In the aftermath of the first wave of punk/new wave bands 1976-1978, the scene quietened down a lot in Dublin. New bands seemed to be more concerned with record deals and commercial success than with the spirit of adventure and DIY that punk had fostered. During the period 1979-1983 some of the most interesting bands on the Dublin scene were experimenting with keyboards, or listening to the early records by the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and the ‘new pop’ acts. They may have been innovative, some were even inspired, but they seemed far away from the idea of punk.
One group of bright young sparks, the Sussed, brought a sense of energy, charisma, decent tunes and that punky sense that anything was possible. Whether by design or purpose they challenged the cosy idea of what a young group should do, they made their own rules and released two strong singles under their own steam. The first, the blasting, Don’t Swim on the East Coast has just been rereleased on appropriately eye-catching, limited edition pink vinyl 7”. Check the link below to see if any copies are left.
Many thanks to John McGrath and front-man, Rory Stokes, for doing this interview.
You were too young to be around for the early punk gigs of 1977-1978
When did you start going to gigs?
John: I was too young for 1977 plus very few punk bands actually played in Dublin. It was 1978 when I went to see Stranglers, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Ramones and more. Things were different then with no alcohol at venues, so minimum age was 16.
Rory: Age 9 in 1974 I saw Slade, age 10 Rory Gallagher & Horslips in the National Stadium
Any memorable ones?
John: Definitely the Stranglers, they were touring the No More Heroes album but also played material from Rattus as well. If I remember correctly, U2 supported. Second most memorable was the Ramones in some cinema out on the northside. It was so loud that our ears were ringing on the bus heading home and still ringing the next morning at school.
Rory: I think the Ramones were in State Cinema – big fights after with stabbings afterwards.
I had a bucket list of bands to see that came to an end with a brilliant Sex Pistols at Electric Picnic a few years ago. Some of the early bands I saw were The Ramones, The Rezillos in Liberty Hall, The Clash in the Top Hat, The Stranglers, Blondie in the Olympia, The Undertones, a fledgling U2 who we were support act for first in Howth Community Centre & many places after that. I was late for Motorhead indoors in UCD, but I could hear them for the back gate in Clonskeagh (about ½ a mile away) Loudest Gig EVER!
The Sussed formed when punk had splintered into lots of directions, new wave, new pop etc. You seemed to draw from bits of punk as well as the new bands of 1978-1981, bands like Adam and the Ants etc. Did any of those bands inspire you?
John: Yes they all inspired me, especially The Rezillos, Buzzcocks, The Damned, Ramones, Sham 69 and lesser known bands like Slaughter and the Dogs, The Lurkers, The Boys etc. Adam and the Ants inspired Rory what with the face paint and we all loved them having two drummers. We also loved the distinctive bass lines played by The Stranglers and Rezillos.
Rory: The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Undertones, The Buzzcocks, The Damned. Anything that started with “THE” really! [laughs] The face paint idea I wore was actually nicked from Hazel O’Conner & Killing Joke.
Despite what it seemed – I was quite shy and the face paint was sort of a mask to create a much more outgoing persona. If you listen to Don’t Swim On The East Coast & I Wanna Conform, you can hear that “The Masked Bassman” was heavily into FUNK – I thought it made the Sussed sound quite unique. There were actually two masked bassmen who were signed to record labels, Mulligan and Island Records – in their contracts they were not allowed to play or record with other bands.
Later our permanent bass player Liam Fox was heavily into JJ Burnel of The Stranglers.
How did the Sussed form?
Rory: Before John joined on drums we played a talent contest as the Glucose Klan (last minute name as we all had colds and were drinking Lucozade. A few weeks later our (very underrated) guitarist Paul Mooney, myself & the bass player were in his front garden (when he should have been studying for the Inter Cert) trying to come up with a name for the band when his father drove up the driveway & Paul said “we’re Sussed” & we all said “That’s THE name.”
John: I was playing with White Noise and got a call from Rory asking if I would play drums supporting a band in McGonagles, I think we had two or three short rehearsals and went on to play for 25 minutes of pure punk mayhem. It was great fun and everybody enjoyed it.
What were you trying to say/do with the Sussed?
John: Always do the opposite of what you were told to do, have fun and not to take life to seriously for there’s plenty of time to do that when you get old…[laughs].
Rory: Have lots of Fun, get some girls, graffiti the whole of Dublin and world domination, anything is possible to you in your mid-teens.
How many gigs did you play?
John: Quite a few, some in strange and unusual places, initially we stayed away from pubs as we were hardly old enough to get in. We played in a few schools which was brilliant for the kids had no inhibitions and just went mad hearing some fast, loud music for the first time. A lot of people said later that The Sussed were the first band they saw live. Amazing how many people remember us from those days.
How did you get your early gigs?
John: Beg, borrow and stole, a lot of bullshit went a long way back then. There was no internet so people usually believed what you said, even if it was pure nonsense and made up on the spot. Often we got Rory’s brother to drive us in the Ford Transit – although we took 2 busses with all our gear except the bass drum to support U2 in Howth Community Centre.
You seemed to be a bit outside the Dublin scene; did you like any of the bands who were around?
John: Yes a few, The Radiators from Space, U2, The Vipers, DC Nein and a few more whom I cannot remember their names. For some reason “The Black Catholics” had it in for us and tried to sabotage a few gigs by starting fights.
Were any of them helpful to you, giving you opening slots etc?
John: Yes U2 were brilliant letting us support us all over the place, later The Blades, Auto Da Fe also gave us a lot of support in getting us exposure outside Dublin and in turn the confidence to become a headline act.
Rory: We were later giving bands support slots. Paranoid Visions played their first ever gig with The Sussed in the Ivy Rooms.
Did punk matter to you?
John: Yes, back then music was boring, disco, rock, glam rock and more middle-of-the-road stuff. Bands like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac ruled the upper echelons of the charts, both taking years to record albums which sold by the juggernaut load. Punk brought a breath of fresh air, all you needed was to learn three chords and with a lot of confidence anybody could release a record. It spawned independent record labels and independent record distribution.
Rory: The whole DIY aspect of it really appealed to me, it enabled me to set up my own record labels and release records I wanted to make. “Rock & Prog Rock” were getting so jaded before punk came along – it was like a breath of fresh air. Bands like Nirvana, Green Day etc. would not have existed without punk. That reminds me, I saw Green Day upstairs in The White Horse Pub on the quays in their early days. They were truly dreadful!
I don’t think ska, mods or the new romantics would have happened without the DIY Punk Attitude that preceded them
How did you hear about punk?
John: It was all over the tabloids about the “revolting punk rockers” with safety pins in their cheeks etc. The first punk song I heard/saw was Hanging Around by The Stranglers on The Old Grey Whistle Test. The best place to discover new punk/ new wave music back then was the John Peel show on Radio 1 – 10pm to 12am or Dave Fanning 12am to 2am. With having to get up for school the next day I regularly recorded the show, using my cassette player microphone set next to the transistor radio. I still have some of these tapes in my collection of stuff.
Were any of your friends into it?
John: Few and far between, most friends before punk were into Status Quo and other hard rock or middle-of-the-road bands. Once punk came along I made some good friends as a result of our common interest in punk bands.
Rory: I had a few punk girlfriends and even stayed in a squat on Leeson Street for a while.
Did you buy any of the punk records?
John: Yes, as much as I could afford, back then an album was a lot of money so one chose very carefully before committing to purchase. Advance records was the place to get the rare stuff.
Rory: From my first record which I bought, Slade, until Never Mind The Bollocks I went to Dundrum record shop Dolphin Discs in the old shopping centre. After that it was the Dandelion market and Advance records opposite the Gaiety.
Any particular memories of those songs/albums?
John: Playing the first two Stranglers albums to death, Another Music In A Different Kitchen by Buzzcocks was a revelation.
Where did you get/buy them?
John: Primarily Advance records as mentioned above, plus a few other places around town. One was always on a quest to search every record store nearly every week to see if one could uncover some little gem buried deep amount the dross.
Did you have any home-made tapes?
John: Loads, I recorded a shed load of rehearsals and live gigs. I still have them and am in the long and arduous process of digitising them.
Did you go to any of the early punk gigs…Stranglers, Clash, Jam, Adverts?
John: I missed the Adverts, but got to see the others, I recall the Clash as being a bit boring though, I think they were going through the early coke and dope period aka Give Em Enough Rope album and well passed their amphetamine fuelled debut album. There was a huge fight at the Jam gig which appeared to move around the entire venue, we ran in the opposite direction.
What were those gigs like for you?
John: A revelation in the sense that we were all nearly all teenagers going to see bands who were not much older than us, they provided a sense of purpose which I suppose in turn spurned us all to playing music and getting bands together.
Were you going to see any of the early Dublin punk/new wave bands? (Radiators from Space, Revolver, the Vipers, Rocky de Valera, U2, the Atrix, DC Nien, Zebra) did you like any of them?
John: I recall seeing The Radiators, the Vipers, U2, The Atrix and DC Nien, never saw the others but might have caught Zebra, the reggae band.
Did you get to see any of the Northern bands when they came to Dublin?
John: The only one I saw in Dublin was Stiff Little Fingers, from recollection it was in the Mansion House. Brilliant gig but there was a huge fight out on the street afterwards. We all ran down to College Green to catch the bus home.
What venues did you go to see bands in? The Ivy Rooms, Baggot Inn etc?
John: Jesus, all over the place…. Dandelion market, Ivy Rooms, Baggot, Toners, Top Hat, National Stadium, the Magnet , Dingoes Rock Palace and a ton of other places.
Rory: Same as John.
What type of music did you love before punk came along?
John: Ha, I was a big fan of glam rock, Slade, The Sweet, Geordie, Mud etc. For a spell I was also into Status Quo around the ‘Down Down’, ‘Paper Plane’ era.
Rory: Like John, I was into glam – Mainly Slade, I bought some of their earlier stuff when they had skinheads with turned up denims & Doc Martins, and they were really good. When ska came along I became a Skunk (into ska and punk) I even had a skunk white stripe top & back centre of my hair.
Did you go to any gigs pre-punk?
John: Nope, my first ever gig was The Stranglers at the Top Hat. Remember we were only kids!!
Rory: I saw Slade in some ballroom turned Roller-skate Rink in Dolphin’s Barn age 9 in 1974, with my older brother Ronan, again with him the following year I saw Rory Gallagher & Horslips in the National Stadium. I also saw a very young Boomtown Rats in Moran’s Hotel a few years later.
What does punk mean to you now?
John: It’s an attitude rather than a way of life. It made me the person I am now, ‘never say no’, nor take no for an answer. Question everything and try not to follow the norm. It’s how I think rather than how I act.
Rory: Fashion-wise, it was a bit stupid in that by trying to be different everyone was dressing the same. I used to look like a punk, but have a Jacket with ABBA, Bucks Fizz, Tight Fit etc. on my back.
Musically it was a game changer – it meant bands like us could write 2 or 3-minute punk/power pop classics.
This is the original video which was made Ireland’s only ever , and very short lived, Pirate TV station Channel D, and is now re-synced with the remastered version of the song
Michael Mary Murphy