The Outcasts

TrackAlbum / EP / Single
You're A DiseaseIT Record Co IT4
Just Another Teenage RebelGood Vibrations GOT 3
The Cops Are ComingGOT 7 (Battle Of The Bands)
Self Conscious Over YouGOT 17 + Self Conscious Over You
Gangland WarfareGBH Records GBH 001
Magnum ForceGBH Records GBH 001
Programme LoveProgramme Love EP
Angel FaceOO Records 00200
Nowhere Left To RunAnagram Records ANA 12
Seven Deadly SinsNew Rose Records New 38

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm

 

The Outcasts photo 1

The Outcasts (l to r): Colin Cowan, Colin “Getty” Getgood, Greg Cowan, Martin Cowan

 

Contributor: Michael Martin

“Is this the MPLA, or is this the UDA, or is this the IRA?” sneered Johnny Rotten on the debut single Anarchy In The UK by the Sex Pistols in the fall of 1976. For those of you who didn’t know, the Protestant UDA and the Catholic IRA were the two terrorist groups causing carnage and mayhem in 1970s Belfast.

Teenagers in Belfast around that time were getting bored, confined to their own areas for fear of being beat up or shot by the ‘other side’. Belfast city centre was surrounded by a ring of steel, a massive security fence with checkpoints where you were searched by the army or RUC before entering.The entertainment scene was dead on its feet. Bands from across the water stopped coming here. The highlight of the year for most teenagers was the annual visit to the Ulster Hall of Rory Gallagher who played regardless of bombs and death threats.

Inspired by the early pioneers of punk on the mainland – The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Adverts – Ulster’s teenagers had started to follow suit. Bands and DIY fanzines were springing up. North Belfast had Stiff Little Fingers, from the East came Rudi and Protex, the West had The Starjets, and in the South three brothers were getting their instruments together – The Outcasts: Greg Cowan (bass and vocals), Martin Cowan (guitar), Colin Cowan (drums) with their friend Colin Getgood (lead guitar) played their first gig in August 1977.

It wasn’t long before the band acquired the tag “The band you love to hate” due to their rowdy, loutish behaviour and songs like Johnny’s A Wanker, and being turned away from nightclubs and gigs hence the name Outcasts. In those days gigs were few and far between due to the security situation in the country and the reputation punk bands had gained. Bands often hired out hotel function rooms and pubs under the guise of a private birthday party and sold tickets, until city centre bars The Pound and The Harp opened their doors to the punk bands.

When I look back on growing up in war-torn Northern Ireland, it was certainly a hell of an experience. I wouldn’t want my own kids to go through what I went through, although being part of a vibrant youth culture like punk helped us along. And thanks to bands like the Outcasts it broke down the barriers, but most of all it gave us a bright ray of sunshine in the midst of the troubles …

The Outcasts poster 1

 

What follows here is my top ten toppermost tunes from a great band who should have been up in the premier league of punk rock.

#1 You’re A Disease

The Outcasts logo

The band’s first single was released on the IT record label from Portadown in March 1978. It was their introduction to the recording studio and some thirty takes were required before it was finalised. A popular live favourite, the original being quite rare these days although it was re-released on the french label Combat Rock in 1996.

#2 Just Another Teenage Rebel

May 1978 saw the release of the classic Big Time by Rudi on the Belfast label Good Vibrations, catalogue number GOT 1 (The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks was GOT 4). Having purchased the Big Time 7″ single with the wrapround sleeve locally, my chums and I were curious. We had heard through older lads that Good Vibrations, 102 Great Victoria Street, Belfast was not only a label but an actual record shop … one where the owner, Terri Hooley, would buy your unwanted vinyl for a fairly generous price. It soon became a ritual that when it was half, or end of, term and you had to go into school for a half day – we wouldn’t. Instead, Kirky came up with the idea that our small band of school chums would “beak off”. We would meet at Boycey’s house knowing his parents were out at work, get changed into our punk gear and board the bus to Belfast with our bags of unwanted vinyl.

Going up the staircase to Good Vibrations was an unforgettable experience. You were met with all sorts of aromas (some probably illegal) coming from the health food shop Sassafrass below it. Smells which are still evident on the records I bought there, strangely.

The other thing that stood out were the posters on the walls. The Outcasts poster advertising a gig attracted my attention due mainly to their appearance; the leather jackets and the spiky hair and the bad boy image they portrayed.

Into the shop and Terri seemed very keen to get his hands on my Dead Boys and Richard Hell and the Voidoids LPs. Money soon changed hands and I bought, among other new releases, Just Another Teenage Rebel (cat. no. GOT 3) by The Outcasts, leaving just enough cash for the NME, the bus fare home, a cup of milky coffee and a Wimpy burger. Life was good.

Terri Hooley photo

Terri Hooley outside Good Vibrations (1983)

 

#3 The Cops Are Coming

The next release was part of a double 7″ pack, Battle Of The Bands. Living up to their bad boy image this was a violent tale of necrophila, and another live favourite and very rare these days. Last one I saw went for £50 on eBay.

#4 Self Conscious Over You

1979 saw the band’s first LP, Self Conscious Over You, released on the Good Vibrations label with the title track out on 7″ as a taster, a punk love song in the Outcasts style. Just before the album was released fate dealt the band a nasty blow. Lead singer Greg was involved in a bad car crash; pins in his arm and a calliper on his leg meant he wouldn’t be able to play bass and sing, so the band drafted in Gordy Blair, formerly of Highway Star, to play bass on the gigs to promote the album. It was around this time that filmmaker John T. Davis recorded the band’s set at the Good Vibes benefit gig at the Ulster Hall. This was later released as a documentary called “Self Conscious Over You” with the legendary John Peel (see above clip) introducing the Outcasts.

#5 Gangland Warfare

Nightlife in Belfast back then was non-existent. Hard to believe when you see the city these days; vibrant, full of hotels, tourist attractions, festivals and haute cuisine restaurants. Shops, pubs and restaurants closed at six o clock. It was a ghost town. The only people on the streets were the punks and the odd skinhead gang. The Outcasts had now built up a great live reputation. Punk had broken down the religious barriers in Northern Ireland. Punks didn’t care what religion you were. Kids were coming from all over town to venues like The Pound and The Harp Bar who were putting on the punk gigs. That was okay as long as you were eighteen or looked close to it. For those that didn’t it was a problem.

Due to the IRA blowing up the main bus station in Oxford Street in 1972, Belfast was declared out of bounds for me by my parents. We had seen the Outcasts locally at the Queens Hall in Newtownards after a showing of the punk rock doc “Shellshock Rock”. My main recollection of that gig was how loud they were; Terri Hooley had bought them their own PA system and it near blew the roof off that night. My chums and I decided our next plan would be to see them in the legendary Harp Bar. Several weeks of meticulous planning, that Blair Mayne’s SAS would have been proud of, went into this trip. We were all staying overnight at each other’s houses we told our parents, knowing that, in the days before the arrival of the mobile phone, there could be no checking up. We jumped on to the bus to Belfast and found our way to the Harp Bar. Turning into the cobbled Hill Street our destination was in sight distinctly recognisable by a strip club sign and the security fence enveloping it mounted on concrete-filled oil barrels. In hindsight we had arrived too early so we sat at a table in the downstair’s bar to wait. It wasn’t long before we were asked to leave. We were fourteen or fifteen, we had no chance but we had to give it a go … It was the last bus home for us and our job now was to watch out for the skinheads.

#6 Magnum Force

This next single marked another line up change – 16-year-old Raymond Falls (Fallsy) came in as a second drummer – and a new label. Having been kicked off Good Vibrations due to their unmanageable bad behaviour they started their own GBH records. With Ross Graham taking over as manager the band found themselves in France for a few gigs and signing to a French indie label called New Rose. It was around this time my chums and I noticed a poster in the local record shop for an Outcasts gig in Sam’s Disco, six miles up the road from me in Bangor. We couldnt let this go by, but once again our age stopped us and this time we were turned away at the door, “Sorry lads, over 18s only.”

#7 Programme Love

A four track EP was next to follow in late 1981. Programme Love was the lead track. The year finished with the band appearing at The Christmas On Earth punk festival in Leeds, an appearance which was noted for a scuffle between singer Greg and Black Flag vocalist Henry Rollins. By this time the band had moved themselves up the ladder in England; after a great set at Christmas On Earth they had gained a fearsome reputation amongst the English punks.

#8 Angel Face

Thursday 13th May 1982. Fate once again delivered a cruel blow to the boys. Drummer and founding member Colin Cowan was sadly killed in a car crash just two minutes up the road outside my hometown of Donaghadee. Shortly after this a cover of the Glitter Band’s Angel Face was released, the last to feature this two drummer line up. A distribution deal with Cherry Red Records made sure the single was chartbound, peaking at #57.

A difficult time for the band, to carry on or not without Colin was the question. The overwhelming support from fans in N. Ireland, England and France convinced the band to stay together.

#9 Nowhere Left To Run

After a second LP, Blood And Thunder on Abstract records, the Outcasts’ sound and image had begun to change. The second or possibly third wave of punk was on the decline. After a tour with the Meteors in came the psychobilly sound; a standalone single Nowhere Left To Run was released in the UK and France where the fans had stayed loyal. Originally starting life as a spaghetti western type instrumental that wouldnt have sounded out of place on an Ennio Morricone soundtrack, lyrics were added. Around that time the band had been busy recording sessions for Dave Fanning, Downtown Radio, John Peel, Janice Long on Radio One and this studio time had obviously been helpful for honing their new sound.

#10 Seven Deadly Sins

Early 1984 saw the New Rose label release Seven Deadly Sins on 7″ and a 12″ mini LP; another psychobilly song in the style of the Cramps showing the band had mastered their instruments. With the advent of 1985, punk was well and truly dead in the water and Greg and the boys knew it, bowing out with a support to the Clash in Dublin and a final 7″, a cover of The Stooges’ 1969.

The Outcasts photo 2

The Outcasts (l to r): Colin “Getty” Getgood, Raymond Falls, Greg Cowan, Martin Cowan

The band went back to their painting business. They will tell you they never wanted to leave home for the bright lights and stardom, were just content with what they’d achieved.

It wasn’t until June 2010 that an impromptu 50th birthday party for Greg brought the brothers Cowan back together with Petesy Burns on bass and Brian Young (ex Rudi) on guitar, Raymond Falls on drums. Several gigs followed and the following year they appeared at the punk festival Rebellion in Blackpool. Brian left soon after to concentrate on his band, the Sabrejets, as did drummer Raymond Falls who was replaced by J.P. Isotope. Regular gigs soon followed and the band soon attracted the attention of French and German promoters which resulted in small tours of Europe. They reached a larger audience in 2012 with the release of Good Vibrations, a fanatastic film which tells the story of Terri Hooley and the label, a must watch.

The cruel hand of fate dealt the band another blow when, in the fall of 2016, original guitarist Colin “Getty” Getgood passed away after a long illness.

Forward to 2017 with the Outcasts celebrating their 40th anniversary with a multitude of gigs all over the UK and Europe, and prestigious support slots to the Skids in Dublin and SLF in Belfast.

The band’s back catalogue has been re-released in various formats over the years and the best place to start would be The Outcasts: The Punk Singles Collection.

A site worth checking out is Spit Records which has a comprehensive guide to all things punk in N. Ireland. It’s run by Sean O Neill and also doubles as a record label and features a CD of a live French FM radio broadcast of the Outcasts, Vive Lyon!.

The Outcasts can be contacted through their facebook page.

The Outcasts photo 3

The Outcasts (l to r): Petesy Burns, Greg Cowan, Raymond Falls, Martin Cowan

 

The Outcasts poster 2

 

The Outcasts website (including Discography)

The Outcasts on Discogs

“In With The Outcasts” (Culture Northern Ireland, 2012)

The Outcasts on Punky Gibbon website

The Outcasts in “Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980–1984” by Ian Glasper

The Outcasts biography (Wikipedia)

Greg Cowan interviewed by Jake Burns outside the Harp Bar (YouTube)

Colin “Getty” Getgood tributes

Terri Hooley (Wikipedia)

Michael Martin, a chef born in Belfast in that great year for music 1966. He currently lives in the seaside town of Donaghadee some twenty miles outside Belfast, a survivor of the N. Ireland punk wars and dreaming of a time machine that will transport him back to 1979. His 1980s hifi system is in perfect working order and can still be heard playing cassettes and vinyl from the 70s/80s. Michael can often be found lurking on various social media sites: Facebook, Instagram @daysineuropa79 and Twitter @thanatos_1979.

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
The Adverts, The Clash, The Cramps, The Damned, Rory Gallagher, Sex Pistols, Skids, Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones

TopperPost #635

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Jun 20, 2017

    Michael, thanks for this great piece. Knew ‘Self Conscious Over You’ but had never really explored their work further. Will do so now – thanks again…

  2. Neil Waite
    Jun 21, 2017

    Another great post Michael. Really enjoyed this one. Not going to argue with any of your choices – Superb.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

↓