‘It’s our gift to Belfast’- Problem Patterns on penning punk ode to home city and why they can’t wait to play with Shania at Glastonbury

Noise Annoys Zooms with three-quarters of fast-rising feminist queer punks Problem Patterns in advance of releasing their brand new single, I Think You Should Leave, and playing their biggest ever show at the Glastonbury Festival

Problem Patterns have given the Irish News two new videos from their debut album. Picture by Carrie Davenport
Problem Patterns are Glastonbury-bound. Picture: Carrie Davenport

HAVING released one of 2023′s best albums in the form of their superb debut, Blouse Club, Glastonbury-bound Problem Patterns’ anthemic new Belfast-centric tune is a strong contender for best single of 2024.

Commissioned by RTÉ Radio 1′s series The County Measure, in which Irish musicians pay musical tribute to their home counties, the quartet have cannily created an ode to Co Antrim which really serves as an celebration/affirmation of their home city in the post-Troubles era.

With its rousing shout-along chorus “Everybody leaves and nothing changes, I’ll stay here and create the spaces”, the ironically titled I Think You Should Leave is an instant classic rallying call for Belfast’s progressively-minded, a suitably raucous 21st century sequel to Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers, an equally anthemic punk classic written during the thick of the Troubles.

The 1978 number by their Belfast forerunners is even directly referenced within the song, the original lyric “grab it, take it, it’s yours” updated to the more community-minded “grab it, take it, it’s ours”.

Indeed, despite the fact I Think You Should Leave is due for release on June 26 just prior to Problem Patterns making their Glastonbury Festival debut, the queer punk quartet – Alanah Smith (vocals/guitar/bass), Ciara King (vocals/bass/guitar/drums), Beverley Boal (vocals/guitar/bass) and Bethany Crooks (vocals/drums) – have decided to withhold their new single’s live debut until a more appropriate moment.

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“Supporting Stiff Little Fingers at Custom House Square feels like a nice time to debut it,” asserts Ciara of their upcoming home fixture on August 17, which will follow summer festival slots at Glastonbury, Stendhal, 2000 Trees and Truck Festival through June and July.

“Playing with them and The Damned is pretty insane. They’re hugely legendary. And there’s something about playing outdoors in the middle of Belfast city centre that’s so bizarre.”

The poster for SLF's Putting The Fast in Belfast 6
Putting The Fast in Belfast 6

Alanah describes this upcoming hometown show as a “full circle” moment for Problem Patterns, who formed in Belfast back in 2018 and will play Derry’s Nerve Centre tomorrow night.

“I Think You Should Leave is about Belfast, so it will be a very feel-good feeling to perform it there for the first time,” explains the English-born, Canadian-raised musician, the only ‘non-native’ band member, who has lived in the city for the past decade.

“It will have been out for a little while at that point, so hopefully some people might know it. It’s our gift to Belfast, basically.”

The mighty Problem Patterns say it with flowers
Problem Patterns. PICTURE: Betsy Bailie

Alanah adds: “I moved around a lot as a kid, and Belfast is the first place I’ve lived where I could actually see a future for myself, instead of running away somewhere else.

“It’s perceived as this very dangerous city, when it’s not. It’s a lovely little community – you just need to meet the right people.”

Problem Patterns came roaring out of the gate with their incendiary 2018 debut single Allegedly, a caustic commentary on male abusers, followed by their deliciously titled 2019 EP, Good For You, Aren’t You Great?, which found them addressing gender stereotypes (Day and Age, Sell By Date), toxic masculinity (Mediocre Man) and sapphic relationships (Gal Pals).

After establishing themselves as one of the most energetic, inclusive and downright fun live bands around, last year’s Blouse Club saw the band slaying the Tories (Who Do We Not Save?), part-time punks (Poverty Tourist), religious hypocrites/intolerance (Letter of Resignation) and the rise of trans-exclusionary radical feminism (TERFs Out), while reclaiming gay slurs in the name of gay pride (Lesbo 3000) and drawing upon self-care struggles (Picture of Health).

As the first new music they have released since Blouse Club, I Think You Should Leave finds the quartet turning their attention to ‘the north’, specifically their home city, from four distinctly different points of view, as Ciara explains.

“We’d kind of been trying to steer away from anything Belfast related and Troubles-related, just because there’s just been a lot of other stuff we wanted to talk about as a band,” says the west Belfast-bred musician.

“We were only going to say ‘yes’ [to RTÉ's invitation] if it felt like something we would actually write – because we’re not just gonna write and record a song for the craic.

“We kind of related it back to when a journalist asked us ‘well, if Belfast is so bad, why don’t you just leave?’. We were like, ‘you can’t say that to someone about their hometown’, but [it also made us think] well, why do we stay here? And that’s kind of where the song came from.”

As for the small matter of that imminent Glastonbury debut, securing a slot at the highest profile music event in the UK is a Big Deal for a fiercely DIY band like Problem Patterns, who remain very much a self-sustained operation (all band members continue to work day jobs) despite signing to Oxford-based indie label Alcopop! Records last year.

“People overestimate what we’re able to do as a DIY band in terms of touring,” explains Alanah.

“We get gig offers [in England] where they’re like, ‘can you play for 50 pounds and bring a backline?’ when we’re trying to go on the cheapest budget flight with our guitars sitting beside us.

“Glastonbury will be our biggest ever show by a long-shot. The biggest so far was 2,000, when we supported Le Tigre, whereas this is the Park Stage and I don’t even want to think about the number of people that’ll be in the audience.

“We’ve been given a full pass for the whole weekend,” enthuses Ciara of their upcoming Glastonbury experience on Sunday June 30, which will provide valuable ‘mainstream’ exposure for Problem Patterns and hopefully allow them to catch some of the other acts on the bill.

“I really want to see Squeeze, and I know we’re all looking forward to seeing Sugababes and Shania Twain.”

“Even my non-music friends in Canada know about Glastonbury just because she’s playing,” chuckles Alanah of the Canadian pop-country superstar, this year’s festival ‘Legend’.

“They’re like ‘Alanah is playing a festival with Shania!’.”

Problem Patterns play the Nerve Centre in Derry on Saturday, with support from Lord Jane. They play Glastonbury’s Park Stage on Sunday June 30 at 11.30am, and the Stendhal Festival in Limavady on Saturday July 6. I Think You Should Leave will be released on June 26, Blouse Club is out now. Listen/buy via linktr.ee/Problempatterns