Apartment Talk #13: Belfast Punk Night
On May 13th, in collaboration with CMU School of Art, we hosted a Belfast punk event that had been percolating for over a year. I had been wanting to screen a documentary on the subject by John T. Davis, called Shellshock Rock (1979), since Duncan Campbell told me about how influential the film had been for him, but it took ages—and a circuitous train of a million emails—for me to get my hands on a copy. Around the same time as the DVD arrived from the UK, someone posted the whole thing on YouTube. So enjoy with unearned ease, but feel sorry you missed out on the dance party. That’s right: after the screening, DJ John Carson spun some records and people danced. An Apartment first (I think).
Featuring Stiff Little Fingers, Rhesus Negative, and Good Vibrations label artists Rudi, the Outcasts, and the Undertones, Shellshock Rock is an affectionate, DIY portrait of the Belfast punk scene in 1978–79. The film captures the atmosphere of youthful idealism—amid the everyday turmoil of the Troubles—that set Belfast punk apart from its more rancorous counterparts in London and New York. The Good Vibrations studio and record label, run by legendary small-time impresario Terri Hooley, became the center of the Belfast scene, gaining prominence with hits like “Teenage Kicks” by the Undertones. Belfast-born artist and head of CMU’s School of Art, John Carson, worked for Hooley as a young man and introduced the film (which provides very little context in itself). His comments echoed Davis’s recollections of that time:
“Belfast in the late 70’s was a very different place from the one in which I had enjoyed live music in my youth. Now Belfast at night was a ghost town. No one was going into town, there was no place for the kids to go. But they were making music, they were coming together…and importantly they were coming together from different sides of the community. This was a real chink of light in what was Northern Ireland’s darkest hour, and I just felt I had to record it on film.”
After the screening, John DJ’ed a fantastic set culled from his personal vinyl collection, including some rare first edition albums from Belfast and beyond. John’s set list and images of his Good Vibes poster and Christmas card designs to come.
Watch the trailer for Good Vibrations, the recently released biopic on Terri Hooley, here.