Sean O´Neill, Punk Rock By Heart!




Is this the first time that you have conducted an interview with a German fanzine? How do you feel about it?

I think it is yeah, but I have conducted interviews with various Germans over the years for my fanzines, etc. Does that count? How do I feel? Suitably under whelmed.



It Makes You Want To SPIT!The Definitive Guide To PUNK in N. Irelandby Sean O´ Neill & Guy Trelford



When did you get the idea to write a book of the Northern Ireland Punk scene? What motivated and inspired you?

I guess Guy and myself started this 'crusade' way back in 1996. We initially did a fanzine prototype of the book, which came out in about ‘98, and we had worked on that for a couple of years.  I supposed it all came about because we both have been big pUnK collectors over the years. We were constantly being bombarded with all these letters from all over Europe, America, Japan and even further a field from people we had been trading records with etc etc.  We’d get lots of questions from these fellow vinyl anoraks asking us about obscure singles released on Rip Off Records etc and we were forever having to write the answers on sheets of paper and posting them off, so we decided in the interests of expediency our own sanity that we’d type these pages up so that we could photocopy them. The information we collated just grew and grew.  We then decided to put it out in fanzine format, but financial restrains conspired against us, basically we were working on an anorexic budget and had no money for anything, so we had to limited the zine to just 84 pages, even though we had wealth of information which didn't get used. However, we always harboured the ambition to do the whole subject fitting justice, but no publisher would take us on.  Once we mentioned the word “punk” doors were slammed in our face. There’s still a stigma attached to pUnK here, like there is anywhere really.  There would be initial interest in the cross-community aspect of our project but once the pUnK word was introduced into proceedings, they didn’t want to know.  I remember when the SeX PIsToLs reformed in ‘96 for their Filthy Lucre tour they’d proposed a date in Belfast, but the Belfast City Council at the time banned them, so that’s the kind of mentality we were contending with …… twenty years later they ban some 40 year olds! .  Ballymena Council, where I live, were even more absurd, banning E.L.O. on the grounds that they played the devils music, 'Mr Blue Sky'? I ask ya!

So that’s basically what we we’re up against.  We also approached Cherry Red and other such publishers and the response was much the same, We were getting answers from them like “If you can prove it will sell, we might be interested “ … How the hell do you do that, you know? Eventually it was a chance email with Elvera from Reekus that sparked the whole adventure off.

The book it’s self is full of personal memories by various people. … One of the best books I’ve ever read was “Please Kill Me” by Legs McNeill & Gillian McCain.  I thought that was a tremendous read because it wasn’t simply one person’s opinion. You’d get an event such as Wayne County’s notorious bust up with Handsome Dick of The Dictators covered and in the book you get about five or six different people that were there recounting the event and you get all these different accounts of the event and I think the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  John Lydon's autobiography went down this road too. I'd like to think that our book has an element of this too. Guy and myself tried to be impartial and steered clear of favouritism.




Exist a story behind the title of the book?

There is a story of sorts I guess behind the book title. The first ever Ulster Television show about the punk scene here was called 'It Makes You Want To Spit!'. It was made in early 1978 and features some wonderful live footage from The Pound in Belfast of Victim, Stiff Little Fingers etc. We also wanted to use the great 'spitting' photograph, which we had. Again it dates back to 1978 too and was used on the front page of a local newspaper as part of an article on The Outcasts and the local PuNk scene. I spent the best part of a day hunting through the Belfast city library to find it. Having done that, there was no way that it wasn’t going to be used!




All three pictures are Outtakes from the BookStarjets, what a great band!the OUTCASTS, one of the finest bands coming out of Ireland.



How many years do you spend to get all those detail information together? How did you get in touch with the co-writer, Guy Trelford? Is he also a punk rocker from the first wave?

Yeah, Guy & myself go back a long way. We used to chat and fantasise about compiling this book in his house. I guess from its initial conception to the final edition, you're talking roughly 6 years.




I think, that in this period, you also get in contact with people again, you have not seen for years. What were some of the greatest moments during that process?

We did indeed get reacquainted with some old friends along the way. It was a great journey. It was great meeting up with lots of old mates again and getting reacquainted.  For me turning up old photographs, live tapes etc was also a Highlight. You also have to remember that a lot of these people in bands were 'heroes' of ours. Obviously we enjoyed the whole project, I guess it became a kinda obsession towards the end.




Do you think that in the near future your book will be translated for the German book market? I know only two real good books, which were translated. "England’s Dreaming" and "Please Kill Me".

Are you offering?




I have read most parts of the book and for me along with the London and New York scene you had the greatest punk rock scene. For example, we never had in Germany such a scene at that time. Unfortunately, the German scene was also mixed with terrible student art. We never had that great bands, we never had that local venues, we never had good record stores, in Germany in 1977/1978 there was nothing going on. So you, and all your mates from yesterday could be very happy, that you were live at that time in the right places, to create something new and fresh. Did you ever think about that point? And do you have regular contacts till today with friends from the punk rock past?
To be honest it wasn't anything anyone thought about at the time, but with hindsight I guess we were lucky in a strange kinda way. Having said that, we all still looked to these cities you mentioned for inspiration. I can recall The Undertones saying in a recent interview that they never at the time actually considered themselves as good as bands such as the BuZzcocks, even though they were.

As for regular contact with old punks, yes I do. I see my wife all day every day (We met at a punK gig). The best man at our wedding was an old punk mate. I also catch up with old mates every time a good punk band comes through town.







Those scenes in far away London Town or New York City never had those civil war problems. As a punk, was it much more dangerous to walk the streets in N. Ireland?

Every city has it’s own problems and I’m pretty sure every punk, no matter what part of the world they found themselves in, were the subject of harassment and beatings. Obviously Belfast and Northern Ireland in general had it’s own unique problems which certainly didn’t help.




In those early years, what did you do to become a creative part of the scene? Did you form a band, start a fanzine or booking local gigs?

My dress sense was as creative as I got back then. I spent way too much time drunk on QC (cheap wine) and to my eternal shame I did bog all constructive really. Still, hopefully I’ve made a mends with this book!




So, how did you get in touch with, who put the book out? I saw, they have also putting out new records from the MOONDOGS and the BLADES last year.

I think I’ve already answered this mate!



How has the last two decades changed your perspective in general? Do you have a family now? What jobs have you taken to get by over the years?

I think we all change and mellow with time. Punk certainly changed my outlook on life though and that hasn’t left me. It taught me to question things, no more blind acceptance. Over the years I’ve worked in a hotel, shirt factory, building sites, you name it. I’m currently a civil servant…gulp!




In the last years many punk rock books have been coming out on the market. Which punk rock book to you prefer. And why?

Again I think I’ve already answered this one Ralph. Must admit though, I’m really looking forward to Hugh Cornwell’s new book with is due out later this month. He’s quite articulate, so it should be a good read. I recently read Wreckless Eric’s’ book and I’d recommend that.



I´m sure you are a record collector. So, could you remember to make a real good bargain for a very rare record, you were looking for years?

It's quite hard to find bargains these days. I think I found most of my bargains years ago. I used to by a hell of a lot of my vinyl via mail order (Small Wonder records). They regularly had sales and I can vividly recall buying singles like the Fast Cars 'Kids Just Wanna Dance' for 25 pence. Looking back, I should have bought bucket loads he! he! Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations Records shop was also an Aladdin’s cave for a vinyl junkie like myself. His second hand section in the original shop was a regular haunt of mine, after I’d scoured all the second-hand record shops in Smithfield Market. It’s a sad fact, but there are hardly any collector’s shops left. They are basically all on line now.



Being over the teenage age, how do you view teenagers now?

With a great deal of envoy, only joking. It’s there time, we’ve had ours, and good luck to them I say. ENJOY.



What are your favourite punk sites on the web?

Ebay HAS to be the best punk site. I live there……and it changes every minute. G-R-E-A-T! Get yer check card out!



What kind of response do you get from the people who bought the book?

To date it has been 100% positive. I’ve yet to read a negative review, so we must have done something right!




Are there any particular things you would like to achieve with the book?

I think we achieved our goals the day the book was published. I guess we just wanted to make the world aware that there was a lot more to Ulster pUnK than simply just Stiff Little Fingers and The Undertones. 




Do you do anything now that you swore you would never do twenty or twenty-five years ago?

Yeah, have terrible hangovers!




Which punk band did really impressed you the last time? And for what reason?

The Damned still impress me. I loved their recent album. They can still cut it.




A word that you said to someone, that you regret now.

I regret selling a ticket to see Johnny Thunders in about 1984. The gig was cancelled and rearranged for later in the year. I sold my ticket and bought bought booze with the money. I ended up never seeing him at all. I also regret the fact that this interview is making me sound like a right alcoholic!



What is the best sentence you have ever heard, that someone has managed to get into a song's lyrics?

I Don’t have a favourite lyric as such. I always site my favourite song as The Shirkers ‘Drunk & Disorderly’ Limp Recs, USA 1978. A truly classic I heard on John Peel one night and eventually tracked down. If you’ve not heard it, hunt it out.



Please give me one or two questions to ask the next band I interview.

Which promoters have ripped you off in the past? Which bands that you have played with turned out to be real cunts?



How is life in your street where you live? Are the cites now a little bit more safe?

City, I live in a two-pub cow town in the back end of nowheresville. Yeah, Belfast in unrecognisable to the city I frequented regularly all those years ago. No longer do we have to undergo searchers each time we enter shops, the city centre, or anywhere else for that matter.  It has been totally transformed from a bleak depressing city to a new vibrant one.



How would you compare the scene you were involved 28 years ago to the punk scene today? What newer bands are you in to?

In a couple of words "Totally Different". Different times, different places, I was different, as were the bands.


The worst tattoo you ever saw?

That would apply to any of the skinheads I saw in the early 80's in London with facial tattoos. They must regret those now!



What do you remember about punk clubs such as the Pound & the Harp Bar. What was the audience and atmosphere like? What show or shows stick out the most of your memories?

The Outcasts 1st gig after Colin their drummer had been tragically killed in a car crash, always sticks in my mind. It was at the Harp Bar and there was a unique atmosphere at that gig. The Pound was a flea pit, but it was our flea pit and we loved it.



Please describe the best local eccentrics - the unique and interesting people in your town.

That has to be the one and only Terri Hooley but he’s indescribable.


Sean - Belfast 1981, outside of "Image"



What sorts of interests do you have outside of punk rock?

My wife would say none! I guess my two children our two-year-old German Shepard called Rudi take up all my spare time.



What was the most violent thing you did as a youngster?

You joking, you want me locked up?



Hundreds of today´s trendy dumb music papers mention every year, the same old boring phase, that punk rock is dead. You know, I know, we know, that is bullshit. What do you think is the magic behind the punk rock movement, that turn in 2004 in the 28 year?

I think PuNk has survived and is still relevant today because it was and always has been an ever-evolving genre. Obviously today’s scene is a lot different to 20+ years ago. Those days are gone and can never be recreated, but as long as you have new bands springing up, citing that eara as an influence, then we will still have a scene.


Which record could I find in your CD-player or at your turn-table? What do you prefer CD or vinyl? And why?

I'm a self-confessed vinyl junkie, though I seem to be acquiring more and more cds by the day. I love the smell of new vinyl. The artwork on the cover of a cd can’t be fully appreciated because of it’s size either. Currently I’m listening to the new Sonny Vincent album, A Crabs live at the Vortex bootleg and a King 10" (Captain Sensible’s band after jumping ship from the Damned 1st time around). I've a pile of material in a corner of my record room, which I have yet to spin. It's hard work, but somebody has to do it ha! ha! 




Anything you would like to add?

Nope, I think you've pretty much covered all bases.



Interview: Ralf Real Shock (September 2004)