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'A record that stands out was Shot By Both Sides... appropriately for late 70s Belfast'

By Henry McDonald

Published 16/04/2016

The Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols

Half the length of a 30cm school ruler, coated in black plastic and silver steel, our radio at home had two main functions during the 1970s. Besides the hourly broadcasts of murder and Troubles-related mayhem, my father would twiddle the dial, often in the very late hours, sweeping the needle across the airwaves until he picked up the police messages.

There were the muffled "over-and-out" warnings from voices about a suspect car left in Bedford Street, or reports of a body being found in an entry off the Shankill Road.

In the 1980s, one police message my father captured by luck left the entire family exploding with laughter as an RUC voice warned that: "They are shooting at us from Friendly Street!" No one, I am happy to report, was injured in that incident.

There was, however, another important use for our compact black-and-silver radio, apart from dad also tuning in of an evening to hear reports from Radio Moscow of the Viet Cong entering Saigon or the MPLA winning victories in Angola.

It was solely for me and was a reminder that life was going on elsewhere, far away from the bombings, the murders, the security barriers, the riots and the lockdown of Belfast at night.

Every Monday to Thursday night, just after the pips at 10pm on Radio 1, the first bars of Grinderswitch's Picking The Blues would blare out and then I would escape.

John Peel's radio show was a musical Narnia-wardrobe, a semi-secret audio passageway that took teenagers like me out of the menacing humdrum and into an alternative world, where youth sub-culture was grabbing the headlines and stealing the show.

Peel's programme was the inspiration for buying my first vinyl records - oh, yes, that and a 1977 trip to see friends in Brighton that resulted in one of the greatest pals in my life swiping The Sex Pistols' controversial (and almost universally banned) No 1 God Save The Queen from a record store in Hove, which my friend said was a present from him for me to take back to Belfast.

The radio show and that act of larceny propelled me on a spending spree of 45 singles and 33 albums for the next 20 years.

If God Save the Queen was the first 45 I ever owned, then I recall the first LP I bought was Siouxsie and the Banshee's debut album, The Scream.

In what was to become an almost weekly ritual, I would save up my pocket and dinner money and every Friday, returning on foot from St Malachy's College, I would saunter down Donegall Street, through the art college grounds, passing by The Harp Bar in Hill Street and on to my final destination - Caroline Music in Ann Street. Caroline was one of three record shops in Belfast I trawled for the latest punk and new wave singles from 1978 onwards that I was hearing on the John Peel Show.

There was Rocky Mungos, a sweet little store run by a pleasant chap with a beard in Linenhall Street and it was there that I bought The Ramones' Rocket to Russia.

And then, of course, there was our 'Mecca', which a group of young punk friends from every part of the city used to march up to on Saturday afternoons - Terri Hooley's original Good Vibrations.

We were P-checked once by an Army-RUC patrol on Great Victoria Street as about 12 of us were making our way to Good Vibes one Saturday, the old cop taking our names and addresses, perplexed at the various areas we came from - Markets, Glencairn, Divis flats, Shore Road - and letting us go, shaking his head in incredulity.

I'm delighted to say this scene later became transposed to the Ulster countryside by the screenwriters of the Good Vibrations movie.

As for the records I, ahem, "obtained" in Hooley's shop, there is always one that stands out in the memory bank. It was Magazine's Shot By Both Sides, which seemed kind of appropriate for the late 1970s in Belfast. I had actually walked out with the Magazine four-track EP under my coat.

Many years later, I told Terri about this, and his reply was that I should have stolen more.

Belfast Telegraph

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