03.17.2016 08:21 AM

Alternative Ulster!

So, St. Patrick’s Day.

As teenagers, and as charter members of the Non-Conformist News Agency, we always had a slightly different take on today.  One of my best friends at Calgary’s Bishop Carroll was Jim Keelaghan, and the two us – who were Irish all the way back, on both sides – held the view that St. Patrick hadn’t expelled every snake from Ireland.  We’d wear black armbands on this day. (What can I say: we were young.)

Anyhow, punk came along in April 1976 and changed everything (for me, not Jim, who is now an international folk music star).  Irish punk wisely steered clear of The Troubles: the Undertones wrote songs about chocolate and girls, and the Outcasts sang about being a self-conscious teenager.  The Clash went to Belfast, to be sure, but they said precious little about that subject when they were there.

Stiff Little Fingers (who, bizarrely, took their name from a Vibrators song) chose a different course: they (bravely) confronted The Troubles head-on – and (even more bravely) they condemned both sides.

I loved them for that; I adored them.  I thought they were what the Clash was supposed to be, before the Clash became a wannabe rockabilly act in 1979.  I bought Suspect Device on a trip to Vancouver to see the Clash, and it so electrified me, I persuaded the Hot Nasties to cover it.  We played the song when we opened for 999 at the U of C on St. Patrick’s Day in 1980, and it nearly caused a riot (it also led to my decades-long involvement in anti-racism, but that’s a story for another day).

Suspect Device was angry and political. It was extraordinary and anthemic. But the SLF song that would send me, us, over the edge was Alternative Ulster.  It was about being a bored teenager, it was about the future and hope. We’d hear Jake Burns play those opening chords, and we’d just go nuts.  Two dozen leather-jacketed boys, leaping about, crashing into each other.  Good times.

Here, then – after a very long and nostalgic introduction, apologies – is Alternative Ulster, played back when we were all young and acned and skinny, and when we didn’t think we’d make it to 20.  It is perfect, and perfect for this day.

Nothin’ for us in Belfast
The Pound so old it’s a pity
OK, there’s the Trident in Bangor
Then walk back to the city
We ain’t got nothin’ but they don’t really care
They don’t even know you know
They just want money
They can take it or leave it
What we need is

An Alternative Ulster
Grab it, change it, it’s yours
Get an Alternative Ulster
Ignore the bores and their laws
Get an Alternative Ulster
Be an anti-security force
Alter your native Ulster
Alter your native land

Take a look where you’re livin’
You got the Army on the street
And the RUC dog of repression
Is barking at your feet
Is this the kind of place you wanna live?
Is this were you wanna be?
Is this the only life we’re gonna have?
What we need is


They say they’re a part of you
But that’s not true you know
They say they’ve got control of you
And that’s a lie you know
They say you will never be

Free free free

Alternative Ulster
Alternative Ulster
Alternative Ulster

Pull it together now.


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    Sean McLaughlin says:

    It may be sacrilege to pick a cover as your favourite song, but you cannot do better than SLF’s version of Bob Marley’s Johnny Was on their Peel Sessions record. So haunting. I was very grateful to have got a chance to see a version of SLF in Leeds in the early 2000s.

    Happy St. Patty’s Day!

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    And on the radio this AM, they played St. Patrick’s Day / Prelude To The Big Fight, from The Quiet Man.

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    Inncent III says:

    You could also say that in spite of forever blotting his copybook and reputation with the atrocity of Iraq, Tony Blair’s steering of the Good Friday Agreement was one of the greatest political achievements of our contemporary era.
    By the way, you were wise to surrender your love for the Clash by 1979 as I believe that means no one could accuse you of failing for ‘Sandinista’.

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