Bad Manners

Everyone's favourite ska party band, led by the inimitable Buster Bloodvessel, get the crowd bouncing in west Belfast

With the bunting-decked marquee, row upon row of trestle tables, and people of all ages getting frisky on the dancefloor, the closing night of Féile an Phobail 2012 resembled nothing more than a giant wedding disco.

It seemed fitting that the entertainment for this good-humoured gathering was provided by the defining party ska band of the 1980s, Bad Manners, featuring the unforgettable Buster Bloodvessel.

I remember Buster as a cartoon figure from my childhood: a kind of comedy yob, porky, rude, shaven-headed and with his tongue permanently thrust out in a gesture of joky defiance. But word went round the Féile audience beforehand that Buster was only a shadow of his former famously corpulent self.

He needed surgery in 2001, after collapsing onstage in Italy, and his massive size – over 30 stone at that point – meant he might not survive an operation. A subsequent gastric bypass improved his health, as well as his weight. But would he still be the beloved Bloodvessel of old?

As he strode on to the stage, resplendent in a leopard skin coat and a pair of schoolboy black shorts that showed off his knobbly knees, the audience greeted him in traditional manner, just as they did in the 80s, affectionately baying 'You fat bastard, you fat bastard!'.

Perhaps it was more in hope than expectation. But Buster did not disappoint. He may not be as rotund as he was in his heyday, but his larger-than-life stage persona remains undiminished: a fact he demonstrated by launching straight into a litany of Bad Manners' greatest hits: ‘My Girl Lollipop’, ‘Lip Up Fatty’, ‘Ne Ne Na Na Na Na Nu Nu’, ‘Special Brew’, and 'Walking In The Sunshine’.

'I wanna see you go mental,' Buster roared at the crowd, and they duly obliged. The dancing was so enthusiastic that pitchers of beer on the tables immediately started to sway and slop in time to the drumming of feet on the wooden floor.

Buster may be the big draw, but his band was tight and energetic too. At one point, the brass section took off around the stage, running and leaping, before picking up the pace at exactly the right moment.

There was further entertainment courtesy of Bloodvessel's mighty tongue, which has evidently been so well-exercised over the years that it practically has a life of its own. When he stuck it out, it almost reached his chest.

'Lorraine', from 1980, with its sliding, syncopated chorus, proved to be a particular favourite. 'She took everyfing, everyfing!' sang Bloodvessel soulfully, as the children of the 80s relived their youth all around him.

If you want a big noisy party, with added helpings of nostalgia, Bad Manners are clearly the band to book. But a final word is due to their excellent support act, local outfit Doghouse Ska, who performed classic songs by Madness, the Beat and the Specials.

Far more than a bland generic cover band, they brought real presence and energy to the stage, and did a great job of whetting our appetite for the comic anarchy that was to come.