Seamus Nolan, Upstate Theatre Project and Drogheda Punks
Funded by the Arts Council Artist in the Community Scheme
A celebration of the history of Punk Rock in Drogheda town, this project examined the roots and dynamics of oppositional culture and its legacy of dissent as a mode of practice. Upstate Theatre Project and artist, Seamus Nolan, collaborated with a core group of participants who grew up in Drogheda during the late 70’s and 80’s, heavily influenced by the Punk rock movement, its ethics, fashion and political concerns. Through a series of group and individual meetings, collections and presentations, accounts of a counter history were compiled to inform the production of a publication, festival, and performance event.
Saturday the 27th of August 2016 saw the launch of the publication ‘Subvert All Power’ Drogheda’s Punk History, in the theatre space of the Droichead Arts Centre. A number of presentations took place including Orla Ryan, artist, writer and educator, who discussed feminist punk culture as it emerged in the 70’s and its influence. The launch also featured a performance by Nigel Rolf, the artist who created ‘Dark Space’, a 24 hour punk gig in 1979 as a socially engaged and expanded performance. Dave Lordan, activist and poet unpacked his epic articulations of the confusion and helplessness of economic meltdown, through his wry, intense evocations of people, places and circumstances, and Paddy Dillon took his action of disrupting Sunday morning mass in Drogheda in the early 80’s with a clutch of hens as the impetus for his performance.
Excerpts of interviews with Drogheda punks were available to hear and formed part of a podcast by Brian Hegarty’s thirty three-45, on radio International. On Sunday the 28th of August the ‘Parade of Dissent’ including banners, ‘madzers’ and music made its way through the streets to Barlow House where Drogheda’s latest ‘punks’ picnic’ took place. Drogheda bands influenced by Punk performed a free open-air concert for the afternoon, including ‘The Delta Devils’, playing original blues / country, rockabilly, Garage punk band ‘The Black Pitts’ accompanied by the ambiguous antics of ‘Guerrilla Aerial’ all topped off with the unholy doom crust punk that is ‘OKUS’. The concert was MC’d by local psycho-billy wrecking ball Paul Maher, there was food, and light refreshments supplied by the ‘Degenerate Kitchen’ and a prize for the best/ worst dressed punk on the day.
Core group of participants, Barry Quinn, Barbara Carolan, Kevin Smith, Tony Conaghy, Martin Clark, Robert Caffrey, Mick Reid, Ged Kelly, Paul Maher, Adrian Caffrey, Michael Flanagan, Patrick Dillon and Kathleen Carolan, with another fifteen more casual contributors participated in the project. Participants came together through casual acquaintance with Upstate Theatre Project and a public call out. Further collaborators and performers, including Stewart Home, cultural theorist and writer; Peter Maybury, graphic designer; Nigel Rolf, performance artist; Orla Ryan, artist writer and educator; Dave Lordan, performance poet; Paddy Dillon, performance artist; Brian Hegarty, artist, and bands The Delta Devils, The Black Pitts, Paul Maher, Okus and Guerilla Aerial, and Sean Fitzgerald, graphic designer were invited to engage with the group and project.
The project aimed to use the shared experience of punk rock as a seminal moment of both personal and cultural development for the participants and town of Drogheda, to contextualise, document and activate this counter cultural movement as a model of effective cultural and critical production.
Following a period of research the project developed a network of contacts and arranged individual interviews and group meetings with former band members and musicians, fans, local amateur promoters and venue owners to enhance the knowledge base of the project. The artist and participants sought to explore through these reminiscences and personal memories the individual attitudes of the various players during the historical period in question and how the personalities involved reflect upon them now. The discussions collectively investigated questions of punk culture, its influence on local culture, politics and the prevailing social attitude towards youth culture.
Collecting images, writings, recordings, and oral accounts, from participants (not necessarily seeking a consensual or official narrative, but a multiplicity informed by varied experiences and concerns), this work was carried out by the core group of community collaborators accessing both their personal and local collections. Through the interview process the group developed a collective narrative reflecting personal and local experience.
The artist and collaborators documented the conversations prompted by correlated material and reflection of the group. The purpose of this approach was to ensure the integration of lived, cultural experience into the project and centralise the participants’ recollections as the platform for cultural reflection. The group used the experience of the participants in facilitating performance development, event organisation, design, and critical writing etc. to produce a publication along with a public presentation based on the findings of project. The project expressly involved participation in a collective process of design to represent through forms of public presentation the outcomes of the process. The group worked with cultural theorist Stewart Home to contextualize the instances and activities of the group within a broader analysis of performance, ritual, criticality, and counter cultural production.
The project sought to compile an archive consisting of music, writing, performance, photography, clothing etc associated with the legacy of punk rock in Drogheda as a source for collective response and to attempt to place the counter culture activism of its day in cultural historical timeline. A collection of recordings, of musical output and interviews with participants of the group are now part of Drogheda Local Voices archive (housed at Millmount Museum), Drogheda’s ongoing oral history project which acts, in part, a resource for future research and development.
The process included assembling project documentation, to include elements of the archive, transcripts of interviews, contributions from the group and invited artists and theorists in an encompassing publication format, with designer Peter Maybury. The result of this element of the work culminated in the publication, ‘Subvert All Power’.
Another element of the project involved a two day performance seminar combining public performance and presentation of both formal and informal elements of music, writing and spoken word to (re)activate a model of self-determined and collective cultural production. This was realised on 27th & 28th August under the banner of ‘The Festival of Dissent’, described above, celebrating the underlying ‘DIY’ culture that drove the original punk interventions of the 70’s, 80’s and beyond.
The project also successively built a cohesive anthology of cultural production based on a history of dissent, working together to create a model for collaboration across disciplines in the cultural landscape of Drogheda, and building cross generational links for future projects and activities.
Progress was monitored using a series of questions about the aims of the project and the methodology of critical appraisal. Basic targets and time-lines were set, in agreement with the group, and progress measured against them.
A punk rock song was nominated by participants to define the process and encapsulate the progress or dynamic of each meeting.
The group produced the Festival of Dissent, including a number of performances and presentations in Droichead Arts Centre, a public parade and counter cultural music festival. Subvert all Power, a publication compiling outcome of research, archiving and oral history was launched in August 2016.
“Working with Seamus has greatly informed our practice and extended our understanding of how a project engages with communities of interest. The outcomes, in particular the publication, is held in some considerable esteem by the group who helped us develop it and has extended the breadth of understanding of what constitutes local cultural histories beyond that group”.
Declan Mallon, Upstate Theatre Project