The two political and religious sides of Belfast have lived together like warring teenage siblings who've been forced to share a bedroom for all of their lives. They've argued about and divided almost every conceivable thing, each side claiming certain elements as 'ours'. Whether it be 'aitch' or 'hatch', green or orange, "Northern" or "the North of", Derry or Londonderry, we'll divide anything. Division is what we do best in the endless game of Loyalists and Republicans trying to convince the world how they are right and the other side are the Spawn of Satan.
Many were and still are traumatised by the troubles in Northern Ireland, yet amidst the hatred, killing and mayhem people sought refuge. With me and many others, music was the escape. When you're lying back on your bed, staring at album artwork with headphones on and your favourite band are blasting out your favourite song at deafening volume, the world goes away for a few minutes.
We were musically starved in Belfast. Most of the big-name pop and rock bands wouldn't go near Northern Ireland on their tours. Dublin, London, Glasgow, Manchester et al were feasting on a huge musical pie and we were getting the crumbs and the odd small piece. Those who came to Belfast were treated like gods. Artists spoke of the amazing gigs in Belfast with an audience reception they had never experienced before.
Music would unite people like nothing else. Those who jumped up and down together when AC/DC played at the Ulster Hall in 1979 had not a care in the world if the band were Prods or Taigs. It was the music that mattered. However, we're talking about Belfast here and with our penchant for division, some music fans managed to include rock and pop bands into the conflict.
Yes, we divided certain musicians, bands and artists into Prods and Fenians.
Stiff little Fingers were Prods from Belfast and The Undertones were Fenians from Derry. Paul McCartney was a republican after his 'Give ireland Back To The Irish' song was released in 1971. U2 were regarded as republicans after that fateful night in 1983 in Maysfield Leisure Centre when they played 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'. There was an urban myth that Marty Pellow, lead singer of pop-band Wet Wet Wet had stated in a fictitious interview on TV that his hero was loyalist Michael Stone.
That was it. Wet Wet Wet were Prods.
At a Wet Wet Wet 1989 concert in Belfast some of the crowd wore Rangers football shirts and waved Union Jacks to show their support for the band and their apparent Loyalism. This concert drove the band to not play Belfast for another twenty years.
During the Ska music revival around 1980 there was a story going around about the band Bad Manners and how they gave money to the IRA. They were Fenians. Madness were adopted as the Protestant Ska band for some reason. Therefore, if you had a Madness patch sewn onto your coat you were a Prod. A Bad Manners patch, you were a Fenian.
From a musical perspective I think the Prods got the best band. I'd rather stomp to Madness' 'One Step Beyond' than the faux-West-Indian warbling of Bad Manners' 'republican' singer, 'Buster Bloodvessel' shouting "Leep-O-Fatty-Ya, Leep-O-Fatty-Fatty-Reggae!"
During the Mod revival at the same time there was a dilemma for Republicans who wanted to become Mods. Everything 'Mod' had red, white and blue and Union Jacks all over it. There was no way a Republican would be seen dead in a Union Jack jacket a la Pete Townsend from The Who. Some clever entrepreneur seized the opportunity and began producing and selling duplicate Mod merchandise except in green, white and gold in opposition to the Britishness that was at the heart of the Mod movement.
We now effectively had Prod-Mods and Taig-Mods.
In Belfast we seem to bring EVERYTHING down to the "are you a Prod or a Fenian?" argument, as if that's all that matters in this world. It's a small, incestuous city where each gesture and articulation can determine which side of the political fence you come from. From which side of a bridge you walk on, to the football team you support, to how you pronounce certain letters of the alphabet, to which music you liked - all had religious and political meaning in Belfast. This was a world that mostly went no further than it's own area, stuck in an endless argument…forever it seems.