BOXSET REVIEW: Various Artists – Shellshock Rock (Cherry Red Records)

Back in the late 1970s, Northern Ireland was a dangerous place, being riven apart by sectarian violence and in the news for all the wrong reasons; another murder, more bombings, innocent lives needlessly lost.

With the British Army deployed on the streets, its capital city Belfast was a no-go area after dark. No wonder the youth were bored, angry and disenfranchised. And then punk rock happened.

It started on the mainland, as the Sex Pistols, The Clash and Buzzcocks found their way into the charts, and the angry, energetic sounds they were making made the disaffected youth across the Irish Sea sit up and take notice.

No bands played in Ireland any more due to the security situation, so the youth decided to take matters into their own hands in a positive way, forming groups which played their own version of this new music.

A scene developed, based around the Harp Bar, and driven by characters like Terri Hooley, whose record shop Good Vibrations started a label on which the bands could release their music.

Importantly, film-maker John T. Davis captured footage of some of the groups playing live in 1978-79 in his award-winning documentary Shellshock Rock, gives the set its name, and is included here on DVD.

It captures the energy and spirit of the new movement, featuring live performances by Belfast’s first punk band, Rudi, soon-to-be-big names The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers, plus luminaries like The Outcasts, Victim and Protex.

Stiff Little Fingers

For all its lo-fi charm – it was shot on leftovers of tape and then cobbled together – as a snapshot in time it’s essential, and will stir fond memories for anyone who was there.

The DVD is the icing on the cake of this 3CD set which includes songs every punk fan will know (eg SLF’s Suspect Device and Gotta Getaway) alongside a host of less-vaunted gems and some real obscurities.

Resisting the temptation to include the ubiquitous Teenage Kicks, the Undertones song which John Peel made famous, we kick off with True Confessions from the same EP, and disc one also features a couple of slices of glorious power-pop from the wonderful Starjets, including War Stories, which saw them appear on Top Of The Pops.

Starjets made it onto Top Of The Pops.

The Outcasts were a rowdier bunch, and their excellent single Self-Conscious Over You is one of the highlights of disc two. During the course of the 74-song set we also get prime cuts from Protex, Ruefrex, The Moondogs, Rudi (sadly not Big Time, though it is on the DVD) and The Defects, who were among the finest unsung bands to emerge from these troubled times.

As ever with these Cherry Red sets, it’s the depth of selections which makes them interesting; ever heard Punk Rockin’ Granny by The Duggie Briggs Band? No, me neither, but it’s here.

I’d similarly never come across The Androids, but the teenage me would have loved their snotty-nosed sound, showcased here on Nine To Five and Lipstick Heroes; the same goes for the reggae-inflected Big Self, who remind me of The Ruts, and Control Zone, who must qualify as one of Ireland’s first oi! bands.

Control Zone

By no means everyone featured here would call themselves punk; there’s lots of power-pop, Midnite Cruiser were a Dr Feelgood-like R&B outfit, Xdreamysts a bunch of long-haired rockers, The Rattling Throntons mod revivalists, while Rod Vey jumped on the electro-pop bandwagon.

It mattered not to those who went to the gigs and bought the records (many of which are now real collectors’ items). This was their music, made by their generation, not showbands merely playing cover versions of the popular hits. It was indeed their Alternative Ulster. 9/10.

Gary Welford owner