The Cork Zine Archive is currently on display in UCC,offering a glimpse into a golden era for youth culture on Leeside, writes Des O’Driscoll.
About five years ago, Siobhan Bardsley’s father was rummaging in his garden shed at the family’s home in Cork, when he noticed an old box that clearly hadn’t been touched for many years.
A quick look revealed it belonged to his daughter and when Siobhan got around to opening it, she was amazed at what she saw.
Inside was a collection of long-forgotten cassettes, letters, gig posters, ticket stubs, etc.
All were souvenirs of her younger days in Cork in the early 1990s when she was a keen gig-goer during what was a golden era for the city’s youth culture.
The Sultans of Ping and the Frank and Walters were among the bands emerging at the time, and establishments such as Sir Henrys and the Liberty were thriving.
“It was like rediscovering a snapshot of my youth,” recalls Siobhan of her time rummaging through that box.
Among the items that particularly interested her were a bunch of printed fanzines, the often-rudimentary publications that were a fairly popular niche in music and soccer culture in the UK and Ireland during those times.
"The style they were written in was the same way that we spoke to each other, they recounted peoples 18th and 21st birthdays, who was emigrating to London, or moving to Dublin... they wrote about everything from gigs to births, marriages and deaths.”
Bardsley had known many of the people who produced these ‘zines’. She put a call out and gathered more for an exhibition at Cork City Library in 2016.
That event in turn brought a flood of more publications from other people’s sheds and attics, eventually leading to the creation of the Cork Zine Archive, parts of which are currently on display at the Boole Library in UCC.
Bardsley and her sister Fiona O’Mahony teamed up with the UCClibrary to show samples of what is in the fanzines, and provide some context about the culture that spawned them.
Cork’s punks, folkies, soccer fans and ravers are well represented, and the collection also takes in other aspects the counter-culture, including feminist publications from what was a very different Ireland.
Some might wonder whether these most basic of publications are a bit low-brow compared to what you’d expect to find in an exhibition at an academic institution, but Crónán Ó Doibhlin, head of research collections at UCC Library, is clear about the importance of fanzines.
“They preserve an honest, no-holds barred perspective on city life that was specific to each individual or group for whom the fanzine was conceived, and often were the only space for voices that would otherwise have been lost amidst the dull din of the status quo,” writes Ó Doibhlin in the booklet accompanying the library exhibition.
The archive has gone from the handful in the family shed to now featuring over 180 zines, with about 50 individual titles. For Bardsley, half the fun of assembling the zines is making contact with the people who produced them.
“Someone who may not have thought about their days making fanzines in decades, then I come along, (having studied their magazine inside out), and bombard them with questions on details they thought they had long forgotten,” laughs Bardsley.
"Each zine has its own personality, and it is a privilege to meet the people behind them, in some way I would feel as I would already have met them through their writing.”
Among Bardsley’s favourite discoveries was the Copper Salmon folk music fanzine, discovered in an attic by her friend Caoimhín DeBhailís.
It was published by late Arkansas native Regan Cole, who lived in Cork in the mid 1970s,having immersed himself in the city’s folk music scene.
“He started a business on Blarney Street called Lugs Lutherie, where he made and repaired stringed musical instruments, and Jimmy Crowley told us how Regan could build anything from a mandolin to a dulcimer to order.
"We only had one copy of Copper Salmon, but we managed to track down his family in the US, who are sending us more.”
After the UCC exhibition,Bardsley says she hopes to continue gathering material for the archive, and is constantly on the look-out for new material.
“We beg our fellow people of Cork to check the shed and the attic, for any magazines, fanzines, even independent newspapers from Cork they might have, from any year on any subject.
Publish and be Damned: Cork Zine Archive 1975 -2005 runs until the end of September at the Boole Library, UCC.
More details via corkzinearchive.com, and contributions of publications can be made to the Cork Zine Archive, c/o M.O Shea Cork Artists Collective, Library House, Dean Street, Cork.
Sean Fitzgerald produced the Protest zine, a publication with rather striking graphics that covered the punk scene, and related issues around vegetarianism, animal rights, etc. Fitzgerald’s early talents developed in a career as an illustrator, and his interest in Irish folklore and mythology led to his recent book, The Last Battle of Moytura:
“The scene I was part of was more the second wave of punk. We were too young to have gone to the Arcadia or see earlier Cork punk bands like Five Go Down To The Sea.
In the mid to late 1980s punk music was much more underground, so a lot of tape trading with others was how you discovered bands like Crass, Conflict and more anarcho-punk bands.
Lyrically, anarcho-punk was about animal rights, equality, feminism, environment and more of an autonomous outlook on things. As well as the music this was fuelled by underground
fanzines. It was also about standing your ground and voicing your opinion rather than sitting idly by.
Being from Cork we were lucky as there was the Quay Co-op veggie restaurant, wholefoods and bookshop on Sullivan’s Quay. As ateenager the books and magazines in there werefascinating. As I’d never seen anything like it. It was so much harder to getinformation. In there it was local information on worker’s autonomy, gay rights, environment etc.
What I’d heard in punk songs were elsewhere, so it was great to see that this was in our own city.
In the very early 1990s, we’d sell the fanzines in the Liberty Bar on South Main Street for about 20p. Then Jim Comic opened up his comic place.
It was all very much word of mouth and the odd flyer for most forms of protest.
I remember the fur shop on Oliver Plunkett Street. For protestors, we were quite civilised. Cork is a small city. So, there would be a strong likelihood of someone’s neighbour or relative being there.
So, we would stand outside there with placards and saying hello and chatting to people passing by.
When you got away from the city it was different. Some of the fox hunts were much angrier. They would charge towards you and some of them would turn it into a class thing and say stupid things like get a job or call us hippies. Again, missing the point to what we were protesting about.”
(clearly audible on a bootleg tape of The Smiths’ gig in Cork in 1984)
Morty McCarthy produced of fanzines such as No More Plastic Pitches and Sunny Days, and was also the drummer with the Sultans of Ping
“WHEN The Smiths played two shows in Cork in 1984, a lot changed for many young Cork music fans-bands were formed and the clamour for new music became ever greater.
I heard about a Smiths fanzine called SmithsIndeed and sent off my postal order and waited for it to come in the post and I wasn’t disappointed. I was hooked immediately.
1985 saw me travel to Anfield to see my beloved Liverpool for the first time and I stumbled off the ferry and straight into the wonder that was Probe Records-it was a music fan’s heaven and full of new fanzines to buy.
I picked up a great fanzine called The End which was written by some of the guys from The Farm and was a superb mix of music and football. Further visits to the UK followed and I bought stacks of music fanzines from PiccadillyRecords in Manchester as well as the football fan’s number 1 — When Saturday Comes.
So the next logical step was to write a fanzine myself so I could get all my enthusiasm for music out of me and onto paper.
I worked for a company that had a photocopier at the time-got the secretary there to type the articles for me and cut and pasted it with photos I got from press releases and I was all set.
With Sunny Days I started writing to bands to request interviews and I was amazed when most said yes. I hadn’t yet figured out where to sell my fanzine until I walked into the UmmaGumma Rose comic shop and met Jim Morrish. He took some copies to sell there and told me his dad had a printing company, so a lifelong friendship began.
Allied to the blossoming music scene you had the re-emergence of soccer in Cork as a force. Cork City were one of the best clubs in Ireland suddenly and many music fans huddled together in the Shed. No More Plastic Pitches was born. This differed from Sunny Days in that lots of people wrote articles for the fanzine and it sold in much bigger quantities — typically 1,000 copies per issue compared to 200-300 for Sunny Days.
I also started up Choc-a-Bloc which was a free monthly newsletter that reviewed all the gigs and records released at the time.
When I left Cork to move to the UK with the Sultans the Cork Music Co-op carried on publishing the newsletter.
Looking back now it was a golden era for music in Cork but we were all too busy living it to realise it at the time.”
Jim Morrish was involved in creating such fanzines as No More Plastic Pitches (for fans of Cork City FC) and music publication Choc-A-Bloc, and also sold them via his Ummagumma Rose comic shop on Winthrop St. His nickname of ‘Jim Comic’ was a riff off the nickname of record-shop owner Jim Comet. He recalls the fairly primitive way the fanzines were assembled:
“We had just bought our first Mac and laser printer when Morty McCarthy approached me about getting involved with No More Plastic Pitches (’89 or ‘90 i think).
It had an early design program on it called Pagemaker which we typed it all up on and then we’d add in photocopied or bromide graphics manually using a glue pen and pritt-stick (we didn’t have a scanner yet at that point). Then we would put the A4 or A3 sheets under a printers camera to make the negatives i think and from those Barry the Peoples Printer would make the printing plates.”