Northern Ireland

Alternative Ulster: Marking punk's Bangor birthplace

new blue plaque in Bangor marking Punk's birthplace in Ulster
Image caption The plaque was commissioned by the Alternative Ulster Historical Society

Joy Carson cut an incongruous figure among the crowd gathered outside her former bar in Bangor.

Well-coiffured and neatly dressed, she listened as an impressively-mohicaned punk on six-foot stilts performed the unveiling ceremony to applause and cheers.

The blue plaque is one of a kind in Northern Ireland, commissioned by the Alternative Ulster Historical Society "to mark the Trident, birthplace of the Ulster punk scene 1977".

Joy was invited to the event by punk historian Dee Wilson and director of the Open House Festival, Kieran Gilmore.

Joy and her husband owned the pub in the 1970s when bands such as Stiff Little Fingers, Rudi and The Outcasts played a series of iconic gigs that Dee believes marked the real beginning of punk music in Northern Ireland.

"I was in a mixed marriage," explained Joy.

Image caption Punks gathered outside the former Trident Bar in Bangor's High Street for the unveiling of the plaque

"We thought at the time it would be great to get the divide to come together - have a good night - and that's how it came about," she explained.

"It's fantastic, bringing back all the old memories, talking about all the old ones who came into the bar - a lot of them are here today.

"It's excellent. It should have been done years ago."

Music venues and musicians are commemorated by the Ulster History Circle, but said its constitutional remit did not extend to music genres.

So Dee and Kieran took matters into their own hands and the unveiling became part of the Open House Festival's tribute to punk, headlined by Public Image Limited on Saturday night.

Image caption Henry Cluney, one of the original members of the Belfast punk band Stiff Little Fingers whose anthem "Alternative Ulster" celebrated the Trident in Bangor

"In the seventies I was a 15-year-old flute player in east Belfast," recalled Dee.

"But I'd no interest in it. I just tagged along because everyone else was doing it. Then punk came along.

"It gave me something. People never asked you what you were - whether it was sexuality or religion - it brought all the social barriers down.

"You came in to the Trident and nobody cared what you were. This was our domain, this was our spot."

The first gig showcased Rudi, then Stiff Little Fingers (SLF) and Rufrex and The Outcasts.

Image copyright Stiff Little Fingers
Image caption Stiff Little Fingers came to prominence during Belfast's punk movement in the 1970s

Famously, the experience of playing the Bangor venue was transferred into punk legend by SLF through the opening lines of their anthem "Alternative Ulster":

"There's nothin' for us in Belfast

"The Pound's old, and that's a pity

"OK, so there's the Trident in Bangor

"And then you walk back to the city."

Alternative anthem?

Henry Cluney was in the original SLF line-up and remembers the genesis of the song via Gavin Martin - the Bangor man who published the fanzine Alternative Ulster.

He was delighted to see the plaque in place and pleased that the song is still remembered - but is modest about its reach.

"So many times, we've been told it's the alternative national anthem," said Henry.

"I don't think it'll ever die. Even if the places disappear, it'll still have legs.

"I think punk helped move things forward. People always come together for music and they always will.

"And yeah, I think we're proud of that side of things."

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