The Live at the Castle open air rock concerts are coming back to Carrickfergus for at least the next two years – maybe even longer.
Thousands of people of all ages rocked under the ramparts on Friday and Saturday to the sounds of headliners Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and Status Quo, along with an impressive supporting bill.
The event, organised by CDC Leisure (the Belfast Telegraph was one of the main sponsors), was the highlight of Carrickfergus Borough Council’s 60th birthday celebrations.
The aim was to put on a live rock festival for all ages – and that’s exactly what happened.
Throughout the two days there was a carnival atmosphere and thankfully the rain, always a threat to put a damper on outdoor events like this, largely held off with just one heavy shower.
Colin Wasson, director of promoters CDC Leisure, said: “This is the first year in bedding down what is to be an annual event.
“We have signed a three-year contract with the council. Since February we have been speaking to artists about playing in Carrickfergus in 2010.
“We hope to be able to make an announcement about that in the near future.”
Colin praised Carrick council for their ‘forward-thinking’ approach and said he was delighted to be in partnership with them.
“We set out to put on an event which would appeal to all the family. We identified a gap in the market and – when I look around and see young children and people in their 70s enjoying themselves – I think we’ve been vindicated,” he added.
It was all happening for local virtuoso rock guitarist Simon McBride. Not only was he playing his debut live gig on the biggest stage ever constructed in his home town – but he was preparing to fly out to Cyprus the following day where he will marry his girlfriend Donna on Thursday.
“I really enjoyed the gig. I wasn’t sure how I would go down but everybody seemed to get into it.
“It’s good for Carrick to have such big names, like Jools Holland and Status Quo, playing in the town. It really is a huge occasion,” said Simon who has been touring constantly promoting his debut album ‘Rich Man Falling’.
Imelda May, a rockabilly singer from Dublin who has been getting rave reviews, played a storming set on Friday.
“I am delighted to be here. They were a great audience – and as for the setting, well, what can you say. It’s absolutely brilliant. Thank goodness the rain kept off.”
Also on the bill on Friday night, which was headlined by Jools and his 18-piece orchestra (with Dave Edmunds as a special guest), were former Mike and the Mechanics vocalist, the aptly named Paul Carrack, and up-and-coming singer-songwriter Gareth Dunlop from Holywood, Co Down.
On Saturday local band Sunshine started the proceedings, followed by Simon McBride and Thin Lizzy tribute band Tinn Lizzy featuring well-known Belfast guitarists Speedo Wilson and Willie Byrne.
Tennesse bluegrass rockers Hayseed Dixie and Ireland’s own Saw Doctors kept up the momentum before the legendary Status Quo provided the climax to a fantastic two days.
Bernie and Davy Loughran, from Newry, adequately summed things up.
“We were taking a walk around the town earlier and it was a pleasure to see everyone in such good form and getting into the festival spirit,” said Bernie.
Davy added: “That’s what happens with music. It’s good for Northern Ireland. It brings everybody together and keeps them happy.”