Film, Media and Music

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Thomas Paul Burgess

Sean O'Hagan, Microdisney co-founder and the author's new flatmate, was an unlikely member of an ostensibly (post) punk rock band, for his influences were The Beach Boys, The Band and Van Dyke Parks. Sean made the author realise that other musicians like Sean were trying to cultivate a public profile themselves. In essence, there was an unspoken resentment, a belief that they had paid their dues and deserved the author's new-found success more than he did. The author and his band depended on their fellow housemates for the backline - amps, PA, drums, and so on. Cuthbertson fronted the money required and Jonty, the bass player from Kissed Air, made the phone calls and did the legwork. Neil, Jonty and the author became the Ruefrex management team. There was mounting interest from several major labels but they were all reserving judgement, until they could catch the live act for themselves.

in Wild colonial boys
Thomas Paul Burgess

Dave Robinson was one of those quintessential Irishmen, perhaps best defined by the term 'chancer'. There is something of the rebel in the DNA of the Irish chancer that people often fall for, despite their better judgement. Ironically, it is the English themselves who invariably and wholeheartedly embrace the amiable, charismatic Irish chancer, oblivious to the fact that they themselves are his mark. The author discusses his conversation with Stiff's Head of A&R Nick Stewart, at the Stiff/Island offices, wherein he was offered finance and help for the recording of their album. Publishing would be dealt with separately, but Dave assured him that this was in hand, likely with Zomba Music Publishing. Dave informed the author that he needed to sign on behalf of the band, and then dropped him at a tube station to make his way home in the rain.

in Wild colonial boys
Thomas Paul Burgess

The Harp Bar in Hill Street, Belfast, was a dingy, heavily fortified pub in a dimly lit, narrow, cobblestone street in a run-down part of the city. Frequented by dockers, horse racing punters and winos, it was an unlikely venue to establish itself as the mecca for punk in the city. The Harp was seedy and offered a small bar on the ground floor, patronised by a varied clientele, and a performance space upstairs that became the number one live venue for the growing number of punk acts emerging at that time. Punk music and its followers were more likely to be indulged for the revenue they generated at the bar than for any high-minded aspiration to create a cross-community neutral space.

in Wild colonial boys
Thomas Paul Burgess

The One by One EP had been picking up favourable attention. The twin bastions of 'cool' had been stormed and breached. John Peel had played it on his show and Gavin Martin had written a feature about us in the New Musical Express. And in 1980, BBC Northern Ireland broadcast Cross the Line, its gritty Ken Loach-esque social documentary about Ruefrex. The musical performances were rough and ready, genuinely live with no opportunity to clean up a dodgy 'One by One' guitar solo in any post-production remix. Nevertheless, the documentary was well received and provided another tangible staging post on the journey. Meanwhile, two invitations opened up the tantalising prospect of going on the road properly for the first time and, Ruefrex assumed, all the hijinks of sex, drugs and rock n' roll that went along with that.

in Wild colonial boys
Thomas Paul Burgess

For most of the period leading up to the recording of their first album, Flowers for All Occasions, and its subsequent promotion through tours and television appearances, only Forgie and the author lived in London. The buzz regarding their live performances was spreading thanks to a phalanx of stellar live reviews in the music and mainstream press. The author relates how Clarkey forgot or repeated verses of songs while drunkenly haranguing the audience, and TC too sozzled to jazz together, intent on bringing down the curtain once and for all. While the signing with Stiff and the album recording was duly scheduled, Clarkey became synonymous with the band's image and started frontman's ego and the band collective. However, he did not see any difference between performing for these people a few hours earlier onstage and socialising with them afterward.

in Wild colonial boys
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Thomas Paul Burgess

It was becoming clear that Stiff Records were fatally holed below the waterline and taking on water at an alarming rate. Debtors could be held at arm's-length no longer, rumours of bankruptcy abounded and some said Dave Robinson, who was working on a follow-up single to 'The Wild Colonial Boy,' had his bags already packed. The author relates how he grabbed the chance when Flicknife Records, started in 1980 and had The Velvet Underground's Nico and the legendary Hawkwind on their roster, expressed interest. Spanning hard rock, progressive rock and psychedelic rock, Hawkwind were retrospectively considered an influential proto-punk band. Originally to be entitled Playing Cards with Dead Men, the project centred around the extent of human suffering that existed behind the statistics and news stories heard on TV and radio. 'Playing Adult Games' was another old song that dealt with how paramilitary gangs recruited from the young and vulnerable.

in Wild colonial boys
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Thomas Paul Burgess

John Hepburn Forgie was an enigma. Forgie first came to the author and his band's attention through Ivan Kelly, who had been prompting them to invite him to rehearsals. At that time he worked as a clerk in Rediffusion television rentals, leasing coin operated TV sets to hard-up punters. Soft spoken and styling himself as the odd, alternative, introvert of the band, he welcomed teasing at his expense and happily embraced the pseudonym 'Lousy Body' before settling on 'ArtRat', which he emblazoned on his first guitar. Unlike Jake Burns, who self-consciously swopped his glasses for contacts, Forgie wore his thick-lensed specs as a perverse badge of honour. He looked the part, with his high cheekbones, sallow complexion and mop of spiky jet-black hair, and was, for the author and his band, the last piece of the puzzle.

in Wild colonial boys
Thomas Paul Burgess

By 1983, things were reaching a crescendo and the end of a self-imposed hiatus. One of the many unsung heroes of the period, Davy Simms, had broadcast a studio session featuring four songs and essentially provided the author's band with the masters for a subsequent release. TC had been making steady progress in his job as a Housing Officer at the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Both Clarkey and Forgie were in settled relationships and holding down a succession of unskilled jobs. Ruefrex had just made a tentative deal with One by One Records, a new Northern Irish label, and they were due in the studio imminently. Distribution problems in Great Britain hindered the release, the prevailing feeling in the music press being that this was a noble attempt to implant contemporary folk quality inside hard rock dialects.

in Wild colonial boys
Thomas Paul Burgess

Dave Robinson, who had continued to hold out the prospect of an American adventure for Ruefrex, citing their enduring popularity on the US college radio circuit, believed that the forthcoming Pogues tour there was an ideal vehicle for this. The big news the Stiff offices had to impart was that Ruefrex were to perform live on The Tube, a popular TV music show that served as a showcase for many emerging 80s bands, as part of a politics-themed edition around the Red Wedge initiative. They had been allocated a PR minder, an indefatigable woman called Sonnie Rae, ostensibly there to keep the band and Clarkey, out of trouble. As soon as they started the show, Clarkey deviated from his agreed stage routine, climbed on the drum riser and launched himself into the air. On the train journey back to London, the author felt lonelier than ever before.

in Wild colonial boys
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Thomas Paul Burgess

Ruefrex are everything that punk should be in '85. No preaching, just ably cropped verbals digging at Americans who 'kill from far away' with donations to terrorist causes. They were on the daytime Radio One heavy rotation playlist. The author relates how Ruefrex performed in the Live Aid gig at Wembley stadium, London Music of all kinds provided an almost 24/7 soundtrack. For the author, it was the beginning of a serious schooling in bands that he had not previously heard but would come to love. His new home saw an unrelenting stream of visitors, mostly post-punk pretenders to the throne, and all were music fans and knew of Ruefrex from what they had achieved till then in the indie scene.

in Wild colonial boys