BELFAST’S Harp Bar was a dingy, cold, heavily-fortified bunker surrounded by a steel mesh security cage and giant concrete bollards, but it was at the core of the punk universe at the height of The Troubles.

Punk kids from both sides of Northern Ireland’s sectarian divide mixed freely in the Harp without fear of intimidation as music from Rudi, Protex, Stiff Little Fingers and The Outcasts sparked a punk uprising in what was then one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

“Belfast closed at 6pm when the city centre barriers came down, the only people on the streets would be the British Army, terrorists and punk rockers if the Harp Bar was open,” said The Outcasts leader Greg Cowan who rbrings the band to Blackpool’s Rebellion punk party next month.

“The Harp Bar was full of hoods, streetfighters and dockers, but for four years (1978-1982) it was Belfast’s equivalent of The Roxy in London and New York’s CBGBs.

“It was a rough place, a dive, but it was heaven for us.

The Bolton News: The Outcasts

“We were drawn together by punk and there was a real joy – it didn’t matter whether you were from a Protestant or Catholic community. It was our escape from The Troubles.”

Greg formed The Outcasts with siblings Martin and Colin after hearing the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK on John Peel’s radio show.

“We couldn’t play a note, but we were punk rockers so it was all about attitude and a rejection of violence,” he said.

The Outcasts were signed up by Good Vibrations Records and their buzzsaw guitar single - Just Another Teenage Rebel – proved to be a minor hit and a firm favourite with BBC DJ Peel.

But life in the rest of the province saw a community living in fear from the threats of bombs and indiscriminate gun attacks.

“The Harp Bar gave us a stage but, despite all the chaos, we did gigs in Crossmaglen, Strabane, Newry and the Creggan estate in Derry,” said Greg. “The Creggan was a virtual no-go area, but we were determined to play in those places despite the danger.

“They were dark days and the only places open were the police stations and a couple of local bars. Most people were too frightened to go out after dark.”

The Outcasts fizzled out following the sad death of Greg’s brother and founder member Colin in a car accident.

But when the four-piece picked up their instruments again everything changed with the release of the film Good Vibrations some 10 years ago.

It told the story of Belfast punk pioneer Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations record label which released The Undertones anthem Teenage Kicks.

“It was most strange to see The Outcasts played by actors in the film Good Vibrations, but almost overnight we were getting calls from across the world to play gigs and festivals,” said Greg.

“It felt like we were riding a giant wave with so many new fans discovering our music for the first time.

“Suddenly we were massive in Japan and we were packing our suitcases to Canada, Germany and America.”

When The Outcasts travelled to the city of Osaka in Japan for a headline show they were mobbed by Japanese teenagers.

“The adulation was unbelievable - I’ve never seen fans so obsessed,” said Greg. “There’s a sub-genre of the Japanese punk scene who only want to know about Northern Irish punk bands.

“Those young Japanese kids have a knowledge of Northern Ireland punk I couldn’t even remember.

“I thought we were on an episode of Candid Camera with all those teenage kids pogoing around at our gig.”

He added: “When I started out playing punk music all those years ago, I never thought I’d be a rock muso still churning it in my 60s but I’ve never enjoyed it so much.

“The Rolling Stones keep going, don’t they?

“I read somewhere that they have their blood changed before they go on tour and fly all over the world in a private jet.

“We still do Travelodge and easyJet, but it is so much fun and it feels like our career has gone in reverse, finally receiving some nice recognition forty-odd years since we first formed.”

The Outcasts have signed to an American punk rock label and their first studio stint for many years saw them produce a terrific EP Stay Young, a resolve not to go quietly.

Read also: Captain Sensible ;It's been a funny old career'

Greg recently appeared on the BBC documentary Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland, featuring remarkable first-hand recollections of people’s stories as civil war raged before their eyes.

The four-part series chronicled The Troubles from Bloody Sunday in 1972 to the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement, a peace deal that all but ended three decades of violent conflict.

“Belfast is unrecognisable from my youth, I would never have imagined how much the city would have changed in my lifetime,” he added.

Even the site of the long-demolished Harp Bar is a now a trendy boutique hotel.

“The kids of today aren’t interested on what went on before, and my kids don’t understand what we lived through,” said Greg. “The Troubles are, generally, just history for them now.”

He adds: “The Outcasts were at North-West Calling, a punk festival in Manchester, and a couple of guys came over to chat.

“It turned out they were ex-British Army soldiers who patrolled the streets of Belfast and they were Outcast fans too.

“They told me that when they got to Belfast, the Army showed them a 20-minute film about the Troubles and then they were thrown out on the street.

“They said that they were still trying to make sense of the conflict, but there’s many people from both communities and others who served there who feel that emotion.”

The Outcasts are firm favourites with the Rebellion crowd, and are pencilled in to play two sets, an acoustic gig and their main show at the Opera House, both on August 4.

“Rebellion is a like a punk holiday for The Outcasts, and it always feels like a giant school re-union.

“We come over on the ferry and stay for the whole weekend – it is the highlight of our year.”

Rebellion Punk Festival, August 3-6, Winter Gardens and Opera House, Blackpool. Headliners include Henry Rollins, The Dickies, Steel Pulse and the Rezillos. Weekend and day tickets available from