Book: Trouble Songs: Music And Conflict In Northern Ireland
Author: Stuart Bailie
Music is a creative force for good, an outlet to express, ranging from whimsical nonsense through to the damn serious and everything in between. Throughout history, there are songs about oppression, politics, war, struggle, belief, belonging, riots and rebellion. This is sometimes written about, captured and bottled by some of the best authors out there. Examples include Billy Bragg’s excellent Roots, Radicals & Rockers and Stuart Cosgrove’s soul trilogy, Detroit 67, Memphis 68 and Harlem 69. Here, Stuart Bailie has managed to capture many of the stories and music relative to the conflict in Northern Ireland from 1968 onwards. To put some context, the Nationalist/Unionist struggle in Northern Ireland resulted in over 3,700 deaths.
Make no mistake, some of the writing is harrowing, disturbing and heartbreaking but through that there are glimpses of hope, forgiveness, laughter and ultimately shining through is a willingness to move on for the collective good.
What comes through at times, despite the surroundings of the day, is that music can unite, whether that’s the kids in the band or the audience at the gig. Bands like Stiff Little Fingers with their state of the nation rallying call of Alternative Ulster, asking the listener to take a look where you’re living and to question it, think about it, consider a different way. It’s worth noting this point and it’s not too melodramatic to state that people actually did move away from paramilitary groups, in part due to the power of music and the lyrics some of these bands sang about.
As the book progresses, subjects such as civil rights, internment, violence, bombings, collusion, religion, loyalism, republicanism, sectarianism, culture and the socio-economic landscape are covered in depth and the impact these have had in Northern Ireland.
The chapters on The Miami Showband massacre and the Omagh bombing are chilling to read and really bring home the sheer brutality and devastation of these incidents.
Stories about Lennon & McCartney, Elvis Costello, Spandau Ballet, Bananarama, Madness, Dexys, The Pogues, Christy Moore, Van Morrison and The Undertones feature against the backdrop of Belfast, Derry and The Good Friday Agreement providing further insight and a captivating narrative to what is a well-researched and sensitively written book by Bailie.
There are of course many books written about the troubles in Northern Ireland but this one charts the impact and the importance music has played throughout that time and the cathartic release it has provided to those who lived through it and experienced it. A compelling read.