"Belfast in 1980 was intense. The army were throwing you up against the wall and beating you with batons": The Cult's Ian Astbury on what he learned as a teenage punk squatting in N. Ireland

Ian Astbury, in 1983
(Image credit: Erica Echenberg/Redferns)

The Cult's Ian Astbury has shared his memories of living in Belfast as a teenage punk. 

Immersed in Liverpool's punk rock scene at the time, the then-18 year old Astbury was drawn across the Irish Sea by the promise of the grandly-named International Festival of Punk and New Wave, staged on August 15 and 16, 1980 at the city's Ulster Hall. 

"A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go with her to this amazing punk festival in Belfast," Astbury explains in a new interview with the Irish News. "I thought it sounded really exciting, so we took the ferry over and she got us some accommodation with some of the punk kids, and we went to the festival."

Somewhat inevitably, Terri Hooley, the owner of the city's much-loved Good Vibrations record shop/ independent record label, was the brains behind what was the country's first ever punk festival. Artists on the bill included local heroes The Outcasts, Protex, Rudi and Leamington Spa's The Shapes - all signed to Good Vibrations - plus Brisbane, Australia's The Saints, and, headlining both nights, New York's The Stimulators, featuring a 13-year-old Harley Flanagan (later to find hardcore 'fame' with Cro-Mags) on drums.

Famously, as documented in the highly entertaining Good Vibrations film, released in 2013, the climax of the International Festival of Punk and New Wave saw Terri Hooley grab a mic and deliver the iconic soundbite: “New York has the bands, London has the clothes, but Belfast has the reason.”

"Belfast in 1980 was intense," recalls Astbury. "I'd never experienced an environment like that – the army were throwing you up against the wall and beating you with batons. But I loved everybody I met in Belfast and hanging out at the Harp Bar. It didn't matter where we were from, because we were all punks."

As a child, the future Cult vocalist had a somewhat unsettled home life, moving from England to Canada to Scotland before he was 17. In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Astbury revealed that, following his mother's death on his 17th birthday, he followed Crass around the UK "like a homeless kid", and that he has always felt an outsider - "When I was in Scotland I was a Sassenach, when I was in England I was ‘Haggis’, when I was in Canada I was a Limey, and when I came back I was a Yank." But squatting in Belfast, he "felt partially at home."

"I didn't feel alien like I did in Canada," he told the Irish News, "maybe also because the punk community there was so open."

The singer later discovered that he had a family connection with Belfast, as his great, great, great grandmother was born in Belfast.

Astbury's pre-Cult band Death Cult kicked off their 40th anniversary UK tour in Belfast on Monday, November 6.

The band will go on to play:

Nov 09:  Sheffield Foundry
Nov 10:  Liverpool Guild of Students
Nov 12:  Glasgow Barrowland
Nov 13:  Nottingham Rock City
Nov 14:  Birmingham O2 Institute
Nov 16:  Bournemouth O2 Academy
Nov 17: Norwich UEA
Nov 18: Manchester Albert Hall
Nov 20:  London Brixton Electric
Nov 21:  London Brixton Electric
Nov 22: London London Islington

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.