Derry Essays 8: “It’s the ‘Alternative’ that unites us all…”

In my opinion nothing better sums up the spirit of street culture that has been prevalent since the dances of yesteryear. Derry has always been a microcosm of western culture. It has also been subject to global winds of change as the decades have passed by.

As an industrial city where money was never in abundance social events such as going out for a dance were essential . As far back as the 1940’s Derry enjoyed a multicultural influence, especially when the Americans and British Navy set up base. Derry’s show bands were the best in the business: they entertained!

However when the wartime boom went bust the people danced on. They also watched, as Creggan butcher boy Joseph Locke became a British film star and Irish recording artist across the water.

The rest of the world was going through a social revolution driven by the force of Rock n’ Roll and Beatlemania. Another type of music would prove to have more resonance with the people of Derry and it was the soul of Black America.

They heard the Gospel of Martin Luther King in ‘We Shall Overcome’ – an anthem of the civil rights movement. This song was adopted when the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was born. Many people marched and solemnly sang this song of Black America. Catholics and Protestants united against cultural oppression.

The murals in Derry’s Bogside are testament to the valiant people who stood up and fought for their rights against all odds. People who put their life on the line singing ‘We shall overcome’ to pave the way for equality and put an end to the brutal regime enforced by the government’s policy.

A favourite is the iconic image of Bishop Daly and Jackie Duddy. As men carry Duddy the Bishop waves the boys handkerchief as a sign of peace. He does so in front of a menacing masked soldier and crowds of restrained protesters.  Here a Jimi Hendrix lyric comes to mind:

“Well I stand up next to a mountain

and chop it down with the edge of my hand”  Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)

In my eyes there are no more powerful pieces of political art on the planet than those visible to the visitors of Derry City or Londonderry if you may. This is also reflected in the demonic and skeletal ‘Eddie’ on the Waterside.

The Bloody sword and tattered flag of the Iron Maiden figure sums up the seemingly unstoppable destructive energy that has cost the lives of thousands across the cultural divide. All over the UK and Ireland an ‘angry youth’ looked for answers and for many solace was found in the local record shop.  Good Vibrations record shop in Belfast was one of the best. Terry Hooley ran a veritable utopia for music lovers with a pick ‘n mix of rock ‘n roll, ska, reggae and punk music.

Punks D.I.Y. ethos and sense of social frustration was something people from Northern Ireland could identify with. Hooley started up a record label signed Derry punks The Undertones. ‘Teenage Kicks’ was recorded pressed and fated to land in the hands of John Peel. Peel instantly championed the track and all over the U.K. a band who grew from humble roots blossomed on the airwaves and TV.

Peel has the quote ‘ Teenage Kicks so hard to beat’ on his tombstone.

Can there be a greater salute for Derry’s culture?

It was about the excitement, the joy and the pain that everybody felt.                       A global audience listened and empathised.

Fast forward out of Thatcher’s Iron rule and catch something a bit more light-hearted. While John Major was in number 10 D:Ream  were number 1.                This was the a new era in Derry’s cultural history: coinciding with New Labour and the beginning of the Peace Process. Things Can Only Get Better…

Bands like Therapy? came up from Antrim to gig in the Gweedore Club venue. Fife players gigged in the Bodhran playing bars. Culture doesn’t get any richer than that. Next came the mighty Cuckoo & Schtum armed with ‘Different Drummer’ Rory Mc Carron.

There was a plethora of other brilliant bands about at the time all had a sense of humour that represented the metal head eccentricity of Derry rockers.

There’s no doubt The Nerve Centre played a massive role in this scene -Derry’s independent record shops were at the helm of this too. Cool Discs: Lee Mason was (and is) responsible for bring some great acts to the city. International talent in intimate venues – who would have thought?

A bunch of guys that played those records did! Gareth Stewart and crew have been running the cleverly named Deep Fried Funk night for over a decade.

In addition the annual Celtronic festival of is one of the best electronic festivals in Europe. Period. This is where London and Derry connect most often and DJ’s and bands are flown in from across the water. In these clubs  you’ll find an eclectic and forward thinking crowd.

This conveniently brings us to Derry’s latin corner: Sandinos.  A healthy mix of live sets and DJ slots secured this socialist haven of culture. Londoner Kwa Daniels with some help from the locals set up eclectic night Bounce. A Pandora’s box of jazz funk treats followed.

As one of the few people with Ghanaian roots in Derry he has surpassed any concept of cultural integration above and beyond the rest of us. Teaching, promoting and playing music to people who want to hear it. Many kids were making it too!

Right now musically no one’s doing Derry prouder that the members of Fighting with Wire. Former guitar teacher and music shop employee Cahir O’ Doherty has grafted for a good 15 years to polish his song writing abilities. They are set to go more than global in a big scale. Fighting With Wire rock with finesse and charisma by the flight case.  Another group who are likely to be playing in Space (Ibiza Literally!) are the Japanese Popstars. They make anthemic festival conquering epics: music to soundtrack the summers ahead.  There are loads of other great people that have contributed to Derry’s cultural success.                            I apologise for missing out…

In my experience it’s the ‘Alternative’ that unites us all in Derry. It is the different people of Derry that have created its culture. Many follow but only a few lead. If everyone throws a hand in there’s no stopping us.

Arts in our Blood, Music our Religion & Madness a catalyst. That’s my peace!

Imagine festival 202

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