Christopher Owens 🔖 If you lived in Belfast and were into alternative music in the 1980’s, you were pretty lucky.
Aside from getting to see the likes of Metallica, Slayer and Nuclear Assault in the Ulster Hall, you had the Warzone Centre (or Giro’s). As I once wrote:
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.
And you also had Ballyclaire’s own Therapy?
From their humble beginnings in the Belfast Art College through to Tom Jones introducing them at the MTV Europe Music Awards, Therapy? are one of the finest musical exports this country has produced. Taking the industrial rock blueprint of Big Black, Helmet and adding elements of post-punk, melodic hardcore and metal into the mix, their back catalogue is as fine as any of the so called ‘darlings’ of modern alternative rock.
Written by journalist (and long-time fan) Simon Young, So Much… is a year by year account of the band’s history, examining the pressures of being an independent band in Northern Ireland at that time, the polarisation one can face when fans consider you to have ‘sold out’, the rollercoaster ride of being in (and out of) the mainstream as well as the daily struggles whenever tastemakers decide you are no longer relevant and how sweet a victory march is whenever you become a ‘legendary/heritage’ band.
The end result, with guitarist/singer Andy Cairns and bassist Michael McKeegan (naturally) dominating the narrative, is an enjoyable and insightful read which gives a greater insight into the band without ever revealing too much. Which is fine, but when certain events occur in the narrative and are glossed over, the casual fan is left frustrated.
Such an example is whenever original drummer/powerhouse Fyfe Ewing decides to jet off to London to play with another band without telling the rest of the band (who have a gig scheduled). Cairns registers his shock and disappointment over the affair, but it’s never mentioned again, nor are subsequent incidents involving Ewing ever looked at as a whole and then discussed in relation to the band’s dynamic. One gets the impression that there is more than Cairns and McKeegan are willing to discuss and don’t want to get into it for a variety of reasons. Which is fine, but why tease the reader with such revelations?
Regardless, it’s still a vicarious thrill to read about the band’s ascent into commercial success, while the hangover is all too real when discussing the decline in mainstream acceptance. It truly hits home how adulation can be a much more intoxicating drug than heroin and so, when 1995’s ‘Infernal Love’ isn’t greeted with the same fanfare or sales as the previous year’s ‘Troublegum’, the reader feels acute rejection. But the resilience and determination that carries them through to 2021 is very much evident and deeply inspiring.
It's a story worth telling and, with it being nearly a decade since a musical act broke out of Northern Ireland, might serve as a manifesto to the next bunch of outcasts looking to kick against the pricks.
And the story about Al Jourgensen (Ministry/Revolting Cocks) doing an enormous line of speed that took up the length of an ironing board made my week.
Simon Young, 2020, So Much For the 30 Year Plan: Therapy? The Authorised Biography. Jawbone Press. ISBN-13: 978-1911036630
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.