Page last updated at 09:45 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Loud and proud - Belfast '78

Army armoured medical vehicle Belfast 1978
The only people on the streets were the security forces after dark

Belfast in 1978, the army was on the streets and the bombers ruled the night, but, writes legendary punk promoter Terri Hooley, in the darkness a few chords were providing a glimmer of light.

From the start of the Troubles until 1977, as far as Belfast was concerned, the music scene was as dead as a dodo.

There was just nothing original happening here - until punk rock changed music in Northern Ireland forever.

Was it Kurt Cobain of Nirvana who said, "If there was any place that needed punk rock it was Belfast?"

Well, in 1978 it did not matter if your hair was orange or green or pink, it did not matter if you were from Mars as long as you were a punk.

Punk started off with just a few people the year before. But by 1978 they were many and they were mighty and, like James Brown, they were "loud and proud".

Punk c1980
Punk began in the late '70s and was to have a major impact on the Belfast music scene

The army would stop and search them and found out that they were all mates from places like the Falls and the Shankill roads, one of them said they should set up their own political party.

Before 1978 punk bands were playing bad venues on the outskirts of Belfast where evil men collected money for organisations.

In May 1978 we held our first major punk concert by local bands.

The next day The Undertones went into the studio and recorded Teenage Kicks, which later turned out to be John Peel's favourite record.

Where punk in London seem to be a fashionable thing for about nine months, in Belfast it was like the second coming - and the music was telling us that there was no going back.

Ring of steel

Our heroes were three chord wonders and while the IRA and the UDA were keeping us ghettoised, it was a political statement to go down to the Harp Bar just to pogo and hear some great music.

Belfast was the only city in Europe where people didn't use their city centre at night.

There was a ring of steel around the city centre, it meant that the only people you saw at night in the city centre were the police, the army and punks.

It was the punks that opened up Belfast nightlife.

UDA grafitti
The UDA and IRA waged war on the streets of Belfast

Not that all the punks here were working-class, far from it, many were middle-class.

Belfast might have been a cultural and urban wasteland where you had the three-minute argument or the 300-year-old argument about the Troubles.

As far as we were concerned we seemed to be getting shot by both sides.

The next year we became part of Thatcher's Britain. The Sex Pistols had got it right - No Future.

When I grew up in the '60s there were hundreds of bands and 80 clubs in and around Belfast where they could play.

Van Morrison and Them were on Ready Steady Go and Top Of The Pops.

The '60s for me was like a great big party which I thought would never end - but by November of 1968 l knew it was over.

I was secretary of The Belfast Blues Society and along with Dougie Knight we put on a concert by an American blues artist called Juke Boy Bonner.

That Friday night, because of rioting, all the bars in Belfast city centre closed at teatime - the only place you could get a drink was at our concert in the War Memorial Building in Waring Street.

It would be 10 years before I ran a concert again.


In 1968 revolution was in the air but in Northern Ireland it was not my revolution.

My revolution was never about killing my brothers and sisters because of an accident of birth or religion.

In the early '70s l was involved in The Music For Belfast Campaign begging English bands and artists not to leave Belfast off their tours.

By 1978 we had put Belfast back on the music map again and artists wanted to come here and play.

As l write, Leona Lewis is riding high in the charts with Run - a song written by Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol.

And if you were to ask any Ulster bands like Ash, Therapy or Snow Patrol what was the year that influenced them most, l bet it would be 1978.

Because it was 1978 when young people in the north heard their own bands on national radio and the BBC World Radio for the time in 30 years.

No wonder John Peel of Radio One was taken by the sounds of Northern Ireland.

He was not the first person to see the connection of the music that was coming out of Jamaica and what was happening here.

John Peel
John Peel became a champion of The Undertones

After all, 20% of his mail came from Ulster at the time. Who really wanted to go out at night and get shot, it was better to stay at home and listen to the radio.

How many of us who would turn on the local news on the hour in '78, could be bothered nowadays?

The first singles by Stiff Little Fingers and The Undertones got into the charts and stayed there for weeks. You also had other records by Protex, Rudi, The Outcasts, The Starjets and many others.

It was the first time since the '60s it was cool to come from Belfast, and you didn't have to write songs about the Troubles.

I was a 30-year-old hippy celebrating my birthday in the Harp Bar and reliving my youth.

And also celebrating that for the first time in years that some of the youth in this country were starting to think for themselves.

How many of those young fresh face kids went on to be editors of newspapers and producers in the BBC?

How many have gone into social work, the media and the arts and helped change our society for the better?

Many of those kids who came for the bands said if they had not got involved in punk they would have got involved in paramilitaries and ended up killing people.

Good Vibrations was more than just another record shop and label. It enabled young people to believe in the power of self-expression and understanding at a time when society in Northern Ireland was tearing itself apart.

We were on the side of the angels.

I would gladly have died then for something that l believed then, so for me personally (and l can't speak for anybody else) it really was a time to be proud.

But if l had known in 1978 that Belfast was going to become so corporate and the way things were going to turn out, l would have been fighting for a wage-less, money-less, class-less society.

Belfast is not about new shopping centres.

Belfast is the centre of the universe and if we can solve all our problems, we can solve the problems of the world.

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