The Outcasts were formed in Belfast in January 1977, although they didn’t actually get all their instruments together until February of that year. They took the name Outcasts after being turned away from five nightclubs in two weeks, The Viking in Bangor, The White Horse in Banbridge, and The Roost, The Glenmachan Hotel, and The Wellington Park, all in Belfast. The original line-up consisted of Blair Hamilton on vocals, Martin Cowan and Colin Getgood (better known as Getty) on guitar, Colin Cowan on drums and Greg Cowan on bass. Greg says, “We had to sack Blair after just three practices because his head kept turning red and he couldn’t sing”. They played their debut gig in August of that year at Paddy Lambes pub on Belfast’s' Upper Newtownards Road. The gig ended in a mini riot when the local Spides took exception to a number of 'strange looking punks' who had turned up to watch the band.
Henry Cluney of Stiff Little Fingers remembers attending this gig “funnily enough Jake and I were at that first Outcasts gig. Greg called himself Ned Nasty then.” Their second gig was in the Trident in Bangor, and according to Greg “Like most of our early gigs it was a disaster, mainly because we couldn’t play and Colin liked to smash his drum kit, usually by the third song.” A prestige support slot to The Radiators From Space at Jordanstown Poly followed. Greg recalls, “this came about because I had a letter published in the N.M.E. berating English Punk bands for not playing N. Ireland, but once again it was a disaster. Colin had filled plastic bags with fake blood, which he threw at bemused students and Martin assaulted The Radiators because he caught them changing their flared jeans into drainpipes before going on stage.”
The band then took to hiring nightclubs to use for private parties, and then playing before the management knew what was happening. Dubbed 'The band you love to hate' by the local press due to their bad boy image and loutish behaviour, the band had began to attract a local following and even managed to make the front Page of local news paper the News Letter, on Friday 13th January 1978 where their gig at the Pound was attended by a journalist keen to report on the new youth movement emerging in Belfast.
The band gradually started to drop the cover versions in their set and began to concentrate on writing their own material. Early original compositions by Martin, the bands’ song smith included such lost gems as Johnny's A Wanker and I’m KO’d. Greg “to be honest, the way we played the covers, no one recognised them anyway”. Alwyn Greer – Outcasts roadie, photographer and Private World fanzine editor recalls his first encounter with the band. “I remember meeting The Outcasts back in October 1977 as I was putting together a piece for Private World. I met them in a house off the Lisburn Road near Windsor Park. The group already had a formidable reputation and I approached them with some trepidation. However, after chatting with them for 20 minutes I found that they were a great bunch of lads, very friendly and welcoming. I took out my camera (a Kodak Instamatic!) and took a few shots. Little did I know at the time but I was destined to spend the next 4 years or so on the road with the band as a roadie (lighting).
It was around this time that Greg remembers Colin inventing his ‘burst on stage routine’. “He would sneak backstage then run on and grab a mic and shout Outcasts, maybe advertise our next gig then dive into an unsuspecting crowd. He successfully did Graham Parker and the Rumour, The Boomtown Rats and Elvis Costello, but promoters caught on and bouncers would be looking out for him. Later on this backfired badly on us. After supporting The Clash on the first gig they actually played in Belfast the bouncers waited backstage and beat our fuck in as revenge. This was our lowest period; we still couldn’t really play and had no real following, the bad boy image probably started about then, with Martin having decided it was our job to beat up all other Belfast Punk bands.”
The Outcasts cut their first demo at Wizzard Studios around this time. The resulting demo attracted attention from the recently formed Portadown based label IT Records. The result was a one-off record deal. March '78 saw the release of The Outcasts debut 7" single, which featured three snarling, snot-nosed punk classics - You're A Disease, Frustration, and I Don't Want To Be No Adult. This single was re-issued in 1996 by French punk label Combat Rock. Greg remembers the recording session for the single - “ Due to our musical ineptitude it took thirty takes to get it right, the studio engineers were especially baffled why Colin would change the beat anytime he felt like it during the a song.” George Doherty, who produced the single, recalls “Yeah they made a big impression on me then. They were fierce looking characters, I opened the door and thought, I’m in for a heavy night. When you got to know them however they were just big pussy cats.”
After continuous gigging at the Harp Bar the band built up a loyal fanatical following. Greg remembers this as a turning point: “This was a different crowd to what we had seen before, not a clicky fashion crowd, but Punks from the Antrim Road, the Ormeau, the Shankill, the Falls. Mummy didn’t collect these kids afterwards - they fought their way out at night and fought their way home again. This was our crowd and we quickly developed a large following.”
They soon joined forces with Terri Hooley of Good Vibrations Records and Just Another Teenage Rebel c/w Love Is For Sops was released as the third Good Vibes single in the summer of '78 with Terri becoming the band’s manager around this time too. The single was later given a second pressing complete with a new picture cover, to coincide with the Good Vibrations Spring Irish Tour in April '79. Says Greg “Although Terri takes more credit than he’s due, it was his idea to concentrate on N. Ireland, taking Punk to the provinces instead of running off to London in search of the ‘ big deal’ like so many of our contemporaries.”
The Outcasts continued to cause mayhem on the local gig circuit before going into the studio to record a track, the excellent and graphically violent ode to necrophillia The Cops Are Coming, which was to appear on the double 7" compilation The Battle Of The Bands EP, again on the Good Vibes label. A different version of this song would also crop up on the band’s debut LP the following year.
The debut album Self Conscious Over You was released in 1979 again on the Good Vibrations label in the UK and it was also released in France on Blitz - Krieg Records. The album showed a great musical versatility, the band moving away from their stock-in-trade three chord punk, to include keyboards and saxophone on a couple of songs. However, on the eve of the album’s release Greg had an accident, a car crash on the road between Ballycastle and Ballymoney which put him in hospital for twelve weeks. The album, and single of the same name, Self Conscience Over You, came out when he was in traction. He had to wear a calliper on his leg and had pins in his right arm. Upon Greg’s release from Hospital, Gordy Blair joined the band on bass until Greg had fully recovered and was in a position to play bass and sing again.
Their last Good Vibrations related release came in the shape of the Room To Move EP, a compilation 7" to which The Outcasts contributed the track Cyborg which also appeared on their debut album. Energy Records released this EP in conjunction with Good Vibrations. Back in Belfast the band were dropped from the Good Vibrations label. Greg says, “Terri dumped us off Good Vibes when complaints of our behaviour and trouble at gigs had got too much for him. We weren’t that worried.” John T Davis made a documentary on the band around this time called Self Conscious Over You. The movie featured footage from an Ulster Hall gig introduced by John Peel. This was a follow up to Davis’s highly acclaimed and award winning ‘Shellshock Rock’ movie. The Outcasts film even received a screening on BBC N. Ireland.
The band’s next single was Magnum Force c/w Gangland Warfare. It featured Gordy Blair playing bass on the ‘b’ side only - the ‘b’ side relating a nasty incident involving members of the band as they were returning home from the Harp Bar one night. Martin recalls the event “Colin and I plus a guy called Chris were walking through Belfast city centre on our way home from the Harp Bar when a group of guys from a straight Disco called the King Arthur started to follow us. Instead of running we turned to face them though there were more of them. I grabbed what I thought was a bottle from a bin but it was plastic, anyway I hit the 1st guy with it and he thought it was real and fell back, then they were all over me and I was on the ground and they were kicking each other not me!.A meat wagon pulled up and cops poured out and one of them held one of our attackers, Colin ran and punched him in the face. The cops said they would hold them back for a minute and for us to get off side which we did, then Greg drove past in his van and gave us a lift home.” The single also marked the debut of second drummer Raymond Falls (then only 16 and still at school). The single was released on the band’s own GBH Records, so named because Colin had been arrested in Spain on a G.B.H. charge before being deported. Ross Graham, who had been brought in by the band to produce the single, took over as their manager. They had first met Ross during the filming of ‘Shellshock Rock’. As a five-piece they toured France and England regularly. It was around this time that Greg recalls meeting a French guy called Marc Boullier: “He arrived from France taking us back home with him where we played a week in the Gibus Club in Paris and signed to New Rose, a French indie label. Never having been taken out for dinner by a record company before, after many drinks we signed away the rights in France for the next five years, stopping us signing for Polydor two years later.”
The Outcasts recorded four songs, Gangland Warfare, The End Of The Rising Sun, Programme Love, and Machine Gun, for the John Peel Show on Radio 1. This first session was broadcast on May 25th ‘81. The band then set up their own Outcasts Only label in mid '81 and released the four-track Programme Love EP, the only blip being Getty being hospitalised after a fight with London skinheads and the band having to do some live shows without him. The highlight of this period for Greg was the band’s appearance at the 'Christmas On Earth' festival in Leeds. Greg -“Somebody dropped out at the last minute and we were put on fourth billing between Black Flag and The Exploited, Bow Wow Wow and the Damned were headlining. Playing for the first time to a crowd of about ten thousand people we played the gig of our lives, going down a storm, changing our standing in England for the next few years”. There was also an altercation with Black Flag at this gig. Greg explains “ Hendi was our road manager, he set up the gear, drove the van, did the lights, but we always had friends who travelled with us, their jobs were less specific. They scored drugs, got girls, kept Colin from getting too drunk, but also looked after the band. They called themselves the Locusts as they laid waste to all in front of them. Big Tommy, Alwyn, Mick and in this case Peely had made the trip with us. Peely had been a regulation ‘spide’; a teenage tearaway, he’d joined the Merchant Navy to sort himself out. Back in Belfast he’d got a job, married, had a couple of kids and settled into a domestic life only occasionally interrupted with mindless acts of drunken violence, then he met Colin, and within months he had dyed his hair blonde, started wearing tartan bondage trousers and left his wife to follow the band. Sober he was good fun with a loyalty to Colin that was touching, but with a drunken rage that when crossed could meet out a fearful vengeance. Anyway, Peely was in Leeds with us. Each band had been given a thirty-minute slot with a five-minute turnaround between each set, you could not over run, and if you did you ate into the next bands time. As our turn approached we were very nervous and Peely sensing this started drinking heavily. We were sharing a dressing room with The Exploited from whom Peely had stole a bottle of Vat 19 which between swigs he brandished as a weapon. We moved down to the side of the stage to prepare to go on and catch the end of Black Flag’s set, but they didn’t stop! We shouted over at the band to stop playing, making watch gestures with our arms and eventually they stopped. But as we moved onto the stage, plugging in guitars etc Henry Rollins still carried on shouting something incoherent into the main mic. I pulled the mic out of his hand placing it back into the main stand and he pulled it back glaring at me, I tried asking him to leave the stage but he ignored me. Then Peely hit him in the small of his back full on with a microphone stand, he reared round, took one look at Peely’s face which even when he was smiling looked psychotic, apologised and left the stage.”
The band followed their extensive gigging with the release of another 7" single, this time the live favourite and Glitter Band cover Angel Face c/w a new version of Gangland Warfare. Greg recalls “We had signed to New Rose Records in France the deal allowing us to use our own OO records for Britain where we now had a distribution deal with Cherry Red Records. This meant that when Angel Face was released it was available in real record shops (as opposed to indie) resulting in our first (and only) British chart placing, it crashing into the top one hundred before peaking at the dizzy heights of fifty-seven . We did take some satisfaction in that another local band the Bank Robbers who had signed to E.M.I. released their single at the same time, it reaching a mere ninety-seven. Having fought with them at a party, which ended with one of their friends being put through a glass door by Martin and Tommy (the victim being like something from ‘Terminator’ stepping out of the door with large shreads of glass sticking out of his back to calmly carry on strangling me). It was nice to beat them on our own label.”
Sadly this was the last Outcasts record to feature Colin, who was killed on Thursday 13th May 1982 in a car accident, just shortly before the single was released. Greg - “Nothing was the same after that; although Colin was a terrible drummer, he was the heart of the band. It was his idea to start the band, he named it, and when times were bad it was his energy that kept us together. We held a band meeting in a shed in Barnet’s Park the night after Colin’s funeral to decide if we were carrying on. This consisted of Martin, Getty, Raymond, Tommy, Mickey, Alwyn Greer and I drinking a large carryout, and then we shouted, fought, cried, hugged and eventually vomited until we decided to stay together. This was mainly due to the amount of support we received from fans in France and Britain at this time. Looking back now Colin’s funeral must have looked like a circus but it was very moving to all of us at the time. Hundreds of Punks lined the church before forming up into a studded and spiked cortege following the coffin past waiting camera crews.” Alwyn Greer recalls the band meeting too “Colin's death hit everyone hard and I remember the band and road crew went up to Barnet's Park with a huge carry out. After several beers I remember cracking and starting to shout about God and how could he take Colin from us. That was it, minutes later we were all in a state with tears in our eyes. It was the most emotional moment I've ever had. That was a terrible time for the band and its fans and I don't think the band really ever recovered from it.
The second album Blood And Thunder was released by Abstract Records in 1982 (and by New Rose in France) and on September 25th ‘82 they recorded their second, and final, session for the John Peel Show, the featured tracks being Winter, Magnum Force, Sex and Glory and Frustration. The Outcasts also recorded a clutch of sessions for the local Downtown Radio as well as two sessions for Dave Fanning on RTE, and two for the Janice Long show on BBC Radio One. The band also made a promo video for the track Winter. They once again teamed up with John T Davis to shoot the video, which was filmed in the ruins of the Bishop of Derry’s castle at Black Glen in the Magilligan hills. The video had a premier showing at the Midland Hotel in Belfast. The promo was also screened on the TV programme Riverside and The Old Grey Whistle Test. Greg recalls “One scene was missing from the final cut where we were supposed to tear apart cooked chickens and take lumps out of legs of lamb in front of a roaring fire, medieval style, but we had found them on the first night of shooting and ate them behind a hill.”
Their first live appearance after Colin’s death took place at the legendary Harp Bar. Although the Harp was barely recognisable from the bar it was a few years previously (due to some extensive renovation work), i.e. the bands now played downstairs as opposed to upstairs, it was still a fitting venue for their 'comeback' gig. There was a unique atmosphere in the Harp that night and The Outcasts gave one of their best performances ever. Greg remembers “We played our first gig since Colin’s death at the Harp Bar. Although there was a brilliant atmosphere I remember not enjoying it, not being sure if it was a celebration or a wake.”
In 1983 Abstract Records released the single Nowhere Left To Run on both 7" and 12" format, with the live favourite Ruby appearing on the B-side (Ruby was originally intended to appear on an 'odd' covers album being put together by the French New Rose label). This single was issued later in the same year by Anagram Records in the UK and also by New Rose in France. The French 12”issue is more notable as it included a live version of The Cops Are Coming and came in a grey sleeve as opposed to the blue one in the UK. This single signalled a slight change in musical direction for the band, to a more Psychobilly sound, Greg “Things started to go down hill from now on, and although we were still popular in France, in England things were turning quiet. Punk was dying, and to my shame we started looking for new directions. After touring with the Meteors our sound took on a more Psychobilly sound. This showed itself on a Janet Long session we recorded for Radio One. We took an instrumental Martin had always played around with and tacked it on to the front of Magnum Force, and later this became Nowhere Left To Run. Because of the price of records in France our record company insisted on at least four tracks so they could call it a mini album, which explains why so many live songs would turn up on French releases”.
In early 1984 New Rose in France released Seven Deadly Sins both as a 7” single and a mini album. Seven Deadly Sins (albeit a different version) had originally appeared on the Psychobilly compilation album Revenge Of The Killer Pussies. The mini album contained four new band compositions and a David Bowie cover. Seven Deadly Sins was also performed on a Whistle Test Special from Belfast. Greg says “This single shows us really having lost our way. The sad thing is we could really play by then and could get the production values in the studio we had always wanted, but the spark had gone. The album was a mish mash of styles, none of which suited us.”
1985 saw the band make their last appearance on vinyl when New Rose released their version of the old Stooges classic 1969 on both 7" and 12”. Greg recalls “That year and a half was really about the band slowly imploding. It would have been nice to have gone out on a high. Instead it was like death by a thousand knives, the record company slow to return your calls, your manager too busy to go on tour with you and empty spaces where there used to be full houses. There were a few bright spots, playing with the Clash at the R.D.S. in Dublin and a return to our Punk roots with the release of our last record, a cover of the Stooges classic ‘1969’. But even that was marred by the B-sides where we just made them up in the studio to fill space. It finally ended on a wet Wednesday evening at the Coach in Banbridge - as we packed up the gear we all knew it was over.”
Raymond Falls left to join the army, and Greg, Martin, and Getty continued to play under the name Time To Pray for a short while, (dressed in custom-made ‘priests’ suits designed by Greg), but they found that their painting and decorating business was taking up more of their time, and earning them considerably more money. In the mid 1980’s Greg formed a Glam covers band called Hades Whores, with Paul Rowan, (Crisis, Lunatic Fringe etc.,) and Maurice Maxwell, (Bats in The Belfry). Other musicians were roped in for the occasional gigs and in 1985 Hades Whores recorded a demo tape of cover versions of Glam Rock classics such as New York Groove and School’s Out. By 1986, however, this band too had split.
Today the band are fondly remembered by many, and still have a large cult following in France where they toured regularly in the 1980’s with acts such as The Sub Kids. The Outcasts supported French band the Stinky Toys on their first visit to Paris and enjoyed it so much that they went back again and again. In 1996 French punks The Dickheads paid the band the ultimate tribute by including a cover of The Cops Are Coming on their The Best Hate Songs EP, which was released by One By One Records in France. Only 500 copies were pressed, with a limited number coming in red vinyl.
Practically all of The Outcasts back catalogue has been re-issued on CD. The Outcasts had no pretensions. They had no intention of seeking fame and fortune in the bright lights of London - N. Ireland was their home and this is where they kept their base. Shortly after the release of their debut single the band were offered a deal by Rak Records, but as the deal entailed the band relocating to London, they turned the offer down. Sure they made the occasional trips to England and beyond for live performances, but home is where the heart lay and providing entertainment for the local punk kids was of more importance to the band. They never took things too seriously, always ‘playing it for the laffs’. For The Outcasts and many of their followers, punk was an escape from the sectarianism and bigotry that blights this country and this alone made it all worthwhile. Greg - “The Outcasts leave no lasting musical heritage. Our best songs were recorded when we couldn’t play well enough to do them justice, but then we weren’t making music to be analysed years later, it was all about now, throwing out all that went before and having our moment in the spotlight. My favourite review is one in N.M.E. that said even before we’d started to play, we looked and moved like a real band! It was a magical time to be young when with three chords and a killer haircut you could be a rock star.”
To celebrate his 50th birthday Greg Cowan played a handful of songs to invited guests with his brother Martin and Raymond Falls at the Black Box in Belfast on Saturday 12th June 2010. This was the first time that the three members of the Outcasts had been on the same stage since their split in the mid 80s. They were ably assisted on the night by Petesy Burns on bass and Brian Young on guitar. This “gig” ignited the idea of reforming the Outcasts and when they were offered a prime slot at the Rebellion PuNk Festival in Blackpool the following year, it was an offer which they couldn’t refuse. The band played two ram packed shows in Northern Ireland and the Rebellion PuNk festival in Blackpool in 2011 before Brian Young left. Brian’s departure saw Petesy take over guitar duties and Greg once more picked up the bass. The Outcasts have gigged regularly in 2012 and a live DVD of a recent Dublin gig will be released in June 2012 .