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Thomas Paul Burgess

By 1974-5, North Belfast was well on its way to securing a moniker it shared with Cambodia's tragedy and which it would remain known by throughout the worst years of the conflict and beyond - 'the killing fields'. The madness of 1975 even invaded the apparent neutrality of the worlds of live music, show business and entertainment when the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) carried out a gun and bomb attack on the members of the Miami Showband. The Stormont power-sharing executive had floundered; tentative Provisional IRA ceasefires and truces were shortlived; Direct Rule was reinstated to fill the dangerous vacuum. The author relates that activities of the Debs gang were unpleasant and hostile for any unfortunate they alighted upon, their actions could be considered nothing more than juvenile. He also outlines how they unconsciously created their own kind of respite from the daily abhorrence of the adult world.

in Wild colonial boys
Thomas Paul Burgess

There were a few good reasons - far removed from triumphalism and monarchy - why a young man in Northern Ireland might want to join an Orange marching band. They were tough young women, waving their mini Union Jacks and, in tartan trousers, swaying in time to the beat. The author relates how he became a side drummer for the Pride of Ardoyne Flute Band, which always enjoyed a particular place in the hearts of the Loyalist crowds. At parades, it invariably drew applause as it passed. This was largely because Ardoyne is recognised as a PIRA/Republican/Nationalist stronghold in Belfast. Award-winning flute and brass ensembles kept their musical notations on stands mounted on their instruments. The best drummers were unfailingly in pipe bands. Unfortunately, most of them have abandoned the Belfast circuit, preferring to parade in rural areas and at the demonstration at Rossnowlagh (Donegal) in the Republic of Ireland.

in Wild colonial boys
Thomas Paul Burgess

The author relates how he booked his passage home on the Liverpool ferry after a painful resurrection of the band. Under the coke influence and in possession, he had somehow driven past the turn-off for the M56, and found himself on the wrong side of the Pennines. Thatcher's government had just announced that the Harland and Wolff shipyard was to be privatised, and the IRA had just planted a booby-trap bomb on a school bus in an attempt to kill the driver, a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The driver and some school children - one of them Arlene Foster who would go on to lead the Democratic Unionist Party and become First Minister in later years - were injured in the explosion. Ruefrex had reared up for a short while in anger and defiance, but they had been slowly bleeding out from the wound left by TC's exit.

in Wild colonial boys
Thomas Paul Burgess

Sarm West and Sarm East recording studios were established by Chris Blackwell of Island Records and later owned and run by husband-and-wife pair Jill Sinclair and Trevor Horn. Non-Island performers also recorded there, including Madonna, The Clash, Depeche Mode, Queen, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley the Wailers, Genesis and The Rolling Stones. Dave Robinson's Stiff/Island connections meant that the authors had been lined up to record in Sarm West from 16 to 29 October 1985. Music history seeped through the pores of the place and the author's head was spinning to be in such exalted company. The Music Works Studio was scheduled as a replacement, with an undertaking that they would return to Sarm West for the album mix from 4 to 8 November. By the end of their time in Music Works, the author and band had finished ten songs.

in Wild colonial boys
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Thomas Paul Burgess

The first invitation was for Ruefrex to take part in the Sense of Ireland Festival in London in 1980. It comprised over ninety events covering all things Irish - music, theatre, dance, literature, the visual arts, crafts, film, photography, architecture and archaeology. The festival's finale, The Sounds of Ireland, was a musical extravaganza that purportedly included the best of the island's punk and new wave bands, such as U2, the Virgin Prunes and The Atrix, and headlined (on St Patrick's Day) by Rory Gallagher. Song writing alliances were forming and a degree of competition to produce something that would best the song that went before proved healthy and fruitful. TC, too, invested in an HH bass combo and decorated the body of his guitar with a logo taken from the cover of Mott the Hoople's The Hoople album.

in Wild colonial boys
Thomas Paul Burgess

When the author first met Shane MacGowan, there was little evidence of the individual who would become the beloved icon of Irish culture we know today, lauded for his songwriting abilities and artistic contributions to the canon. He always found him personable and self-effacing. While the other band members might gather in rowdy communion, when in his cups Shane liked nothing better than to find a quieter corner to settle in alone with his drink. Within a day of the Melody Maker magazine going on sale, the author received word that Frank Murray had removed us from the support slot on the American tour. It had come to something when a band from the Loyalist Shankill Road could so offend the musical wing of Irish nationalism by pointing out that the author and his band were more Irish than they were.

in Wild colonial boys
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Thomas Paul Burgess

In this chapter, Thomas Paul Burgess relates how he met Tom Coulter - 'TC' - who was, by some distance, the best street fighter in Loyalist North Belfast. TC was the leader of the 'Debs', short for Debonairs. TC was the author's best mate, even though he was a year older and a few classes academically higher than him at Belfast Boys Model School in the north of the city. TC boasted family links with the working-class Shankill Road. At that time, the Shankill was increasingly suffering from the violence of street riots, bombs and a brutal redevelopment scheme that ripped the heart out of the community. So his mother sought to secure a better future by applying to the recently established Northern Ireland Housing Executive to be rehoused elsewhere.

in Wild colonial boys
Thomas Paul Burgess

By 1984, Ruefrex had reached what seemed like an insurmountable impasse. Martin J. Galvin was an Irish American lawyer and activist notable for his role in the formation and promotion of NORAID (the Irish Northern Aid Committee). The organisation became known for raising funds for the Provisional IRA and other nationalist groups during the Troubles. Although banned from Northern Ireland for espousing terrorism, Galvin entered the country in 1984, attending high-profile gatherings, flouting his presence to the security forces and providing Sinn Féin with a press coup. This flurry of activity provided the catalyst for Ruefrex to record and release a song that they had finished a year earlier. 'The Wild Colonial Boy' tells the story of Jack Duggan, an Irish rebel and native of Castlemaine, County Kerry, who became a convict, then a bushranger in nineteenth-century Australia.

in Wild colonial boys
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Thomas Paul Burgess

It had been some time since the Debs had met. The collective had splintered in many different directions, growing up, moving on. TC and the author still had the band and so a gang of sorts, but school was out for most of the others. Musky had been their roadie for a few early gigs but had drifted away to a new circle of friends and acquaintances. The second new song by Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers caught the author's attention for different reasons. 'Wasted Life' has become a much-loved standard in the SLF canon. Cited by many as an anthem for youth seeking to escape the suffocating attentions of paramilitaries, the simplicity of its message seemed appealing. To beat them at their own game, Ruefrex had to get better at everything - song writing, stage craft and performance.

in Wild colonial boys
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A Belfast punk story

Ruefrex were one of Northern Ireland’s most popular and uncompromising punk rock bands. Emerging from the Belfast street-gang culture of the late-1970s, the group, inspired by The Clash, enjoyed a turbulent, decade-long career. They played for millions on CNN and Channel 4, toured with The Pogues and recorded the controversial ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’, which attacked American donations to Northern Irish terrorist organisations. Throughout it all, founder member, songwriter and spokesperson Thomas Paul Burgess ensured the band remained faithful to their Protestant, working-class origins. This candid memoir takes us on a journey from the streets of Belfast to encounters with U2, Shane MacGowan, The Cure, The Fall and Seamus Heaney. From strife-torn 1970s Belfast to bohemian London, Wild colonial boys tells the story of a punk band who refused to give up and stayed true to their punk roots.