Protex were among the first wave of punk bands to emerge in Belfast, Ireland. After witnessing The Clash perform they formed in 1978 and signed on with Terri Hooley’s legendary Good Vibrations label. They were among fellow punk acts like Rudi, The Outcasts and The Undertones. Protex played rock n’ roll tunes to a unique punk infused power pop style. Their songs were upbeat, catchy and celebrated a desire of normalcy for chasing youthful ideals of hopeless romanticism. For bands like Protex, punk music helped inform their world view and inspired a sense of community. This music was an important contrast against the backdrop of the Troubles plaguing Northern Ireland. It was a way out and a tool to cope with the political and civil turmoil of the time.
During their tenure with Good Vibrations, Protex put out the “Don’t Ring Me Up” three track 45— which was later rereleased by Rough Trade in 1978. In 1979, Protex signed on with Polydor and found a new home in London, England. Being in London, they focused primarily on touring, making music and releasing a further three singles. Despite this Protex split up in 1981 before they could release a full length record. Luckily, in 2010 Sing Sing records found and released the previously unreleased Strange Obsessions recordings. Thanks to a revived interest, original members Aidan Murtagh and David McMaster reformed Protex with the addition of new members Gordie Walker, John Rossi , and later Norman Boyd.
With Protex reformed, they began touring and recording. Although McMaster tenure with the renewed band was short lived, Protex continued on. They saw the release of Tightrope on Bachelor Records in 2017. Since then, Protex have remained on the move. They have played the Pump It Up Power Pop Weekender (2019 and 2021). In 2022 Protex released Wicked Ways, also on Bachelor Records. For fans old and new alike the new records sound akin to Protex’s previous material. They are steeped in power pop hooks with a distinct punk influenced method. This is particularly with the track Tightrope’s “Tightrope” and Wicked Ways‘ “It’s A Lie.”
In early February Protex did a brief tour in Germany with Slander Tongue. Protex were about to tour the States from March 10th through the 17th. Unfortunately, this jaunt across the States was canceled due to visa delays on March 1st. I caught up with Murtagh to chat about their new album Wicked Ways, growing up listening to Slade, and the 1970’s punk movement in Belfast…..
NixBeat: Protex just completed a string of dates in Berlin, Dresden and Hamburg. There you played with Slander Tongue. How was it to back playing in Germany?
Murtagh: It was amazing to finally get back and play . What was great about it was that some of the shows were sold out so it was reassuring to find people still wanted to hear us . It was our fourth time playing Berlin , third time Hamburg , and first time Dresden. Slander Tongue were so good to us , a great band and nice guys.
NixBeat: After seeing The Clash perform, Protex emerged as among the first wave of punk bands from Belfast in the late 1970s. What was it about that Clash concert inspired you to form Protex?
Murtagh: It was so long ago now! I suppose they were the first punk band to play Belfast during the troubles there, they were exciting, energetic. Their music was new and refreshing. After the show we spent a long time talking with them. Strummer was very encouraging with regarding to bands starting out. Good times. They lit the spark for us to form a punk band.
NixBeat: In an interview with Fear and Loathing Fanzine published in 2017, you mentioned being energized through listening to glam rock like Slade and pub rock groups such as Dr. Feelgood. Can you expand on how this music influenced your launch playing music and subsequently getting into punk?
Murtagh: I grew up listening to Slade and was a member of their fan club. I also listened to Bowie , T Rex and Lou Reed — but Slade were very much rock n’ roll and had such great melodies. Dr Feelgood were one of the first bands I saw live. They were a breath of fresh air at a time when music was getting a little stale. They were back to basics and moved on stage. In many ways they paved the way for punk music. Great attitude.
NixBeat: In an interview with hopecollectiveireland.com published on 10/19/2017 you mentioned when you initially moved to London in 1979 there was a difference between feeling like a music business atmosphere versus being in movement. Can you elaborate how you experienced punk as a movement in Belfast in the late 1970’s and do you see punk as one now?
Murtagh: I still believe that in those early years in Belfast the punk movement was different than other UK cities, mostly due to the troubles. It meant more —as well as rebelling against everything normal teenagers do—we were rebelling against what was happening in Belfast at that time , and against the those who tried to control everything. Also, punk was not necessarily about the fashion side of things. I think those years influenced many of my thoughts and outlook of the world which I still have today. It’s an attitude thing I suppose.
When we moved to London we had a record contract with a major label and we became more involved as part of the music business. In late 1979 punk in London was not very strong and music was changing with the likes of ska and rockabilly. We didn’t come across many punks.
NixBeat: On August 24, 2022 released Wicked Ways on Bachelor Records. Having listened to it a number of times it feels like a logical extension of Protex’s previous material. What was the process like in writing and recording “Wicked Ways.”
Murtagh: It was a very similar process to the Tightrope LP. Once I was happy with the songs I bought them to the band to rehearse. Then into the studio to record. This time we had the pandemic in the middle of it which delayed everything so it wasn’t as instantaneous as the previous album.
NixBeat: One of my favorite tracks on Wicked Ways is “It’s A Lie.” What’s the inspiration behind this track?
Murtagh: Really it’s a small comment about our local political people and paramilitaries rousing up with false promises to get votes and power and seldom delivering. We have a lot of career politicians here.
NixBeat: On Wicked Ways you added a rerecorded version of “All I Want To Do Is Rock And Roll.” This feels quite the relevant song about wanting to have fun after more than two years Pandemic related stress. What prompted including “All I Want To Do Is Rock And Roll” in Wicked Ways?
Murtagh: Well, I always liked the song but felt the original version went on a bit. So the song was cut down and re arranged and this is the result. I liked the guitar song we got on it. Yeah, it kinda can now be a statement about coming out of the lockdown scenario.
NixBeat: How does your approach to recording Wicked Ways differ from your previous record Tight Rope?
Murtagh: The process was more or less the same as I’ve mentioned in Q4.
NixBeat: The title track of Tightrope seems provides political commentary on the government of Northern Ireland. What are you drawing from for “Tightrope?”
Murtagh: The song was written at a time after the “Peace” broke out here. We then had a power sharing government with all political parties. However, there was always underlying tension. They argued too much, and really on the streets it felt like trouble could flare up very quickly at any time and we could potentially slip back into what went before. The local government (Stormont)’ I felt was walking on a “Tightrope” (a very simple comment). Since I wrote the song the local government has stopped —they fell of the rope! It’s a mess. They all need to jump on the rope again and get back to work. It’s disgusting that they are getting paid for not working.
NixBeat: I have to say one of my favorite tracks is “A Place In Your Heart.” The opening lyrics “Is it a crime to need someone for longer than just one night” is just brilliant. After years of searching I was lucky to find a copy of that single in a record shop in Camden Town. This was just after seeing and DJing for Protex, Biznaga and Randy Savages at the Heatwave Magazine release party on November 18th 2017. What inspired the writing behind “A Place In Your Heart?”
Murtagh: The song was written by former member David McMaster about his girlfriend at the time.
NixBeat: Having played the Pump It Up Power Pop Weekender in 2018 and 2021. What has your experience been like playing alongside newer bands like The Speedways, Baby Shakes and Los Pepes?
Murtagh: It’s always a joy to play with them. They have become friends and we have total respect for them.
NixBeat: What does the future hold for Protex?
Murtagh: We will continue to play in European countries, in August we return to the Rebellion Punk festival. We also are trying to make a second USA visit later in the year if our visa let us. There’s also some new songs to record.
For more about Protex visit them at their Website, Facebook, Bandcamp and check out their tour dates below.