A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the best bands on the planet included the likes of the Outcasts, Rudi, Stiff Little Fingers, the Moondogs (I wonder if my big sister still has one of their singles) and Ruefrex. Ruefrex, pronounced “roof wrecks”.
As the Guardian’s Ireland correspondent Henry McDonald once put it, “Once heralded as the most important band in the UK by Melody Maker, [Ruefrex] were the voice of the least fashionable community in Western Europe: working-class Ulster loyalists.”
Ruefrex were working-class lads from the Shankill Road. They stood out with their music and lyrics and their anti-sectarian stance at the height of the Troubles.
Paul Burgess and Tom Coulter formed the group in 1977 while still at school. Burgess was on the drums. They had two modest hits on Terri Hooley’s legendary Good Vibrations label, “Capital Letters” and “Wild Colonial Boy”.
This BBC documentary Cross the Line (also the name of one of their songs) from MCMLXXX filmed the band in and around the Shankill. It’s an amazing slice of history, showing the area before it was redeveloped out of existence. Note the Bowie T-shirts, black taxis and Space Invaders, the age of their audience and the make-up and…
In the same Guardian piece from 2005, Burgess looks back on how Ruefrex were so unlike bands such as The Undertones, and the state of the loyalist community since the ceasefire.
Unlike others, we didn’t write songs about girls and chocolates. We grew up in the heart of the Troubles and saw with our own eyes what was going on. So that’s what we wrote about, even when it was unfashionable, even when others accused us in the music industry of being ‘Orange bastards’ for instance.
“There is still a lot I need to get off my chest, especially about the present alienation of Protestant working-class loyalists. They are being left behind in the peace process and the recent violence on the Shankill Road proves that this is a very dangerous thing. There’s probably more of a need now to give that community an articulate voice through music than ever before, because they feel no one is listening to them. And I want to get across like before that this voice doesn’t have to be triumphalist or sectarian, that it has a place in the world.
But what has all this to do with Irish crime fiction (apart from the fact that the Shankill Road often features heavily in today’s Northern Noir)?
Besides being an academic, Burgess has a new career. He has just published his debut novel, a police procedural and political thriller set in Belfast. It’s called White Church, Black Mountain. Look for it under the name of Thomas Paul Burgess. It’s in my TBR pile as we speak.