Busty and Duffy didn’t know what to do with themselves. Johnny Rotten had left the Sex Pistols. They sat with trauma etched across their faces, unable to speak knowing that the chances of them ever seeing the band live were now obsolete.
They had been convinced that the Sex Pistols would play Derry. No one played Derry. No one apart from a few local punk bands who had played at Brooke Park the previous month. Both boys had been geared up to go but there had been a bomb scare that day and the army closed the bridge, and so they didn’t make it.
With heavy hearts the boys crossed the Triangle estate and went to the youth club disco in the knowledge that there would be a ten-minute slot halfway through the evening, when the DJ would play some punk songs. Busty, a plump boy with ginger hair, and his best friend, Duffy who was thin with high cheek bones and piercing blue eyes, wore their punk gear at all times. Spiked hair, biker jackets, and drainpipes were their usual attire and tonight when the time came they began to pogo around the floor while the youth club leaders looked on with stern faces, expecting an apocalypse. The two thirteen-year-olds sang along. Busty doing a Jean Jacques Burnel karate kick to the intro of the Stranglers ‘No More Heroes.’ That was followed by the Undertones ‘Teenage Kicks’, which even had Cookie the youth club leader tapping his shoes. Yet no sooner had the set started than it was over, with disco music changing the tone and deflating the boys’ enthusiasm.
The boys sighed in despair as the other kids pushed past them and thronged onto the dance floor. The boys made their way to the tuck shop, where they bought Tayto Crisps and two bottles of Coca-Cola. Tanya Mc Laughlin, an olive-skinned girl who wore braces on her teeth and had a squeaky voice, came up behind them and tapped Busty on the shoulder. Busty turned, wide eyed, and offered Tanya a crisp.
Tanya stood with her hand on her hip. “You’re too stiff when you pogo.”
Busty raised an eyebrow in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Tanya said, “when you’re jumping around you look like you’ve got a plank of wood strapped to your back. Loosen up a bit.”
Duffy burst out laughing.
Busty’s face reddened. He took a mouthful of coke, burping loudly. “That’s the way you’re
supposed to do it. Haven’t you seen Sid Vicious?”
“Sid Vicious?” Tanya cocked her head towards the sound of disco coming from the dance
floor. “He’s nothing but a murderer.”
“What do you mean? Who did he murder?”
“Nancy Spungen.” Tanya spluttered in disbelief. “Everyone knows that.”
Duffy shook his head. “Sid Vicious is innocent.”
Tanya said. “All that stuff’s dead now anyway.” She turned to walk back to the hall, throwing her head back. “Are yis coming to dance?”
Duffy looked at Busty and rolled his eyes. “We don’t dance to that stuff.”
“Yeah,” Busty added, “If it isn’t punk, we ain’t dancing.”
“Suit yourselves.” Tanya waved before running to the hall screaming.
The boys finished their drinks and then played pool for the rest of the evening.
Everyone knew everyone else on the estate different groups of kids holding claim to their own hang-out spot. The steps to the car park was where Busty and Duffy spent a lot of their time. Patches of worn tarmac, with grass growing through them, spread before them, with shards of broken glass scattered around. From the neighbouring flats came the typical afternoon soundtrack – the raised voices of a repeated argument and a baby hollering.
“Do you think we’ll ever get to see a concert?” Duffy asked.
Busty shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows?”
Duffy stared at the tarmac. “If we lived in Belfast it would be different. Everyone plays there. Siouxsie and the Banshees played the Ulster Hall last month and where were we?”
“Probably, sat on our arses around here.”
“It’s such crap.” Duffy said, scratching his head. “But think what it would be like to see a real concert? Can you just imagine It.?”
Busty raised himself up, dusting down the back of his jeans. “Come on. Let’s go,” he said.
Duffy tightened the laces on his DM boots and they walked off, weaving their way through the tower blocks.
At the top of the estate, just opposite the lemonade factory, the boys saw Harvey approaching. Harvey was a huge man of indeterminate age, with greasy black hair and a stubbled face and whose eyes were always bloodshot. He wore a long, soiled overcoat which was buttoned up to the collar.
Busty stuck his hand up. “How’s it going with the old horses, Harvey?”
Harvey stopped, raised his head and looked down at Busty. He pulled a transistor radio from the inside of his coat. “I had a few winners at the weekend.”
Busty turned to Duffy and winked. “How much?”
“Well... err...” Harvey sniffed. “A fiver.”
Busty took a step forward and raised his eyebrows. “A fiver. My God, you’re loaded.”
Harvey shuffled from foot to foot, his eyes now seeded with suspicion.
“Would you have a spare fifty pence?” Busty asked.
Harvey reached in his pocket, hesitated, and pulled out a few coins which he held with grimy fingers. “I’m a bit stuck at the moment to be quite honest with you.”
Quick as a flash, Busty plucked a fifty-pence piece from his hand. Harvey’s lip twitched. He shot his palm closed, Busty’s nimble fingers leaving him short changed. “Make sure you give it back to me.” He sniffed.
“No worries.” Busty stuck the coin in his pocket, sniggering. “I’ll give it back to you when I get my pocket money.”
Harvey switched on his transistor and held it to his ear, his brow creased in concentration.
“Jesus... There’s a race about to start. I’m gonna make my way down the bookies.”
“Are you feeling lucky?” Duffy asked cheerfully.
Harvey looked at the sky. “I can feel it... Today I’m gonna have a winner.” He walked off down the road rubbing his hands.
Clooney Terrace was bustling. The boys made their way through the throngs of people towards Clooney Hall, where two marble pillars stood, below frosted windows, with oak doors just between them. They propped themselves up against the railings when a rusty, transit van, with a spluttering exhaust, pulled up. Four punks got out and started to unload guitars, drums and amplifiers from the back of the van. Busty and Duffy looked on in wonder as they passed.
“What are yis called?” Duffy shouted after them.
“Idol Threats,” one of the punks, a lean, almost malnourished individual, shouted back.
The boy’s faces glowed.
Two punkettes with Mohicans, leather Jackets and bondage trousers came out of the van. They slammed the door shut and walked into the hall.
“Do yis want a hand.” Busty shouted to the skinny punk.
The punk nodded. “OK, yis can take this in.” He lifted the amp off the ground and put it into the boy’s arms.
They made their way into the hall. Chairs were stacked along the walls and two tables stood in the middle of the floor, with a tea urn on top of one of the tables. Busty and Duffy laid the amp down in a corner, where Duffy pulled the curtains, letting sunlight stream into the hall. The two punkettes sat by the side with their legs crossed, deep in conversation while the Punks set up. The skinny punk placed the mike stand into position, took a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and offered one to each of the boys, who coyly looked at one another before happily accepting. They stood with the cigarettes between their lips. The punk struck a match a tiny yellow flame igniting. Both boys sucked on their filters, smoke streaming into their lungs. They began to cough, their eyes watering as plumes of smoke filled the air. The lead singer, who had short spiky hair and wore drainpipes, turned to the other three and asked them if they were ready. The punks picked up their instruments. He counted quickly to four and they began to play. The boys looked on in awe as the band knocked out tune after tune, an electrical energy running through them.
When the band finished their rehearsal session Duffy turned bright faced to Busty. “Well, I know it ain’t a real concert but that was brilliant.”
The band began to pack up, and while the skinny punk rolled up a lead, Duffy hesitantly approached him.
“Are yis playing at the weekend?” he asked.
“The Casbah on Saturday night,” the punk replied.
Duffy’s eyes darted from side to side. “How much will it cost to get in?”
The punk grinned, showing yellow teeth. “It will be a pound but you two boys will be tucked up in bed by your Mammies by the time we come on.”
Duffy swallowed down his frustration. He looked at Busty, who stood with tightened lips scratching his head. “There is no way that we will be let into a pub.”
The band began to take the gear outside. Duffy and Busty picked up guitars and walked smugly towards the van, where the punks stood having a discussion. They thanked the boys and got into the van. One of the punkettes, whose face was powdered white and wore brown lipstick, ran her fingers through their spiked hair.
“Don’t grow up too quickly.” She said, patting their shoulders and leaving them with crimson faces, before jumping into the back of the van, which sped off up the road and quickly disappeared from view.
Rain fell relentlessly next Saturday afternoon. Cars skimmed over puddles on the road, making water swoosh up over the pavement. The two boys chatted excitedly as they approached the hall in anticipation of watching the band rehearse. They got there by twelve thirty to find that the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service had booked the hall for the day. People walked in and out of the building whilst they leaned against the railings wondering what had become of the band. Busty stood chewing on a piece of gum. Duffy looked around him in agitation.
“I can’t believe they’re not here today,” he said, shaking his head.
Busty shrugged his shoulders. “Fuck it. Let’s head on!”
They walked off past the estate, talking about a Stiff Little Fingers gig which was to take place at the Ulster Hall both of them voicing their loyalty to the band who sang songs about what it was like to grow up in Northern Ireland. They soon approached the old railway station. On the river, a dredger cleared the waterway, the city behind lay draped in mist. Busty showed off a badge with the words ‘Suspect Device’ printed in red letters while Duffy fidgeted with a badge showing two fingers sticking up which was fixed to the lapel of his biker jacket. Duffy turned to stare at the new railway station which lay a little further down the road. ‘Stiff Little Fingers are bound to play down here some time.’
He closed his eyes and imagined himself sat in a carriage of a train, the countryside flashing past, as he travelled to a concert in Belfast. ‘Some day,’ he sighed.
Busty looked up at a grey brick tower which displayed a clock with one hand broken and the other bent. “What do you think’s up there?”
Duffy shot open his eyes and looked up. “Fuck knows.”
Busty walked to the entrance where a metal gate hung lopsidedly from a post. He pushed hard on it, causing it to crash against the ground, before motioning with his chin for Duffy to follow him through the gate and inside the tower.
Broken beer bottles and crushed cigarette packets littered the hallway; a rank smell of piss filled the air. They crept up the stairway, past a window, where shards of glass hung like stalactites from the rotting frame. Duffy followed warily. They came to a room where all the windows were broken, rusted filing cabinets stood stacked against the wall and overturned wastepaper baskets lay strewn across the floor. They looked around, the cold cutting into their bones, when a sound came from the far corner, followed shortly by a grunt. Busty took a careful step forward. There was another grunt. Something was lying close by under sheets of newspaper.
Duffy tapped Busty on the shoulder, his lips trembling. “Let’s fucken leg it!”
There was some rustling. Suddenly the top half of a man’s body emerged from its newspaper wrapping.
“Jesus...! Fuck...!” Busty yelled, consumed with fear.
Duffy gulped, and turned to run.
The dark figure sniffed. There was more shuffling, then a radio began to play. Duffy stopped and looked at Harvey raising his eyes he shook his head.
“For fucks sake, Harvey!” he shouted in relief, “You nearly gave both of us a heart attack!”
The boys began to laugh uncontrollably through their noses.
Harvey stuck a tattered cap on his head, got up off the ground, stuck his hands in his pockets and looked around him.
“Do yis have any cigarettes?” he asked, his voice strained.
Duffy threw his hands open, still laughing.
Harvey turned pleading eyes on Busty.
“Go on well.” Duffy said,” Harvey’s seen you right many times. Give him a few bob.”
Busty sucked on his cheeks. “I’m skint.”
A shadow fell over Harvey’s face.
Duffy pulled a few coins from his pocket and walked towards Harvey. “Here you go, buddy.” Harvey stuck the coins in his grubby hand before shooting a look of annoyance at Busty.
Busty’s eyes circled the room until they came to rest on a door. “Does that lead to the tower?”
Harvey nodded, buttoning up his coat. “There’s a ladder in there that will take you up.”
Harvey walked towards the stairs and descended them with heavy footsteps.
Busty pushed back the hatch, which slammed back against the floor, before hoisting himself up into the tower, the dust in the air causing him to sneeze. The mechanisms of the clock had been sealed off behind a wooden panel. Duffy’s head appeared; panting, he slowly pulled himself up and manoeuvred his body around to rest his back against the wall. Daylight gleamed through the clock face, revealing some graffiti scrawled on the panel. Duffy’s eyes skimmed over the writing.
Below that were the names of three punks who lived on the Clooney Estate.
‘Tommy, Midge and Din.’
And below that the words read:
‘Triangle estate punks are posers.’
Duffy bit his lip, took a marker pen from his pocket and scribbled X Ray Spex.
He leaned back against the wall then looked to his side, where he found a scrunched-up copy of The New Musical Express. He picked it up, shook it straight and flicked through the pages, many of which showed photos of youths with snarling faces and spiked hair.
“Let’s have a look at that,” said Busty, snatching the paper from Duffy’s hands and reading aloud. “NME journalist Cliff White has reported that a well-known London gentleman who goes under the name of Johnny Rotten has been spotted at a concert by Doo-Wop revival band Darts.”
Duffy peered over Busty’s shoulder. “Jesus... he’s back!”
Busty eye’s narrowed. “What the fuck was he doing at a Darts gig?” His eyes flickered as he read on. “Rita Ray, the band’s singer, is quoted as saying that she wasn’t surprised to hear this, bearing in mind that the band had a strong affiliation with the punks and adding that they were also a top live act.”
Busty screwed the paper up. Throwing it to one side, he gripped his head. “Fucks sake, Rotten has sold out!”
They left the tower and walked from the railway station towards Spencer Road, where a billboard stood with a couple of wooden benches below it. The poster advertised a confidential telephone number to be called with information about terrorist activity. Below it in large red letters someone had sprayed ‘NO FUTURE.’
Busty lowered his head where his eye caught a row of posters plastered below which promoted a Darts concert at the Rialto. He looked at the photograph of the group, and rubbed his chin. Duffy stood beside him and stared open mouthed at the poster. Busty threw himself on the bench.
“Well, what do you think? “ He asked and began to laugh. “Well, it ain’t exactly punk but...”
Duffy’s attention returned to the poster. “But what!”
“Well..., er... Do you fancy going?”
Duffy nodded eagerly. “If Johnny Rotten likes them, I think we should go for it!”
Busty stuck out his hand. Duffy gripped it and squeezed it tight. “Deal!”
There was a heavy police presence in the city the week before the concert. Three soldiers had been blown up in a roadside bomb and rumours were rife that Darts were too frightened to come to play in Derry. The boys sat on the car-park steps. Lights were shining from the windows of neighbouring buildings and the local shop where some youths stood. Duffy pulled his collar around his neck while he sat with arms folded to keep out the cold. Busty sat shivering and talked about how there was no way that the Darts were going to play the city now.
“Do you think it’s the troubles?” Duffy asked warily, his breath turning white as he talked.
Busty cleared his throat and wiped his running nose. “People are afraid to come here in case they get blown up or shot.” He turned to Duffy, whose eyes were like frost in the lamplight. “Would you like to live in Creggan or the Bogside?”
Duffy looked at the ground, then up at the dark sky.
“I like it around the estate. I know we both complain about it but I like the different groups of kids, the flashing lights of cars, their engines roaring as they zoom up and down Dungiven Road, the laughter at the club. There is always something going on, different characters to meet who always have a tale to tell.”
Busty grinned. “I guess the old Triangle ain’t so bad after all.”
He stood up and tapped Duffy on the shoulder. ”Let’s, head up to the chippy.”
Duffy lifted himself off the ground and they disappeared into the night.
The big night arrived. The boys walked across Craigavon Bridge with a sharp, chilling wind blowing up from the river Foyle. There was a checkpoint made by two British Army land trucks parked across the bridge, where soldiers stopped approaching vehicles. Behind them they heard heavy footsteps. Looking up, they saw Harvey.
“How’s the form boys?” Harvey mumbled.
Busty ignored him, slowing down.
Duffy stuck his thumb up. “We’re going to a concert at the Rialto and...”
Harvey sniffed, raising an eyebrow. “Fair play to yis. Who’s playing?”
Duffy opened his mouth to answer but stopped when a baby-faced British soldier with a ginger moustache stood in front of him with a rifle held in his arms which was way too large for his small frame. “And where are the boys going?” he snapped, in a thick North of England accent.
Duffy and Busty looked anxiously at one another. Harvey stood chewing on his fingernails.
The soldier stared at Harvey, his face full of contempt. “And who’s the tramp?” he hissed “Your father?”
Harvey, startled, shuffled from one foot to the other and began to stammer unrecognisable sounds from his mouth.
Duffy reached across, squeezed Harvey’s arm, raised his head and stared straight through the soldier.
“He’s our uncle.” He said boldly, “and he’s taking us to a Darts concert.”
“Is that so?” The soldier pulled a sarcastic face. A blast of static came from his walkie-talkie. A voice crackled came through the transmission. He looked across at an approaching lorry and dismissed Harvey and the boys with a flick of his gloved hand.
up Carlisle Road, Duffy persuaded Harvey to accompany them to the concert, realising
that they would stand a better chance of getting in if they were accompanied by
an adult. There was an off -licence just beside Quaver Records, the shop where
the boys bought their vinyl. A can of beer sealed the deal for Harvey, who
began to whistle while he stuck the can inside his jacket.
They finally reached the Rialto. The huge, red brick building stood on a steep side-street. On the billboard large black letters spelled out ‘DARTS’ and a yellow light shimmered behind them. A queue had formed; the boys talked eagerly, while Harvey held his radio to his ear. They waited and waited. The crowd finally eased towards the entrance, and the three of them, wedged closely together squeezed through the door and into the foyer.
An elderly lady, heavily made up and with a purple rinse, sat in the ticket booth dispensing tickets. Duffy unzipped his leather jacket, put his hand inside and pulled out a crisp ten-pound note from his birthday money, which he stuck into Harvey’s hand.
Harvey pushed the note through the hatch. “Three tickets, please.”
The woman looked at Harvey, her jaw working on a piece of gum, as the two boys stood on the tips of their toes, their heads barely reaching the counter. She rang up the till and handed the tickets over to Harvey, who guided them into the hall.
The first thing that hit them was the heat, cigarette smoke, then the sound of the crowd, hundreds of people talking at once. Harvey stopped by the door, glanced quickly from side to side, cracked open his can and let the frothy liquid pour into his mouth. He burped loudly and wiped his lips with his sleeve.
“Tell yis what, boys.” He winked. “You two go on down and take your seats. I’ll come and join yis later.”
Duffy and Busty ran elatedly down the aisle, where they took two seats in the second row from the front. They looked around the hall at the huge curtains pulled across the stage, the sloping walls with speakers on both sides, and then stared up at the ceiling and the bright lights shining from above.
Duffy nudged Busty. “This is it! I can’t believe it!” They gave one another a high five.
The seats around them began to fill up. A soft tune played through the speakers, the sound barely audible against the noise of the crowd. Someone began to shout. Within minutes the crowd were all stamping their feet and chanting ‘Darts.’ The boys waited in excitement, as the background music began to fade. A silence fell over the hall, the curtains slowly opened and the band walked onto the stage to rapturous applause. Den Hegarty walked on wearing a chequered suit and waved to the audience, pulling an elasticised face. Bob Fish and Griff Fenders appeared, swiftly followed by their fellow musicians. The chanting got louder, the crowd now shouting for Rita Ray, who at long last walked across the stage dressed in a silver jacket and hot pants, her long legs disappearing into a pair of red stilettos. She grabbed the mike, swept her fingers through her hair and in her sexiest voice said, “Good evening, Derry.” The drummer hit the snare, and the band began to play, their sound exploding around the hall. One song followed another. The boys stared dumbfounded at the band. People danced on their seats while some ran down the aisle. The boys looked around them, jumping off their seats. As they were both carried with the crowd to the front of the stage, a sensation of euphoria overcame them, and they began to pogo to the twanging of guitars and the harmonizing of the vocalists as the sound from the saxophone swept across the stage. Duffy felt a hand grip his shoulder. He looked up. Harvey stood there with bulging eyes. He bent over and shouted in his ear, “You’ve always looked after me.” Duffy tapped Busty on the shoulder. Busty stopped pogoing and looked back at Harvey, who grinned sneakily at him before lowering his shoulders and coaxing Duffy onto his back. Harvey stood up and Duffy rose above the crowd as Busty stood in frustration below him. The band broke into their top ten hit ‘Boy From New York City ’when the spotlight moved across the stage and fell on Duffy, consuming him in a ball of yellow light. He looked around at the ecstatic crowd in the balcony, then down at Busty whose spiked hair was now matted against his crown. He closed his eyes, losing himself in the sound, hot sweat on his face, the music throbbing through his whole being. The song seemed to go on forever. When it ended, the audience screamed for more. Harvey held Duffy’s legs tightly to his chest, the screaming got louder and then the boy looked at Rita. Her eyes blazing, a look of wonder on her face, she grinned and pointed her finger at him. Duffy looked into her eyes, thought of the railway track which would someday take him to Belfast and shot his fist in the air. The drummer hit the beat. The band broke into ‘Daddy Cool.’ Harvey danced below him. An army helicopter hovered outside. Rita Ray kicked one leg in the air and the band played on.