I love scene histories, especially those that take a more proletarian approach to what is covered rather than merely singling out a few of the biggie bands, singing their praises for hundreds of pages and effective ignoring the rank and file, so this, basically an encyclopedia of nearly everyone who bashed on an instrument in Northern Ireland from 1977-82, to me, is frankly the bee’s knees: nearly 300 pages about a whole host of bands I’ve never heard of alongside more famous names, all given more or less equal weight, as it should be.
A bevy of juicy tidbits can be found wedged between the covers about the bigger names to come out of the scene, from an almost universal admiration for the Undertones’ street pop to an almost universal questioning of Stiff Little Fingers’ motivations, but there is also more than enough about those who made as much of a racket without managing the same accolades, from the bands that opted to tour and/or relocate to England to the numerous others who opted instead to slug it out in the home clubs. A wealth of first-hand experiences can be found here on what a complete nightmare being a punk in Ulster could be and what made the scene so special that so many felt the need to endure what they did to keep it alive, and what looks to be like everybody involved, from musician to fanzine editor to filmmaker to label mogul to just plain fans, gets to weigh in with their two cents.
The coverage here is focused on the first five years of the scene’s existence, yet there is little of the pathetic elitism and “this was OUR thing and anything that came after us ain’t real” mentality so prevalent in other tomes, namely the coffee table-sized overviews being peddled by aging Londoners grasping desperately to their still-overpriced Vivienne Westwood originals and longing for the days before they sold out, when they were still the freaks du jour. On the contrary, this book ends with a recap of what has happened since the “golden age” covered herein indicating that the scene is still alive and well and that while many of the old guard may have moved on, they acknowledge that what they helped to build has continued on with or without them. The biggest gripe I’m able to muster is that with so many obscure bands and out of print singles covered here, an accompanying compilation of, at the very least, the highlights is sorely needed, but otherwise, this is easily the best scene overview that has thus far come along. –Jimmy Alvarado (Reekus, 77 Haddington Road, Dublin 4, Ireland; www.reekus.com)