the message the film was bringing. All they knew of Northern Ireland was the violence and murder. We were the good news!

‘A lot of press was generated, and the film received national distribution, while the underground music clubs all wanted screenings. The line-up was impressive – Tier 3, Hurrahs, The Mud Club, The Peppermint Lounge, Club 57, and CBGBs.’

New friendships were forged along the way, not least with scene luminaries such as beat poet Allen Ginsberg and legendary documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker.

‘You can understand how much this little film has meant to me over the years. I’m amazed by, and proud of, what Shellshock Rock has become. It’s been a huge part of my life. I’ve watched it grow like a child, and still hold the innocence we all had back then.

‘It’s a window into those times. From the desperate streets of Belfast in 1978 to the lofty echelons of New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2018, Shellshock Rock has achieved cult status.’

The Shellshock Rock collection, including in-depth sleevenotes and previously unseen images, is the latest in a Cherry Red Records regional compilation series that also includes Manchester – North of England, Revolutionary Spirit – The Sound of Liverpool, Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music, and Dreams to Fill the Vacuum – The Sound of Sheffield.

Derry Air: The Undertones. From left – Damian O’Neill, Billy Doherty, Mickey Bradley, John O’Neill, Feargal Sharkey.

Shellshock Rock: Alternative Blasts From Northern Ireland 1977-1984 is available in 3CD/DVD hardback book boxset format from Friday, July 31st, priced £24.99, including a bonus exclusive promo postcard while stocks last. For more details head here.

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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