George Purdy: The behind-the-scenes spokesman for Ireland’s punk/new wave generation.
This was a particularly thrilling interview for me to do. I had heard so much about George Purdy from the people who were there……the people who were ready for new sounds and new styles in 1977 Dublin. I had seen him at so many of my early gigs as a fan in Dublin 1980-1984. I knew he was someone, I just didn’t know who.
He generously agreed to answer my questions, and you can sense his energy, passion, commitment to punk and new music in his thoughtful replies.
Just like Niall McGuirk and the Hope Collective later on (with Fugazi, No Means No, Quicksand, Frank Sidebottom, Green Day, NOFX etc) George thought it was unfair that young people couldn’t get to see their favourite bands in Dublin, and it wasn’t fair on the bands either. So he did something about it.
He arranged the legendary gig in St Anthony’s Hall on 22nd November 1978 that gathered all of Dublin’s young tribes together. In the brilliant site, U2 The Early Dayz, the gig is one of the four ‘concerts that changed the face of Dublin’.
You are probably best remembered as one of the first young people in Ireland to put on gigs outside of the Universities during the early punk/new wave scene. How did that come about?
George: The Saint Anthony’s hall gig in 1978 is probably the best remembered. The thinking behind it was all of the venues bands were using at the time were licenced and it was obvious to me from the numbers of people being turned away at doors and hanging out in record shops that there was a large number of kids not getting to see the bands.
I mooted the idea of holding a “festival” style line up of bands in a larger hall around the top bands in Dublin at the time. The idea was to pre-sell tickets, have a decent sound system and lighting rig and standing room only in the theatre. I got commitments from U2, Virgin Prunes, Berlin, New Versions, Strange Movements, Skank Mooks and The Citizens. Pretty much the coolest dudes around the scene at the time.
U2 were rather insistent on ‘headlining’ the event and some bitchy arguing between some of the bands started to emerge in the weeks approaching the gig. As I felt this was ‘against the spirit’ of the event I removed U2 from the line up; Bono and Edge later made cameo appearances during Virgin Prunes set.
All 600 tickets were sold out in advance. On the night the attendance was anywhere from 800 to 1000 as there were many gate crashers. The gig itself was a rather shambolic affair but that in itself led to its punk credentials and later legendary status. It was the first gig attended by many people later involved in the Dublin music scene and spawned a second generation of bands and was the precursor to the Dandelion Market gigs and McGonagles Saturday afternoon shows.
Like the Boomtown Rats and Radiators from Space gigs in Moran’s Hotel and U2 gigs In the Dandelion, about one million people currently claim to have been in attendance!
Carol Waters, the legendary Jude Carr (Heat fanzine) and George.
When did you start going to gigs?
My first ever gigs were in The Stadium about 1972. Slade and then Gary Glitter. I then grew into going to gigs like Dr Feelgood and Thin Lizzy and all the usual ‘annuals’ who played around Christmas time.
Myself and my brother Dick started going to smaller gigs around late ’75. People like the Arthur Phybes band and Jimmy Slevin. Anywhere we could get in really. The Universal Folk Club in Parnell Square was a weekly gig we attended as it was not licenced and entry was guaranteed. Leo O Kelly played there and he was my introduction to Toners as he had a weekly residency there.
Any particularly memorable ones?
Revolver in Toners and a Christmas gig by the Radiators in Moran’s were particularly memorable as these were my introduction to Dublin punk and the energy just blew me away. Bob Geldof joined the Radiators for a riotous encore of ‘My Generation’ at Moran’s and I decided to accompany him. The jubilant crowd went apeshit and ripped most of Geldof’s clothes to shreds while enthusiastically ignoring me. It’s at this moment I realised my future was in the background.
Was there music in your house when you were growing up?
Just old 78’s from my parent’s collection. The usual suspects of Sinatra, Crosby and especially Nat King Cole. I wouldn’t call it a musical household.
What was the music scene like in Dublin when you were growing up?
Very few people came here apart from the usual suspects of Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy and Horslips in the Stadium. It was an old dilapidated boxing stadium on the South Circular Road with a capacity of about 2,500. All the other venues were licenced so it was difficult to see anyone until you looked old enough. Horslips and a few bands occasionally played the odd free gig in the hollow in the Phoenix Park or Merrion Square but those were few and far between.
That all changed in 1977 when the Clash played in Trinity College. As my brother Dick said “it was the day Dublin went from black and white to colour”. Suddenly out of nowhere there was 1000 bands in Dublin and we were hanging out with people like Jude Carr and the Navan Road contingent, meeting people like Terry O’Neill and George Murray, people who were the engine of the early scene in Dublin and should today be considered as icons because the scene would not have happened without their involvement. They ran gigs and record shops, created fanzines and networks. They were like the glue which held the early scene together. The Fabrics, The Boy Scoutz, The Vipers; these filled the vacuum when the Radiators and the Boomtown Rats left for London.
George and Dick Purdy….the brothers who rocked Dublin.
Your brother, Dick, was in Dublin bands, were you ever in any bands? Or wanted to be?
As I mentioned earlier, it probably wasn’t a good idea deciding to make my performing debut with Bob Geldof being Backed by the Radiators; invisibility is not good for the ego! I decided then that promotion, management and the background stuff was for me. In other words, let the musos so the work when I could enjoy the fruits!
Do any of the bands stick out for you? That should be remembered?
They should all be remembered, every last one of them contributed to the scene. Even the 95% who never played. It was a generation who finally said “Fuck you, If you say I can’t see bands I’ll create the scene myself”. It was liberating, it crossed social and religious divides. We were creating a revolution and we didn’t know it.
Did punk matter to you?
It mattered a great deal to all of us. It was an attitude, a true counter-culture. It empowered us to create what we were previously told we couldn’t have. It wasn’t long until big business moved in but it lasted long enough to spawn a scene, venues, independent labels, record shops, magazines and thousands of friendships that survive to this very day.
How did you hear about punk?
I imported Patti Smiths ‘Horses’ through Tommy in Pat Egan;’s Sound Cellar in Nassau Street (the first copy in Ireland!) and loved it. I saw mentions in the NME of emerging bands in London and New York which were collectively being branded ‘Punk Rock’ and they included Patti in this genre. That whetted my appetite. When Dick came home soon after with the Clash album I was sold.
Were any of your friends into it?
Some were into it but most were turned off by the negative coverage it was getting in the mainstream and music press. The people I met at the Clash gig in Trinity and gigs thereafter became my friends!
Did you buy any of the punk records?
Myself and Dick bought everything that was going. I had a kind of New York perspective at the start; Patti Smith, Television, Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Dick leaned more towards the UK to bands kike the Pistols, Damned , Clash, Buzzcocks, Adverts, XTC, Stranglers etc. So we were pretty much across the entire spectrum of what was happening.
Any particular memories of those songs/albums?
Too many to mention. Although like many people at the time The Radiators’ Ghost Town remains an iconic album. It captured and described perfectly where we had all come from; the desolate streets of a priest-ridden non-culture. It also defined a new era in Irish music, a new confidence, a new swagger which said: “I’m as good as anyone else”.
Where did you get/buy them?
Murrays on Grafton Street, Sound Cellar on Nassau Street and then of course Advance Records on South King Street became the epicentre of the ‘street scene’.
Did you listen to music on tapes? Did you have any home-made cassette tapes?
For some reason I never liked the cassette format and stuck with vinyl.
Did you go to any of the early punk gigs…Stranglers, Clash, Jam, Adverts, Dr Feelgood, Elvis Costello, Boomtown Rats?
I can safely say I went to virtually every gig from ’77-’80. I can also safely say I ‘ligged’ into most of them!
What were those gigs like for you?
I loved every second of it, I remember attending six separate gigs one Saturday/Sunday!
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, Virgin Prunes, Berlin) did you like any of them?
I could go on here forever. Suffice to say I saw and knew most of the bands in Dublin at the time.
Did you get to see any of the Northern bands when they came to Dublin?
As above, I saw most of the Northern bands who came to Dublin. Memorable nights would have been the Undertones first headliner outside Derry in McGonagles (they previously played at the infamous gig in UCD supporting the Radiators From Space). I also have a vague recollection of celebrating with Stiff Little Fingers in the Ship Inn on Wardour Street in London the day they signed a recording contract.
What venues did you go to see bands in? The Ivy Rooms, Baggot Inn etc?
Every venue in Dublin except the SFX for some reason. I have no recollection of ever being there.
What type of music did you love before punk came along?
The usual stuff that was happening; Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Neil Young. Pretty eclectic, pretty predictable.
Were you friends into it too?
Yes, a crowd of long haired hippies!
George Purdy: Defined by Punk!
What does punk mean to you now?
It almost defines what I became as a person and the friendships I made. It defines how I developed politically and morally. It defines my life really. The highlight of this year for me was the release of Trouble Pilgrims new album ‘Dark Shadows and Rust’! Bands today like The Lee Harvey’s and Absolutely Yo! Still give me a thrill.
It is me.
Michael Mary Murphy