Home Back Next

A Tale of Two Cities

Punk, n, (arch.) prostitute. [16th c., of unknown origin.]

Punk, n, & a. 1.n.rotten wood, fungus growing on wood, used in tinder. 2. (colloq.) worthless stuff, nonsense; worthless person; novice; young ruffian. 3. a.(colloq) worthless, rotten; ~rock, style of simple rock music played with great vigor but lacking polish. [18th c., of unknown origin.; cf. spunk]

The scene in Derry needed input from the outside in order to thrive. For this it relied a lot on students who had gone to universities and Polytechnics and were experiencing a bigger scene than that which existed in Derry. One such student was Eugene McLaughlin who was lucky enough to experience the emergence of punk in both Derry and Manchester. Here he recalls those early days and the different attitudes that existed in the two cities.
On the front pages of the tabloids and in the music press grainy photographs of the punk scene in London's King's Road looked like something from a different planet when compared to the streets of Derry in the late-1970s. Bombs, gun fire, rioting, barricades, army checkpoints, stop and search and raids were the backdrop against which people lived out their everyday existence. It is hard to convey how threatened and cut off Derry felt at this time.

Despite all this there was a youth culture and the fashion trends followed elsewhere were picked up just the same. There was however limited tolerance of anything really different and off beat. Making a spectacle of yourself (the sin of pride) would most likely be met with a fierce verbal slagging and/or violence on the street. In Derry deciding to leave the house wearing drainpipe jeans and cropped hair threatened to turn the world upside down!

Pretty or Vacant?We were dependent on the music papers and John Peel's show to find out what was going on elsewhere and if you wanted to see a serious band you had to go to Belfast or Dublin. . It was difficult to get hold of records and when someone did we looked on the covers with awe. Our DIY musical education involved reading everything we could and making connections between the New York Dolls, Velvet Underground, MC5, Dr Feelgood T Rex and the Monkees! As the new wave of punk bands broke on the scene we soon had our own very firm likes and dislikes. And nothing could take away the fact that during 1977 on a Friday/Saturday night the Undertones were playing the Casbah Bar. Everything seemed to revolve around it. This was our own little Vortex, Marquee, Roxy, 100 Club etc where a variety of 'lost souls' began to meet.

Spiral Scratch EP Excited by what I had read in the music press I left for Manchester in early September 1977 thinking that punk would have taken over the city. I had always paid attention to what was happening in Manchester because I supported Man City. June 1976 give me another reason to think about what it must be like to live there. The Sex Pistols had played the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester inspiring Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley to form The Buzzcocks and kick starting the Manchester punk scene. Even today nothing sounds like the 'Spiral Scratch' EP released in early 1977!

Slaughter and the DogsIn between attending classes at Manchester Poly I spent my first weeks trying to track down all the clubs, bars and pits that I had read about in Paul Morley's reviews , going to any band (good, bad or awful) that was playing, seeing the Buzzcocks as many times as possible and buying fanzines, records and clothes from second hand shops. The sheer number of bands playing in Manchester in the winter of 77 and 78 reflected the fact that both nationally and locally punk was thriving. The FAll It was incredible to be able to read reviews of bands that you had seen live, watch 'So it Goes' and 'What's On' on Granada TV, behold punk becoming 'new wave' and post-punk in the form of Joy Division, Magazine, the Fall and John Cooper Clarke, and connect with reggae and the bars and clubs associated with Manchester's gay scene. Although by comparison with Derry Manchester represented freedom to do what you wanted, you still had to be careful. There was still abuse on the streets and the very real threat of violence linked to Manchester's various youth tribes. The conflict between the mental street punk of Slaughter and the Dogs and the experimental bands connected to Manchester's art and music schools didn't help matters!

magazineGoing home to Derry meant carrying back new records and fanzines and watching the scene and especially the Undertones develop. The band was by now perfecting their own songs, playing different venues and building up a loyal set of fans and a reputation as a great live band. The sense of identity was very different to the punk bands that dominated the Pound and Harp Bar in Belfast. But in both cities, despite public hostility, punk created an important cultural space that just wasn't there before. Finally in September 1978, after I got back to Manchester 'Teenage Kicks' was released and John Peel picked up on it immediately. I spent my time pestering the Virgin record shop in Manchester to stock it and DJ's in various clubs to play it. For me Manchester and Derry finally came together in late 1978 when the Undertones played their first tour of England.

The lasting difference between the two places is perhaps best illustrated in how people responded to the success of their bands. The appearance of the Undertones playing 'Teenage Kicks' on Top of the Pops generated even more public hostility in Derry, whereas when Manchester bands performed their concerts would be packed out when they next played home territory. It would take Derry many years to come to terms with what the Undertones, punk and the Casbah represented.

Joy Division


To the top of the page