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The Derry boys putting Punk Rock back on the map

Rewind to Thursday 15th November 2018 at the Ulster Hall, an absolutely beautiful venue might I add. It was the night of the Northern Irish Music Prize and in it’s sixth year, we came together to celebrate the best talent the local music scene has to offer.

There were four awards up for grabs and a long list of gifted nominees up for them but it was Derry’s The Wood Burning Savages who triumphed on the night, winning awards for ‘Best Album’ and ‘Best Live Band’.

Who are The Wood Burning Savages? For those of you who don’t know, firstly where have you been? They’re only one of the most anticipated bands to come out of Northern Ireland to date.

The Wood Burning Savages are a four-piece alt rock band from the city of Derry, who released their debut award winning album ‘Stability’ in April last year. With a vast array of influences, the band have been around for a few years, honing their craft and are easily one of the most exciting acts to come out of Northern Ireland to date. With a sound reminiscent of the Manic Street Preachers – loud, socialist, alternative, raging at the government (or lack of…) Punk, I can see why!

Championed by BBC Radio 6 playing in session for Tom Robinson who has said, “In [frontman] Paul Connolly, they have one of the next generation’s great rock frontmen”. Our very own Phil Taggart has nothing but praise either, “I love that band’s lyrics, I love that band’s energy”.

Wood Burning Savages have gone from strength to strength, supporting bands such as The Amazons and VANT. They played a well-deserved slot at Glastonbury’s BBC Introducing tent and subsequently shared their sound with the masses, playing at festivals all across Europe – pretty amazing for a couple of lads from Derry who’ve been playing music since their school days. Teenage dreams so hard to beat.

Sound familiar? It should. Derry has established itself as somewhat of a cultural hub. What springs to mind when you think of 1970’s Northern Ireland? The troubles probably. They’re a massive part of our history, some might even argue it’s all we’ve got, but behind the bombings, the riots and the gun smoke, a different kind of protest was taking place, a protest in the form of Punk.

Like so many towns and the city of Belfast, Derry was a ghost town by night during this period. Army barricades sealed off the streets. Northern Ireland was a country divided.

The UK had rising unemployment and general disdain at law enforcement to blame for the rise of Punk. As tensions rose, so did a new subculture of youths who wanted to be heard. Northern Ireland was no different. In the midst of a civil war with sectarianism at the forefront, Punk was about to bring the people together.

Fronted by Feargal Sharkey, The Undertones gave the youth of Derry an escape from the the doom, gloom and chaos that was going on at their doorstep and gained following by playing regular sets at The Casbah.

It was then they contacted Good Vibrations owner Terri Hooley, who invited the guys to record an EP ‘Teenage Kicks’ and well, the rest is history. Radio 1 DJ John Peel loved the title track so much he famously played it twice in a row and today, 41 years after its release, it’s still as important as it was then, Derry’s anthem.

Punk in NI gave people platform where they could express their opinions, socially and politically through music. The Undertones are arguably the most famous band to come out of Northern Ireland and their significance and influence is still there today.

Just look at TOUTS, who with songs like ‘Bombscare’ and ‘Cant Blame Me’ have established themselves as one of the most thrilling Punk bands we’ve seen on this island in a long time. They are outspoken, loud and undeniably inspired by their predecessors.

The same can be said about The Wood Burning Savages who describe their debut album ‘Stability’ as “a collection of songs about a working class furious at years of empty promises from billionaire Tory MPs who have no insight into everyday life”.

‘Stability’ comes at time where politics is arguably at the worst it’s ever been. With Brexit looming and NI’s lack of government the future looks uncertain, particularly in the North. On Saturday 20th January, it felt like we had stepped back in time as news reports came in of a car bomb that had exploded in Derry.

A cowardly act that the band were quick to condemn, releasing a statement on Twitter describing it as  “A despicable act of violence”, whilst expressing their feelings on our politicians, “I am not proud of our vacant politicians and the mire they have led us into..” before ending with a statement of hope and solidarity. “At a fundamental level we are all a community who know that violence begets violence inhumanity generates inhumanity and that the peace our families worked for is our right and that those who dare try and drag us into a retrograde state of fear, desperation and callous inhumanity from one day to the next have absolutely no place in our shared future. Derry, I love you.” This is a band that are just as passionate off record as they are on it. A band that aren’t afraid to speak up. They embody what it means to be Punk. It’s embedded in their roots and this only makes them all the more one to watch as they go from strength to strength.

The Wood Burning Savages wear that old essence of Derry well. Like those who have come before them, they continue to spread the message of peace. The spirit of rebellion burns as brightly now as it did in 1978 with The Wood Burning Savages proudly carrying the torch.

The Wood Burning Savages will play at the Island Arts Centre, Lisburn on 8th February 2019. Tickets available here. They go on tour with Skinny Lister soon after before returning to support Therapy? throughout Ireland in March.

Writer for Gigging NI.