Yesterday was a strange day which came at the end of a stressful week where I found myself getting caught up in all sorts of meetings and huddled conversations in my role as a union representative (for the National Union of Journalists) over various shifts in working patterns in the paper where I work.
Anyway I was feeling drained after forcing myself to be a conduit for other people’s worries and preoccupations and often finding my own analysis of things being totally ignored and so was just looking forward to getting Saturday’s paper off to the printers and coming home for a glass of wine.
Then at about 5.30pm we were told to evacuate our city centre offices because there was a suspected bomb close by. It was a throw back to a 20 years ago when such things were not that uncommon in Belfast but which now seems outrageously shocking.
After about 10 minutes standing outside we were told it would be at least 45 minutes before the bomb squad arrived and so split up in to various groups to go off to shopping, to pubs and in my case to a venue called The Black Box, where I had my book launch a few years ago.
I’d merely suggested it as a place to go for a coffee but when I and a few colleagues got in I saw Terri Hooley, ‘the godfather of Northern Ireland punk’ sitting talking to someone who I vaguely recognized but couldn’t quite place who turned out to be Don Letts.
Letts is an iconic figure in punk mythology, a ‘black English man’ who is credited with instigating the cross fertilisation between punk and reggae which so influenced The Clash.
It turned out that he was doing a question and answer session with Terri, in front of a modest audience of about 40 people. Within a few minutes Terri and Don were in full flow and reminiscences and names were being bandied about – Terri’s of Belfast, Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones, The Outcasts and Rudi and Shane MacGowan. Don’s involvement was in London – Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood, John Lydon and the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of the Clash, Bob Marley and The Slits.
Don Letts became involved in the Punk scene through a shop, Acme, he ran in the mid-70s and by becoming a DJ at the Roxy where many of the early punk bands played. He later turned his hand to filmmaking and his footage of The Sex Pistols and The Clash in 1976 and 77 provides some of the most iconic moments of that era.
He filmed many of the best-known punk bands and was later a member of Big Audio Dynamite, along with former Clash guitarist Mick Jones.
Unfortunately just as the conversation was getting interesting I had to make my way back to work, although when I got there I ended up standing outside The Irish News for another hour while a controlled explosion was carried out in a neighbouring street before we were allowed back in to the office to finish off producing the paper.
Anyway, by the time I was back at my desk I felt fully reinvigorated by the little interlude and my brief brush with punk history.