A new book by veteran NI journalist Stuart Bailie explores the link between Northern Ireland’s celebrated music scene and its bloody chronology of violence.
In writing ‘Trouble Songs’, the music writer and broadcaster has pulled together 60 interviews with well known music personalities including Bono, Christy Moore and George Jones to discuss the impact the conflict had on them as individuals and their music.
He said: “Music changed my life – not that I was ever a bad egg, but when punk arrived that was my starting point. I do think music pushed people towards the peace process. When punks started hanging about in the Harp Bar in 1978 – it was like, ‘we’re not going to do what we’re expected to do – we’re going to meet in a neutral territory, jump around, drink beer and have an amazing time’.
“Punk music from the outside looks alien, but there was a real togetherness where religion didn’t come into it.”
Stuart’s book tells the tragic stories behind the Cranberries’ song ‘Zombie’ and ‘Through The Barricades’ by Spandau Ballet. He also talks about the 1998 ‘Yes’ concert in the Waterfront Hall which he compered and which saw Bono, David Trimble and John Hume join hands on stage.
“Without that moment we wouldn’t have had a Good Friday Agreement,” said Stuart.
Of the 60 people he interviewed for the book about their experiences of the music scene during the Troubles, he said: “A lot of people are opening up. Even five years ago I don’t think we’d have been so open. I think there’s now been that threshold of time where people say, ‘listen, I’ll tell you the real story’.
“Even things like George Jones playing upstairs in the Abercorn and the bomb goes off downstairs and he’s literally balancing on two beams trying to ring his wife to tell her about the carnage.
“Once the Miami Showband massacre happened in 1975 you were almost excused from playing, but people still did it. Steven Travers (from the Miami Showband) said everybody who stood on a stage north of the border was a hero. I couldn’t agree more.”
The book begins with the story of Stiff Little Fingers who played a gig in Paris four nights after the 2015 massacre at the Bataclan Theatre. US rock giants the Foo Fighters cancelled their Paris show following the attack.
Stuart said: “SLF knew that by not playing it can make people lose confidence in a city. They stepped up. We’re showing people about the importance of resilience.”
Stuart has been a music writer and broadcaster for more than 30 years, he has written for the NME, Mojo, Q, Hot Press and is a familiar voice on BBC Radio Ulster. He was the co-founder and original CEO of the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast.
Of his former employer he said: “It broke my heart when NME ceased printing. It was an amazing institution. We’ve entered a largely illiterate age in terms of music and culture. Attention spans are shorter, everything is three paragraphs, whack it up online and onto the next thing.
“It felt like this book was Geronimo’s last stand – an old man who used to write 5,000-word stories, I thought – I’m going to write 100,000 words and go as deep as I humanly can into a topic.”
The book is available now via www.troublesongs.com