Commissioned Pieces

A few examples of pieces commissioned for special occasions…

Poetry

Prose


Written for a Greenpeace article about a place I have visited in Germany

DOWN ON HARRY’S FARM…

The little boys play football on a cool September afternoon; the sun offers little heat as they laugh and dash across the lush green surface of the playing fields of the Gorleben School. They are unaware of or perhaps resigned to the danger that lurks in the sun dappled woods at their backs. There is something magic about German forests when the light is just right; sometimes you’d swear you saw a small bearded presence watching you from behind a fallen tree but in the forests of Gorleben there is little magic, just a malevolent, razor-wired citadel, one of the four most despised and feared buildings in Germany, which quickly puts paid to any such fancies. This is one of four sites used by the German government to dry store spent uranium from its 17 nuclear reactors in 12 sites across the German mainland. The spent fuel is sent to France and Britain for reprocessing and then returned to Gorleben for permanent storage; this is where the remarkable story of the revolutionary farmers begins.

I am in Germany with my wife to play music and to visit some of the many friends my musical odysseys have afforded me. We are staying with Harry Gunther, a farmer who lives in a small farming community outside the town of Luchow in Lower Saxony, 155 kilometres north east of Hannover and very close to the old East/West border. Harry is a remarkable man, you can’t help but feel privileged to be in his presence, he is strong and resilient, his weathered hands and face testament to the struggle a servant of the land accepts and to the winters that test his spirit and resourcefulness. Harry is an organic cattle farmer and ekes out a living with the cows and through renting out his Hay Hotel, a barn full of beds of fresh hay, to school groups and conservationists. His passion is Irish music and he has built a concert stage in one of his barns, a good friend of mine, an Irish singer/songwriter who is very popular in Germany organized a gig for my band Rough Red there and I was so taken by the story of the struggle that I wrote a song about it, the song is very popular among Resistance members, ensuring me, I hope, at least a mention in a file in Berlin.

Harry doesn’t waste words, when he speaks there is a gentle lilt to his voice and his eyes blaze with a zest for living and music and the passion for the struggle that has consumed so much of his life. Harry is a member of The Resistance, an organisation that has pitched itself against the might of Berlin for the past 32 years.

In this time this rag tag army of farmers and their wives and children, concerned citizens, rabid greenies and gentle grand mothers has placed themselves between the facility at Gorleben and the incoming shipments. For their resistance they have been beaten, harassed, arrested and locked up and had storm troopers and water cannons thrown against them. They have undermined roads, stopped trains and caused malicious damage but they can’t stop the inevitable arrival of the castors.

Whilst discussion between the government, big business and scientific experts about the suitability of the site goes on Harry and his friends are the human face of the argument. Like people world wide caught up in the same dilemma they ask the same questions-‘This stuff remains deadly for a million years how do we stop it leeching into our farm lands?’-‘There is waste still sitting there from 32 years ago! How safe is it now, how good was the technology back then?- Whose bright idea was it to place the facility right in the middle of a rich farming area in the first place?’ Chernobyl has replaced the boogey man in the tortured dreams of the locals in Luchow/Dannenburg.

Local folklore has it that the facility was built there when the border still stood so that if there was an accident any resulting leak would be carried by the prevailing westerlies into the East so what did it matter? The government says the facility was placed there to boost the economy of a scarcely populated area and because of the salt mines which could be the final resting place of the castors in the foreseeable future. This is another argument, the salt mines there are considered corrosive and unstable, surely not a safe environment for the deadliest commodity on earth!

I play a concert in a small town in the south of Germany on the night of the German national elections that sees the Christian Democrats take control of the country. I return to Luchow and when Harry picks us up at the station he is clearly agitated.

‘They have caught us off guard,’ he says as he limps back to the car, he is going in to hospital to have a hip replacement in the near future but I never heard him once complain about the pain. ‘They think we will be complacent after the election. They show us no respect’, he says fiercely.

Only three weeks before this Harry had helped organize a protest in Berlin; 365 tractors made the 200 kilometre journey into the heart of the capital where they were met by 50,000 protesters. The government had been cordial, the numbers at the protest had been reported correctly in the pro government press, there had been no violent incidents despite the disruption they’d caused.

‘365 tractors travelling at 20 kilometres an hour causes quite a traffic jam’, he told me with a wry smile.

He explained to us how the underground lines of communication worked; the watchers were everywhere, the central office of The Resistance, run by two sweet elderly ladies in Luchow was kept posted on any suspicious behaviour in the town. The main focus of attention was the enormous police barracks that had been built in the town some years before on government land. When the lights went on and the gates were opened it was a signal that something was afoot. The German government’s adherence to rules and protocol also served as an early warning to The Resistance because whenever a train load of any hazardous chemicals, waste or other dangerous materials was to be shifted by rail the government was compelled by law to inform local fire and police services and in Luchow there many sympathizers within their ranks.

And so we raced through the last of the vanishing daylight to warn the committee members who would decide what action to take. They couldn’t communicate by phone because all the phones are bugged, their houses are under constant surveillance so direct contact is the only way. The farmers are in the middle of the potato harvest so they work long hours in the field in their giant harvesters, we race along the dirt access roads, Harry signaling with his headlights, the giant machine stops and the farmer jumps out and after a quick conversation with Harry jumps back in and heads for home. This same scenario is repeated many times as we tear along the narrow darkening country roads. The Germans love of overtaking in seemingly impossible situations has Chris and I on the edge of our seats.

‘We go to a safe house now’ says Harry, ‘but first we check the barracks’.

At the barracks there are people moving around, vehicles are parked between the giant barracks complexes, the lights blaze beyond the barbed wire fence.

‘The bastards are definitely up to something.’ Harry says grimly. Next we check the rail head. This is the point 16 kilometres from Gorleben where the castors are taken off the train and placed on trucks for the final painfully slow drive to the facility. It is along this last stretch where The Resistance bears its teeth; they rappel down out of trees onto the trucks, they bury themselves up to their necks in holes in the road and chain themselves to concrete barriers carried there by tractor. They come in their thousands and face the water cannons on a freezing November night; several years ago Berlin sent 20,000 special police to the area and they stood both sides of the road a metre apart from the rail head to the facility such is the nuisance posed by the farmers and their supporters armed only with their anger and resentment and little else. Several years ago I was invited to one of their secret training camps in the depth of the forest, there they learn the subversive skills that test the humanity of the young German troopers they will come up against.

‘Do you have your passports with you? You’ll need them if you are arrested.’ Said Harry grimly. The reality of the situation hits home then, this is a long way from sleepy Brisbane where a complaint to the waiter about the coffee is about as heavy as resistance ever gets.

Night has fallen and the little French car rockets through darkened forest roads, there are no lights and the overtaking takes on an altogether more terrifying aspect as the gigantic farm machines lumber along like lost dinosaurs, we turn into a small farm complex that buzzes with activity. We are shown into a kitchen where Harry goes into deep conversation with the owner while Chris and I are offered sausage bread and cheese. The farmer’s teenage children and their friends are putting on their black clothing, heavy boots and balaclavas while their mother prepares sandwiches to take with them. They will head into the forest and try their best to delay the train, harassing the escort, appearing like wraiths from the mist and then melting back into the darkness along the hidden trails they know so well. This is the part of the whole thing that is so powerful and compelling to me; no one is exempt from the struggle, everyone has a part to play, a job to do, perhaps because everyone has an interest in the outcome. It is this younger brigade that will take over soon, they are communication savvy and emboldened by the threat to their future that the castors represent. They are resolute and committed, there is no childish banter; they have done this before. They have the same fire in their eyes that I saw in Harry’s but Harry needs a new hip and the old war horse must contemplate the passing of the mantle. They are tall and blonde and strong these young people, the darkened forest holds no fears for them, not like the horror of a nuclear accident does, as I watch them go about their business with the assurance and arrogance of youth I can see the struggle is in good hands.

We are on the road again; we go to the safe house, an ancient barn with a house built off to the side and it is there in Wilhelm’s kitchen that the seeds for the next battle are sown. As the committee enters, men and women, they knock three times upon the table, a signal that they are unified and committed. They welcome us and laugh and share a beer and talk about my music, they were at the last concert I played at Harry’s Farm and look forward to the next one in less stressful times.

Their informants tell them that the train has left Berlin under cover of the celebrations of the new government, they try to understand the meaning of this latest development, the shipment is not due until November and the German government is so steeped in tradition that surely any departure from the norm can only have sinister connotations. Perhaps they test our nerve, Wilhelm suggests, perhaps it is payback for the tractor thing, someone else offers. It is probably a new government letting us know that there will be no let up, Harry suggests, the Christian Democrats have already shown their hand by agreeing with big business that there is no need to carry out further research at Gorleben concerning its suitability as an underground storage facility, it will not be abandoned.

‘They show us no respect’, says Harry bitterly as we get up to leave. The hard core of the committee, the die hards will stay up all night now, Wilhelm brings up another crate of beer from the cellar and they hunker down and wait. We return to the farm where I had played a concert with my friends Christoph and Annette two nights earlier and over a cup of tea Harry explains to us the importance of the reply to the provocation.

It is an eternal game of cat and mouse, of move and counter move. Harry saw someone at my concert whom he believed was one of them. Dark government cars cruise by his house and strangers are often seen along the laneways, watching. They try to unnerve Harry and his friends, they tie him up with red tape when he does business with them, they let him know that they never rest and they never forget.

We were not to go that night, it turned out to be a ruse, a new government, even more hardline than the last, Harry laughed that the Christian in Christian Democrat was a sick joke, testing the farmers will. A train did come but it carried empty castors.

‘They bring us out in the open’, said Harry. ‘They always have the upper hand but we must let them know that we knew they were coming. Their spies would have told them how soon we reacted to the threat, we can never rest.’

And so the little farm in Reddebeitz, a short bicycle ride from Luchow is a spiritual place if you believe in social justice, it is a joy to see how a community pulls together against any odds, against a foe that outguns, outnumbers and outmuscles them. Their fierce commitment and determination is compelling, it burns deep and sustains them when the battles are at their darkest. It is inspiring to talk to the gentle little old lady in the office whose eyes burn with the same passion that drives Harry, to feel the warmth of their hospitality and to be part of their simple, honest existences. The German government says it is committed to finding alternative sources to nuclear power and abandoning its nuclear programme by 2023 but Harry and his friends aren’t holding their breath. Big business and government will not be swayed by zealots; their resistance and the trouble it causes is a small price to pay for progress.

Harry is one of the most inspirational people I have known, the sheer power of his honesty and inner strength sometimes is breath taking, certainly humbling. As I left him at the airport and we locked eyes I was energized and saddened at the same time, I felt loss as I watched him walk away. As he turned and waved at the top of the escalator, his final words to me were,- ‘ John, they will always win but we will never die wondering, travel well my friend and think of us sometimes.’ I knew that we had been part of something special; we’d seen history in the making, a small tactical battle in a long drawn out war of attrition in which ultimately there could be no winners. The evil presence in the woods of Gorleben sits silently behind its razor wire fence and awaits the outcome smug in the knowledge that it will outlive both sides of the argument by a hundred thousand years.

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A chapter from my novel about Rough Red’s travels soon to be published

THE WATCHERS IN THE TOWER

Today is the day that we move into the North. The papers and the TV screens are full of the trouble that is developing there. I feel a little like Bilbo Baggins again as we sit around discussing what we are likely to encounter. Doyle seems a little nervous, he’s been there before and experienced first hand what can happen. He had been parked next to a dumpster not far from the Europa Hotel. Later on that day he heard that the dumpster had exploded causing devastation on a wide scale. He had taken the car to his brother’s place and hidden it for a few days because it would have been a prime suspect. Mind you Doyle told us that he was innocent but he is at times a belligerent Irish Catholic bastard so you never know!
We cross the border and the changes are immediate. The roads are better for a start and the old stonewalls are gone, replaced by British style fences. There is English orderliness everywhere, the cluttered charm that is the Republic was disappearing fast in our wake. We begin to see fortress-like police stations and observation towers. British flags fly from flagpoles everywhere. People seem to move faster and don’t look as happy and content as they do in the Republic. There is a feeling about the place that is hard to describe and none of the boys in either vehicle is as quick with the wisecracks as we drive into the walled city of Derry.

Doyle has impressed upon us the need to keep a low profile while we are in town, we would create enough unwanted interest just walking around. This information rests uneasily with us all and we resolve to practise invisibility. We put our newly made resolve into immediate action by trying to drive the van into an underground, secure carpark and becoming jammed in the entrance. The driver and the rest of us had forgotten the bags on the roof and the truck came to an inglorious halt in front of a line of traffic. The scene was now set as eight sinister looking blokes in leather coats and wrap-around sunnies, travelling in two vehicles, one with Amsterdam plates (the well documented sign-on city for mercenaries), the other with Republic plates (well documented origin of IRA gunmen) are stuck in the entrance to a very public carpark. The unsuspecting Derry shoppers line up behind us making it all the more impossible for us to pull back out of the mess we had driven ourselves into.

Eight people of musical inclination, in an emergency situation is akin to having three good men off sick and there was much gesticulating, finger pointing, direction giving and profane language as the irritated Derrians began honking their horns in a display of impatience that only made things worse. We were all quite happy, if the truth be known, that Doyle was responsible for this latest faux-pas on behalf of the MSG because, for a change, he couldn’t yell at us. But he did anyway. Somehow he managed, as only Snake Oil Doyle could, to blame us and to rain epithets down around our ears. Finally, with some fine police work by Doyle, who had managed to persuade all the other drivers in the line to back up, we dislodged ourselves from the constraints of the carpark entrance and limped off to find other car-parking arrangements.

We already know that our gig in Derry has been cancelled due to the violence only days before, but we decide to go and say hello to the publican at the Gweedore Bar. Terry is one of the toughest looking blokes I have yet seen anywhere in Ireland. Sean knows him from previous visits and assures us that he is most definitely a presence in the walled city. He tells us only days prior he was barricaded in the hotel as the gangs roamed the streets firing automatic weapons and fire bombing anything that was vulnerable. We have lunch and a few Guinnesses there as Terry tells us what to expect as we move around the town.

He assures us that we are going to cause notice and suspicion and are a walk up start for gangs of local youths to bale us up and look for any excuse to bash the lot of us. Everyone is still very much on edge after the night of fire and violence and they’re still a little trigger happy. He fixes us with a steely eye and tells us that if anything should happen to us on our travels to tell whoever it is that is threatening us that, "Terry sent us.”

We move off through the town to look at the wall. We are feeling decidedly uneasy and try our hardest not to look threatening. We pass shops that are being cleared out after the firebombing. We make sure that we don’t lock eyes with anyone and make sure that we spread ourselves out as much as possible.

It is a pretty little town on a hot summer’s afternoon. People are out in their shirtsleeves walking about as though they are in a place no more dangerous than Indooroopilly Shoppingtown. Everywhere there is graffiti, defiant and desperate and the old people have a war weary look about them as they hurry about their business.

What you notice are the steel shutters everywhere. At six o’clock the pretty little town becomes a steel shuttered city of fear. It is an incredible transformation. In the evening as the uneasy wind pushes litter about the cobbled streets it’s as if you have stepped into a science fiction novel. The eerie, forbidding steel shutters link with one another right down the street forming a formidable metal barricade against Molotov cocktails - We had already seen evidence that they were not always effective.
We head into the town square that nestles like a sitting duck beneath the awesome expanse of the wall. The Free Derry Wall and the ominous wall murals are in the square under constant surveillance from the ugly barbed wire and corrugated iron tower that sits all seeing above the parapet that looks straight into the Bogside.

This is the wall that causes all the problems. In 1688 some Apprentice Boys saw the English Catholic King moving toward the castle with an army of men and raised the alarm. The king was eventually defeated after he laid siege to the town and it is this incident that the Orange Men and the Drummer Boys celebrate every year. It is a celebration that strikes fear into the hearts of the Catholic minority in the Bogside. Their houses face the wall as they sit like that Catholic army so many years before outside the gate. The subtlety of this of course is not lost on the Protestants as they march atop the wall their drums thundering as they attempt to goad the Catholics from their houses to fight.

It is a sad and sorry struggle that has perpetuated itself since 1688 and there appears to be no easy solution. Even the mainly Protestant police can’t do much about it because the Protestant marchers threaten to go and visit their families if they try to stop the festivities. While we were there, there was a very public case about a Protestant policeman whose wife and family had been terrorised by his own side because he had been present at a clash somewhere else and was carrying out his sworn duty to stop trouble.

It is a haunting and troubling place even on a lovely warm day beneath a clear blue sky. It is difficult not to feel like a voyeur receiving some sort of vicarious thrill as you watch somebody else’s agony unfolding. Sean explained that they don’t feel like that, they want people to come in and find out for themselves and to understand the oppression that they live under. Nobody paid much attention to us at all except the watchers in the tower who never took their eyes off us. You could regularly see the sun glinting off the lenses of the glasses they were using for surveillance.

On some of the unit blocks that front the wall there are large signs, their messages reflecting the fear and frustration that these people are feeling. It seems so simple to us in this day and age when we live in a country where there is little if any sectarian trouble. Why don’t people just gather here in the square and have a beer and discuss the problems and find solutions for them. It will never be that easy unfortunately and we were about to find out why.

Since we had arrived in Ireland we had been talking about shooting a film clip for ‘Innocent Victim’, a track off the first album that deals with the subject of the problems in Northern Ireland. It was a song that we left off the repertoire in most of our Irish gigs in case we upset someone. I even had the situation where someone fronted me about the song one night in a toilet at a gig and that was in Brisbane! Shooting the clip was not an idea that sat well with everyone, me included, because we felt so vulnerable out here and we were bound to pull a crowd.

We decided that we would shoot the clip in front of the Free Derry Wall and feature the morbid wall murals that the people of the Bogside had painted on the end of buildings for tourists to photograph. Mike got the camera ready and we, with much trepidation, readied our instruments. Suddenly we were set upon by a bunch of kids, about 8 or 9 years of age, who immediately asked us what the hell we thought we were doing. We were taken completely by surprise and didn’t quite know how to handle it at first. Here we were on the streets with a bunch of street-smart Bogside boys and we weren’t sure how they would handle our intentions. It was quite a moment for us and it illustrated only too clearly why there is little chance that people’s attitudes toward each other will ever change.

The conversation went something like this:

Kid: Are you lads Catholic or Protestant?
Tyso: We’re....er....ah...Aussies.
Kid: What sort of religion is that for fook’s sake?
Tyso: It’s a new one that hasn’t really had too much press over here yet.

The kid seemed quite happy with that and so the Protestants among us were safe for the moment.

Kid: Wher’re you from then?
Tyso: Australia.
Kid: Ah, fookin’ kangaroos. My Auntie Shirley lives there. Do ya know her?
Tyso: Er, no but I’ll probably bump into her sooner or later.
Kid: Do they throw petrol bombs at coppers in Australia then?
Tyso: Well, no, not really, it’s frowned upon you see.
Kid: Have you ever shot anyone then?
Tyso: Well as a property developer I’ve killed a few Koalas but I haven’t shot anyone lately, no.

The little kids became quite animated then and started to tell us about their run-ins with the ‘fookin’ prodos’ and how they would own guns one day just like their brothers. It was a lot of fun talking to these little blokes, they were little charmers and a great insight into an intractable problem but you could not help go away saddened by the encounter and wondering what sort of future awaited the poor little buggers. You could recognise the ones who were all talk and front and the quiet ones who would grow up tough and carry on the madness they had inherited. We spent quite a lot of time with the kids and the light began to fade so Michael decided instead to shoot some of the available scenes and we would worry about the clip in Belfast. It was probably just as well. As we were starting to pack up our gear a truck full of bad looking buggers slowly cruised past us and then turned around further up the road. We decided we didn’t want to know what it was that they wanted and jumped into the trucks and took off. We wrote a song about it.

THE WALLS OF DERRY

In 16 hundred and 88
the boys clanged shut the iron gate
They locked outside the Catholic prince
and they’ve been fighting ever since.
The watchers in the barbed wire tower
upon the wall look down and glower.
Even they must have their doubts
does it keep them in or keep them out?

I watched a little boy walk past.
"Are you Catholic or prod?” he asked
"Do they stone the coppers where you’re from,
have you ever thrown a petrol bomb?”
When I grow up I’ll have a gun,
like my older brother’s done.”
I asked him why and all he said:
"You don’t fight back, you end up dead.”

CHORUS:
Drink up boys the Gweedore’s closed
drink up and be merry!
Tonight they come to bang the drum,
along the Walls of Derry.

So bang the drum and prime the gun,
watch the little children run.
RUC or IRA.
Whose side’s God on anyway?
Breathe your last upon the grass,
a rubber bullet up your arse.
The wall’s stood for a thousand years,
wash away the blood with tears.

NORTHERN IRELAND’S CONFUSING IMAGES

Our brief sojourn in Derry had had a sobering effect on all of us. We learned more about this enigmatic country and its inhabitants in a day than we had in the weeks since we arrived. This is definitely not a fun place to be and we don’t feel too badly about getting out of it and heading further north.

It is hot and sunny and we take the opportunity to visit some of the landmarks of the area. There is a magnificent old castle built on a cliff face above an inlet. It is an engineering marvel and must really have been something in its day. It sits amid beautifully manicured lawns and its expanse covers the inlet over a considerable area. Below the castle there is an open dock where boats can come and go. There is a famous incident where the entire kitchen, kitchen staff and all, parted company with the rest of the castle and disappeared into the surf below.

We visit the Giant’s Causeway, which is a natural rock formation on the coast. There are millions of tonnes of jumbled rocks lying there, most of them almost identical in size and six-sided. It is as if some one has sat there for a thousand years turning them out on a press then throwing them in a stack. It really was quite a sight and well worth the very long hike that was involved.

We stay out too late, once again fooled by the long hours of sunlight, we are a long way from Belfast and need to find a B&B for the night. We realise that all the coastal resorts are booked and are in peak season so they would also be much more expensive than usual.

In the North the B&Bs are nowhere near as prevalent as in the Republic. We are driving fast and running out of time. What you don’t realise is that just because the sun is shining and you are still running around playing tourist, to the normal folk who live here it is 9 o’clock at night and they have kids to feed and put down for the night. We check the map and find the nearest town of any size is a place called Ballymoney and is still a half hour drive from where we are. We arrive and instantly there is a feeling that there is something terribly wrong here. For a start there are no pubs. Not just few pubs but no pubs. There is a cold sterile feel about the place and it settles over all of us like a cheap suit. There is no one about on the streets. The sun is still shining but the shadows have lengthened and the streetlights are starting to blink on. It is the middle of summer and there is no one. No warm cosy places or young lovers in parks, no window shoppers or even drunks-just hoons in fast cars. They were all over the place like a disease, loud cars with big wheels and belligerent pale-faced pommy hoons behind the wheel. They raced in ever increasing, confused circles about the main street and glared at us and dared us to race them as we sat at the lights, the same sort of mindless, rev-head stupidity that you find here. Some of us were not overly enamoured of the Republic - we hated this place. As we turned a corner trying to find our way around this dead, northern outpost of wherever the hell it is, we finally detected life. Life however not as we know it, a sullen and decidedly unhappy street gang of out of work graffiti artists and dog rapists by the look of them. As we turned at the lights the leader of the Ballymoney intelligentsia snarled at us and told us to "Fook off!” So we did.

We finally found ourselves a B&B on the outskirts of town but the lady said that the only way she could accommodate us was if we all shared double beds. Everyone immediately volunteered to sleep with Mashy of course because he’s such a little spunk. Mashy not wishing to be buggered by the combined forces of the MSG decided that he and the Big Red Cat would find lodgings elsewhere.

After the usual interminable period of unservice-like stuffing about and Huddo having a cup of tea we headed back into the graveyard that was Ballymoney to find a restaurant.

I can find not the smallest positive thing to say about our experience in Ballymoney except that the Chinese meal was alright. As for the rest of it, it was a shambles and a very unpleasant experience. If anyone who lives there ever reads this and wants to argue the point I’d be only too happy to oblige.

Sometime later in Australia, I picked up the paper and read about those three little boys that were incinerated in their house by those Orange bastards in their silly bowler hats. It was in Ballymoney and with a shiver up my back I remembered with disgust that horrible evening we spent there.

We leave the happy little, would be if they could be British, town of Ballymoney in our wake and head at last for Belfast. I have a vision in my head of mean spirited slums occupied by desperately unhappy people who want to throw off the shackles of sectarian violence and become Irish again. When we got there I was surprised. Belfast looks most definitely British but has a real vibe to it that I liked straight away. The people seem guarded and stern-faced as if the grim creative graffiti that seems to grace any blank spot on a flat surface is an edict from the local council that must be strictly followed. People seem suspicious and they move much more quickly than in the south as if fast movement increases the chances of being in the right place at the wrong time in the event of a random IRA political statement.

We go straight to the gig, which is the Errigal Inn in Ormeau Rd just out of central Belfast. The Inn is built like a fortress and has steel shutters and bomb proof panels that can be raised at a moment’s notice. The hotel has a reputation for being non-partisan, a fact which cheers us somewhat. The publican tells us there hasn’t been a significant death or even a major incident for several months, which is great and heartening news. We run into Kieran who is on holidays with his wife and daughter. It is actually good to see a familiar face and one for that matter with a smile on it.

The pub is an old sixties dive done out with heavy, stinking, psychedelic carpets and faded wood panelling. The publican tells us that he hasn’t advertised the gig at all and used the imminent Drummer Boy’s parade as an excuse. We knew that it meant only one thing-in the current climate of fear and expectation that seemed to permeate the capital we could expect a zero crowd. At this stage of the tour I don’t think that the prospect of no crowd was really an issue. We were all tired and looking forward to getting home by this stage.

We’d been driving, playing, sleeping and little else for weeks and the added pressure of the uncertainty of the situation added another level of pressure. I think most of us were on that boat to London already.

The lady who was to work on the door that night was introduced to us and I sat down and had a yarn with her. She was just like anyone’s mum, had been at the pub for years and she was a Catholic. Not so important in the scheme of things I suppose but in the hotbed of suspicion and hate that existed in Belfast at the time it was a condemnation.

I was watching the news the night before and the usual black picture was presenting itself. Both sides spoke in guarded terms, polite, non-accusatory lest one word spark some idiot hothead on either side into action. The focus at the time was on a British representative in the conciliation process. He was a convicted murderer of Catholic extremists. He had done time for calmly walking up to the car of a prominent pro Catholic commentator and his girlfriend and cold bloodedly executing them. He was now on the panel for the Poms in the peace process. I saw this bloke meekly trying to defend himself and his past and trying to convince the watching public that he was sorry and that the past was the past and looking back could not change the future - Jesus what a dropkick! The bumbling British Prime Minister was also on attempting to defend the indefensible and getting nowhere.

I asked the lady what she thought of the whole thing and she suddenly was uncomfortable and started nervously glancing now and again over her shoulder. She was a Catholic in a predominantly Protestant neighbourhood and the trouble had already started for her and she said it was the same every year. Suddenly the neighbours didn’t speak to her or crossed the road as she approached. She stood patiently at shop counters and had to grit her teeth as she was continually bypassed until the shop was empty and the shopkeeper had no alternative but to serve her. Her children and her grand children were harassed, her daughter was victimised in the factory in which she worked and other Catholics she knew in the same factory were bushwacked and bashed in the toilets or on the way home. As she spoke you could see the hurt and hopelessness in her face. It was a terrible realisation for me to suddenly understand the full impact of this dreadful situation.

It wasn’t just the atrocities that you saw on the screen that made you angry and vindicated your hatred for the perpetrators, it was this less violent, less spectacular but equally devastating emotional terrorism faced by so many people who could never fight back. Her voice broke a few times as she related the story to me and I realised then how desperate these people must be, to be able to sit and tell a total stranger from a peaceful country who could do absolutely nothing to ease their hurt. But then again, I couldn’t help but think, this is probably how many aborigines feel about their plight as well. These poor buggers are going through this and they aren’t even black!

I went for a stroll with Michael the cameraman because he wanted to do a piece to camera with me for the documentary. We went off into the twilight and were told by Doyle to be careful and not to draw attention to ourselves at this most delicate time. We didn’t have to be told twice. We drove until we came to a bridge over a sullen, dark body of water. I can’t remember the name of the bridge or the river but it obviously was important in the scheme of things.

One of those armoured four wheel drives went past us and checked us out and I began to get nervous and fluff my lines. There was a sign scrawled on an old brick wall below the parapet of the bridge that read - Big brother is watching you! We had an anxious moment as a small group of skinheads walked across the bridge and stopped and watched us. It was beginning to get dark and there was not a lot of traffic about. The group was between the car and us and of course we didn’t have a clue where we were. They watched for a few minutes then walked on not even giving us a backward glance.

The gig was everything we had expected, a dismal failure. We got about six people, two less that the numbers in the company and even though they loved it. One of them ran home and woke his wife and told her to get down and see these "fookin’ Aussies!” It was hardly worth getting out of bed for. We actually played very well that night considering, it was becoming second nature to us now after so many gigs. We needed 70 punters just to break even so it was not only a disaster for us morale wise, it was a disaster financially as well. We sat around for a while afterwards with the few who were there and had a great time except when the wife of one of them said, "Gee you’re a bunch of old bastards ain’t ya?”

We were staying in a B&B up the road about a kilometre from the gig. It was a typical English brick house and reminded me very much of the house I lived in with my parents in Portsmouth when I was a kid. It had that ancient, floral, heavy-duty wallpaper and a steep, narrow, carpeted stairway. The rooms were small and stuffy with old timber panelled doors and one of those old bakelite, black telephones in the foyer.

As we were coming home from the gig we walked past an ancient church that had all its windows boarded up. We didn’t pay much attention to it and guessed that it was probably being renovated. We found out the next day from a conversation with a local that the church had been the victim of sectarian violence only a few nights prior. The Protestants marched up the Ormeau Road playing their drums and stopped outside the church where the local Catholics were celebrating mass. The bloke I was speaking to was there and had seen the drama unfold. He said that the Protestant thugs were so steamed up and fuelled up on alcohol that their fingers were bleeding as they pounded their drums in the driveway of the church. Other hoons with shaved heads began to throw rocks into the church goading the Catholics inside to come out and fight. When this didn’t seem to work they began to throw rocks at the beautiful old leadlight windows. Many of them shattered and that’s why the windows were boarded up.

Some brave souls ventured outside only to be set upon by the monarchist Protestants that patrolled the driveway like rabid dogs. The bloke told me that he had seen a lot of things happen over the years but the feeling there that night in the church grounds frightened him more than anything he had seen. He went away saddened and shaking and despairing for the future of his country.

The same day the papers are full of another atrocity. A Catholic cab driver has been executed by Protestant thugs and the Catholic minority are screaming war crime.

This bloke told me that without the presence of the IRA he had no doubt that Catholics would be openly slaughtered in the streets. That is why the IRA are so brutal and ruthless. That pall of fear they manufacture is their only weapon against the sheer weight of numbers. The IRA tell the Catholic minorities they must not hit back for this reason. They maintain that they are the hand of vengeance and as long as they weave their web of secrecy and fear the Catholics are reasonably safe. It simply does not pay to be of the wrong religion in the wrong place at the wrong time in Belfast.

Being of Irish Catholic heritage I guess I know where my sympathies lie but it really is hard to make sense of any of it and to understand how it could have ever got this bad.

Even the press, which was British owned and operated slanted opinion against the Catholic minorities. It is a frightening, ongoing cancer and there appears to be no answer at all. We were glad to get out of the place.

The last thing we had to do however was to finally shoot a film clip for Innocent Victim. We had put off the shoot in Derry because we were feeling anything but safe and now we were in just the same situation. We began to search the city for a suitable location. The idea was to shoot it as fast as possible in a secluded location and try not to draw a crowd. Even though in Australia the lyrics to the song are thoughtful, they are hardly controversial. Here however they could be dynamite.

In an alley behind the Orange Man’s Hall we found the perfect location. The hall was an ancient brick structure with imposing barbed wire topped walls all about it. It is ugly and forbidding. It reeks of history and bitter confrontation. Up on the roof, grandly seated on his horse and holding aloft the Union Jack is William of Orange the Protestant hero. Weeds grew from cracks in the wall and pavements, old rusted bins were littered about the rear entrance and the whole place had about it an aura of decay and desolation.

To get the timing right we utilised a small portable CD player and a couple of matchbox sized speakers that Mick had bought and set about shooting the different sequences.

It was hot and muggy. There was a black threatening sky and a helicopter hung above us like an enraged dragonfly for most of the shoot. We were all very nervous and held our collective breath every time a car approached the end of the alley.

Several cars did. One carried several heavy looking blokes who eyed us for a few minutes and went about their business. We were all joking that they were probably Catholics and that the little blue car which was parked near the kerb was probably, in reality, a car bomb set to demolish the Orange Man’s building. No one laughed though and for the rest of the day everybody tried to put JB between themselves and the little blue car. Anyone who has ever known a bass player would not condemn us for that.

Mick had hoped to shoot the clip with his film camera that he had lugged all over Europe but unfortunately the magazine jammed and it was useless. He went ahead with the digital Sony and the results, which form the Northern Ireland part of our documentary are fabulous. We shot the clip from all angles and Mick captured some great ambient shots that were used so effectively in the editing of the clip. The bloke we got to edit it is a bloody genius and it turned out a beauty. We were nearly finished and growing increasingly more nervous when suddenly a car pulled up in the alley and a great big, very angry, boofy looking bloke got out of it and came striding toward the film crew. He did not look as though he would understand the rudiments of music clip production and the fact that we were clustered about the back door of his shrine probably didn’t help. We were shooting JB at the time and he was standing against the door looking like, well, like JB. No wonder the bloke looked upset.

He insisted on knowing what a bass player was doing trying to break into the secret and hallowed halls of the Orange Man’s headquarters. We told him that JB was a Catholic spy and homicidal maniac and that we didn’t know him from a bar of soap, that in fact we had caught him trying to break in and that we would kill him and promptly deliver him to the relevant authority. Well no, we didn’t but I’m sure it crossed a few minds. We still had a few gigs to go and didn’t want to break in a new bass player. Doyle managed to pacify the bloke and he wandered off mumbling about psychopathic musicians and brain dead Australians.

After that final gig we slept for what was left of the night and had to be ready for a 6am ferry to Scotland the next morning. We were exhausted the next day and looking forward to getting the hell out of Belfast. The exhaustion and tension caused Sean and I to have our first harsh words as I was packing the bags on the roof. Sean growled at me that I was damaging the roof and I growled back that if he thought he could do any better he should get his arse up here and do it. He walked off muttering and shaking his head.

The ferry terminal was cold and sterile and there was only lukewarm coffee and stale muffins to be had. We mostly sat in silence as we waited to be cleared for boarding. The realisation was also sinking in that this was to be our last adventure, there was only England left and then back to Fortress Suburbia and the resumption of our unremarkable lives. It was a bittersweet revelation.

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