|RUDI in action. (All photos and record sleeves courtesy of the band's website and There's Something Hard in There archives)|
"Big Time -- You Ain't No Friend of Mine."
If I would have known RUDI earlier in my life, I probably would have used the above phrase quite often.
I'd heard Stiff Little Fingers and the Undertones at the dawning of the 1980s and was curious about what was transpiring on the music front in Northern Ireland. My friend Mike kept me apprised of what those bands were up to and mentioned a movie, "Shellshock Rock," from that part of the world. We never saw the movie then, but he rattled off a list of the featured bands, which included SLF, Undertones and several others unknown to me, including RUDI, whose music was nearly impossible to locate stateside back then.
Luckily, a few years after RUDI's demise in 1982, I was scouring Jack Rabid's "Big Takeover" and noticed some RUDI singles in his top 75 lists and wanted to get in on the action. I regularly ventured out to record shows and, lo and behold, found a trio of RUDI records: "Big Time," "When I Was Dead" and "Crimson," in the bins. I nearly jumped out of my skin while listening to and chanting the choruses to these melodic, foot-stomping treasures. I was hooked and wanted more, but that was all I could locate at the time, so RUDI was my three-single favorite of the moment, and remain high on my punk list to this day. (I still don't own the "I Spy" EP and "Battle of the Bands" compilation EP, but I'm always looking! Over the years, a handful of comps and singles have been issued with plenty of extra RUDI tunes to keep us satisfied.)
I tracked down vocalist/guitarist Brian Young via the band's website and here you've got a detailed and long overdue (for us RUDI fans) email Q and A about one of the coolest bands to grace this planet.
Along with Young, Ronnie Matthews (vocals/guitar/bass) and Graham "Grimmy" Marshall (bass/drums) were the core of the band over the years. (See below for full members' list.)
-- You were the first Belfast punk band, right? How did you all get started and what were those early days like for RUDI?
Yep! RUDI were the very first punk band in Belfast – for what it’s worth! We were teenage buddies from East Belfast and had started to get into the kind of trouble that all teens did back then – drinking, fighting, sniffing thawpit and chasing girls – but we all loved music – and in particular bootboy glam rock and old '50s rock’n’roll. We all dreamt of being in a band, but what actually made it happen was when 5 or 6 of us went over in July 1975 to see T.Rex play in the Isle Of Man. As well as catching T.Rex onstage, we got to meet them and they couldn’t have been friendlier, signing pin ups and posing for photos with us. My hero, Marc Bolan, gave me a T.Rex music book with the guitar chords in – which I still cherish to this day - and my mate Whitey got an autographed tambourine – which Grimmy (Graham Marshall – who was our original bassist – then drummer!) later bought off him! So, as soon as I got home, I bought an old acoustic guitar off my cousin determined to follow in Marc’s elfin footsteps..I was 15. It didn’t work out quite like that – but within a few short months, we had started our first band – RUDI!
-- RUDI began in 1975 -- who were your influences then? When did you first hear of punk bands and what was it like to get caught up in that music early on?
We all loved the stompin’ glam rock that was around at the time as well as '50s rock’n’roll – which was hugely popular at the time – and is always overlooked in the influences on what became punk. My personal all time faves were The New York Dolls and in particular the late lamented Johnny Thunders (I was involved in trying to set up a UK fan club with my buddy Steven Morrissey way back in the mid '70s...it never did actually get off the ground though we kept in touch for years – both obsessed with the bad eggs from the big apple). I also worshipped T.Rex, Eddie Cochran and Bowie / Lou Reed/ Iggy Pop, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. In fact, I learnt to play guitar jamming along with a beat up Chuck Berry album and the first song I ever sang on stage was his classic ‘Schooldays’. Play Chuck Berry sloppily and with attitude and you get Johnny Thunders – play like him but mo’ hamfistedly and you get the intro to 'Big Time' - LOL! Ronnie was a huge Bowie fan and Grimmy loved Slade and Buddy Holly! I guess we all just loved classic three minute, three chord pop songs!
When we were starting the band, Dr. Feelgood (with Wilko!) were a HUGE influence, too. We got to see them play here in Belfast and they tore the place apart – back in '74/'75, there was nobody like them. Tellingly, many of the people who went on to play in the first wave of Belfast punk bands were at that gig, too..The real game changer for us was the Ramones first album, which I’d snagged as a US import at Caroline Music, which was Belfast’s hippest record store back then. Here was a band with killer songs, which I could actually figger out.. Eureka! We could do this, too – and so we started writing our own material – which was unheard of over here back then. Though cut off from the mainstream by what was happening here, we knew from devouring the music press about this new emerging ‘punk’ music and realised that we were doing much the same thing over here. When the first lot of punk 45s came out, we could get them all here – Belfast had some great record shops back then like Caroline, Rocky Mungos, Sounds Around etc...( long before Terri opened Good Vibes in mid ’77)..I also ordered in punk zines and more obscure slop from mail order outlets like Bizarre and Bruces who advertised in the back pages of the music press.
So RUDI were in on the ground floor when punk broke – unlike glam - this was the first time we could identify with and be involved in something that we were a part of and creating ourselves. It was a great time to grow up – and it really changed my life and my outlook on things. Here in Belfast, punk had a really positive impact in the main. Here it wasn’t a pose and initially, at least, the ideas behind it were fresh and exciting. It encouraged you to question everything you’d been taught – hugely important living here! Punk’s DIY ethic was what hit home here hardest – simply as we had NO ONE to help us when we started - so by necessity, everything was DIY all the way!
People forget - but back in the early days of punk, before it became just another fashion/marketing ploy, everyone made/adapted their own clothes, produced their own zines, and here, as none of the recognised promoters would touch local punk bands, we had to go out and find our own venues... I think that’s why Belfast punk was a lot more resilient and tough than elsewhere – as we lived it – it wasn’t just another pose for dilettantes or an excuse to sell overpriced trousers and T-shirts. Here it was created by a generation of kids who were fed up with the f*cked up world around them and wanted an alternative – and taking inspiration from the UK punk explosion we went out and did it for ourselves. Here it wasn’t just a fashion – though that was fun, too – and it was never just about clothes and bands..Throw in the normal adolescent teenage trauma, sin sex and savagery into the mix and overall it was an incredibly thrilling and creative time. So much happened so quickly, too - every day was a new adventure!
-- What are some of your standout memories of the early Belfast scene days? Was there a camaraderie among bands and those who attended gigs?
When we started, there wasn’t a Belfast scene at all!! There weren’t ANY other local punk bands playing in public until at least a year or more after we’d started. The other bands who were around when we first formed were either crappy showbands in matching collars and cuffs or long-haired denim-clad dinosaurs who only played cover versions and squeezed in as many guitar/bass and drum solos as they could (like Highway Star – a long-hair covers band who finally jumped on the punk bandwagon in late '77 as SLF!! )– we had short spiky/dyed hair, dressed to thrill and could hardly play a two-chord three-minute song together all the way through – but we jumped about a lot! Back then there weren’t many local venues outside the local workingmans clubs and hippy dive The Pound in the city centre. None of them would touch us with the proverbial bargepole – so, undeterred, we hired function rooms in run-down local hostelries and put on our own gigs - usually on the pretext of a birthday party – and during '76 and into '77, we played to packed houses of underage teen drinkers.
To disguise our musical shortcomings, we dressed up in customised boiler suits Grimmy nicked from his work and leaped about like maniacs. A couple of our mates put together a rudimentary lightshow, too – all designed to distance us from all the other local combos who invariably wanted to be taken seriously as musicians (maaan!). We couldn’t care less about that – we just wanted to make an impact! People might have hated us – but they sure as hell wouldn’t forget us! Once punk really started to take off, we began to notice people travelling from further afield to see us play and then things started to move real fast... but remember it wasn’t until late ’77 that at long last some other local punk bands started to venture out into public, as well. F’rinstance, I was at the first SLF gig and the first Outcasts gig and both were late '77 -when punk had already been written off in some quarters.
Like any local scene, there was a LOT of friendly competition and often bitter rivalry but never any real animosity. Sure there were the usual teenage fisticuffs and shrieking histrionics, but the scene here was so small everybody knew everybody else. It was very much us against them – them being the rest of the world! The great thing about the early bands here was that we didn’t copy the UK/US bands – as we couldn’t! Sure we could read about these bands but we couldn’t see or hear them - so all the early bands here sorta arrived at their own sound before they ever got to see or hear the likes of the Pistols and Clash and as a result were perhaps more poppy – probably as we’d been raised on the likes of T.Rex, the Sweet and Gary Glitter and weren’t trying to slavishly ape the Damned or Pistols. On reflection, too, I really liked almost all the local punk bands here – sure most were pretty scrappy and rough and ready musically, but they all wrote really catchy songs and their hearts were in it.
Of the local bands, my faves were early Protex (before they were signed), Victim (after they moved to Manchester) and the Outcasts... but almost all the local bands here had something to recommend them. I dunno if it was youthful naivety or what – but even the most shortlived and shambolic combos seemed to have one or two cracking songs... in direct contrast to what I encountered when we moved to London in mid 1978 and I discovered that all of the well-known bands were much older and the majority of them were very obviously only using punk as a cynical marketing ploy. They’d all been round the block a few times and were stuck in their ways – and tellingly whilst many big-name punk acts claimed to espouse all sort of hip revolutionary ideals, they invariably churned out music that was dull, predictable and very very conservative in the main. Punk was clearly just another gimmick to them and many of the big names of punk we encountered were spoilt egotistical prats - over here in Northern Ireland, we really meant it maaaaan! To this day, I’m still sickened at the chancers who exploited punk for their own ends and got away with it – people like Tom Robinson, Elvis Costello and the likes of the Boomtown Prats were no more punk than Justin Bieber! In fact much less so!
-- There was tension, as well, with police and the "troubles" ... any interesting stories about how that affected RUDI and the others? How did you deal with problems that arose?
Don’t believe the hype! To be honest, the police and the other security forces had more than enough to deal with back then than to worry over much about some snotty teens who dressed weird. It sounds kinda dumb – but this was normal life for us, so it was what we were used to... Everyone always mentions the cancelled Clash gig at the Ulster hall in October 1977 where the cops did get heavy handed with everyone who was hanging round outside the Ulster Hall. We wrote the song ‘Cops’ about it with the ‘SSRUC’ chant as an intro/outtro – and it became the Ulster punk anthem in the early days - but it was about that one specific incident and not a blanket condemnation of the police. In fact, we dropped the song later after some folks started trying to shoehorn their own meanings onto it...which had nothing to do with the initial idea behind the song. Ironically, too, the cops saved us from getting a bad beating at one gig in Bangor when a crowd of off-duty squaddies arrive determined to wreck a gig we were playing with local boys the Doubt.
The truth is that punks here had far more hassle from the local hoods/spides/meatheads than we ever had from the security forces. I’m not trying to gloss over the situation, either – we had our van rammed by another car trying to force us off the road and kill us on the way home from a gig over the border as we were from the ‘wrong’ part of Belfast..but that sort of violence thankfully was the exception rather than the rule – most times we were able to play all over Ireland without too much hassle.
-- The Harp bar is known as the legendary place that bands played. What was important about that venue, music-wise and on a social level for punks from different backgrounds and religions?
I think my schoolboy pals Victim were the first band to discover the place. It was a real dump and before being adopted by punk, the only time it had any sort of crowd was when they had the notorious low-rent strippers on. So the owners were more than willing to welcome the new (mostly underage!) punky waver clientele through their doors, laughing all the way to the bank.
The Harp was important for a couple of reasons – first up it was located in Belfast city centre, which meant that people from all sides of town and further afield could go there and still run round and get the last bus home (the last buses left at 11.00 pm and the city centre closed down at night..). Back then, people rarely ventured from their own areas which were pretty much segregated on religious/political lines. The Harp allowed kids from different areas to meet up and get to know each other properly in a friendly environment – rare in N. Ireland at that time! For bands, it was incredibly important, too, as it provided a regular venue – and almost overnight the number of bands exploded. For bands like RUDI, it allowed us to hone our stagecraft and develop our own material in public – and also to build up a huge local following. It also stopped us from getting complacent... there were always new bands coming along and you were only ever as good as your last gig! For most (but not all!) people, religion and politics were kinda left at the door, too – what was important was what bands you liked, and as punk was still ‘them and us’ and in Belfast you soon realised you had more in common with fellow nascent punk rockers – no matter what part of town they came from.
-- Good Vibrations put out its first single, RUDI's "Big Time" ... what was that time like for the band? Was there anyone in particular that "Big Time" was written about?
Top local zine ‘Alternative Ulster’ (which SLF stole the song title from - not vice versa!) wanted to give away a flexi disc with the mag and chose RUDI as the featured band. As the mag was printed by the Print Workshop, based on the floor above Good Vibes, Terri checked out the cost and as it was only a couple of pence more, we decided to press up a real live double-sided 45. Many people expected us to release ‘Cops’, our most well known number – but we’d just come up with ‘Big Time’ which was a far better song. It was initially written in part about a guy we ran about with who shall remain nameless – but it was also a more general putdown of people who were too big for their boots...us folks in these parts have a real low tolerance for bullshit!
We played a heap of gigs to raise the money for recording and pressing the 45, and with the help of Kyle Leitch from Caroline Music were able to get into Solomon Peres studio at Templepatrick just outside Belfast. None of us had ever been in a recording studio before, so we turned up and simply played both backing tracks live – and then put the vocals on after. To show how naive we were, it wasn’t until we had recorded 3 singles that I realised you could over dub guitar parts!...Thankfully the guy who produced it – George Docherty - did a sterling job and 'Big Time' still holds up pretty well today!..I really wish we’d recorded our other Good Vibes records there with him producing! In contrast, I still can’t listen to anything else we released on the Good Vibrations label to this day.....the production was shockingly abysmal!
We were literally all making it up as we went along – for example, nobody knew what publishing was so we just put ‘permissive songs’ on the label without knowing why and losing any publishing income until years later! We chose the mummy sleeve design from several Terri’s art college pals had knocked up – probably as the lipstick was kinda Dollsy – and totally unlike the boring clichéd run-of-the-mill punk sleeves that were common at the time - you know the sorta thing – brick walls with scowling band members trying to look tough ..yawn! The fold-over sleeves were another prime example of DIY. As the label couldn’t afford proper sleeves, someone came up with the idea of folding A3 sheets into sleeves – and they were printed upstairs in the Print Workshop. They became a Good Vibrations trademark – but all the bands hated having to spend hours folding them! As they used whatever paper they had lying around, it meant there were several different colour sleeves – which confuses record collectors to this day lol!..tough!
Thankfully when the record was released, it sold really well locally....and it’s fair to say that it kickstarted the whole Good Vibes empire....if it had stiffed, I doubt if Terri would have released any other 45s - there’s a thought! For us it was huge step forward, but more importantly it showed that if we could do it, then anyone could... and that local bands could make records every bit as good, if not better, than anyone anywhere else on the planet..time to be proud fer sure!
-- RUDI spent some time in London... what were your goals at that time and what transpired during your stay?
At the time, we’d gone as far as we thought we could in Belfast. There was only one real venue and the local media in the main hated punk – and especially local punk bands! So we piled into the back of a transit van and set off for fame and fortune in London! Gawd were we naive and dumb! But those very attributes meant that we did things that most sane people wouldn’t consider...we lived in the van with our gear for the first few days until we and we ended up squatting in Clapham.
From being big fish in the tiny pond that was Belfast, we were nobodies in London and so we dug in and rehearsed like mad, dropping our old songs and writing a whole new set. We got much better real fast. With the help of our pals the Raped and our journalist buddies from 'Alternative Ulster,' who were now working for the music press (Gavin Martin at the NME and Dave McCullough at Sounds) we snagged great write ups and started to get our name around in London. We started to get some great gigs, too, supporting the Damned at their first reform gig as ‘The Doomed’ and playing as far afield as Manchester and Peterborough as well as around London.
We met both McLaren and Rhodes and were promised the support slot on the Clash’s upcoming Irish tour – sadly this fell through when the Clash sacked Bernie!
I was 18 at the time, and Liz and I had a real ball the whole time we were there – London was fast moving and exciting and there was something new to see and do every day and bands to go and see every night. I finally got to see and meet my hero Johnny Thunders at the Lyceum in October 1978, too! I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
Unfortunately in December '78, the SPG (Special Patrol Group) were sent in to clear all the punks who were squatting out of Clapham and after Grimmy and Ronnie were jailed for a week (another story for another time) we were forced to come home at Christmas '78. The truth is that we came back a MUCH better band than we’d left and were vindicated when we pulled the biggest crowd ever at the Harp Bar on our return...(I’m not making this up – it was mentioned in an NME review of that night.) Frankly, our trip to London was the making of the band. It was strange to see attention focused on N. Ireland when 'Teenage Kicks' started to break big – and we were sitting in Clapham - but we’d made many important contacts who would help us later in our career. And besides, all of the NI bands who were snapped up in that initial flurry of activity signed dreadful contracts and were castrated, chewed up and spat out by the major labels ....nothing ever changes!
-- What do you recall most about the "Shellshock Rock" and "Something Else" TV filmings? What about playing with the emerging U2 at a festival in Dublin?
Our clips in 'Shellshock Rock' were filmed in late December ‘78/early January 1979.
The December clip shows a crowd of us all walking down from Terri’s shop in Great Victoria Street into the city centre. Weirdly, we knew John Davis who made the film from a couple of years back when he took photographs of us in the loyalist flute band hall we rehearsed in for the Belfast Telegraph who were running a ‘shock horror!’ expose on local punk. John was a bit of a '60s throwback – but unlike most of that ilk, he really ‘got’ punk – and as an outsider, he could see that its impact here was much more positive and less cynical and had far reaching effects that none of us could have envisaged at the time.
Our other clips were rehearsing in an Orange Hall in Craigantlet and also playing ‘Big Time’ live at the Glenmachan – the scene of many of our earliest gigs. Big Gordy Blair our bassist was so drunk that someone had to stand and hold him up while we were being filmed. His days were numbered - lol!
'Something Else' (BBC TV show) was another thing entirely... as it was filmed in Belfast the audience was largely drawn from our mates at the Harp. It’s fair to say that the Undertones had a bit of a fractious relationship with the Harp/Belfast punk crowd and the hugely partisan audience gave us a much more rousing reception than they gave the ‘tones. For whatever reason, the Undertones segment was then filmed again in England and slotted into the show. Sharkey later told an English zine writer that we’d ‘set them up’ as we’d got bottled off when we played Derry – which was patently untrue on both counts – but there ya go!... I think he was just pissed off ‘cos during filming, our mates had nicked their drink from the dressing room!
U2 were one of the bands who played at the Dark Space festival in Dublin in 1979... most of the Dublin bands were arrogant and pig headed – and uniformly rubbish – many were old men trying to play at being punks or worse still ‘new wave’. U2 in contrast, along with their pals the Virgin Prunes, were very friendly and engaging. I thought they were the best of the Dublin bands as they had an original sound – but Bono’s sub-Bowie mimes (which he dropped shortly after) were pretty hilarious. I did recommend them to my pal Dave McCullough at Sounds and he wrote one of the first major pieces on the band in the UK press. Modesty forbids – but RUDI wiped the floor with all comers that weekend and we were asked specially to stay and play a second set the next day – which John Peel and Terri came down to see – and the next week, Peel commented on this radio show about just how good we were live (you can find that on Youtube).
-- To see bands like SLF and Undertones gain big success, what were the feelings like in the RUDI camp at that time about gaining popularity?
Truthfully, like every other band in Belfast, we were jealous as hell! What we didn’t realise at the time was that any awareness of NI bands generated by interest in the Undertones or SLF would actually help the rest of us...but there ya go! It’s the old crabs in a bucket story!... If the crabs work together they can help each other climb out of the bucket – if not they just scramble around aimlessly getting nowhere.
-- RUDI was making strides all along and then you signed to Jamming! Records and toured a bit with the Jam. What was that like and going from playing small venues to big theaters?
We’d split from Good Vibes in disgust when Terri blew our biggest chance so far by not releasing ‘The Pressure’s On’ /’Who? You!’ 45 to coincide with the hugely popular ‘Something Else’. To this day, I’ve no idea how he fucked that up! It was the sorta mass TV exposure bands dreamt about and he blew it for us – and the label - so the split was bitter and very acrimonious...but we remained one of the most popular bands locally.
Around the same time, local DJ Davy Simms (who did more to help local bands here than anyone else) had hipped BBC DJ Mike Read to RUDI and he’d started playing ‘Big Time’ on his popular Radio One evening show as it had been included on a Cherry Red comp album. Mike helped us a lot and we recorded a killer radio session for his show, which was easily the best thing we’d done to date. Next day, we drove up to Darlington to headline a ‘N.E. Tour’ and at one stage we were going to sign to Target Records there - a local label who wanted us to be their first release. Meanwhile, Pete Waterman, who had been managing the Specials, had signed us to a publishing deal with Leeds Music, which was a huge boost for us. He was going to ink a deal for us with Ariola but out of the blue Tony Fletcher got in touch and asked us to be the first band on the new Jamming! label he was setting up with help and financial backing from Paul Weller. We knew and trusted Tony as he’d written some great articles on the band, so we opted for Jamming! It’s also worth repeating that despite the lavish rhetoric and empty promises from the punk elite, Paul Weller was the only person who put his money where his mouth was to help young writers and bands.
-- The "When I Was Dead" EP and "Crimson" single were great and sported even more melodies than your early songs. How were those records received by fans?
'When I Was Dead' is by far my fave RUDI record as it’s perhaps the only one that actually sounds like a proper record – and turned out like we wanted it to! There’s a story behind it, too – Jamming! was run on a shoestring, so Paul Weller arranged for us to be sneaked into Polydor studios in London under a phony name where we were supposedly recording ‘demos’ for Polydor. Paul and Pete Wilson produced the record and really helped us a lot – they showed us several studio tricks and even taught us how to record harmonies! Gawd were we naive! Paul’s name was subsequently left off the record so that Polydor wouldn’t catch on and charge Jamming! for the recording! Later one of Tony’s pals took us to Highgate cemetery where we jumped the fence and he shot the photos for the cover. Another pal, Robin Richards from 5th Column -who did lots of iconic T-shirt and sleeve designs - put together the single sleeve...we kipped on Tony’s floor before returning to Belfast. This kept the costs to a minimum and the record was mastered, pressed and released within a month of the date we recorded it!..Thankfully, too, it shifted by the bucketload and picked up lots of airplay and great reviews. We were back with a bang!
Shortly after, we were asked to support the Jam at Hammersmith Palais. Even though we were kinda nervous, we acquitted ourselves admirably and as a result snagged the main support on the 'Trans Global Unity Express' tour in early '82. Anxious to distance ourselves from the tired worthless parody and parade of lumpen clichés punk had become, we kept writing new material and added a keyboard player permanently after trying him out on a Kid Jensen session for the BBC, which was a huge success. We wanted Mike Robinson who produced both our Mike Read/Kid Jensen sessions to produce our next 45 ‘Crimson’ but sadly the label couldn’t afford his fee.
Instead, the record was produced by Dave Wooley who worked as a monitor engineer for the Jam! He did a decent job – but I still think his recording lacks the sparkle of the earlier version we recorded with Mike. More radio friendly than the previous release, ‘Crimson’ picked up a heap of airplay and more great reviews – best of all the accolade of ‘Single Of The Week' in Sounds – no mean feat! Our dates with the Jam went better than we could have imagined and unlike many bands who suffered at the hands of their rabidly partisan audience, we actually got called back for encores almost every night! Fortunately we’d managed to keep our old fans but also managed to attract a whole new audience, especially across Great Britain who had never heard of us before.
-- Why didn't RUDI ever release an album?
That’s one of my major regrets as we had the material to release several! I think the reason lay in the fact that unlike most bands we were fiercely democratic - for instance, after 'Big Time', we were supposed to record another 45 for Good Vibes, which was to be a double-A side release of ‘Time To Be Proud’/’Alcohol’. I was most definitely up for that, but the other 3 weren’t so it got nixed. After we came back from London in '79, Terri begged us to record an album – and again I would have loved to have done it – but again the others were dead against it! Go figger!
As a compromise, we did try to record a live album at the Pound Club here in Belfast – but the guy who ruined both ‘Overcome By Fumes’ and ‘I Spy' EP with his lack of any discernible production skills made a balls up of the live recording, too, and so it was scrapped ...!
There was talk of a Jamming! album, too – but we wanted to wait until we could record it properly and never got the chance – as a result there are literally dozens of old RUDI songs that were never recorded. For sure, some weren’t exactly awe inspiring – but some were very good indeed...but no use crying over spilt milk!
-- When and why did RUDI break up?
RUDI last played at the end of 1982 and broke up shortly after. Unlike any other band I can think of, we actually called it a day when we were (arguably) at our most popular, too! But then we always did do things our own way! After the Jam tour in spring ’82, we’d headlined our first-ever large-scale UK tour. ‘Crimson’ had sold really well and John Weller had persuaded Tony and Paul that Jamming! ought to put a proper push behind our next 45 – as we were outselling the Respond label acts who were on a major – yet we were on a one man indie label that operated on a shoestring out of a tiny office next door to the Adam Ant fan club!. A proper producer was brought in (Alan Shacklock who later did the Alarm's breakthrough recordings) and we worked through our new material and picked ‘Love Is Electric’ as the snappy next 45. Jamming! was all set to give the record proper promotion with advertising and radio pluggers etc..and we were booked into Abbey Road Studios (on the cheap!) to record the songs! Surely nothing could go wrong and we’d have a real hit at last!... and then The Jam split up and basically due to the way the label had been set up as a company, it had to fold.
Bitterly disappointed, we took that as some kinda omen and decided to call it quits while we were ahead...We were absolutely gutted at the time – but them’s the breaks!
-- RUDI's website notes that it's "the band that time forgot" ... There have been old songs released on vinyl and CD over the years, so obviously people still remember, right? Looking back on the band now, what were your biggest accomplishments and do you still remember that time fondly?
I still look back on most of the stuff we did very fondly... Don’t get me wrong, I’d certainly change lots of things if I could do it all again for sure! But for a handful of semi-delinquent teenagers from East Belfast, we did pretty damn well and certainly made our mark. It’s gratifying to see as the years have passed that people haven’t forgotten the band – in fact, if anything, the opposite is true. It IS important to remember, too, that we were the very first punk band in Belfast and for a long, long time by far the most popular. We single handedly kicked open a lot of the doors that others later followed through! Unlike most other bands (and especially the big-name UK punk bands) we actually believed every word of what we sang – we lived every minute of it and stubborn to the end we never did compromise.
Our biggest accomplishments locally are probably kickstarting punk here in Belfast and also helping set up the Good Vibrations label. It’s worth remembering, too, that we pioneered what became known as the NI punk sound – sorta poppy punk with lots of catchy guitar riffs and sing along choruses. Somewhat ironically after we wrote 'Big Time', we decided not to write any other songs that sounded like it as we were always trying to move forward and not just repeat what we’d done! Probably commercial suicide – but then we always were contrary little buggers – but that’s probably why we survived and prospered when many of the other NI bands floundered.
For me personally, touring with the Jam and then headlining our own UK tour were thrilling moments I’ll never forget! Our last date with The Jam was at Queens Hall in Leeds where we played to several thousand - the biggest crowd we ever played to – the very same day we landed ‘Single Of The Week’ in Sounds! Not bad huh?
We also had a helluvalot of fun....!!
-- What do you think of the "Big Time" covers by the Saw Doctors and Therapy?
First up, it’s great that they covered the song. Andy Cairns from Therapy? had said years earlier in a Melody Maker piece that his best gig ever was ‘Rudi at the Ulster hall’..which was kool. I think they played 'Big Time' first for a BBC Ulster TV awards show and then recorded it later in America. Andy sent me a tape of the session with a couple of other songs including one about Joey Dunlop, the NI motorbike legend. I think Steve Albini may have produced it?
The Saw Doctors performed a suitably shambolic live version of the song here in Belfast several years back and dragged me up to sing it with them. People tend to forget they had a proper punk pedigree with some of the band being in Blaze X from Tuam. More recently, a lot of other people have covered old RUDI songs, which is very flattering and rewarding – and not just the obvious ones either - we musta done something right! The one I like best is a Japanese band whose name I can’t pronounce (or spell!) who cover ‘When I Was Dead’ – and they make a pretty fair job of it, too!.
-- What are you up to now, are you still playing music? Is there any talk of a RUDI reunion someday?
After RUDI called it a day, Ronnie, Grimmy and I put together a sorta punk/funk experiment called Station Superheaven!. The idea was to mix punk attitude, energy and melody with hard '60s funk but it never quite worked out in practice. Ironically though, even though this project only lasted a few months, we had more major label interest than in all the years RUDI were going! Just goes to show ya! huh! Amazingly, too, Tamla Motown UK even forked out for us to record some demos for them – but truthfully, as the band developed, I realised my heart wasn’t really in it and I quit. The band folded shortly after.
I hung up my guitar for a while as I had gotten utterly disillusioned with the whole musick biz and hated 99% of so-called contemporary music at the time. Punk had become a gormless self parody and the majors were back in control dreaming up a new fad every few weeks, which they could foist on a gullible public. But you can’t keep a good man down – and in 1987 or thereabouts one of my mates asked me to get up and play at a couple of Marc Bolan tribute gigs. I’d done a one-off Bolan zine/tribute called ‘Automatic Shoes’ in the mid '80s and doing the gigs kinda reminded me of why I’d started playing in the first place. Along the way, I discovered that 2 of the other guys in the band shared my love of primal rockin’ slop like Link Wray and we eventually started a band which became The Tigersharks who Hot Press magazine described pretty accurately as ‘Johnny Thunders fronting the Stray Cats’. Later, that band became the more rockabilly oriented Roughnecks before folding just when things were getting big.
Chastened but wiser, I took stock and in 1994 decided to put together my all-time dream band with my buddy Liam Killen who I’d first met through our shared love of the Cramps - and the Sabrejets was born... we’re still going strong and still with 3 original members. It’s the music I love most and we’ve released a heap of two-fisted rockin’ slop worldwide and are just about to start recording our new album... watch this space! When I was playing in RUDI, I always listened to early rock 'n' roll and rockabilly. Attitude-wise, rockabilly was definitely the precursor of punk …it was and is wilder, sexier, defiant and more thrilling than anything before or since. Rockabilly always operated under the radar and outside the mainstream and pioneered the use of small labels run by fans for fans... and the look has never been bettered... and still turns heads and scares squares worldwide!- unlike punk, which lost it’s ability to shock years ago.
Back in 2004, a couple of guys wrote a the seminal book on NI punk ‘It Makes You Want To Spit’ and asked me, Greg from the Outcasts and Petesy from Stalag 17 to get up and play some old punk songs at the book launch. It woulda been churlish to refuse, and we hammered through a set of old punk faves and some choice RUDI/Outcasts songs under the ill-advised moniker ‘Shame Academy’. Even though it was supposed to be a strict one off, we somehow ended up recording the CD ‘Punk Rock For Dummies’ for the Combat Rock label in France and playing several other shows – as far afield as Italy and Spain. How weird is that? It was fun to play the old songs but was never intended to be a reformation of either band and it kinda ran its course.
I’ve also done a few acoustic sets where I throw in some old RUDI numbers for a laugh alongside obscure rockabilly and glam songs as well as other songs I’ve written but never recorded down the years. In fact, a local label has recently asked me to record an acoustic CD of this very material so, again..watch this space... lol!
On the back of the 'Good Vibrations' film, The Outcasts reformed (I actually played guitar for their first 3 gigs as a favour to help them out!)..but I can’t see RUDI ever reforming... Ronnie and Graham hung up their instruments after Superheaven! folded and haven’t played since. Personally, I’d rather have people remember us as we were... In addition, I’ve seen far too many bands reform for all the wrong reasons who end up totally trashing and besmirching their reputation. It pains me to admit it – but worst of all was the tragic way the New York Dolls ended up - I was at their Meltdown reformation and gave them the benefit of the doubt – but as the gigs went on, they got ever more shambolic and embarrassing. What becomes a legend least?
Original lineup (1975)
Brian Young - guitar, vocals
Ronnie Matthews - guitar, vocals
Graham "Grimmy" Marshall - bass, vocals
Drew Brown - drums
Leigh Carson - guitar, vocals
Young - guitar, vocals
Matthews - guitar, vocals
Brown - drums
Marshall – bass, vocals
Young - guitar, vocals
Matthews - guitar, vocals
Johnny Stewart - bass
Marshall - drums
Fourth lineup (1977-1979)
Young - guitar, vocals
Matthews - guitar, vocals
Gordon Blair - bass
Marshall - drums
Young - guitar, vocals
Matthews - bass, vocals
Marshall - drums
Young - guitar, vocals
Matthews - bass, vocals
Marshall - drums
Paul Martin - keyboards