Belfast Punk Bands: Ruefrex – Once ‘The most important band in Britain.’
Above Photo: Ruefrex in Ulster Hall with John Peel, late 1970s. (spitrecords.co.uk)
My Punk and New Wave memoir, Bombed Out! in part focuses on the vibrant music life of the city of Liverpool. But at that time, the Punk uprising was also taking hold in cities and towns across Britain, including Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Belfast was another northern city hit hard by the recession – as well as by the euphemistically-named ‘Troubles’, Britain’s own modern-day civil war, which is also frequently referred to in the pages of Bombed Out!
Ruefrex were one of the most important Punk bands to emerge from the recession-battered and war-torn streets of Belfast; and the band were once heralded as ‘the most important band in the UK’ by Melody Maker.
Ruefrex were working-class Ulster loyalists who, unlike other Belfast Punk bands from the late 1970s who were also putting across the same anti-sectarian message, went one step further. They were the only band to break out of the established Harp Bar and Pound Punk venues in central Belfast, venturing into sometimes dangerous territory in sectarian Belfast to play gigs in hard Republican areas of the city. They also played gigs to raise money for integrated education in Belfast.
Ruefrex were one of Northern Ireland’s most popular, uncompromising and successful punk bands, and they are still fondly remembered in Belfast. Over a turbulent 10 year career the band were attacked by both Protestant and Catholic communities for their refusal to accept sectarian divisions.
They also recorded some of the most powerful, lyrically potent music of the era, following their debut on Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations label.
They appeared on the cover of the Melody Maker in 1986 after they’d recorded the controversial but unapologetic ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’, which was also played live on Channel 4’s The Tube, denouncing Irish-Americans for sending guns and money to the IRA.
Paul Burgess, the drummer and lyricist, claimed that Ruefrex were different to groups such as the Undertones. “Unlike others, we didn’t write songs about girls and chocolates. We grew up in the heart of the Troubles and saw with our own eyes what was going on. So that’s what we wrote about, even when it was unfashionable.”
The band originally formed in 1977 and consisted of Alan Clarke (Vocals), Jackie Forgie (guitar), Tom Coulter (Bass) and Paul Burgess (Drums).
Their first single, an EP called One By One was recorded on Terry Hooley’s Good Vibrations label in 1979 and even featured in the recent film of that name, as people were seen trying to wrap a complicated record sleeve around the vinyl.
Paul Burgess said that back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he had worshipped The Clash and hated local rivals Stiff Little Fingers, although they supported them on a few occasions.
The band was the subject of a BBC Northern Ireland documentary called One By One (I have put a link to the You Tube version below) which is a fascinating piece of social history of early 1980s, tough Belfast life, which was the breeding ground for a rash of punk bands back then.
I’ve also added You Tube links to One By One and The Wild Colonial Boy below.
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php
One By One:
The Wild Colonial Boy:
The BBC Northern Ireland Documentary: