The Dublin Peter Jones and Paranoid Visions helped to build is very different from the one they were born into. Now, the young generation can follow in their footsteps up the steep climb to self-sufficiency through music. And with the launch of Jones’s new company, Rotator, introduced into Dublin’s wilds in March of 2018, the climb has become, if not easier, then less daunting. And it ensures Jones’s continued relevance to the music scene of the Emerald Isle.
But in the beginning, it was 1981 and Dublin’s low skyline was still engulfed in smog, the “smoky coal” ban another nine years away. Across the Irish Sea, Thatcher had been PM for two years. Across the Atlantic, Reagan had just been sworn in. And between the two, Ireland sat. With a shot-to-shit economy, the Troubles, shadowy goings-on in church sacristies and hushed-up horrors in mother and baby homes, Ireland was in the depths of its dark ages. When what the neighbours thought was gospel and skeletons spilled out of closets.
It was in this insular, secretive climate that Paranoid Visions formed as the age’s punk rock antagonists. Peter Jones - AKA PA System - has been their guitarist and the head of their label, FOAD Records, since their start. A start that saw them swimming against a current that tried hard to drown them by washing away all their opportunities to play.
“From a music scene point of view, it [Dublin] was pretty shit,” he says. “I mean there was lots of really good bands, there’s always been good bands around. There’s always been good Irish bands.
“No matter what genre you look at they nearly always sound different to other countries. They’re nearly always very good.” In the punk rock era, there was Stiff Little Fingers’ raging against Northern Ireland’s sectarianism. Down south, there was Microdisney in Cork and Virgin Prunes in Dublin, each group mining a different seam of the post-punk sound. And many other bands that fell through the cracks. Because as Peter says “…the gig scene was terrible. Certainly from a punk band point of view.”
Four years prior to Paranoid Visions’ forming, in 1977, a young punk was stabbed at a Radiators From Space gig. And after that, “the doors just closed. People didn’t want to know.
“So a lot of punk bands just disappeared or sort of merged themselves into new wave-y bands or whatever. Which were really aping what other countries were doing. Really copying what was happening in the UK instead of having its own identity.
“So it wasn’t great. We really struggled with trying to get shows. We really, really struggled.”
It was a steep climb. And Paranoid Visions and the other Dublin punk bands had to chip their own holds out of the rock. You had to “book a venue yourself, promote it yourself, hire the gear yourself, hire the PA yourself, and then do the door yourself.”
All that added up to “a good lesson in DIY of course” - the ethos that separates punk rock from the genre-pack. And in 1980s Dublin, it provided the means for individual creative expression to find wider exposure.
While bands like The Clash and The Sex Pistols espoused the DIY approach, they were both on major labels. But groups such as Crass and Dead Kennedys, influences on Paranoid Visions, set up their own record labels. A modus operandi that PV would take on.
“It never occurred to us not to. It was the only route that we actually had in mind. Literally, the only route. We were always just going to do it ourselves.” Since then, FOAD - Fuck Off And Die - Records has released recordings by Paranoid Visions, I Am A Car Crash, The Lee Harveys, and others. Fostering younger generations of bands as inspired by punk as Paranoid Visions were.
Peter explains how the anarcho-punk bands like Crass picked up on the DIY philosophy that bands like the Clash espoused and that this got passed on to Paranoid Visions. But where The Clash and The Pistols may not have actually followed that philosophy, the later waves of punk rock groups did.
“The anarcho-bands picked up on that side of it. That ‘Let’s all try and change something.’ You’re not actually going to change the world - no one actually believes you’re going to change the world. But the theory is - the theory was - that you change one person, that one person makes the world a tiny, little bit, better.”
The line can be traced from Crass’s vegetarianism, to Conflict’s mantra “meat means murder,” right up to The Smiths classic LP “Meat Is Murder.” And as Peter says “How many students became vegetarians because of that?”
And there were other changes that moved the world towards being a more tolerant, compassionate place. But at the cost of the danger and “threat” that movements like punk rock once posed to quote-un-quote “decency.”
John Lydon/Rotten and many of the punk rock musicians of the seventies and eighties tell of how they’d be refused entry to a pub because of their studs and leather. Of how they were considered treasonous. And of how that has all changed now.
“Everything’s gotten an awful lot safer but that’s because everything’s been done. I mean, back in ’77 or ’78, or even ’79 or ’80, if you walked down the street with spiky hair people would cross the road. Spiky hair! That’s what it took!
“People can be working in the civil service and arrive in to their job with a green mohawk. And no one bats an eyelid!” And he acknowledges that “from that point of view, it’s an improvement.”
That improvement is a change brought about by Peter and Paranoid Visions and their ilk. Where in the eighties bands had no alternative to the DIY slog, those holds Peter cut into the rock are there to make the future generations’ climb that much easier.
In March, Peter set up his Rotator company, a business that publishes books, presses records, prints t-shirts and facilitates the myriad of other services required by young bands. Just last month saw the release of Dundalk band The Gakk's new album - pressed by Peter Jones and Rotator. His publicising of Dublin bands such as Vulpynes through the gigs he organises is invaluable to the next rebellious, essential, generation. For as Lydon/Rotten put it “If there's not a rebellious youth culture, there's no culture at all.”
Through his work playing, organising and enabling music, Peter has remained an integral part of Dublin’s music scene. Just as Crass helped to make the world that “tiny, little bit, better,” his work has made Ireland a more compassionate place. Where instead of quashing dreams they are facilitated. And thus, progressive change is enabled.
So now, we wake up in a more understanding and caring Ireland. A land of more opportunities and less sneering and condescension. In the wake of the eighth amendment’s repealing, and as the church’s grip on Ireland loosens more every day, that change is becoming ever-more visible. As the smog lifted from Dublin’s skyline, the fog lifted from our consciousness. And Ireland, is a little bit better.
Photo Credit: Janer Ali