…but a matter of life and death. These were the lads who would go on to be the ‘top boys’ of Loyalist paramilitarism and in time would become infamous in Belfast and well beyond. They’d do time in the Maze prison or in ‘ the Crum’ – the damp, dank Crumlin Road gaol that is now a major tourist attraction in Belfast. I have to confess that I was in there too – but not for any romantic notion of defending Loyalism against hordes of Republican invaders.
In fact, it was for motoring offences.
I had a very reckless approach to taxing and insuring my scooter and given that I was prone to crashing or falling off it, this wasn’t great behaviour. Time after time the RUC would flag me down and demand that I produce my documents at the nearest station. Of course, I never had any of these so it would be off to court, and a fine that I couldn’t or wouldn’t pay. This happened so frequently that eventually the magistrate demanded that I either pay the fine straight away or spend three days in Crumlin Road gaol.
Well, I didn’t have much else to do that weekend, to be honest. And I didn’t want to be slapped with a big fine that would be on my mind for ages. So to the surprise of the magistrate I said, ‘I’ll take prison, please,’ and with that I was marched down the steps of the dock and through the tunnel that links the courthouse with the gaol. As I walked I thought about all the paramilitary hard men from both sides who’d been taken on this very journey, many receiving multiple life sentences for the terrible stuff they’d done. I wasn’t exactly in their ranks, but a taste of the Crum would be something to tell the boys when I was finally sprung on the Monday.
Unfortunately for me, I’d overlooked two things. The first was that my time in prison coincided with a bank holiday Monday. There wouldn’t be enough screws present that day to take me through the release procedure, so I’d have to come out on the Tuesday instead. That took the wind out of my sails a wee bit. The second was my clothing. I’d arrived at court complete with sixties paisley shirt, eyeliner and a string of beads around my neck. This wasn’t great gear for going to prison in and when I arrived in the prison to take the obligatory shower the screw in charge gave me a filthy look.
‘Are ye seriously goin’ in there looking like a fruit,’ he asked. ‘D’ye think that’ll be fun for ye?’
I looked at myself in the cracked mirror. The guy was right. Some of the fellas in here were psychos, not exactly sympathetic to lads who looked a bit gay, as I’m sure I did. I couldn’t do much about the shirt, but I scrubbed off the eyeliner and handed in the love beads for safekeeping. Then, in an act of defiance, I scratched the words ‘Mods UTC’ (‘Up The Hoods’) on the door of the shower with a pen before handing that in too. I headed into the prison and to my cell for what turned out to be a pleasant few days.
Because I wasn’t in for anything heinous nobody took any notice of me. Also, I was a skinny lad with hollow legs and I enjoyed the carb-heavy prison food served up to us three times a day. I can’t say I was sorry to be released but it was an experience, and I could always talk it up a bit for the benefit of my mates.
Many years later I took my young son on an organised tour of the prison, which is now a museum. I showed him the shower, and the graffiti that I’d etched on to the door. An American tourist overheard me talking to my boy about my ‘time’ in the Crum, and for the rest of the tour he and his fellow visitors treated me like royalty – Republican, no doubt. I didn’t tell them the truth . . . .why let the facts get in the way of a good story ?
As I’ve said, the spell in gaol was towards the end of a long period of joy-riding, shoplifting and drug-taking, some of which I was lifted for, many others that I got away with. In the 1980s, stealing cars and joyriding was almost a full-time occupation for many of Northern Ireland’s teenage males, especially in the Loyalist and Republican-controlled ghettos. There was always a danger that an untrained driver would crash, accidentally or deliberately, into an army checkpoint and be shot dead, and this happened on multiple occasions during the Troubles. I wasn’t confident enough to drive, but I was a regular passenger in cars that had been stolen by my mates in Belfast city centre and driven at high-speed back up to Glencairn, where they’d be burned out.
This was the scenario one such Saturday night, when we jacked a car just…
Joe McCann (2 November 1947 – 15 April 1972) was an Irish republican volunteer. A member of the Irish Republican Army and later the Official Irish Republican Army, he was active in politics from the early 1960s and participated in the early years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
He was born in the Lower Falls area of Belfast, and spent most of his life there and in the nearby Markets area of the city. His mother died when he was four years old leaving, four children. His father remarried. He was educated at the Christian Brothers school on Barrack Street in Belfast, where he developed an interest in the Irish language. A bricklayer by trade, he joined the Fianna Éireann at age 14 and the IRA in the early 1960s.
In 1964 he was involved in a riot on Divis Street in Belfast in opposition to the threat from loyalist leader Ian Paisley to march on the area and remove an Irish tricolour flying over the election office of Billy McMillen. In 1965 he was arrested for the possession of bayonets with five other men. They served nine months in Crumlin Road jail. He had expressed an interest in the priesthood while a teenager. He joined the Third Order of Saint Francis in his later teens.
McCann was active in the IRA’s involvement in the civil rights activism, protesting against the development of the Divis Flats. McCann became Officer Commanding of the IRA in the Markets, involved in housing issues and any matters which related to local government.
McCann married Anne McKnight who hailed from a strong republican family in the Markets area in Belfast. Anne’s older brother, Bobby, was part of the 1956–62 border campaign and was arrested and jailed, as well as later being interned. Anne’s brother Seán sided with the Provisionals after the 1969 split, and went on to represent South Belfast for Sinn Féin.
McCann was appointed commander of the OIRA’s Third Belfast Battalion. By 1970, violence in Northern Ireland had escalated to the point where British soldiers were deployed there in large numbers. From 3–5 July 1970, McCann was involved in gun battles during the Falls Curfew between the Official IRA and up to 3,000 British soldiers in the Lower Falls area that left four civilians dead from gunshot wounds, another killed after being hit by an armoured car and 60 injured.
On 22 May 1971, the first British soldier to die at the hands of the Official IRA, Robert Bankier of the Royal Green Jackets was killed by a unit led by McCann. McCann’s unit opened fire on a passing British mobile patrol near Cromac Square, hitting the patrol from both sides. He was the fourth British soldier to die on active service & the seventh overall since the conflict began.
In another incident, McCann led a unit which captured three UVF members in Sandy Row. The UVF had raided an OIRA arms dump earlier that day and the OIRA announced they would execute the three prisoners if the weapons were not returned. McCann eventually released the three UVF members, allegedly because they were “working class men”.
The action allowed other IRA members to slip out of the area and avoid arrest. He was photographed during the incident, holding an M1 carbine, against the background of a burning building and the Starry Plough flag.
In early February 1972, he was involved in the attempted assassination of Ulster Unionist politician and Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs John Taylor in Armagh City, outside the then Hibernian Bank on Russell Street. McCann and another gunman fired on Taylor’s car with Thompson submachine guns, hitting him five times in the neck and head; he survived, though he was badly injured. In another incident MaCann and another man were standing outside a Belfast cinema to purchase tickets for the film Soldier Blue when McCann spotted a British Army checkpoint.
McCann was killed on 15 April 1972 in Joy Street in The Markets, in disputed circumstances. He had been sent to Belfast by a member of the Dublin command as he was at the top of the RUC Special Branch wanted list. He was told by the Official IRA Belfast command to return for his own safety to Dublin. However he ignored their requests and remained in Belfast.
The RUC Special Branch was aware of his presence in Belfast and were on the look out for him. On the morning of his death, he was spotted by an RUC officer who reported his whereabouts to the British Parachute Regiment, who were carrying out a road block in the immediate area at the time. McCann was approached by the RUC officer who informed him that he was under arrest. McCann was unarmed and tried to run to evade arrest when confronted by the soldiers. He was shot dead at the corner of Joy Street and Hamilton Street after a chase on foot through the Markets.
McCann was hit 3 times according to the pathology report, the fatal shot hitting him in the buttock and passing up through his internal organs. Ten cartridge cases were found close to his body, indicating that he had been shot repeatedly at close range. Bullet holes were also visible in the walls of nearby houses.
McCann was the leader of the most militant of the OIRA’s members in Belfast and was much more enthusiastic about the use of “armed struggle” in Northern Ireland than the OIRA leadership. His killing was closely followed by the organisation calling a ceasefire. As a result, it was rumoured that the reason that McCann was unarmed when he was killed was that the Official leadership had confiscated his personal weapon, a .38 pistol.
Some former OIRA members have even alleged that McCann’s killing was set up by their Dublin leadership.
Five days of rioting followed his death. Turf Lodge, where McCann lived, was a no-go area and was openly patrolled by an OIRA land rover with the words “Official IRA – Mobile Patrol” emblazoned on the side. The OIRA shot five British soldiers, killing three, in revenge for McCann’s killing, in different incidents the following day in Belfast, Derry and Newry.
Funeral and tributes
McCann’s funeral on 18 April 1972 was attended by thousands of mourners. A guard of honour was provided by 20 OIRA volunteers and a further 200 women followed carrying flowers and wreaths. Four MPs including Bernadette Devlin were also in attendance. Cathal Goulding the Official IRA Chief of Staff, provided the graveside oration in Milltown Cemetery.
By shooting Joe McCann [the British government’s] Whitelaws and their Heaths and their Tuzos have shown the colour of their so called peace initiatives. They have re-declared war on the people…We have given notice, by action that no words can now efface, that those who are responsible for the terrorism that is Britain’s age old reaction to Irish demands will be the victim of that terrorism, paying richly in their own red blood for their crimes and the crimes of their imperial masters.
In spite of this hardline rhetoric, however, Goulding called a ceasefire just six weeks later, on 29 May 1972. One of the more surprising tributes to McCann came from Gusty Spence, leader of the Ulster Volunteer Force loyalist group. Spence wrote a letter of sympathy to McCann’s widow, expressing his, “deepest and profoundest sympathy” on the death of her husband.
“He was a soldier of the Republic and I a Volunteer of Ulster and we made no apology for being what we were or are…Joe once did me a good turn indirectly and I never forgot him for his humanity”.
This is thought to refer to an incident in which three UVF men wandered into the Lower Falls, were captured by OIRA men, but were released unharmed on McCann’s orders.
In December 2016, two British soldiers, known as Soldier A and Soldier C, were arrested and charged with murder. The trial commenced in Belfast April 2021. In May 2021, the trial collapsed and the two soldiers were acquitted. The judge found, amongst other things, that the soldiers’ statements given in 1972 to the Royal Military Police, on which the prosecution was based, were inadmissible because the statements were provided without the soldiers being under caution.
Two former British army paratroopers accused of murdering an Official IRA commander during the Troubles have been acquitted after their trial in Northern Ireland collapsed.
The two veterans, known as soldiers A and C, had been accused of murdering Joe McCann on 15 April 1972, in a closely watched trial with political ramifications.
The case collapsed when the Public Prosecution Service decided not to appeal against a decision by Mr Justice O’Hara to exclude some evidence as inadmissible.
The result delighted army veterans’ groups and their supporters, who said the case was the latest example of old soldiers being subjected to a politically motivated witch-hunt. McCann’s family said justice had been denied.
McCann was a member not of the Provisional IRA but its republican Marxist rival, the Official IRA. He was photographed in 1971 holding a rifle beside the Starry Plough, the flag of the Irish labour movement.
A year later when a Royal Ulster Constabulary officer tried to arrest McCann, he fled, prompting soldiers A and C and a now deceased paratrooper, soldier B, to open fire, hitting the 24-year-old in the back. The case hinged on whether the force used was reasonable.
Prosecutors said soldiers A and C believed McCann was armed but they found no weapon. A defence lawyer said McCann was suspected of murders and could have committed more if he had evaded arrest, leaving the soldiers with a “binary choice” of shooting to effect the arrest or letting him escape.
Disclaimer – The views and opinions expressed in these documentary are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They … Continue reading The Shankill Bomb→
Kriss Donald – The Racist Killing of an Innocent Schoolboy
Kriss Donald 2 July 1988 – 15 March 2004
Kriss Donald was a 15-year-old white Scottish boy who was kidnapped and murdered in Glasgow in 2004 by a gang of men of Pakistani origins.
On 15 March 2004, Kriss was abducted from Kenmure Street by five men associated with a local British Pakistani gang led by Imran Shahid. The kidnapping was supposedly revenge for an attack on Shahid at a nightclub in Glasgow city centre the night before by a local white gang.
The innocent schoolboy had nothing to do with the attack and was randomly selected by the gang who were hunting for any white boy to exact revenge for the attack.
Kriss was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Despite protesting his innocence Kriss was bundled into a car and was savagely attacked over a prolonged period of time before the gang took him to Clyde Walkway where he was horrifically murdered .
The corner stated that the murder was the most savage and brutal they had ever seen. Kriss was beaten and then held down while he was repeated stabbed more that a dozen times. While still alive he was doused in petrol and set on fire as he bleed to death.
The RACIST Murder of Kriss Donald
The case highlighted the lack of attention the media and society in general give to white sufferers of racist attacks compared to that given to ethnic minorities. It is also suggested the crime demonstrates how society has been forced to redefine racism so as to no longer include white victims.
Initially, two men were arrested in connection with the crime. One man, Daanish Zahid, was found guilty of Kriss Donald’s murder on 18 November 2004 and was the first person to be convicted of racially motivated murder in Scotland.
Another man, Zahid Mohammed, admitted involvement in the abduction of Donald and lying to police during their investigation and was imprisoned for five years. He was released after serving half of his sentence and returned to court to give evidence against three subsequent defendant
Three suspects were arrested in Pakistan in July 2005 and extradited to the UK in October 2005, following the intervention of Mohammed Sarwar, the MP for Glasgow Central.
Extradition of three men to Scotland
The Pakistani police had to engage in a “long struggle” to capture two of the escapees. There is no extradition treaty between Pakistan and Britain, but the Pakistani authorities agreed to extradite the suspects.
There were numerous diplomatic complications around the case, including apparent divergences between government activities and those of ambassadorial officials; government figures were at times alleged to be reluctant to pursue the case for diplomatic reasons.
The three extradited suspects, Imran Shahid, Zeeshan Shahid, and Mohammed Faisal Mushtaq, all in their late twenties, arrived in Scotland on 5 October 2005. They were charged with Donald’s murder the following day. Their trial opened on 2 October 2006.
On 8 November 2006, the three men were found guilty of the racially motivated murder of Kriss Donald. All three had denied the charge, but a jury at the High Court in Edinburgh convicted them of abduction and murder.
Each of the killers received sentences of life imprisonment, with Imran Shahid given a 25-year minimum term, Zeeshan Shahid a 23-year minimum and Mushtaq receiving a recommended minimum of 22 years
Lack of media coverage
The BBC has been criticised by some viewers because the case featured on national news only three times and the first trial was later largely confined to regional Scottish bulletins including the verdict itself. Although admitting that the BBC had “got it wrong”, the organisation’s Head of Newsgathering, Fran Unsworth, largely rejected the suggestion that Donald’s race played a part in the lack of reportage, instead claiming it was mostly a product of “Scottish blindness”.
In preference to reporting the verdict the organisation found the time to report the opening of a new arts centre in Gateshead in its running order. The BBC again faced criticisms for its failure to cover the second trial in its main bulletins, waiting until day 18 to mention the issue and Peter Horrocks of the BBC apologised for the organisation’s further failings.
Following their convictions, the killers – particularly Imran Shahid, due to his reputation and distinctive appearance – continued to draw attention for events that occurred inside the prison system. From the time of their remand in 2005, it was known to the authorities that other prisoners had particular intent to attack the accused, and an incident at HMP Barlinnie prompted Imran Shahid to be placed in solitary confinement, a practice which continued regularly until 2010, due to the continual threat of violence against him, and the aggressive behaviour he showed when he did come into contact with others.
He appealed against this measure as a breach of his human rights, which was rejected in 2011 and in 2014 but upheld in October 2015 by the UK Supreme Court. It was found that prison rules had not been correctly adhered to in the application for, or extension of, some periods totalling 14 months of his 56 months of detention, but that overall, the reasons for keeping him in solitary confinement for his own safety were valid.
He was not offered any financial compensation, which he had tried to claim.
In the interim, the concerns over violent reprisals had proven correct, as Shahid was attacked twice (the second incident, in which a fellow murderer struck him with a barbell weight in the gym at HMP Kilmarnock in 2013, caused serious injury) and also attacked another prisoner with a barbell, for which he was sentenced to additional jail time in March 2016; he had received a concurrent sentence for violence in 2009 after being racially abused by another prisoner.
Shahid also received media attention for cases he brought against the prison service governors in 2017 for unlawful removal of his possessions (a ‘penis pump’ for erectile dysfunction which was deemed to have negligible medical benefit, and an Xbox games console which it was believed could have been adjusted to access the internet), which were dismissed.
Zahid Mohammed, who later changed his name to Yusef Harris to avoid connection to the murder, was convicted and imprisoned in 2017 for another separate incident involving weapons, threats and driving his vehicle at police.
In 2009, the sibling of the Shahid brothers, Ahsan Shahid, and the brother of Faisal Mushtaq, Farooq Mushtaq, were both convicted and imprisoned for their own involvement in violent gang-related disorder in Pollokshields which included the use of firearms. A third man, Omar Sadiq was also convicted. In September 2020, Omar Sadiq was stabbed to death in a violent attack in Glasgow. Ahsan Shahid also had previous convictions for fraud from 2002 and was jailed for the same crime in 2017 along with his wife.
“Lola” is a song written by Ray Davies and performed by English rock band the Kinks on their album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. The song details a romantic encounter between a young man and a possible cross-dresser, whom he meets in a club in Soho, London. In the song, the narrator describes his confusion towards Lola, who:
“walked like a woman but talked like a man”
The song was released in the United Kingdom on 12 June 1970, while in the United States it was released on 28 June 1970. Commercially, the single reached number two on the UK Singles Chart and number nine on the Billboard Hot 100.
Since its release, “Lola” has appeared on multiple compilation and live albums. In 1980, a live version of the song from the album One for the Road was released as a single in the US and some European countries, becoming a minor hit. In the Netherlands it became #1, just as in 1970 with the studio version. Other versions include live renditions from 1972’s Everybody’s in Show-Biz and 1996’s To the Bone.
The “Lola” character also made an appearance in the lyrics of the band’s 1981 song, “Destroyer“.
The Kinks – Lola (Official Audio)
Lola was the lead single from the album “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One” originally released in the UK and the US in June 1970 and reached number two on the UK Singles Chart nine on the Billboard Hot 100
I met her in a club down in old Soho Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry-cola [LP version – Coca-Cola:] C O L A cola She walked up to me and she asked me to dance I asked her her name and in a dark brown voice she said Lola L O L A Lola la-la-la-la Lola
Well I’m not the world’s most physical guy But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine Oh my Lola la-la-la-la Lola Well I’m not dumb but I can’t understand Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man Oh my Lola la-la-la-la Lola la-la-la-la Lola
Well that’s the way that I want it to stay And I always want it to be that way for my Lola La-la-la-la Lola Girls will be boys and boys will be girls It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world except for Lola La-la-la-la Lola
Well I left home just a week before And I’d never ever kissed a woman before But Lola smiled and took me by the hand And said dear boy I’m gonna make you a man
Well I’m not the world’s most masculine man But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man And so is Lola La-la-la-la Lola la-la-la-la Lola Lola la-la-la-la Lola la-la-la-la Lola
As an old mod I have long loved the Kinks and everything about them and their iconic music legacy is embedded deep within my soul and still gives me much pleasure and joy. In my opinion they are one of the most underrated English bands of the 60s and although their music has always been well received and revered by their musical peers, they never had the commercial success of the Who or the Stones and to my mind that is a shame.
From the first time I heard Lola spoke to me in a way few tunes do and the surreal theme of the lyrics and the haunting melody its in my top ten tunes ever!
Ray Davies has claimed that he was inspired to write “Lola” after Kinks manager Robert Wace spent a night in Paris dancing with a cross-dresser.
Davies said of the incident, “In his apartment, Robert had been dancing with this black woman, and he said, ‘I’m really onto a thing here.’ And it was okay until we left at six in the morning and then I said, ‘Have you seen the stubble?’ He said ‘Yeah’, but he was too pissed [intoxicated] to care, I think”.
It was a real experience in a club. I was asked to dance by somebody who was a fabulous looking woman. I said “no thank you”. And she went in a cab with my manager straight afterwards. It’s based on a personal experience. But not every word.
– Ray Davies
Drummer Mick Avory has offered an alternative explanation for the song’s lyrics, claiming that “Lola” was partially inspired by Avory’s frequenting of certain bars in West London.
“We used to know this character called Michael McGrath. He used to hound the group a bit, because being called The Kinks did attract these sorts of people. He used to come down to Top of the Pops, and he was publicist for John Stephen’s shop in Carnaby Street. He used to have this place in Earl’s Court, and he used to invite me to all these drag queen acts and transsexual pubs. They were like secret clubs. And that’s where Ray [Davies] got the idea for ‘Lola’. When he was invited too, he wrote it while I was getting drunk”.
Ray Davies has denied claims that the song was written about a date between himself and Candy Darling—Davies contends the two only went out to dinner together and that he had known the whole time that Darling was trans.
In his autobiography, Dave Davies said that he came up with the music for what would become “Lola”, noting that brother Ray added the lyrics after hearing it. In a 1990 interview, Dave Davies stated that “Lola” was written in a similar fashion to “You Really Got Me” in that the two worked on Ray’s basic skeleton of the song, saying that the song was more of a collaborative effort than many believed.
Writing and recording
I remember going into a music store on Shaftesbury Avenue when we were about to make “Lola”. I said, “I want to get a really good guitar sound on this record, I want a Martin”. And in the corner they had this old 1938 Dobro [resonating guitar] that I bought for £150. I put them together on “Lola” which is what makes that clangy sound: the combination of the Martin and the Dobro with heavy compression.
– Ray Davies
Written in April 1970, “Lola” was cited by Ray Davies as the first song he wrote following a break he took to act in the 1970 Play for Today film The Long Distance Piano Player. Davies said that he had initially struggled with writing an opening that would sell the song, but the rest of the song “came naturally”.
Initial recordings of the song began in April 1970, but, as the band’s bassist John Dalton remembered, recording for “Lola” took particularly long, stretching into the next month.
During April, four to five versions were attempted, utilizing different keys as well as varying beginnings and styles. In May, new piano parts were added to the backing track by John Gosling, the band’s new piano player that had just been auditioned. Vocals were also added at this time. The song was then mixed during that month. Mick Avory remembered the recording sessions for the song positively, saying that it “was fun, as it was the Baptist’s [John Gosling’s] first recording with us”.
The guitar opening on the song was produced as a result of combining the sound of a Martin guitar and a vintage Dobro resonating guitar. Ray Davies cited this blend of guitar sounds for the song’s unique guitar sound.
I remember going into a music store on Shaftesbury Avenue when we were about to make “Lola”. I said, “I want to get a really good guitar sound on this record, I want a Martin”. And in the corner they had this old 1938 Dobro [resonating guitar] that I bought for £150. I put them together on “Lola” which is what makes that clangy sound: the combination of the Martin and the Dobro with heavy compression.
– Ray Davies
Despite the chart success “Lola” would achieve, its fellow Lola vs. Powerman track “Powerman” was initially considered to be the first single from the album. However, “Lola”, which Ray Davies later claimed was an attempt to write a hit, was eventually decided on as the debut single release.
while the Dave Davies-penned “Mindless Child of Motherhood” was used in the US. It became an unexpected chart smash for the Kinks, reaching number two in Britain and number nine in the United States.
The single also saw success worldwide, reaching the top of the charts in Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa, as well as the top 5 in Germany, Austria, Belgium, and Switzerland. The success of the single had important ramifications for the band’s career at a critical time, allowing them to negotiate a new contract with RCA Records, construct their own London Studio, and assume more creative and managerial control.
In a 1970 interview, Dave Davies stated that, if “Lola” had been a failure, the band would have “gone on making records for another year or so and then drifted apart”.
Although the track was a major hit for the band, Dave Davies did not enjoy the success of “Lola”, saying, “In fact, when ‘Lola’ was a hit, it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Because it was taking us out of a different sort of comfort zone, where we’d been getting into the work, and the writing and the musicality was more thought about. It did have that smell of: ‘Oh blimey, not that again.’ I found it a bit odd, that period. And then it got odder and weirder”.
Mick Avory said that he “enjoyed the success” the band had with “Lola” and its follow-up, “Apeman“.
I wanted to write a hit [with “Lola”.] It wasn’t just the song. it was the musical design. It wasn’t a power chord song like “You Really Got Me“. It was a power chord beginning. It needed a special acoustic guitar sound … sonorous, growling, with an attack to it.
– Ray Davies, Radio 4’s Master Tapes
Originally, “Lola” saw controversy for its lyrics. In a Record Mirror article entitled “Sex Change Record: Kink Speaks”, Ray Davies addressed the matter, saying, “It really doesn’t matter what sex Lola is, I think she’s alright”.
Some radio stations would fade the track out before implications of Lola’s biological sex were revealed. On 18 November 1970, “Lola” was banned from being played by some radio stations in Australia because of its “controversial subject matter”.
The BBC banned the track for a different reason: the original stereo recording had the words “Coca-Cola” in the lyrics, but because of BBC Radio’s policy against product placement, Ray Davies was forced to make a 6000-mile round-trip flight from New York to London and back on June 3, 1970, interrupting the band’s American tour, to change those words to the generic “cherry cola” for the single release, which is included on various compilation albums as well.
Reception and legacy
“Lola” received positive reviews from critics. Upon the single’s release, the NME praised the song as “an engaging and sparkling piece with a gay Latin flavour and a catchy hook chorus”.
Writing a contemporary review in Creem, critic Dave Marsh recognized it as “the first significantly blatant gay-rock ballad”.Billboard said of the song at the time of its US release, “Currently a top ten British chart winner, this infectious rhythm item has all the ingredients to put the Kinks right back up the Hot 100 here with solid impact”.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic lauded the song for “its crisp, muscular sound, pitched halfway between acoustic folk and hard rock”. Ultimate Classic Rock ranked “Lola” as The Kinks’ third best song, saying “the great guitar riff that feeds the song is one of Dave’s all-time greatest”. Paste Magazine listed the track as the band’s fourth best song.
The song was also well-liked by the band. Mick Avory, who noted the song as one of the songs he was most proud to be associated with, said “I always liked ‘Lola’, I liked the subject. It’s not like anything else. I liked it for that. We’d always take a different path”.
In a 1983 interview, Ray Davies said, “I’m just very pleased I recorded it and more pleased I wrote it”. The band revisited the “Lola” character in the lyrics of their 1981 song, “Destroyer“, a minor chart hit in America.
Since its release, “Lola” became a mainstay in The Kinks’ live repertoire, appearing in the majority of the band’s subsequent set-lists until the group’s break-up.
In 1972, a live performance of the song recorded at Carnegie Hall in New York City appeared on the live half of the band’s 1972 album, Everybody’s in Show-Biz, a double-LP which contained half new studio compositions and half live versions of previously released songs.
The single was a moderate success, reaching number 81 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also released in some countries in Europe (although not the UK) in April 1981. It topped the charts in both the Netherlands, matching the number one peak of the original version, and in Belgium, where it exceeded the original’s peak of three.
It also charted in Australia, peaking at number 69 and spending 22 weeks on the charts. Although not released as a stand-alone single in the UK, it was included on a bonus single (backed with a live version of “David Watts” from the same album) with initial copies of “Better Things” in June 1981.
This live rendition, along with the live versions of “Celluloid Heroes” and “You Really Got Me” from the same album, also appeared on the 1986 compilation album Come Dancing with The Kinks: The Best of the Kinks 1977–1986.
Although it did not appear on the original 1994 version, another live version of “Lola” was included on the 1996 US double-album release of To the Bone, the band’s final release of new material before their dissolution.
Tarred and Feathered: Street Justice Belfast Style
Life during the Troubles
Here are the opening few pages of my bestselling book: A Belfast Child
As a child, I loved the housing estate of Glencairn. To my mind it was paradise. Cut into the hillside, and with unbeatable views of the city on one side and the Divis Mountains on the other, it was like arriving in heaven after the hell of living among the urban sectarian flashpoints of West Belfast. Here were trees, lush green fields, sparkling clear rivers and streams that rushed down from the mountainside and were filled with fish. Us kids spent long hot summers splashing about in the ‘Spoon’, a natural cavernous feature of the landscape filled with water, and feasted on wild berries, strawberries and nuts that grew along the banks of the river.
Here were our close family and friends, housed in the damp flats and maisonettes that had been hurriedly built to house those Protestants ‘put out’ of their homes in the city by avenging Catholics. They too were being burnt from their homes but back then my young Loyalist heart felt no sympathy for them; in my opinion they supported the IRA and had started the ‘war’.
Up in Glencairn we felt safe and free. As long as we all obeyed the rules, of course.
These rules were not the laws of the land. They were not enforced by police, army or government officials. They were not set down in any written form, but we all knew what they were and who had made them. And even as small children, we knew that a heavy price would be extracted for those foolish enough to break the rules. A heavy price, and sometimes a very public price too.
Our two-bedroom maisonette was situated at the bottom of a small grassy hill facing St Andrew’s church Church and the local shopping complex, which consisted of a Chinese chippy, the VG general store, a laundrette, a newsagent’s, a wine lodge and the local Ulster Defence Association – UDA – drinking club called ‘Grouchos’ . In fact, we could roll down it almost to our back door – a game my younger brother David and I played frequently. In the winter when the hill was covered in snow, we would make sledges out of old bits of wood and spend hours and hours going up and down the hill, never feeling the cold. Dad would have a go at us for all the mud and grass we trailed into the flat but his was a good-natured telling-off. The truth was that he was pleased to see us all happy and carefree again after the trauma of the previous few years, and the sudden and final disappearance of my mum.
One late spring afternoon I was revolving rolling towards our back door, Dad’s beloved Alsatian dog Shep (my best friend and constant companion) in hot pursuit. Dad called him Shep after the Elvis song and he was able to knock our letter box with his nose when he wanted to come indoors. The grass had recently been cut and was damp, meaning that it stuck to every part of my clothing. I came to a halt just short of our back wall, the sweet smell of cut grass filling my nostrils, before standing up to brush it all off my jumper. As I did, I noticed my cousin, Wee Sam, running up towards our house from the direction of the main road.
‘John! Davy! C’mon, hurry up! There’s summin’ going on down the shops!’
Wee Sam was red in the face and could hardly get his words out. ‘It must be good,’ I said, ‘cos you look like you’re about to die.’
‘Not me,’ he replied, ‘but there’s a woman down there looks likely to. C’mon, we gotta see this!’
He turned tail and without thought we ran after him. As anyone who’s ever grown up on a housing estate will know, if there’s a commotion taking place word gets around like lightning. In Loyalist Glencairn there was always something going on and it was violent as often as not violent. As we ran, it seemed that from every direction half of estate was also making its way to the shops from every direction facing St. Andrews church from every direction. ‘This must be big,’ I thought as I ran, my wee brother trying to keep up with me. On this estate, as in every area of Belfast afflicted by the Troubles, very few people turned away from troubledanger. The natural sense of curiosity found in spades among Northern Irish people was too strong for that.
In the few minutes it took us to run from our house, a large crowd had already gathered outside the shops. A gang of ‘hard men’, whom we all knew to be paramilitary enforcers, seemed to be at the centre of the action. Local women stood on the fringes of the crowd, shouting, swearing and spitting.
‘Fuckin’ Fenian- loving bitch!’
‘Youse deserve to die, ye fuckin’ Taig-loving hoor!’ (‘Taig’ is an offensive slang term for a Catholic).
I pushed in to get a better look. At the heart of the crowd was a young woman, struggling against the grip of the men holding her. Her cheap, fashionable clothes were torn and her eyes were wild and staring, like an animal’s before slaughter. She screamed for them to take their hands off her, spitting at her accusers and lashing out with her feet. It was no use. One of the bigger guys pulled her hands behind her back and dragged her against a concrete lamppost. Someone passed him a length of rope and with a few expert strokes he’d lashed the young woman against the post by her hands, quickly followed by her feet. She reminded me of a squaw captured by cowboys in the Westerns I loved to watch and then re-enact using local kids in games that could last for days.
Except this wasn’t a game. This was justice Glencairn style – all perfectly normal to me and my peers and we took it in our stride. Although she was still squealing like a pig, the resistance seemed to have gone out of the woman. Smelling blood, the crowd pushed forwards and the woman’s head hung low in shame and embarrassment. One of the men grabbed a hank of her long hair and wrenched her head upwards, forcing her to look him right in the eye.
‘You,’ he said slowly, ‘have been caught going with a Taig, so you have! Do you deny it?’
Now I recognised the woman. She was a girl off the estate. I ha’d seen her walking down Forthriver Road on her way to meet her mini-skirted mates. They’d pile into a black taxi and head into town for a bit of drinking and dancing. I guess it was on one of these nights out that she’d met the Catholic boy – the ‘Taig’ – who was at the centre of the allegations. Good job he wasn’t here now, because he might already be lying in a pool of blood, a bullet through his head.
The woman shook her head. There was no point trying to talk her way out of anything now.
‘Fuck you,’ she said defiantly. ‘Fuck youse all.’
‘Grab her hair!’ shouted a female voice from the crowd. ‘Cut off the fuckin’ lot!’
The enforcer produced a large pair of scissors from his pocket. Slowly, deliberately, he tightened his grip on her hair before hacking savagely at the clump below his fist. Amid cheers he threw it at her feet before continuing his rough barbering skills. Within minutes he’d finished and now the woman looked like a cancer victim. Blood oozed from the indiscriminate cuts he’d made on her head and as it ran down her face it intermingled with her tears and snot. She was not a pretty sight.
‘ back!’ demanded one of the enforcers. The crowd parted and someone came forward with an open tin of bright red paint. Knowing what was to come, and not wanting to be physically contaminated with the woman’s shame, the crowd moved even further back.
The UDA man poured the contents of the tin all over the woman’s head, allowing it to run the entire length of her body, right down to her platform boots. She looked like she’d been drowned in blood. Then a pillow was passed up, and ham-hands the enforcer tore a big hole in the cotton, exposing the contents – feathers, hundreds and thousands of them.
‘G’wan,’ said a voice, ‘give her the full fuckin’ works.’
Without further ado the man poured the white feathers all over the woman, head to toe. They clung to the paint, giving the impression of a slaughtered goose hanging off the telegraph pole.
‘That will teach ye not to go with filthy Taigs,’ said the enforcer. ‘Any more of this and youse’ll get a beating then a bullet, so you will. Understand?’
Through the paint and the feathers came a small nod of the head.
‘Good,’ said the man. ‘And just so ye don’t forget, here’s a wee something we made for you earlier.’
To laughter and jeers, the man produced a cardboard sign which he placed around the woman’s neck. In the same red paint used to humiliate her, someone had written ‘Fenian Lover’ across the middle of the cardboard.
‘Leave her there for half an hour,’ commanded the man to a subordinate, ‘then cut her down.’ The crowd dispersed, a few women spitting on the victim as they left.
‘Jesus,’ said Wee Sam, wide-eyed. ‘Did you see that? Looked like she’d been shot in the head and the feathers were her brain running down her face. Fuckin’ amazing.’
‘Course I saw it,’ I said. ‘I was right at the front, wasn’t I? The bitch deserved it. Imagine going with Taigs, the dirty whorehoor.’
‘Let’s wait round the shops till they chop her down,’ said Sam. ‘See where she goes.’
We’d been playing one of our eternal games of Cowboys and Indians recently and we’d got into the idea of tracking people down stealthily. So we waited until another paramilitary cut the woman’s rope and watched as she slumped to the ground.
‘I think she’s pissed herself,’ said Sam.
‘Ssh,’ I replied, ‘she’ll hear us. Wait while she gets up.’
We watched the woman slowly pick herself up from the pavement. She wiped her eyes and looked around. The area outside the shops was now completely deserted, as though nothing had happened. An angry mob had been replaced by an eerie silence.
As she stumbled off, we nudged each other. ‘Look,’ I said., ‘Look what’s happening. She’s leaving a trail!’
She was too, a trail of blood- red boot prints. We gave her twenty or so yards’ start, then in single file began to follow her, sidling up against walls and lamp-posts like the gang of Cherokees we imagined we were. We must have gone a good quarter- mile when she turned into a pathway leading up to a small, shabby flat. We saw her fumbling in her pocket for a key, noticing the relief on her face as she found it still there. The lock turned and she went inside without a backwards glance.
‘That’s it,’ said Sam, ‘fun’s over. Let’s go home.’
‘Wait,’ I said. I watched as the woman put on a light, looked in a mirror then drew the curtains tightly. Some part of me, the part that wasn’t screaming ‘Fenian bitch!’ with all the others, suddenly felt hugely sorry for her. She only looked about seventeen17 or eighteen18 – not much older than my sister Margaret. What had she really done wrong, other than meet a nice boy she liked? Did she deserve such brutal treatment? After this I never saw her around the estate again. She’d probably fled for her ,life, never to return. And who could blame her?
Something inside of me knew I’d witnessed a terrible thing, yet I knew I couldn’t even begin to think like this. It was against the rules; the same unwritten rules and code of conduct that this young woman had disobeyed. Fear of the paramilitaries created a culture of silence and where we lived this was a survival strategy we all lived by. We were all products of this violent environment and we were had been desensitised conditioned to events that no child should ever have to witness.
I shuddered, pulled my thin jacket close around me and with the others, headed for the safety of home.
Even now, more than forty years later, whenever I smell the sweet smell aroma of cut grass I am transported back to that dusky spring evening in the early 70’s seventies and the woman’s brutal punishment, and I can hardly believe the madness of my childhood in Glencairn.
Here’s my latest interview , as you can tell Im rather nervous and as a result I get a little muddled in some areas and stumble over some of the questions and answers as if I have no idea what Im speaking about.
This is simply the story of a boy trying to grow up, survive, thrive, have fun & discover himself against a backdrop of events that might best be described as ‘explosive’, captivating & shocking the world for thirty long years.
She was jailed twice for seditious speeches. After she was released from HM Prison Armagh, raids on her house by the security forces escalated, her health began to fail and she was admitted to the Mater Hospital, Belfast.
On 28 October 1976, Máire Drumm was shot dead in her hospital bed in a joint operation by the Red Hand Commando.
Joe McCann – Life & Death Joe McCann (2 November 1947 – 15 April 1972) was an Irish republican volunteer. A member of the Irish Republican Army and later the Official Irish Republican Army, he was active in politics from the early 1960s and participated in the early years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He was shot dead, after being confronted by RUC Special … Continue reading Joe McCann – Life & Death→
… Máire Drumm Life & death 22 October 1919 – 28 October 1976 Máire Drumm (22 October 1919 – 28 October 1976) was the vice-president of Sinn Féin and a commander in Cumann na mBan. She was killed by Ulster loyalists while recovering from an eye operation in Belfast’s Mater Hospital. Born in Newry, County Down, to a staunchly Irish republican family. Drumm’s mother had … Continue reading Máire Drumm: Life & Death→
Death of Robert Hamill Robert Hamill was an Irish Catholic civilian who was beaten to death by a loyalist mob in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Hamill and his friends were attacked on 27 April 1997 on the town’s main street. It has been claimed that the local Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), parked a short … Continue reading Death of Robert Hamill: 27th April 1997→
John Bingham Life & Death John Dowey Bingham (c. 1953 – 14 September 1986) was a prominent Northern Irish loyalist who led “D Company” (Ballysillan), 1st Battalion, Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). He was shot dead by the Provisional IRA after they had broken into his home. Bingham was one of a number of prominent UVF members to be assassinated during the 1980s, … Continue reading John Bingham UVF : Life & Death→
Aberfan is a former coal mining village in the Taff Valley 4 miles (6 km) south of the town of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales.
On 21 October 1966, it became known for the Aberfan disaster, when a colliery spoil tip collapsed into homes and a school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.
Aberfan The Untold Story
For many years, millions of cubic metres of excavated mining debris from the colliery were deposited on the side of Mynydd Merthyr, directly above the village of Aberfan on the opposite side of the valley. Huge piles, or “tips”, of loose rock and mining spoil had been built up over a layer of highly porous sandstone that contained numerous underground springs, and several tips had been built up directly over these springs.
Although local authorities had raised specific concerns in 1963 about spoil being tipped on the mountain above the village primary school, these were largely ignored by the National Coal Board‘s area management.
Early on the morning of Friday, 21 October 1966, after several days of heavy rain, a subsidence of about 3–6 metres occurred on the upper flank of colliery waste tip No. 7. At 9:15 a.m. more than 150,000 cubic metres of water-saturated debris broke away and flowed downhill at high speed. A mass of over 40,000 cubic metres of debris slid into the village in a slurry 12 metres (39 ft) deep.
The slide destroyed a farm and twenty terraced houses along Moy Road, and struck the northern side of the Pantglas Junior School and part of the separate senior school, demolishing most of the structures and filling the classrooms with thick mud and rubble up to 10 metres (33 ft) deep. Mud and water from the slide flooded many other houses in the vicinity, forcing many villagers to evacuate their homes.
What Happened At Aberfan? This Is The Full Story | The Crown
After the disaster the Mayor of Merthyr immediately launched a Disaster Fund to aid the village and the bereaved. By the time the Fund closed in January 1967, nearly 90,000 contributions had been received, totalling £1,606,929. The Fund’s final sum was approximately £1,750,000 equivalent to £32 million today .
The concerns of the village and donors grew about how the money in the fund would be used: some felt it should be used to compensate the bereaved, whilst others felt it should benefit the wider community. The funds paid for the memorial garden and cemetery along with other facilities to aid the regeneration of Aberfan both physically and emotionally.
The cemetery is where many of the victims are buried. The original Portland and Nabresina Stone memorials erected shortly after the disaster began to deteriorate, and in 2007 the Aberfan Memorial Charity refurbished the garden area, including all of the archways and memorials. The weathered masonry was replaced with polished pearl white granite, all inscriptions were re-engraved and additional archways were erected.
The Coventry Playground was built in 1972 on the site of the old Merthyr Vale School, with money collected by the people of Coventry. The playground was officially opened by the mayor of Coventry.
A memorial garden was opened on the site of Pantglas Primary School, which was destroyed during the disaster. The park was partly opened by the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, on her visit to Aberfan in 1974.
The Aberfan Memorial Charity was founded in 1989 and is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the cemetery and memorial garden
Place of worship
Bethania Welsh Independent Chapel was built in 1876 and rebuilt in 1885.At the time of the Aberfan disaster in 1966 the chapel was used as a temporary mortuary where victims were taken to be identified by relatives. The chapel was demolished in 1967 and a new chapel erected in 1970. By 2007 the chapel had fallen into disrepair and was closed; memorial items from the disaster were relocated to Cardiff Bay.
Aberfan Calvinistic Methodist chapel was built 1876, in an Italianate style. The foundation stone was laid by Sarah Griffiths, wife of the owner of the Aberfan Estate. It became a Grade II listed building in August 1999, for its architectural interest as a well-designed Victorian chapel with an unaltered stone facade; it was judged to be prominent in Aberfan, and had retained its interior with a good gallery.
After the Aberfan disaster, the chapel was furnished with a memorial organ by the Queen. After extensive renovation, the chapel reopened at Easter 2008, but dry rot quickly set in, destroying newly installed window frames and beams. The cost of repair was estimated at £60,000. In August 2012 parishioners were banned from attending the church after an inspection condemned the building, and in October it was offered for sale, with a guide price of £22,000.
A 27-year-old man was later arrested in relation to the fire
The village has two smaller chapels: the former Smyrna Baptist Chapel, built in 1877, which is now closed and is used as a community centre, and the Zion Methodist Chapel, originally English Primitive Methodist, located on Bridge Street and built in 1891
See below for details on how to order a signed copy:
The book is selling beyond my wildest expectations and the reviews are awesome , so good in fact you’d think I was paying for them ,lol
I have quite a few copies at home and if you would like to receive a signed copy they cost only £10.00 plus postage .
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Date 1st September 2020
Here’s a quick update on the book launch, promo and a link to order a signed copy.
Only thirteen days to go until my life story is in the public domain and having worked on it and waited almost twenty five years to see it in print I must admit I’m extremely nervous and apprehensive about its forthcoming release.
Having grown up during and lived through some of the worst years of the Troubles I know my story is far from unique and many have suffered far more both physically and emotionally due to the nightmare that stalked our lives for thirty long blood soaked years.
However due to the secret of my dual heritage, compounded by growing up in and around some of the most violent Loyalist estates in West Belfast the sudden and final disappearance of my catholic mother hunted me throughout my life and my search for her is the main theme throughout the book. The Troubles provide the backdrop and needless to say my story includes brief accounts of some of the highest profile and soul-destroying times that we all lived through.
Although I know this area will be a very divisive issue I hope when reading it folk bear in mind that I’m writing about these accounts as seen through the eyes of a child living through them.
Despite the madness throughout the book/my life there is much laughter and many accounts also of my crazy teenage years in and around Glencairn and drug fuelled mod years and later the rave scene in and around London. When all is said and done no one else has ever walked in my shoes and although I expect much criticism when folk read the book, I hope it might make them stop and think for a moment : Was it all worth it ?
I think not.
Sadly, due to the coronavirus I will not be doing book signings in Belfast, Scotland and Ireland as originally planned. Thank god because I hate that side of things and wasn’t really looking forward to it to be honest lol. The publisher has informed me that this may change over the coming months and I will keep you updated via here or on Twitter.
If you want a signed copy of the book see blow.
In regards to interviews etc there are quite a few lined up, including radio , podcasts , TV and in print and I will be posting details of these as and when they happen or become available.
Another aspect of the publishing world Im not looking forward to.
The cost is £10.00 plus £2.50 for postage per book.
Please note the book will be dispatched within a few days of payment
Read the introduction to my No.1 Best Selling book here:
‘Historically, Unionist politicians fed their electorate the myth that they were first class citizens . . . and without question people believed them. Historically, Republican/Nationalist politicians fed their electorate the myth that they were second class citizens . . . and without question the people believed them. In reality, the truth of the matter was that we all, Protestant and Catholic, were third class citizens, and none of us realised it!’
Hugh Smyth, OBE (1941–2014). Unionist politician.
Although I was raised in what is probably one of the most Loyalist council estates in Belfast, I was never what you might term a conventional ‘Prod’. Don’t get me wrong – coming from Glencairn, situated just above the famous Shankill Road and populated by Protestants (and their descendants) who fled intimidation, violence and death in other parts of Belfast at the beginning of the Troubles, I was (and remain) a Loyalist through and through. I was unashamedly proud of my Northern Irish Protestant ancestry (still am) and couldn’t wait for all the fun and games to be had on 12th ‘The Twelfth’, or ‘Orangeman’s Day’ (still can’t). Even after 30 plus years of living away from the place my dreams are populated by bags of Tayto Cheese & n Onion crisps, pastie suppers from Beattie’s on the Shankill and pints of Harp lager. I cheer on the Northern Ireland Football team (though I’m not a massive football fan I watch all the big games) and I bitch frequently about the doings of Sinn Fein.
I’m a working-class Belfast Loyalist through and through and very proud of my culture and traditions. Yet from an early age I sensed that I was somehow different. As a child I couldn’t quite put my finger on it and when I discovered the truth in my early teens, I was embarrassed, mortified and ashamed – but maybe not particularly shocked. I always knew there was something not ‘quite right’ about me. The secret was that I wasn’t as ‘Super Prod’ as I thought; there was another strand of Northern Irish tradition in my background, one that was equally working-class Belfast, but as diametrically opposed to Protestantism as you’re likely to get. There’s a comedy song that probably still does the rounds in clubs across Ireland, North and South, called ‘The Orange and The Green’, the chorus of which goes something like ‘It is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen/My father he was Orange and my mother she was Green.’ In other words, a Protestant father and a Catholic mother. This song could have been written about our family directly, so closely did it match our dynamic.
Now, if you’re reading this from the comfort of any other country than Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland or Scotland, you’ll be (just about) forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. Catholics marrying Protestants? So what? No big deal, surely. No one cares . But in a country like Northern Ireland, where tribalism still reigns supreme and the local people can sniff out a person’s religion just by looking at them, theof the ‘mixed marriage’ is still cause for a good gossip, at the very least. During the Troubles period it was an excuse for deep embarrassment, banishment, a paramilitary beating, or worse. Those Protestants and Catholics who married and stuck it out either slunk away into some quiet corner of Northern Ireland, trying to ignore the conflict while hoping the neighbours wouldn’t ask too many questions, or left the place altogether, never to return.
The marriage of my own parents, John Chambers (Protestant) and Sally McBride (Catholic), fell apart in the late 1960s as Belfast burned in the early days of the Troubles. The ferocity of hatred between the city’s two warring communities scorched many people desperately trying to find sanctuary in a country heading towards allout civil war. As we’ll see, my parents’ marriage was among these early casualties. Their lives, and the lives of their four children, would change forever and were shaped by the sectarian madness that tore Belfast and all of Northern Ireland apart and brought us all to the brink of an abyss that threatened and ruined our daily lives.
This isn’t a book about the day-to-day events of Troubles. There are plenty of excellent histories available detailing the period in all its gory glory, and from all viewpoints. If you need deep context, I’d recommend reading one of these, or even visiting Belfast. It’s safe now and as a tourist you won’t find a warmer welcome anywhere on this earth. As we say, Northern Irish people are the friendliest in the world – just not towards each other.
Although I love history I’m not a historian and I don’t intend this book to be a dry run through the events of 1969 onwards. As I child I learned the stories and legends of the Battle of Boyne and the Siege of Derry at my grandfather’ and father’s knees, becoming immersed in the Loyalist culture that would shape and dominate my whole existence.
I just happened to be there at the time – an ordinary kid in an extraordinary situation made even more complicated by the secret of my dual heritage. This is simply the story of a boy trying to grow up, survive, thrive, have fun and discover himself against a backdrop of events that might best be described as ‘explosive’, captivating and shocking the world for 30 long years. I’ve written this book because even I find my own story hard to believe sometimes, and only when I see it on the shelves will I truly know that it happened. In addition, it’s a story I would like my own children and grandchildren to read.
I want them to live in peace, harmony and understanding in a multicultural world where everyone tolerates and respects each other. I suppose I’ve always been a dreamer….
When they read my book, which I hope they will, they might understand what it is to grow up in conflict, hatred and intolerance, and work towards a better future for themselves and others. When I was 20, 21, I knew that if I didn’t leave Northern Ireland soon, I would end up either in prison or dead, or on the dole for rest of my life. This was the brutal reality I was faced with. My own personal journey through life and the Troubles had lead me to a crossroads in my life and I made the monumental choice to leave Belfast and all those I loved behind and start a new life in London.
I would hate to think my son, daughter or nephews and nieces back in Belfast would ever have to make the same drastic judgement about their own situation.
My Loyalist heart and soul respects and loves all mankind, and providing theyou worship or the political system you follow is peaceful and respectful to all others then I don’t have a problem with you and wish you a happy future. Just because I am proud of my Loyalist culture and traditions doesn’t make me a hater or a bigot; it just means I am happy with the status quo in Northern Ireland and wish to maintain and celebrate the union with the UK and honour our Queen.
As a child growing in Loyalist Belfast during the worst years of the roubles I hated Catholics with a passion and I could never forgive them for what I saw as their passive support of the IRA and other Republican terrorist groups. However, unlike many of my peers around me I was never comfortable with the killing of non-combatants, regardless of political or religious background, and I mourned the death of innocent Catholics as much as innocent Protestants. In my childhood I looked up to the Loyalist warlords and those who served them and when they killed an IRA member I celebrated with those around me. As I grew older and wiser my views changed. I no longer based my opinions and hatred on religion, but on politics and the humanity shown to others.
I’m a peace-loving Loyalist and therefore want everlasting peace in Northern Ireland. We do exist, despite perceptions from some quarters, but our voices are rarely heard, drowned out by the actions of the few, and certainly nowhere near as frequently as our Republican neighbours who are very much ‘on message’ with their own take on events. I hope this book goes some way to redressing that balance, and that whatever ‘side’ you might be on (or on no side at all) you will enjoy it, and that it will make you stop and think.
Finally, the story you are about to read is my own personal journey through the Troubles and my perception of growing up in Loyalist Belfast. In no way am I speaking for the wider Loyalist community or Protestant people and the views expressed here are my own. For reasons of security, some names have been changed.