I post this slightly poor-quality recording of ‘Suspect Device’ from an Ulster Television broadcast in 1978 not because it’s a particularly good representation of the song – in fact, it does very little justice to one of the best punk songs ever written – but purely because it challenges the myth of what “punk,” in its earliest form, stood for.
Here we see a decent-sized crowd of disaffected Northern Irish youths kitted out in the usual punk clobber – ripped shirts, shredded jeans, leather jackets and even the odd dog collar – and seemingly united in their desire not to be seen showing any form of emotion. You’ll notice a trio of lads jumping around in euphoria towards the middle of the video – rest assured they were not representative of the crowd and were soon removed from the venue.
It’s worth considering the context in which bands like Stiff Like Fingers and the Undertones entered the music scene: groups like the Sex Pistols and the Clash may have been infuriated by the extent to which their mummies didn’t pay enough attention to them, but these groups of Catholic Irish teenagers experienced real hardship and oppression on a daily basis, and they made a conscious choice to break the mould by fighting back with their music rather than guns and improvised explosives.
The lasting legacy of these groups’ music was to unite thousands of middle class teens from across the religious divide would unite against a bitterly unfair regime – a fight that only began to reap rewards when that generation matured and became a real voting bloc in the mid ’90s and early ’00s. Their lasting musical legacy – as revealed in the iconic book/movie High Fidelity – would be to have perhaps the most profound effect on the sound of a young California band known as Green Day.
On a more basic level, though, it’s just funny to watch a video from the first wave of punk and notice that even amid the horrific violence that marked that period in British and Irish history, there were swathes of youngsters so self-conscious that they’d refuse to so much as dance in front of their peers, let alone a video camera. I guess some things never change.