Northern Ireland

Irish Rock Story: BBC documentary charts Belfast and Dublin scenes

Van Morrison Image copyright PA
Image caption Van Morrison has been an icon of the Irish Rock scene since the 1960s

"I think we are preoccupied with the past because we are trying to get to transcending mundane existence."

Van Morrison's words are stitched into the middle of a new music documentary The Irish Rock Story: A Tale of Two Cities and they have a resonance for both Belfast and Dublin, the programme's focal points.

The past is everywhere in both cities and with it the heavy weight of centuries of history.

It meant there was a readymade fabric to riff against during the 40-year cultural revolution that is covered by the programme.

Taste, Thin Lizzy, The Undertones and U2 are among the artists featured in the co-production between BBC Northern Ireland, BBC Four and RTÉ.

Its producer Mike Connolly said the roll call could have been extended, but he felt it was best to sign off in the mid-1990s.

"The opportunity to tell the history of Irish rock in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in one hour is a daunting task and there are lots of stories you can tell," he said.

"The danger is that it ends up as a list of players and you have got to bind it together.

Image caption Thin Lizzy are among the groups featured in the documentary

"My target was to tell the 40-year history of Irish rock music to the point where U2 were the biggest band in the world, it has a global profile then and can go wherever it wants after that.

"It is about the creation of Irish rock from Van Morrison all the way through to U2 and Sinead O'Connor, as well as the transformation of Ireland north and south and the role it had on that."

O'Connor, Bob Geldof, Thin Lizzy's Eric Bell and former Guns N' Roses lead guitarist Slash are contributors to the documentary which mixes escapism with harsh reality.

'Nervous breakdown'

The tribulations surrounding the Irish rock scene in the 1970s are magnified by Miami Showband bass player Stephen Travers' recollection of the loyalist murder of three of the group's members.

And Terri Hooley is also frank about the brutal backdrop to the punk scene spawned in Belfast.

"It was a nightmare, the whole country seemed to be having a nervous breakdown," he said.

Mr Connolly says the impact of punk was one of the most powerful messages to come from the film.

"As the writer Glenn Patterson says in the film, punk didn't break down the walls of sectarianism, but it chipped away at the old certainties and tribal loyalties," he said.

"The post-punk generation were then saying we have had enough.

"Bands like U2 were the voice of an island moving on from the imprisonment of its past and providing an international dimension of Ireland, north and south, to the world."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The film's producer, Mike Connolly, says U2 helped give Irish Rock music a global dimension

The producer said this energy for change was still fizzing when the cameras rolled.

"One of the things that struck me about making the film was that when I talked to all of the people, the passion of rock and roll comes across," he added.

"Whether it was Bob Geldof, Sinead O'Connor, or even Terri Hooley it meant a lot just being able to play the music.

"Terri Hooley said New York had the hairstyle, London had the trousers, but Belfast had the reason.

"That sense of the urgency, north and south really comes across."

The Irish Rock Story: A Tale of Two Cities will be broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday, 23 March at 21:00 GMT and is also available on the BBC iPlayer.

Another music documentary, The Strypes: Best Thing Since Cavan will be broadcast on BBC Two Northern Ireland on Sunday, 22 March at 22:00 GMT and is also available on the BBC iPlayer

Find out more about Irish rock music in an iWonder guide.

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