Christopher Owens with a lengthy look at Pink Turds In Space.
When punk in Northern Ireland is discussed, it's always the usual suspects. You know who they are: Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones, Rudi, The Outcasts, Ruefrex, The Defects.
Of course, there's a reason for that. They laid the foundations for what was to come and created music that still stands up to this day.
But the so called "historians" tend to stop there. And, by ignoring the following, these people demonstrate not only their ignorance of the history and development of punk, but also an ignorance of this country's social scene which, by the late 1980's, was very different from what it had been at the start of the decade.
Before we look at 'Greatest Shits', let's establish some context.
Despite the scene that generated out of the Harp Bar and the Pound, Belfast in the early 80's was still very much a ghost town at night. Memories of the Shankill Butchers lifting people on the outskirts of the city centre remained fresh in the memory, while the hunger strikes and riots in nationalist areas ensured a heavy army presence, and the possibility of being caught up in such violence.
However, opening in November 1981, The Anarchy Centre was somewhere that the punks who had been just a little too young for the Harp and the Pound could convalesce on a Saturday afternoon, watch a film (like the banned 'Monty Python's Life of Brian') and see gigs by local legends while getting up to all sorts. It's often claimed that members of the skinhead band Offensive Weapon, and later UFF commanders, Johnny Adair and Sam 'Skelly' McCrory could be found in the place, heads buried in plastic bags containing glue.
Every self-respecting fan of alternative music in Belfast knows about Giros. A place for misfits, a place for musicians and a place for people to see bands without having the arse ripped out of them by a bar and promoter. You could make your own t-shirts, hire a rehearsal spot (and record) for cheap or even get something to eat in the veggie cafe. Or, if you were just interested in seeing bands, you could see Refused, UK Subs, From Ashes Rise, Doom, Narcosis, Morose, the Warzone Fest, Runnin Riot – across two decades the list has gone on, and on.This is the scene that gave us Pink Turds in Space. Kids who had not know peace in their time, trying to make sense of the world around them and doing it on their own terms. And making a record that not only stands tall over classics by The Defects, Stiff Little Fingers and The Outcasts, but also matches the intensity of the US and European hardcore scenes of the time.
There is humour in there as well. Besides the name of the band and the title of the record, check out the intro to 'Blood Money', which still raises a giggle despite being in full time employment! A slower, more metallic song, it has atmosphere aplenty. The midtempo, bad tempered riff reflecting the journey to work on Monday morning.
Every band of that era needed a "Young Ones" style bedsit, and 9 Jerusalem Street, Belfast served that purpose for Pink Turds (even leading to the RUC to attack a party being held in the house following a noise complaint). So it's not surprising the place gets a song of its own on here. Notable for the (almost) jangly riff and midtempo chugging, its a stand out track.
'Eastenders' is part ironic homage to Dirty Den and the storyline that had gripped the nation around the time of recording, part scathing commentary of how the masses live vicariously through such shows without doing anything to improve their own lives or the lives of those around them.
Lasting just under 20 minutes, 'Greatest Shits' is the finest hardcore release to come out of this country. The power, speed and anger on display is second to none. The cover displays the struggle for power that was happening at the time, but pointing out that both sides suffered in the name of conquest.
And they even toured England despite guitarist Stuart Martin remembering it as:
...a disaster from the start. Having absolutely no money we had to bring a load of our mates...to help pay for the van hire and inevitably the drinking started before we left Belfast. Despite the drunken performances and dismal money from gigs we staggered round England playing with the likes of Extreme Noise Terror, Dr and the Crippens and the City Indians and I still have great memories from that time if a little hazy!
This tour, and the record being released by In Your Face Records (who also released records by Poison Idea, Heresy and Attitude Adjustment) helped establish Giro's as the hub for hardcore in Northern Ireland. Something to be very proud of, and away from the eyes of the established industry, proving that the DIY approach was sustainable.
Not bad for a band with a name like that.
And now, let's have a word with Stuart 'Marty' Martin, riffmaster extraordinaire for Pink Turds..., and (later on) Bleeding Rectum.
CO: Crass at the Anarchy Centre is often cited as The defining gig for punk in Belfast. As someone who was in attendance, can you confirm if this is true?
SM: Yes most definitely, for me anyway. I was only 16 at the time and had only really been to gigs at the Pound before this, with the likes of the Defects and the Outcasts, which were brilliant but the Crass gig at the A Centre was on another level completely. The whole atmosphere was surreal. The A Centre itself was an amazing venue and a total inspiration but to see 2 of my favourite bands there was something else. Crass inspired me to start a band and the A Centre inspired me to help create a similar venue for Belfast as a permanent fixture and both have informed my political outlook to this day so yes, for me, it was The defining gig!
CO: Did PTIS have a specific musical ideology, as your previous band Toxic Waste had a sound very much rooted in anarcho punk, whereas PTIS upped the ante in terms of metallic riffage?
SM: At the start of PTiS I think most of the musical influences were from the Bristol scene, Disorder, Chaos UK, Amebix etc but as time moved on we also developed influences from the American hardcore scene and also the newer harder edged metal scene like Slayer etc. The politics was always the same though maybe just a bit less po faced!
CO: It's fair to say that Annie (or Boots as I believe she was nicknamed) brought a vigour and nihilism to the group that previous singer Shane somehow lacked. How was she brought into the band?
SM: Ha ha! Annie was never called Boots. I think that came from a joke on the back of one of our early releases. To my mind they were both uniquely brilliant although Annie certainly brought an aggression never heard before in a female punk vocalist. I wouldn’t describe either of them as being nihilistic either. They were both really positive, progressive idealists if anything. We all knew Annie from living round the Holylands at the time and I think it was Chuck (the first drummer) who asked her along to one of our practices after Shane left and we were all convinced after the first song!
CO: Humour was also a big thing with the band ('Ormeau Road Spidermen' for example, and even the name of the group), fitting in with the UK punk tradition of having these serious songs throughout an album, and leaving the jokey one to the end. Was this a reaction to the perceived humourlessness of certain crusty anarcho punk types?
SM: I guess that’s true. We never really took ourselves too seriously as a band, how could we with a name like that! We did it as much for our own enjoyment as opposed to selling units and having a career. Also the lyric writing was split fairly equally between myself, Dee (bass) and Annie. Dee did the funny stuff, Annie the personal stuff and me still doing the po faced political stuff!
CO: At the time, there seemed to be a proper divide between punks and metalheads (with the perception that metal was a reactionary form of music obsessed with goblins and shagging three "chicks" at once), was that the case in Belfast?
SM: No not really. We were friendly with a lot of metallers at the time although they tended to be Slayer, Motörhead types as opposed to the spandex wearing cock rock types. Our metal head mates would have hated that shit as much as we did. We used to do a lot of gigs in the old Labour club which also had metal nights and we would regularly go along to their nights and some of them would come to ours so it was all cool. As long as it was hard, fast and real!
CO: PTIS played the Art College quite a bit as well as Giro's. In those pre Nirvana going mainstream days, would these have been the only source for alternative music in Belfast (unless an indie band played the Limelight)?
There were a few bars around town that would occasionally put on “alternative” nights but we preferred to stick to Giro’s and the Art College as they were all ages shows and we could control “security”. Dealing with bouncers is usually a lot worse than having to deal with someone causing trouble at a gig.
CO: There's a stock phrase that people of a certain age use to slate the Warzone (at that time), which is that if any band (even a jazz band) had expressed anarcho-syndicalist views, Warzone would have booked them while ignoring American band. How true is this?
I don’t know who you’ve been talking to but that just sounds like bitter bullshit from lazy people who couldn’t be bothered to put on a gig themselves. The Warzone Collective always had a completely open door to music. As long as it wasn’t racist, homophobic, sexist or sectarian it could go on. The Warzone Collective didn’t actually book that many gigs, we hosted a load, meaning that someone (anyone) could come along and book the space, PA, shift workers etc but they did all the hard work of promoting the gig. The Gig Collective came out of that whole time, and they put on the like of Fugazi, NoMeansNo, NOFX, Green Day, Jawbreaker etc and the Warzone Collective were nearly always involved in some capacity. So not at all is the short answer to that.
SM: We were always skint so there was no money to go into a real recording studio. I had an old 4 track cassette recorder that we used for that and we recorded it in a semi derelict building just across the way from the original Giros building in Donegal Street. We only had 3 microphones, so there was one on the drums, one on bass, and one on guitar. I then bounced the drums and bass on to one track freeing up another for a guitar overdub which left one for all the vocals. Try telling the kids of today that and they would laugh in your face (and rightly so)! It was always a sore point with the rest of the band that me as the guitarist got 2 tracks and the drums and bass had to share one. Fuck ‘em it was my 4 track.
It was originally recorded with Shane singing but he left the band before we could release it. Myself, Dee and Chuck tried singing on it but we were crap so when Annie came along that was one of her first jobs. I’m not even sure if we even had a full practice with her before she recorded that. I think she did OK, way better than our foghorns anyway! It was originally released as the Billy Hartley file on cassette. That’s Billy Hartley (a noted resident in the Holylands in the 1980's who allegedly starred in a porno called Thunderbuns) on the cover lying blocked on a sofa in Jerusalem Street in the Holylands with one bollock hanging out. Why we called it that and had him on the cover, I have no idea but I’m sure we laughed for a very long time over it, even if no one else did. Anyway, Kalv from In Your Face records and Heresy fame, heard it and liked it enough to put it out on vinyl.
CO: As someone who’s been recording bands for x amount of years, have you noticed any shifts in thinking among musicians over the years? For example, one quote said “I gave a series of lectures on Music Industry and Music Technology recently and was shocked to discover that the vast majority (probably 90%) of students I talked to had never purchased any music, either on CD or legal downloads. And these were all either musicians wanting to make a career from making music, or individuals who wanted jobs in the music industry. They all had iPods filled with gigabytes of music, who felt it was their right to ‘own’ whatever music they desired without paying for it. And yet they were all under the impression that, when they signed their major record deals, everyone would rush to buy their music. This naïve contradiction sums up an attitude that has seeped into our culture, and it isn’t likely to be reversed. Speaking as an independent artist who relies on direct-to-fan sales via my website, I have stopped being surprised when people email me asking where they can download my music for free.
SM: There used to be a similar argument back in the day around home taping. There was a whole music industry campaign “Home Taping is Killing Music” shock, horror. It didn’t then and it won’t now. It might kill the big music industry who were only ever into it for the fast buck but music will always be around, there just might be a bit less profit.
For us, recording was just a way of advertising the band to get more people to gigs. The live experience was (and I think still is) where it’s at. If you want to make a living at it, you play more gigs, you tour more, you work for it. Playing music for a living is a privilege, you shouldn’t expect to get rich of it and it will always beat digging holes in the road or working in a call centre.
➽ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212