All you punks and all you teds
National Front and Natti dreds
Mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads
Keep on fighting ’till you’re dead
Talking to Come Here To Me!, Garry O’Neill (editor of Dublin street fashion photography book Where Were You?) summed up the violent mood that he felt growing up in Dublin in the mid 1970s:
To me, at that time, Dublin seemed a violent place. It was a social problem that existed before the punk explosion and the skinhead/mod revivals of the late 70s. Growing up in the city centre in the mid 70s there seemed to be a very tribal and territorial element to the violence that occurred. The city’s cold and grey complexion compounded the fear of walking through certain areas where you might be visiting a new girlfriend or friend, meaning that unless you took a bus, you had to safely navigate a way out of said area and through one or two more before finally reaching your home patch, thus avoiding some of the bootboy gangs and odd individuals that seemed to exist purely to take exception to the fact that “You’re not from around here” before meeting out a well placed box or boot to send you on your way.
In regard to its Punk and local live music scene, artist Garret Phelan has signaled out Dublin as being different to other cities in the South of Ireland:
It was bonkers (in Dublin). I would be shitting my pants going to some of these gigs. I was talking to a mate of mine who grew up very much within the music scene in Cork, and he never experienced the fear factor that you would experience in going to gigs here. Going to gigs here, you took your life into your hands.
At Ireland’s first punk festival (25 June 1977) in the canteen on UCD’s Belfield campus, a young fan from Cabra was stabbed twice after a short fracas broke during the gig involving eight or nine people. He later died of his injuries in hospital in the early hours of the morning. Gavin Friday, lead singer with The Virgin Prunes, believes that it could have been ‘the first murder at a rock gig in the British Isles’.
Garry O’Neill, whose eldest brother was at the gig, recalled:
It was the first time I’d heard of violence at a gig. The only other incident I knew about was the Bay City Rollers gig at the Star Cinema in Crumlin in 1974. When into the gig went gangs of girls from all over the city, leaving their gangs of boyfriends outside to run amok amongst themselves.
As the punk scene in Dublin grew in popularity and began to attract fans from all over the city, incidents of faction fighting and recreational violence grew. Some noticeable violence occurred at the following gigs:
There was a riot going on when we arrived – seats being ripped up (and) general mayhem. We got into it and the place went wild. While I was playing, a guy in the crowd pointed at my shoe and my lace was open … I gave him a nod and put my foot over to have him tie my lace. He grabbed my foot (and) started to pull me off the stage. The bouncers at the side curtain saw me disappearing but could not see why and thought … it was part of the act till they saw my face so they grabbed my head. There was a tug of was between them and the crowd. Happily they won and I was kept on stage and finished the set.
– 12 October 1978: The Virgin Prunes were bottled off stage while supporting The Clash at the Top Hat, Dun Laoghaire. It was their second gig. Gavin Friday remembers:
We came on (with) Guggi wearing a tiny skirt and I had a plastic suit made out of raincoats, no jocks underneath, and pair of Docs. We’d only played two little gigs before that. Steve Averill from The Radiators From Space played synthesizer with us. The crowd just went apeshit. They thought Guggi was a chick. The adrenaline of all these people pogoing kicked in and I started jumping around, the next thing this plastic suit that me ma had made me split completely. I was standing there totally bollock naked, except for a pair of Doc Martins. I turned around and Guggi’s skirt had come off and you could see that he was a bloke. All hell broke loose, there were bottles flying, they were setting the curtains on fire. We were reefed off the stage by The Clash’s tour manager and fucked out the door. We had no money and had to walk with all out gear, back from Dun Laoghaire to Ballymun.
– 20 October 1978: Violence again at The Top Hat with The Jam.
Last weekend at the Project, U2, who were supporting Patrick Fitzgerald were targets of an unprovoked assault. As our man on the move Ross Fitzsimons reports a group arrived down & began taunting the band but the verbal displeasure escalated to direct and seemingly drunken action as critics jumped on stage, threw cider about & in one instance kicked U2 bassist Adam Clayton. After two numbers, the band quit the stage & the situation became so unruly that two Gardai had to called to escort the disruptors from the premises. That was Friday night but the following evening, the vendetta continued. One troublesome patron was speedily ejected by U2 manager Paul McGuinness but after McGuinness returned to the auditorium, a bruising skirmish ensued in the foyer & outside.
– 17 November 1979: Trouble at the Squeeze gig in Belfield, UCD.
– 1979: Brawls at a fundraiser gig for the UCD Student Union with DC Nein and The Threat at the Student Bar in Belfield. Maurice Foley, guitarist and lead vocalist of The Threat, remembers:
I remember one time we played with DC Nien in Belfield… and there was a bit of trouble there… Whatever it was, someone from Hot Press came out to ask me about something… we had this old van that kept running out of water and all the lads were waiting to get in the back after the gig and then this car came in really close beside us and it nearly knocked a few of the lads over, they had to jump out of the way… and it pulled up outside the Students Union Bar… then they got out and they were all loud, they’d had a few drinks and the car could have been stolen ‘cos they were driving all over the grass and stuff… so our lads thought they’d go down and have a word with them in the car… so they ended up smashing all the windows in the car… some chains came out and that… so they drove off and went into the students bar and the students all came out with them and they started attacking… there wasn’t a large crowd of us either… so everybody crowded into the back of the van and we started the van to get it going, but it wouldn’t start… they all came close and started firing rocks, and the lads had to get out to chase them off again.
– December 1979: Fighting at The Members gig supported by Stiff Little Fingers in the Olympic Ballroom, Pleasant Street.
– 2 March 1980: 49 people were injured in the crowd trouble at The Boomtown Rats and The Atrix concert at Leixlip Castle.
– 27 July 1980: Bottle throwing at The Police gig at Leixlip Castle.
– 6 October 1980: A hammer attack at a 4″ Be 2″‘s gig in Trinity College. The band featured John Lydon’s younger brother Jimmy. Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) was arrested that evening for assault after a melee in the Horse & Tram pub in Dublin, he was sentenced to three months in jail for disorderly conduct but was eventually acquitted on appeal.
– 8 October 1980: Four people were stabbed after The Ramones gig at Grand Cinema, Quarry Road, Cabra.
– 15 January 1981: Hectic scenes at The Specials and The Beat concert at The Stardust, Artane. Gang violence between the Edenmore Dragons from Raheny and the Coolock Boot Boys marred the legendary gig.. Edna on Brand New Retro described it as a ‘ bloodbath of a gig’ while Festeron on the TheSpecials2.com forum recalled ‘The gig .. was ruined by fighting between 2 rival Dublin gangs … They used the dance floor as a battleground that night despite Terrys best efforts to make peace. “‘
– 1981: The Outcasts gig in McGonagles saw the bar being raided by punters and fighting occurring inside and outside the gig.
As Post-Punk, Two-Tone, Mod Revival, Oi!, Hardcore and other styles continued to broaden the musical landscape in the early 1980s, violence was still a factor at concerts. Reggae gigs, synonymous with slow, heavy bass and dope smoking, was not free from trouble either. Garry O’Neill of Where Were You? told us that:
There was trouble at some reggae gigs I attended, although not on the scale as the above mentioned ones, it happened none the less. I recall seeing fighting inside and outside the TV Club around 1983/84 at gigs by Steel Pulse, Aswad, and Dennis Bovell & the Dub Band, plus a particularly violent attack outside a UB40 concert at the National Stadium around 1982, when a large vodka bottle floored a guy trying to protect his girlfriend from some bloke’s unwanted attention.
The TV Club was also the scene of an infamous violent gig on 11 August 1984 from English hardcore punk band Anti Nowhere League, supported by surf rockers The Barracudas and local acts The Golden Horde and The Commotion at The TV Club. Punx and skins from Cabra stormed the stage during the headliner’s set and ran off with stolen equipment.
Artist Garret Phelan remembered that night:
The Golden Horde did their set, which was wonderful, and they got off unscathed. Then The Barracudas came on and they were just showered in spit. They actually stopped the gig. The manager came out and said, ‘Look, we’d love to continue.’ All the skinheads from Cabra were there and were saying, ‘It’s cool, we won’t do it again.’ They came back on again, and they spat all over them. This happened about three times, so it was getting out of hand. When the Anti-Nowhere League came out — this is really interesting — hardcore punk bands at that time never got the massive media coverage that you get today, so you didn’t know what these guys looked like. They walked out on stage, you know, ‘The Russians are coming’, really hardcore stuff, and the lead singer looked like he was out of Twisted Sister. He had this huge blonde perm right down to his arse. Every skinhead in the place jumped up and beat the shit out of the band and they stole all the equipment, and went running down Harcourt Street with it. The irony of that is that the TV Club was sited beside the Harcourt Street Police Station, and the police just locked their doors and let them get on with it.
John Sutton, who worked as manager of the SFX Theatre from 1982 to 1987, was witness to a particularly chaotic St. Patrick’s Day gig in 1985 which saw two police motorbikes set on fire.
It was the maddest of all the nights. The College of Marketing and Design in Cathal Brugha street held a Saint Patrick Day multi-media event in 1985 maybe. It was fancy dress, there was everything on the programme, screening movies, rock bands, theatre pieces, poetry readings – over 20 acts. The day before they had sold only 50 tickets. This was a venue that held 1,500 people; it was going to be a disaster (financially) so we took some steps to save on costs. We reduced the amount of security form 30 to 6. On the night however 1,400 people turned up. We were completely overwhelmed by the crowd.
Two-third of them in fancy dress including a group of 10 in full Nazi uniform, one man painted completely black and white, great outfits. But there was bedlam at the door. People were quite frustrated because we were slow getting them in off the street, so there wasn’t what you would call an orderly queue. Two passing guards on motorbikes saw what was going on, got off and waded into the crowd to try and restore order. Just as they got to the front door someone set fire to one of their bikes which blew up, than the second one blew up and fell against a car that went on fire. Luckily it belonged to my father who was working for me on the night. There were still about 500 people trying to get in and with the bikes on fire in a matter of 5 minutes we had 40 policemen around the SFX. Order was restored in minutes. After the event ended at 2.30am we set about cleaning the street. Our goal was to make sure that the first mass goers at 7am would see nothing amiss. We succeeded in that and although the Jesuits had heard the music all right they had no sense of the fire and the drama so we got away with that one. My job was saved.
By the second half of the 1980s, fighting at gigs became more sporadic. Garry O’Neill remembers:
… fights at gigs by the Blades and visiting US ska/mod band the Untouchables in the TV Club around 1985. Plus post gig fighting after a Housemartins’ gig in the Olympic Ballroom in Oct 1987, sparked by a bit of psychobilly slagging. Open air gigs had their fair amount of scraps and disruptions too, such as the U2 gig in Phoenix Park in 1983 and later gigs like the Lark in the Park in Blackrock, and a gig in Stephen’s Green around 1987 which I think featured Thompson Twins/Those Handsome Devils. The last major ruckus I saw was at a Bad Manners gig in McGonagles in Nov 1988, if the cold and wet night wasn’t depressing enough, some serious skinhead fighting during the gig made it a night to forget.
The next generation of music fans, coming of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s, embraced acid house and the loved-up rave scene. Some of the city’s slightly older punks, skins, mods and rockers also got involved in the last great youth cultural explosion.
Garry O’Neill summed up these times when gigs were generally safer:
Out went alcohol fueled nights at gigs with the proverbial rival punch up or random unprovoked attack, to be replaced by an E’d up night on the dancefloor of Sides, the Olympic Ballroom or the Columbia Mills. The rave scene wasn’t totally devoid of violence, an incident involving the slashing of a few punters at a dance gig in the Point Depot in the mid 90s comes to mind and the occasional rival drug gang melee, but for the most part it was fine.
What are your memories from any of the gigs mentioned? Have we missed out any other infamous violent concerts?
(Special thanks to Garry O’Neill for quotes, dates and general help for this piece)