Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

A long journey but now we have an Alternative Ulster

A 33-year-old song by punk legends Stiff Little Fingers is the inspiration for a week-long feast of music, says Stuart Bailie

Welcome to Belfast Music Week, the rock 'n' roll version of a family get-together. Since July, we've been sending out the invites, hoping to involve our greatest songwriters and strummers, our DJs, blues fans and folk champions.

Thousands of individuals are involved and most of the people on the invite list are in town. They're all keen to show off our talents, to celebrate our collective might.

Like any reunion, it involves a few grumpy uncles and a handful of lippy cousins. But mostly the response has been heartening.

Some of our most valued artists are flying in from the likes of New York and Budapest, taking lengthy detours to take part.

The Ulster Hall is solidly booked, while new venues like Voodoo and Love And Death are putting on bold programmes.

Belfast Music Week began in September 2010. It was a last-minute initiative, hoping to stage some local music in the run-up to the MTV event with Mark Ronson at the Waterfront Hall.

A handful of people made the calls and were delighted with the positive feedback. It was yet another sign that the music scene here was prepared to work together.

The industry workshops were busy with young entrepreneurs, there was music on the Lagan and a keynote speech from Nile Rogers of Chic fame.

It ended with big smiles and exhaustion, but also with the resolve to build this into an annual event. So when MTV confirmed that they were bringing the European Music Awards to Belfast, there was a perfect chance to roll out something more ambitious.

Belfast City Council is the driver of all this, but just as the musical community has rallied, so there's a matching dynamic from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Tourism Ireland and Invest NI. Everyone is pulling for the team, using their own expertise to put out the news and to deepen the content.

The aim was to see unique things happen during the week. So when Tim Wheeler from Ash started talking about putting on a benefit show for the Alzheimer's Society, it was a perfect call.

After a barrage of emails, Tim secured The Divine Comedy and The Undertones, persuading them to play a classic album each.

James Nesbitt had offered to film a message of support from the set of The Hobbit in New Zealand, while Paul Rankin had promised to feed musicians and crew on the day.

This Saturday night, the doors of the Spring -amp; Airbrake, The Limelight and Katy Daly's will open up to form a super venue and the setting for Belfast Calling. This will involve nine stages and more than 30 bands. It will be the sign-off on the local dimension to Belfast Music Week - a chance for musicians to kick back and share in each other's company.

There are going to be so many special moments this week, but for me, the Ulster Hall tomorrow night will be the defining deal.

Around 10.30pm, Stiff Little Fingers will be onstage to collect their Legends title at the awards. And they will follow this presentation with a live performance, including Alternative Ulster.

You probably know the song, even if you weren't around in 1978 when it came roaring out of a broken city.

The song urged young people to get rid of bigotry and to be creative with their lives. It encouraged you to write your own story and to define a different vision of the place.

Alternative Ulster was the national anthem we truly deserved and it has informed all of the music that has led up to this week.

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