“Not Savior from on High deliver, No trust have we in prince or peer, But in our strong arm to deliver”. -Brendan Behan, Borstal Boy
Burn It Down, the incendiary opening track to the band’s magnificent and visionary 1980 debut album, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels started out life as Dance Stance, the band’s debut single from the previous year. Reworked and revitalised for the debut album, the song now featured an opening of Kevin Rowland searching (perhaps for ‘the young soul rebels’) on his radio. Through the static and fuzz laid a collage of snippets from songs from the last decade such as Holidays In The Sun by The Sex Pistols, Rat Race by The Specials and Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple followed by the battle cry of “Oh, for God’s sake burn it down!”
Following the inflammatory opening denouncing the music scene of the last decade and a call to arms to forget what went before and just as Kevin Rowland states on the album’s closing track, There There My Dear, “welcome the new soul vision”, Rowland taps into his Irish-Catholic roots by making reference to an array of Irish playwrights and writers and tells of the ignorance towards the Irish. In total, Burn It Down references 14 Irish literary figures: Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Eugene O’Neil, Edna O’Brien, Lawrence Stern, Sean Kavanaugh, Sean McCann, Benedict Keilly, Jimmy Hiney, Frank O’Connor and Catherine Rhine. Rowland told The Guardian in 1980:
“I was sick of hearing anti-Irish prejudice all the time from really thick people and the lyrics just spilled out of me. I had this biography of Brendan Behan and on the back it said: ‘Some say Behan has the potency of Oscar Wilde …’ and listed all these other great writers: Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw and so on. I’d heard of them – that was all – but thought: ‘I’ll put them in!’ I don’t think I was ever claiming to have actually read them. I was saying: ‘If Irish people are so thick, how come they’ve produced all these great writers”.
The lyrical attack against ignorance towards Irish people by name checking the greats of Irish literature was complimented by the album sleeve featuring a Belfast Catholic boy carrying his belongings after moving from his home during The Troubles, a time in which this ill feeling was more apparent than ever. The band’s image of the time, that of the New York docker, could be seen to reflect the immigration of the Irish to America, where most of the band’s soul influence derived from. Incidentally, Brendan Behan, the influence of whom kick-started the writing of Burn It Down, famously lived in New York’s Chelsea Hotel in the early 1960’s. The band’s Irish influence was taken one step further with the sound and image adopted on the band’s second album, Too-Rye-Ay (1982). As Kevin Rowland explained in the BBC’s Young Guns Go For It documentary, “I had a need in me to find a way to say, ‘I’m Irish and I’m not shit’”.