This Brian Young' interview originally in the Big Takeover Issue No. 53, 2003.
You are often referred to as the first punk band out of Belfast. Like many of the first bands of this movement most were not even aware that other bands were playing similar types of music. Was that true with Rudi? Did Glam initially influence Rudi?
We were the first punk band here in Belfast by a long way. It's a long story but. I'd been obsessed with music ever since seeing Marc Bolan storm through ‘Jeepster' on some low budget kids TV show. I snapped up that 45 and changed overnight from being a snotty Geordie Best wannabe (another local East Belfast lad made good) into a 100% Bolan worshipper. Through Bolan, I dove headlong into Glam rock and hipped via Bowie. I flipped over ne finger ‘G' if I remember correctly – that book was packed with such rockin' reliable's as ‘On Top Of Old Smoky'. hmmmmm!) Grimmy took up bass guitar in earnest and we were up and stumbling! Several line up changes later we'd worked up a ragged set of mixing the glam faves we could work out (not that many – the only Dolls song I could figure out the chords to was Pills and that was one of Bo Diddley's). With stripped down 50's rockers and wired 60's garage slop I learned everything I knew from playing along with a battered Chuck Berry LP. The first songs I ever sang in public were his ‘School Days' and The Troggs ‘Wild Thing.'
(Sadly when I finally got to meet Chuck when the Sabrejets supported him here in Belfast it was a real let down as all he wanted to do was argue his cut of the money with the t shirt vendor as well the set he played was pretty dire. Take the money and run tiIggy's Raw Power and everything connected with loopy Lou Reed. Buying a Melody Maker because it had Bolan on the cover when “The Slider” came out was when I spotted the first ever New York Dolls piece in the UK press and fell in love with them without even hearing a note. Those were the days and much as I hate to admit it sometimes, you can judge a book by the cover! (Sorry Bo!) Through cover versions by Bolan and the Dolls, I became aware of early rockers like Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry. All my buddies dug the same slop and we all hated longhair/hippy/progressive music. I'd chopped my hair into what I thought was a perfect Ziggy spike top. Once even pulling my eyebrows out with pliers a la thin white dork! Boy, did I ever think I looked sharp! Sadly, this was probably far from the case as the rest of my getup was the usual Belfast teen apparel of the time which was big boots, skinners (parallel jeans bleached and cut a good 9” above your boots!) and a Wrangler coat topped off by Stone Dri's best 25 Bob Crombie (with red pocket pulled out so it looked like a hankie!) I might have loved the Dolls but I never wanted to dress up like them!
In 1975 when I was 15, a gang of us took off on a drunken spree to the Isle of Man to catch T.Rex on a rare low key one off gig. As it was the annual N.Ireland holiday week, a lot of Belfast teens were there. Many of who ended up in the first flushes of the cities punk combos. Coincidence, you tell me! We got to meet Marc, Gloria Jones, and the rest of the gang and they were sweet to everyone. Unlike most, every famous person I ever met since! Turned out that Davey Lutton's (T.Rex's drummer at the time) brother worked in the shipyard with Grimmy's Dad too! It's a small world here!
My pal Whitey got a signed tambourine and Marc gave me a T.Rex songbook with guitar chords. When we got back to Belfast we decided to start our very own band to follow in Marc's glittering footsteps, or so we thought!
I got an old acoustic with nylon strings off my cousin for £2 and started learning my first chords. (Ome I guess!)
Via Chuck, it was a small step to Thunders style riffola! Play Johnny's trademark riffs even more sloppily like I did and you finish up with the start of what became ‘Big Time'!
Still I'm jumping forward, the Wilko era Feelgoods played here and tore the place apart. A VERY influential gig locally as most bands were too chicken to dare to visit Belfast back then! Either suited show bands or worse still longhair cover bands usually featuring ex members of ‘Them' sewed up local gigs. In fact, it seemed at one stage that every tosser who ever picked up a guitar in Belfast claimed to have been in ‘Them' at one time! (Weirdly, I'd never even heard any of their records and even though they'd come from our side of town. The first time, I heard Gloria was the Eddie And The Hotrods version! None of us rated Van the Man at all because all we'd heard was his hippy nonsense! Admittedly, when I did finally get to hear his early records I discovered that “Them” were one hell of a good band!) None of the established venues would let us play so we booked private parties at local run down dives and then played at them. Usually packing the place out with paralytic underage teenage desperados. It was in these venues that we single handily went out, found, and then built up. From there, Belfast's first punk bands would play their first gigs.
Meanwhile I'd snapped up the Ramones debut on import at Caroline Music in Anne Street (Belfast's finest record emporium back then) Soon “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Lets Dance” had found their way into our repertoire! We were thrilled that a band who were almost as musically inept as ourselves were writing such killer stuff. We started knocking out our own songs such as the first one ‘(Fill Your Balls With) Alcohol'! It was based on a riff nicked off the Dolls ‘It's Too Late' (the same one the Undertones stole for ‘Get Over You') and in hindsight hardly boded well for future commercial success with such a radio friendly title and lyrics about Grimmy's excessive drinking habits. Boy, were some of our early songs real PC –“The Rapist”, “Slut”, “Catboy” etc. Thankfully, we soon replaced them with better stuff! Looking back, I guess the "brudders" debut was the real start of what became ‘punk rock' and we found ourselves in on the ground floor as punk kicked off. It wasn't any coincidence that most early punksters were all ex glamsters. Just check out how many punk bands played Bolan / Bowie and Dolls stuff!
However, unlike the press darlings in London and elsewhere we really were bored teenagers. RUDI was our first ever band and we were all several years younger than the Pistols/Damned/Clash et al and living in Belfast (unlike London or New York). We really had nothing to do and we had plenty to complain about! It's clichéd but true that music was our escape from all the day to day shit you had to put up with living here.
That's why we didn't sing directly about the situation here. Even for dumb 16 year olds we realized it was far too corny and we didn't want to cash in on other peoples misery. We had to put up with living here day in and day out and we were just sick of it all! Remember we were just ordinary teens who wanted to have a ball. Punk was a big two fingered fuck off to everyone! Besides even though we were young and dumb we were sharp enough to realize that all the trendy PC clichéd posturing that the cosseted UK bands came out with was lame sloganeering designed simply to calculatedly flog a few more records (hypocritical scum)! See, believe it or not, we had principles and we stuck to them!
As the first punksters playing here, we had no one to help us, no Svengalis, no record labels. So naturally we had to do everything ourselves and try to learn from our myriad mistakes! Naïve for sure but unlike our aged contemporaries we actually believed whole-heartedly in every word we wrote and every chord we played. Punk for us was much more than a fashion! It was only much later that we met up with our UK punk heroes and found to our horror that most of them were bandwagon jumping ex hippies or prima donnas rock'n'roll star wannabees who simply used punk as a chic marketing ploy. What a bunch of spoilt tossers!
Punk spread fast here and a lot of that was down to us. Local zines started up and other local bands eventually dared to stick their heads above the parapet. Invariably they began by playing their first gigs at venues we had pioneered. When we started Stiff Little Fingers were still bespectacled longhairs churning out crappy Deep Purple covers under the laughable moniker “Highway Star” and The Outcasts were still a pipedream. Both SLF and The Outcasts didn't even play their first gigs until mid/late1977! I caught both within the space of a couple of weeks! Jake Burns didn't get his haircut or ditch his flares until 1978, which shows how much faith he had in punk rawk! New bands sprang up thick and fast and as the scene here was so small everyone knew everyone else. Despite the usual rivalries and bullshit, we were all pretty good pals whom shared/loaned out gear anyways.
What other bands were you initially playing gigs with? I had heard that Rudi had played a show with Skrewdriver. Is this true and when was that?
Initially here we played gigs by ourselves, as there was no one else to play with. The established local bands loathed us! Later we played with all the local punk bands time and time again. During our first move to London in 1978, we played with the Doomed (the first Damned reform gig with Lemmy on bass), The Raped (MUCH under rated and really nice guys.), The Nipple Erectors (Shane McGowan was in them) and many others. We even (somewhat embarrassingly) supported SLF at their London debut! We roared with laughter at their hugely contrived press release however we laughed a lot less later in the day when we realized the English press actually believed all the downright lies that were in it! Still you got to admire them for pulling off such a blatant scam! We did find ourselves supporting Skrewdriver at a gig in Manchester in 1978 but most of the audience had come to see us and left when we'd finished. We did the same!
Did many bands come from outside of Belfast to play shows or did you find yourselves having to travel outside of Belfast?
Like I said earlier until punk really broke big, nobody ever dared play Belfast. The Bay City Rollers did visit regularly but I didn't return the favour! However, I do remember Gary Glitter packing out the ABC on his (first) farewell tour and that was a truly memorable gig! Once punk broke, then lots of bands started to visit. Cynics might say this was because any band that played here back then pulled in a big crowd and was guaranteed a good reception but I'd be slightly more charitable!
Punk wise the first visitors were the Dr.Feelgood (well I still count them as a punk band – unlike the Exploited and their ilk!) followed closely by Eddie And The Hot Rods who played a killer show at Queens. The Radiators From Space came up from Dublin to play Jordanstown with the Outcasts. The Outcasts quite properly thumped them when they caught them changing out of their flares into punky drainpipes before the gig! The Stranglers played Coleraine but were banned from Belfast. I never rated them anyway! The Clash's first visit in October 1977 passed fondly into punk legend when they didn't get to play as the insurance for the venue was withdrawn at the last minute The fans outside the Ulster Hall refused to move on thus provoking the usual hostile police response and a riot ensued. (RUDI wrote ‘We Hate The Cops' about that very incident which was the most popular Ulster punk song back then.) Sadly, though the Clash did find time to pose for a corny set of photos along the peace line with barbed wire (chic or what)! They stayed in a plush hotel in Belfast, which angered many locals. Star struck though we did get to meet them and they did seem pretty genuine to me and they did keep their promise to come back later that year and played one of the best gigs I've ever seen!
The Buzzcocks were booked to play in Jan 78 and had asked specifically for us to play with them, which was cool! (My long-time NY Dolls buddy one Mr S. Morrissey of Manchester was a BIG Buzzcocks/Devoto fan at the time and used to tell me that he was taking drum lessons from John Maher.hmmm!) Weirdly the Buzzcocks van broke down in Wales (which no one believed at the time!) and to avoid a repeat of the earlier riot by disgruntled punkers the promoter asked us to play a free gig which we did and tore the place apart! The week after the Adverts visited and was supported by SLF and us. TV Smiths geriatric incompetents were utter tossers and after prancing round for hours in full on rock star mode refused to let both local bands sound check and going so far as to switch off the PA! Jake had even got his hair cut for the gig (but still sported flares and a polo neck jersey!) So much for that much trumpeted punk solidarity!! Still once word of their underhand antics got out our buddies gave them a less than rousing reception. Besides, they were truly dire live!
Oh and along the way we did blow off every other Irish band of the time if I say so myself! Including a Dublin four piece that became quite popular later on. (U2 I think they were called. whatever did happen to them?)
Ironically, the biggest and best live band we ever played with was The Jam. Unlike scum like the Adverts they went out of their way to ensure that we were treated well They made sure we always got sound checks and had refreshments and even loaned us gear when ours fell apart. All of them, the band, manager (Paul's Dad!), roadies etc just couldn't do enough for us. And it still bears repeating that when it came down to it that Paul Weller (much as I cannot abide his post Jam material) was the ONLY punk rocker who made it big and who actually put his money where his mouth was instead of shovelling it up his nose like the rest of the UK's punk big wigs.
Rudi was plagued with some bad luck. Do you think that this played a part in the demise of Rudi?
Bad luck? Hmmmmmmmmmmm, sure we had our fair share. Sure, if the Jam hadn't folded when they did we would have had a real proper chart hit. In addition, earlier on, if Terri Hooley had issued ‘The Pressure's On' single when he was supposed to we'd certainly have broken real big. Nevertheless, that's the breaks! The fact is for a band of stroppy teens that never had a manager or a proper record company we did pretty damn well. I'm still real proud of what RUDI achieved and rest assured you'll never catch us on the cheesy punk show band circuit .The level of interest in the band now is heartening! There has been more RUDI stuff released over the past 2 years than when we existed (2 LPs and 3 or 4 eps on Last Years Youth from Germany!). We must have done something right! Besides, it still feels kind of odd writing about stuff that happened a lifetime ago. Nostalgia has its place but I'm more interested in the here and now than way back when. (Though I've certainly had a few happy memories dragged up out of the depths helping a couple of locals who have just finished putting together the ultimate book on Ulster punk – ‘It Makes You Want To Spit')
Sure we all had our ups and downs but we had a ball and out of all that I learned a lot (often the hard way!) .I ended up playing the music I love best in the band I love best - The Sabrejets. Corny but true!
The Moondogs and the Undertones are recording and playing shows. Have you seen them? Do you care?
I haven't seen either play in 20 years! Good luck to ‘them as they're both doing new material but I'm afraid they'll find the punters only want to hear the old stuff.
Nostalgia just isn't my bag.
Friends of yours are putting out a book on the Ulster scene and as a one off gig, you, and members of the Outcasts and Stalag 17 are playing a show for the book release. When does this show happen and where? Are you currently rehearsing Rudi, Outcast, and Stalag 17 songs? Who is in the band? When does the book come out and when can we get our hands on it?
The ‘band' (‘Shame Academy') was formed specifically to generate publicity for the book launch. It's me on gtr/vcls, Greg Cowan (Outcasts) on bass/vocals and Petesy Burns (Stalag 17) on drums and backing vocals. Sean and Guy who wrote the book spent 5 years solid digging up info on every poor sod that ever picked up a guitar in these parts. When they asked us to play some old stuff to plug the book launch in November, it was the least we could do after the hard work and effort they'd put in. Petesy and I both have our own ‘proper' bands so this is just for kicks to help promote the book, but it is real good fun! We've worked up 20 songs, 5 or 6 by Rudi and 5 or so by the Outcasts and the rest is old punk/glam stuff we all like and that's easy to learn and play! We've done one secret fundraiser, which went real well. As all 3 of us are Harp Bar veterans we're all proud of what we all achieved back then and for me the whole point of the book is to prove that there was so much more to NI punk than SLF, Undertones and Terri Hooley. That is about as far as any of the so-called history books ever go! This book WILL set the record straight once and for all! Buy or die! (Since this interview was done, the book is out! Read the “Shame Academy” cd review and see the link to buy the book!)
Terri Hooley initially signed you to his record label Good Vibrations. You did 3 singles with Terry right? Is Good Vibrations and Terri Hooley still around? Speaking of record labels how did you get on The Jams “Jamming” label. Was this through playing support gigs with them?
Terri is still around but he's been declared bankrupt yet again and doesn't have a label any more although he does ‘manage' a vinyl collectors shop. Like most members of any bands who had releases on Good Vibes, I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with the old sod. RUDI split from the label when “The Pressure's On” 45 was never released and I still don't know why not to this day! Still, with all his faults, Terri is one of the true originals, which is why the label did so well (and also why it never lasted). However, I'd rather have a maniac/maverick like him any day compared to the faceless accountants and yes men who ‘run' record labels nowadays.
How we got on the Jamming! label was funny! Good luck for once! Tony Fletcher who ran the magazine of the same name had been asked by Paul Weller to set up and run a label, which he would bankroll. (He really did put his money where his mouth was!)
Tony was a longstanding RUDI fan, had done articles on the band in his zine, and loved the band. To kick-start a new label, he knew he needed a band with a proven track record that would shift vinyl and fortunately, we were looking for a new label after a deal with UK based Target Records had fallen through at the last minute! We'd signed a publishing deal with Leeds Music and Pete Waterman (yep - the same guy – who was in fact a real sussed guy and great help to us as well!!). He had lined up a deal with Ariola for us but we opted to go with shoestring indie Jamming! Instead and for once, we made the right choice! Tony really did a great job with the label and we sold more records and played to larger audiences all over mainland UK than we'd ever done before supporting the Jam on the UK leg of Transglobal Unity Express Tour, followed by our first large scale UK tour that John Weller helped arrange. As I mentioned earlier Paul Weller and the Jam people couldn't do enough for us, as we owe them a big thank you to this day.
What is the Belfast scene like now?
Truly dire. It's like punk never happened (as one wag once quipped). Sure there are dozens more venues but for the most part they only put on tribute bands and bands doing tried and tested cover versions or even worse the dreaded two piece bands with everything on DAT! Moreover, I'm disgusted at the number of my ex punk contemporaries who plough this particular furrow. Luckily, The Sabrejets (Belfast's' greaser Kingpins!) are pretty damn popular so we can pick and choose when and where we play, most of the time .We always try to make every gig special, for instance this year we played both the Kilkenny and Letter Kenny Festivals alongside a heap of US bands. With a special thanks to Bo Diddley who was nice to us! In the past couple of weeks we did a guest spot at the request of ex Special Roddy Radiation with his current Skabilly Rebels, played the Ards Guitar Festival with Bobby Cochran (Eddie's nephew!) and in the next couple of weeks we're doing a rock n roll charity fundraiser two local film makers are running in Comber and headlining the NI Tattoo Show (again!). In January, we're off to Norway too for our first gigs abroad at the request of the Wild Bunch Rock N Roll club so we just keep on plugging away! Lots of CD releases worldwide too – over 20 cuts on comps and two full length CDs long sold out followed by a Brazilian (!!) ‘Best Of.'
That has sold out as well! In addition, we're working on our follow up as I type! (Check out The Sabrejets site for recent news)
You are currently playing in a rockabilly combo The Sabrejets. How did the transition from a punk band to a rockabilly band happen? Who is in the band and did they play in previous bands?
I was raised on glam and rock'n'roll, which are to me two sides of the same coin! Check out Little Richard or Esquerita for proof! Early punk was simply rock n roll stripped down and revved up for the seventies! Believe me it's the same three chords! Sound wise, attitude and image wise punk owed so much to the early rockers When all the good punk bands sold out and became lamer by the day, it was plain to me that Elvis and the other howling wild men and women who kick-started the whole thing off were way more dangerous and sexy than Johnny Rotten and his pampered cohorts could ever be. I'd gotten bored with punk real fast. What was once off the wall, thrilling, and individual had become predictable and staid, uniform and clichéd. Once the Exploited and all that dirgy heavy metal thrash appeared I knew it was time to quit. However, it was real sad watching the big labels wrestle back control from the Indies. Using them as unpaid A+R and laughing all the way to the (new wave) bank. Still there was always great music out there and I just dug back to the real primal stuff, which led me to rockabilly, the wildest and sexiest sound ever!
Tellingly even then (as now!) the finest records were on the small labels run by fans for fans and that was the most important lesson I learned from punk is to always stay 100% true to yourself, never ever compromise or sell out and Do It Yourself!
How long have the Sabrejets been together? Do you play shows frequently? Who are some recent bands you have played with?
After RUDI folded, I was utterly disillusioned and hung up my guitar. I did a one off Bolan tribute/zine called “Automatic Shoes” in 84.I was persuaded to play a couple of gigs with buddies from 4 different bands where we basically stumbled fearlessly through every T.Rex song we could think of before falling over. I really hit it off with two of the guys in the band (the Beavis Brothers) and finding that we shared a similar love for the entire works of Link Wray. We ended up putting The Tigersharks together who Hot Press described accurately as ‘Johnny Thunders fronting the Stray Cats'. The ‘sharks changed into The Roughnecks somewhere along the line and got real popular in Belfast (packed gigs, lots of recording/radio sessions etc). However, just as things were moving up a gear, the Beavis brothers quit and the band folded.
After a rethink, I just sat down and decided to put together my dream band to play exactly what I wanted and after several months, the result was The Sabrejets! We've been together almost a decade now interrupted by two or three years when I was in and out of hospital and we just take things at our own pace. We've all been round the block enough times to know exactly what we want to do, why we want to do it and how we want to go about it and live we wipe the floor with everything in our path. We're in this for the long haul and won't be stopped!
How many releases do the Sabrejets have? Will we ever see the Sabrejets play North America?
Check out the discography on the website (it's a bit out of date it'll point you in the right direction!) Most recent release was our ‘Train In Vain' on Raucous Records Clash Tribute ‘This Is Rockabilly Clash' and we've two cuts due any day on the Jap ‘Revell Yell' label Ace Café comp. As a diehard rocker, I'm a fully paid up member of both the Ace Café Club and the 59 Club.
Will we ever see a Rudi reunion?
In a word – No! I want RUDI to be remembered the way we were, wart's' all! I'm still really proud of everything we did and don't want to see it tarnished by some flabby middle aged men out to make a fast buck on the punk cabaret circuit.
I've not ever cashed in on being in the band nor have taken the easy option of playing old RUDI songs with any of my bands since that was then. This is now!
You are a big Cramps and Johnny Thunders fan. Did you ever have the opportunity to meet either of them?
Johnny is still my all time numero uno! Sure, he had it all in spades (and then some) and pissed it away. But, so what! On form, he was the best there ever was. I met him quite a few times over the years and always found him kind of charming. Sadly, he allowed himself to fall hook line and syringe for all that dumb junkie romance. In addition, some of his audience and hangers on were little more than vultures but underneath it all, he was a real sweet guy. A mention for David Johansen too as his stuff with the Harry Smiths shows just how clever and talented he is! A recent Belfast gig was truly amazing and again he proved to be a real nice guy .He seemed amused to be confronted by yours truly and Mickey Bradley (Undertones) after the show waving old Dolls sleeves in his face to get signed! Syl Sylvain still knocks out killer stuff too and has to be the single most under rated man in rock n roll. He has more talent in his little finger than any of the so-called greats such as Mr David Bowie who hasn't made a good record since Pin Ups! Weirdly Munster Records asked us if we could stand in as Syl's backing group for a Spanish tour they were setting up when some of his normal band couldn't make it. Syl dug our version of ‘Little Bit Of Whore' on their Thunders tribute 10” LP “This One's For Johnny” Sadly, we couldn't do it. Boy! That would of been cool!
Cramps wise I've chatted to the Cramps on the phone several times over the years but never met them in person. Again Lux and Ivy are real nice folks and isn't it great to see ‘them still getting' up peoples noses and tearing it up onstage wilder than ever when Lux is almost pension age! A fine example to us all and proof positive that you really are as old as you feel!