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Wild Colonial Boys is hard to beat

His band, writes Burgess ‘were effectively written out of the Good Vibes history by a small cabal of devotees’

Wild Colonial Boys: A Belfast Punk Story
Wild Colonial Boys: A Belfast Punk Story
Author: Thomas Paul Burgess
ISBN-13: 978-1526173379
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Guideline Price: £16.99

There comes a point in Wild Colonial Boys: A Belfast Punk Story – which details the emergence in the late 1970s of punk band Ruefrex and their subsequent drift back into relative obscurity – when you realise that no amount of time is going to soften the bitterness felt by its author against certain sections of the Northern Irish music community. In a particularly caustic music memoir, a rich vein of resentment presented like a badge of honour runs through the book, with especially pointed comments about Terri Hooley, the man behind Belfast’s Good Vibrations record label, which acted as a starting point for many Northern Irish bands of the era.

Not, alas, for Ruefrex. His band, writes Burgess (who was Ruefrex’s drummer and primary songwriter, and who is now an academic, a novelist and a musician), “were effectively written out of the Good Vibes history by a small cabal of devotees”. He continues, “Terri has two undeniable talents: firstly, he is one of the most opportunistic self-starters I have ever come across, and secondly, he has a specific talent for taking half-truths and manufacturing noteworthy legends from them.”

There is much more about Hooley and his “eventual (and dubious) beatification”, and how other Belfast punk bands of the time, such as Rudi, and The Outcasts “at best tolerated, at worst, despised us”. Burgess, however, doesn’t back down from his opinions, declaring that revisionism, be it “sanitised reflections” or “anodyne accounts” of history “should be approached with some sense of responsibility to the facts”. Fair enough.

Inordinately bad vibrations aside, Burgess writes with an equally tenacious clarity on what happened after Ruefrex left Belfast for a brief spell in London in the mid-’80s. Praised by the weekly influential music papers NME and Melody Maker, chased by major labels (Warner Music Group MD, Rob Dickens, and Stiff Records boss, Dave Robinson, were especially enthusiastic), Burgess’s dreams of long-term success were battered as much by “coked-up” incoherence from so-called managers as by band members whose default positions included erratic mayhem and a form of insidious insurrection. For a salutary tale outlined in an unapologetic take-no-prisoners style, Wild Colonial Boys is (as a Derry song goes) hard to beat.

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture