Tag Archives: Northern Ireland

Lets get back to the music [Video] Rudi – Big Time

Over the past few months my love of music has taken a back seat to my love of photography, mainly because of the fact that the winter months have meant that I haven’t been to as many gigs as normal and of course the festival season has not yet started,  that said things are now starting to move and my first festival is in less than a fortnight.

Another Northern Irish punk band for you today.  My god Rudi were good, but sadly another band that didn’t really get the recognition they deserved.

Lets get back to the music [Video]

Over the past few months my love of music has taken a back seat to my love of photography, mainly because of the fact that the winter months have meant that I haven’t been to as many gigs as normal and of course the festival season has not yet started,  that said things are now starting to move and my first festival is in less than a fortnight.

I thought it might be a nice idea to start a series of posts sharing some of the music I grew up listening to and to some of the stuff I listen to now that you may not have come across.

I start of today with StarJets, a punk band from Northern Ireland who were moderately successful in the late 1970’s but never really hit the heights their talent deserved.  Check it out 🙂

Stiff Little Fingers Inflammable Material

75 Essential Albums – #3 Stiff Little Fingers

After over six weeks of providing a rundown of 65 albums that I believe everyone should own we come to the final 10.  In the days between now and Xmas I will give a run down of my personal take on the top 10 albums ever released.  Hopefully I have given you some thoughts as to new albums to check out and I hope that the final 10 will have you rewriting your Christmas lists and picking up a few of these brilliant albums.

Stiff Little Fingers – Inflammable Material

Inflammable Material is the 1979 debut album by the Northern Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers. It is arguably the best album the band ever released  and it offers a no hold barred look at the grim realities of life in Northern Ireland with the songs containing themes of teenage boredom, sectarian violence, police oppression, and the realities of growing up in a province torn apart by sectarian violence, where the army where on the streets and on every street corner, where you couldn’t enter Belfast City centre without being subjected to numerous searches.  The album paints a very bleak picture, it is an angry album, it bristles with resentment and a sense of injustice.  As a kid growing up in Northern Ireland it was the soundtrack of my life.  it is no exaggeration to say that this album changed my life.

I first heard the record in the Good Vibrations record store in Great Victoria Street, Belfast.  The store was just a few minutes walk from my grandmothers house and from where my mother was living at the time.  The shop and record label of the same name were owned by Terri Hooley, the Godfather of Irish punk music.  I was in the ‘store’, a couple of upstairs rooms in a rundown building opposite the Europa Hotel when the album was put on.  From the first few bars of ‘Suspect Device’  I was hooked.  I couldn’t believe that this great record was by a group of guys from Northern Ireland.  The impact of that should not be forgotten because at the time no-one was coming to play in the province, bands couldn’t get insurance and because of the bombings they couldn’t come without it.

Sadly for SLF they were on an independent label and, although the album was the first on an independent label to break into the top 20, they were up against the biggest names in punk.  Bands who were big names, were on big labels and had big A&R budgets.  Whilst SLF were championed by John Peel and highly regarded by their contemporaries they didn’t quite hit the heights their talent deserved.

Despite the bleak subject matter of many of the songs Inflammable Material was an album of hope, it was a call for change urging people to “grab it and change it, it’s yours” in what became their signature song “Alternative Ulster”.  The song “Rough Trade” is about the band’s view of the music business as being dishonest but have since claimed it is not about the record label which happens to have the same name. State of Emergency & Law and Order railed against the oppressive policing in the province.  Wasted Life, No More of That and Barbed Wire Love were urging people to break away from sectarianism and the paramilitary groups who had such a grip in Northern Ireland.

The bands cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Johnny Was’ is sublime and when that closes out you get hit by Alternative Ulster in a 1-2 thats is simply breathtaking.  The album should have ended there but for some bizarre reason they added ‘Closed Groove’ a track completely out of keeping with the rest of the album.  Inflammable Material is quite simply one of the greatest albums ever made, a remarkable pice of work and a remarkable piece of social history.  If you don’t own this album you should hang your head in shame.

As always thanks for dropping by my blog.  if you like what you read please hit the like button or leave a comment.  If you don’t like what you read then please leave a comment explaining why 🙂

This weeks writing Challenge; Digging for Roots

100 years ago J B Woodburn said of the ‘Ulsterman’:  “He is determined to the verge of stubbornness and will accept no compromise; stern, dogged, and strong of purpose; independent, self-contained, and self-reliant, able to stand up on his own feet, and intensely proud of the fact. He has the passion, alertness and quickness of the Celt in addition to the adventurous spirit of the Norseman. He is steadfast and industrious beyond most races. In his uncultivated state he is blunt of speech and intolerant of shams, and lacks the attractiveness of manner of the Southerner”.

I think that this describes the Ulsterman and indeed myself perfectly, I would add a few observations of my own.  The Ulsterman is sometimes scathing, dryly humorous and rarely suffers fools at all (never mind gladly).  Again I would include these traits in my own ‘pen picture’.  Sadly there are a couple of other common traits that I (thankfully) do not share.  The Ulsterman has a view of gender roles that borders on Misogamy and all too often carries an overt religious and racial prejudice that borders on sectarianism and frequently spills over into violence and murder.

Growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1960’s and 1970’s was challenging, sectarianism had spilt over into terrorism and the Army was on the street.  In some ways life continued as normal but security checkpoints, being body searched going into shops and seeing armed soldiers on the street was a part of daily life.  As terrorism took hold both sides of the community retreated deeper into their Loyalist or Republican enclaves and distrust grew creating a king of religious apartheid.  I come from a large family, my father was one of eleven, my mother one of six.  When we were all together the atmosphere was raucous and making fun of each other was the norm.  If you showed any weakness you would be pulled to pieces, it sounds brutal and it often was.  It was rarely malicious, it was meant in fun, but being the butt of other peoples ‘fun’ can still hurt and be damaging.  Over time you learn to hide your emotions, to build walls.  I believe that developing this trait is directly responsible for my being a depressive later in life.  I learned to bury my emotions, to keep them in until the dam burst at the expense of my mental health.

At around the age of 9 my family moved from Belfast to a small seaside village some 20 miles away. it was a pretty idillic environment, beautiful beaches, open countryside and the freedom to roam.  We  were often outdoors from early morning to late evening and we spent our time outdoors, swimming, climbing trees, building dens and hanging out with our friends.  I have no doubt that this environment led directly to my love of nature and the outdoors, I am never so happy as when I am out walking and enjoying the countryside.

At 16 I left home and travelled to the South of England to join the Navy.  It separated me from my family and friends, and in the days before air travel, mobile phones and e-mail it was very difficult  to maintain contact with those back home.  Joining the services exposed me to a whole new way of life and to people from different backgrounds.  It was immediately apparent to me that I did not care what religion or social background people came from, if they were open and friendly that was good enough for me.  These changes undoubtably led to my abhorrence of prejudice, discrimination and inequality in all its forms.

Growing up I detested school, I had always been a bright kid but looking back in hindsight I can now see how bad the teaching was at my school.  In the late 1980’s I decided that I wanted to improve my education and took a degree course with the Open University.  I was hooked. I immediately developed a love of independent learning, I developed a more questioning mind and learned never to take things at face value.  I learned a lot more about politics and economics and how the less well off in society are often demonised by the law, the media and the ruling classes.  This, without doubt, deepened my understanding of social issues and my belief that it must be possible to improve social mobility through education and welfare support.   It strengthened my beliefs that a fairer and more equal society is not just desirable, it is imperative.

Obviously as I matured, married, had children and faced all of the challenges that life sends our way, I have had many more experiences that have changed my life, my thinking and my health, but I think those are stories for another day.

Reflections on the 12th of July Parades

The Twelfth of July is a holiday in Northern Ireland.  A holiday that celebrates a the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  A Battle that commemorates the victory of  the Protestant William 3rd (Prince of Orange) over the Catholic James 2nd  during James’ attempts to regain the throne of the British Isles.  William was successful and thus ensured Protestant ascendancy in Ireland.

In 1701 William passed the Act of Settlement which ensured that only protestants could ascend to the throne.  In fact the act even prevented a monarch from being married to a Roman Catholic, something that was only changed in law in 2013.  During a period of civil unrest between Protestant and Catholic  in Ireland the Orange Order was formed in 1795 its aim to protect Protestant supremacy in Ireland.

I grew up in a Northern Ireland that was torn apart by ‘the troubles‘ a sectarian conflict which grew out of civil protest by the largely Roman Catholic civil rights movement.  Established in 1964, the civil rights movement sought to combat what they saw as discrimination against Roman Catholics by Protestants and Unionists who dominated the mechanisms of state in the province.  The protests led to conflict, rioting and eventually to sectarian violence by paramilitary forces on both sides.  During this conflict over 3500 people were killed and almost 50,000 people were injured.  The good friday agreement in 1998 laid the foundation for paramilitary ceasefires and arguably laid the foundations for peace in the province.  The protestant & unionist community viewed the agreement with suspicion as it was widely believed that the Blair Government had done ‘dirty deals’ with republicans.  It has emerged that Blairs Government had  indeed agreed that republican terrorist suspects would be granted immunity from prosecution and just today (13th July 2014) it has been revealed that Blair is to be brought before a parliamentary committee to explain these ‘secret deals‘.

In 2014 people in Northern Ireland are still living in a sort of religious and social apartheid.  Schools are largely segregated along religious lines, people in larger towns and cities tend to live in areas more or less segregated along religious lines.  Many protestant and unionist people feel that the republican agenda has taken prominence with huge amounts of money being put into the development and refurbishment of republican areas whilst unionist communities  are neglected.  It is widely believed that there is an agenda of appeasement where republicans can ask for and receive any any concession they wish for and that this often comes at the expense of the unionist community._76224320_limavady

Against such a background it is hardly surprising that there is a huge amount of suspicion on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland.  In the years since the good friday agreement these suspicions seem to raise their heads most strongly during the summer ‘marching season‘.  Marches organised by the orange order have followed traditional routes for many years but as the demographics of the province have changed some of these routes have become controversial as they pass close to what are now nationalist areas.  As a result a parades commission has been established to adjudicate on marches held to be controversial.  Many nationalists want to see parades banned from passing close to nationalist areas as they see many of the parades as a celebration of unionist ascendancy and of the subjugation of Roman Catholicism in Ireland.

_76223633_76223632Many Unionists believe that the parades commission place unfair restrictions on the parades and that this represents an attack on unionist culture.  There can be little doubt that in recent years parades have lead to clashes between unionists, nationalists and the security forces.  Unionists and the Orange Order feel very strongly that flash points have been engineered by republicans to discredit the order and to advance the republican agenda.  They point to the fact that few restrictions appear to be placed on republican parades.  For my part I believe that the orange order should be allowed to march their traditional routes and that the order should march in silence past republican areas.  It is hugely ironic that orange lodges can march safely and without protest in the Irish Republic, a much more Catholic community.  For those outside Northern Ireland it is often difficult to understand why parades are such a contentious issue, for unionists it is about much more than parades, it is about what they see as an erosion of their rights and an attack on their culture and way of life.

I believe that I am a fierce supporter of equality.  I abhor racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, white supremacism and discrimination of any sort.  The route of the troubles in the land of my birth is the result of discrimination and the illusion of discrimination.  Until all the people of Northern Ireland believe that they are being treated fairly by both the state, the agents of state and the ‘other side’ of the community in the province mistrust and suspicion will continue to affect the national mindset.  Whilst that is the case reconciliation cannot be achieved.

_76224905_76224903I was delighted to rise this morning to find that the biggest potential flashpoint in the marching season, the 12th of July parades by the Orange Order, had passed largely without incident.  Protests by Orange Order supporters where parades had been banned from passing were peaceful.  The order should be congratulated for achieving this.  It is to their credit that they have worked tirelessly to achieve a compromise acceptable to both sides.  Community leaders on both sides of the political and religious divide should also be congratulated as their pleas for calm and peaceful protest seem to have been heeded.


As a Northern Irish protestant who was a member of orange bands in his youth and who’s father has been master of his Orange Lodge on a number of occasions I am proud of my heritage and culture.  Having lived outside the province for two thirds of my life it is perhaps easy for me to hope and believe that it should be possible to achieve compromise, for everyone to live in peace with their neighbours and for everyone to be able to celebrate their culture without fear of persecution.

I hope and pray that the largely peaceful passing of this years marching season represents another step along the road to peace and reconciliation.