AN ALTERNATIVE ALTERNATIVE ULSTER STORY
An Alternative Ulster Story
London was the Alternative Ulster many Norn Irons sought - after we’d coined the much mimic’d term with the premiere autumn 77 publication of our fanzine printed by the Buzzcocks in Manchester modelled on Sniffing Glue from south London.
In my minds eye London was certainly where my personal Alternative Ulster would be found. Everything I thought I wanted - plus sex, drugs, rock n roll - gathered there or, like The Clash, was from there.
When I got a gig for the NME, over there in Carnaby Street, stringing copy (posted, handwritten) from Belfast, making the commute up from Bangor by any means available, the inkie weekly became a key to unlocking the magic city.
In those days the NME print really DID come off on your hands. The hip, knowing way it interrogated the counterculture also got into my brain and blood.
When I was 12 a job lot of hand me down mags me mum regularly sourced from the mother of an older boy I came by a back copy.
Ears were pricked up, gestating interests piqued, the writing seemed to validate the way I'd felt about music since I was a pre school 4 year old singing Beatles songs in the front garden for kids coming home for Primary school (whether they liked it..or not) .
Early teenage Thursday evenings began to focus on the arrival of the new NME, heralded by my dad, returning from work in Belfast where he'd secured an early issue, whistling down the path, passing the kitchen window.
In the months after AU helped me gain a foothold at NME I’d started to taste life beyond Ulster’s tin pot state of blow you to buggery terrorists and fearful, blue nosed sexual repression.
I had a few weeks in summer 78, sleeping in a van wherever we could park and then squatting in Clapham, with the great Belfast band Rudi.
Rudi were there indefinitely but I’d always planned to return home before making a permanent move.
When I returned to Ireland I did part time tech college education . English A level and sociology o level, totalling 9 hours a week this was little enough to secure a weekly pre Thatcher supplementary benefit benefit. Ker fucking ching.
Studies were interspersed with trips , on magic mushrooms from Valentine Playing fields and over to England often staying in NME writers' homes dotted around London, after I had been flown on an assignment to the, politically loaded term, mainland.
I’d be accommodated in hotels in Liverpool or Manchester or Birmingham on trips to meet with jolly, life long pals to be, Madness, engage in cold eye stares with bobble hatted Dexys across formica topped greasy Brum spoons or dissect Stiff Little Fingers, the band who had borrowed and popularised the Alternative Ulster title, in Earls Court.
One day the call came to go overseas, almost 40 years ago today, as it happens.
Supertramp were to be the focus of the my first trip abroad as an NME hack.
In Feb 79 I Left Belfast airport on a one year ,white, temporary passport and a fiver in my pocket .
Off to meet the photographer Mike Laye at Heathrow airport.
No stop off, this time, in the city I was eventually headed to for good, just a a transfer to fly directly to Lisbon, Portugal.
Snapper Mike was holding folding - exes from the paper and or was it they record company?
And... who cares anyway?
Philthy Mcknees had called me, me mum answered on the black Bakelite phone (number, Bangor 60205) .
Supertramp? From the minute their whiny Dreamer came on to the whistle test on a cold forbidden night I’d been far from a fan.
Choons, man ?
Like Steely Dan’s, man? Do it again and again.And all over again, man?
Listen if I’d a been asked to do the Dan, man, I’d a got a ten year passport and stayed out on the road with them like forever, man.
The Dan were the coolest,greatest thing - then, now and forever.
But I was desperate to write about ANYTHING, the NME was my life line.
I couldn’t stand the thought of a life in Ulster and I’d pretty much covered every local act going ( the already gone Undertones and the fearsome, tee hee, Outcasts among them)
Mr Mcknees had just come out of an editorial in Carnaby street like I’d been at when I stayed with him a few months before, commuting into the office from his home in, Chelmsford.
Supertramp had been offered as a trip to Portugal by A&M, a company already weighed down, I suspect, with taxable entertainment shortfalls in the wait / weight of Police sales.
But none of the punky waver jaded in the shade types in the office were interested in the Tramp. They’d already seen it and done it all, to some notable excess, with bands far better and far hipper than Hodgson, Davies and co.
Many of these writers were preparing to go off to plough their copious talents beyond the NME.
Feel My knees, though, was anxious to give a homeboy a break and thought it would be good to get someone, ie me, to do the far from Supertramp.
I think we may even had a chat about how awful they were, but a story is a story.
Anyway I went and done the do only to find the numbskull Hodgson declaring, mano, mano, laying his hand on my forehead then on his own, that I was too young to understand what he had to say,.
“To get what’s in here,” he’d explained, hand on my forehead “to what’s in there,” his hand moving to his own deluded bonce.
Had he really just done that?
What a gift for my story, I thought!
So,no interview, but, it being Portugal 🇵🇹, me and Mike and the post 74 coup local atmosphere, a growing story was there for the picking.
Halliwell, the sax player, turned up, dressed in Fauntleroy tennis ducks with Regency ‘tache, for a breakfast chat and photo shoot the next morning at the handsome hotel’s courts.
This spectacle, mixed with my dream (as per Charlie Murray’s classic New Barbarians feature) and Tony Stewart’s layout skills, insured Supertramp were embroidered postcard style with a ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’ spread in print.
Accusations that I’d merely cooked the Tramp’s goose were undercut when the piece was printed and Hodgson’s manager wrote me a letter apologising on behalf of RH for not realising that I would have been - hold the front page - intelligent enough to hold a conversation with the great man.
Well, thank you Rodge!
Steely Dan though - I did get to meet Walt n Don together years later.
I get a dizzy pranayama just thinking about that - one of the great meetings in my life, man.
Oh yeah! Fsure.
By that time I was flown from my nice London home to beach front Santa Monica hotel for the assignation.
A place far away from Arlene’s RHI and grinning Gerry’s Twitter discourse?
Don’t forget to buy the single and/or save your pennies for the album. Tiny Records has all you need to know.