SO I grew a set of balls and went to hear the Shankill Road Defenders last night. Invited by my new buddies in Beyond Skin, they were running the event ‘Unite Against Hate’. It involved musicians from around the world playing popular tunes alongside a flute band.

The aim was to challenge the stereotype of Loyalist Flute Bands being racist knuckle draggers. To show the public that they may play instruments that are off putting to some but able to play these instruments in a non-threatening way.

As I’m partial to a toot on the flute myself, I was looking forward to going. I coaxed our Ruairi into coming too. He didn’t even need talked into it. He’s a skilled drummer for the O’Neill Allsopp Memorial Flute Band and a secret fan of the twelfth TV coverage.

The Spectrum Centre stage was set up like an orchestra, complete with a conductor – a Scottish fella called John who lives about the Shankill. Their band leader Davy who made a speech at the end was also Scottish. What is it with all these Scotchies in flute bands all over the North?

g spence

As its Belfast City Council property, the Deputy Lord Mayor was in attendance. Guy Spence from the DUP made a speech about walking beside the band every July during the Whiterock parade.

The fear factor was there, would we be pummelled to death if they found out we have a republican background?  

One song they played at the beginning and the end was a belter. ‘You’re The Voice’ – everyone knows it. It’s on loads of 80’s compilations. They played it in many pitches, at times speeding up and slowing down and it turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant night.

There was another musician there, Cormac his name was. He had an Irish surname which for the life of me, I couldn’t even attempt to spell. So we weren’t the only taigs in the building. Cormac played the Uilleann Pipes and had a lot of respect from the flute band. He’d been to their practice in the Linfield Supporters Club and played with them too. Whoever said men can’t multitask is full of crap. The Uilleann pipes are contradictory to that.

unite against hate

The night then turned into a primary school music lesson sponsored by Uhu. There were drums, tambourines and maracas given out to the audience, a man singing in Kurdish, then a Jamaican guy started breakdancing in the middle of it all. Poor Guy Spence looked awkward as he was given an African drum and told to blast away freestyle. It was brilliant craic.

I know what you’re thinking – Áine stop being nice to this band. They march where they’re not wanted and they play songs about being up to their necks in fenian blood. I know, but they didn’t last night so cut them some slack.

Once it was over, Ruairi and myself reflected on the experience. We really enjoyed it, there’s talk of O’Neill Allsopp doing a similar jamming session. But what would be really mad – completely ground breaking, would the loyalist and republican flute bands consider getting together to play?


**All images from Unite Against Hate