Time To Be Proud

Energetic set of oldies celebrating early NI punk

The Belfast Film Festival. The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. Festival of Fools. QFT’s Life and Times of the Living Dead zombie-thon. The arts scene in Belfast has never had it so good. The sheer quantity of events this week has journalists dashing about town like maniacs.

Tonight, as I make my way to the Cathedral Quarter from a screening of White Zombie at QFT, the good vibes are soured slightly by a series of police roadblocks. In this respect, it’s just like the 1970s.

DefectsWhich brings me to Time to Be Proud at the Oh Yeah Music Centre. The gig is a launch party of sorts (the CD isn’t ready yet…) for a double album of Ulster artists covering songs from the early Northern Ireland punk era. Ash tackle ‘Teenage Kicks’, Therapy? rip through Rudi’s ‘Big Time’, and so on.

Those bands aren’t here tonight, but the Dollybyrds are, and their gruff rendition of ‘At the Edge’ by Stiff Little Fingers is the first thing I hear as I enter the venue. It’s decent enough, if a tad slow.

The next act is the Terri Hooley Experience, which is basically the Good Vibrations main man rambling poetry over Michael Callaghan’s guitar strumming. It’s obnoxious and chaotic, with Hooley directing venom at the property developers he alleges burnt him out of North Street Arcade.

Later, the record shop boss runs onstage, takes a few puffs from a cigarette, and runs off again. Punk rock, I suppose.

The evening picks up musically with rockabilly veterans the Sabrejets, led by Brian Young of Rudi (Belfast’s first punk group, formed in 1975). They rattle through three supremely rocking numbers, dedicating ‘Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die’ to Malcolm McLaren, ‘a man who stole every idea he ever came up with’.

Stop Stop Start Again?, featuring vocalist Charlie Reilly of Stage B, play that band’s classic ‘Light on the Hillside’, with a stand-in drummer who just about holds it together. Next up, old hands St Vitus Dance play an atmospheric and melodic mini-set, with singer Noel Burke showing why Echo & the Bunnymen chose him to replace Ian McCulloch for a few records in the early 1990s.

With distorted bass and song titles like ‘Bitch’ and ‘Brutality’, Belfast stalwarts the Defects are punks of the Motörhead school. Frontman Ian ‘Buck’ Murdock is the first performer to really engage with the crowd, and the chant of ‘SS RUC’ is still ringing when ex-Almighty rocker Ricky Warwick plugs in for an incendiary version of SLF’s ‘Alternative Ulster’, with Buck sharing lead vocals. ‘Be upstanding for your national anthem,’ Warwick spits.

Northern Ireland punk supergroup Shame Academy (boasting members of Rudi, the Outcasts and Stalag 17) wrap up the night with an energetic set of oldies. The gig has attracted a fair smattering of youngsters, but most of the audience, it has to be said, are on the wrong side of 40.

Or, judging by the amount of fun they’re having on the dance floor, perhaps the right side of 40. ‘You’ve made an old man very happy,’ Hooley writes on his Facebook page the morning after. Make that a lot of old men.