Belfast Pride festival is an outlet for Dan O’Rawe and F.R.U.I.T.Y
The Tom Robinson Band made a connection between punk rock and the pride movement back in 1978 with the release of the song Glad to be Gay. Tom boldly set off on a tour that included some Irish dates in October of that year. Homosexuality was still illegal across the island.
Tom was promoting his first album, Power in the Darkness. The sleeve pictured a gay liberation fist, based on the black power design. Inside the album, there was a 12-inch stencil of the cover art. It had been designed at the Socialist Workers’ Party print shop in London. There was a disclaimer on the insert: “this stencil is not meant for spraying on public property”.
Tom was given a tour of Belfast by fans and he was delighted to see that the stencil was doing its work. “Catholic kids took us on a guided tour of The Falls. And there was the fist, on the ends of buildings.”
This was a year after the Free Presbyterian Church had launched their own campaign, Save Ulster from Sodomy, attracting 70,000 signatories. Tom viewed this as a challenge. “It was very enjoyable breaking the law in Belfast,” he later recalled. At the end of the year, he gave his proceeds from a Christmas Eve charity gig to the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association.
The first Gay Pride march took place in Belfast in 1991. This year’s festival has 135 events over 10 days, including the Pride Céilí, Britneyfest, a Rocky Horror singalong and a showgirl extravaganza.
Dan O’Rawe is going to be part of the 30th anniversary Belfast Pride Parade on July 30. He plays sport for the first queer GAA team in the north, Aeracha Uladh. It was set up by Martin Murray, who moonlights as the drag artist Danu Variant. The team will wave to the crowds and Dan O’Rawe, who had no previous experience in the sport, is already excited.
“The queerer you are, the busier you are in this month,” he laughs. “Pride Week especially.”
Dan is chiefly known as a songwriter, performer and musician. He plays drums with Dig Daisy and also worked with the sadly defunct queer country act, Cryan. But we celebrate him most of all as the creator of an electronic act called F.R.U.I.T.Y.
To date, the F.R.U.I.T.Y. catalogue includes a swirling, DIY debut, Not Quite Exceptional and then a self-titled EP in 2021. He mixes pop with woozy senses and beats. It’s not unlike the sound explorations of an act like Blood Orange.
Dan is hardly a quiet, retiring artist and the name of his artistic project is willfully playful. F.R.U.I.T.Y. works on many levels. For a start, he’s reclaiming a word that has been used to denigrate outsiders in the heteronormative world.
“I haven’t heard anyone calling me ‘fruity’ offensively in a long time but it used to be a slur, when you were in school. Like ‘queer’ as well. Also, I think F.R.U.I.T.Y. is quite a fun name. Fruit brings ‘fresh’ to mind.”
He has new music on his stall, a tune called Cavities. Again, it sounds a bit dizzy and strange. It was made for a new compilation called Bangers ’N’ Pride. “The brief was ‘big and queer’,” he explains.
Bangers ’N’ Pride is the third in a series of compilations. Each of these has put a value on the music community and the power to mobilise for a cause. The first one, Bangers ’N’ Mash Ups was released during lockdown in 2020 and recognised that domestic violence was escalating. The proceeds went to an aid resource, She Sells Sanctuary.
The follow-up, Bangers ’N’ Break Ups was a Valentine’s Day offering, a 2021 fundraiser for the same cause. Released on the Bandcamp platform, each of these compilations also provided a snapshot of a music scene under a pandemic, with few options to play live and be seen.
The beneficiary of the new album, Bangers ’N’ Pride, is the Rainbow Project, dedicated to the wellbeing of the LGBTQIA+ community. As before, it had been brought together by the band Problem Patterns, a vital energy source for music activism. They source the tracks from musician friends and organise the artwork and logistics.
Ciara King from the band offers an explanation.
“The inspiration for this year’s compilation to be Pride-themed is that we are facing our first public Pride since the pandemic. It is a march and public protest/celebration that I have never missed since first realising I was queer as a teenager and I guess we wanted to gather the voices of the queer musicians we have here and now and capture that moment now.
“We have had more musicians now expressing their queerness even since we first started four years ago and it’s beautiful. We are donating all our proceeds to the Rainbow Project because we feel, as an entirely queer band, that we would love to help our own community in whatever way that we can.
“Any donation makes a difference and we thought, what a nice, fun, celebratory way for our queer music scene to put our best assets to use in aiding the ones in our community that need it most.”
Bangers ’N’ Pride is released on Friday, July 22, via Bandcamp. Belfast Pride festival runs July 22-31