Belfast Telegraph

Bluegrass fan grows banjo passion into a business

A documentary featuring celebrities learning to play musical instruments was the inspiration behind a Northern Ireland banjo business. Derek Lockhart had always longed to play the banjo but it was only after watching a BBC show that he finally decided to do something about it.

That experience resulted in the creation of DanGem, which sells banjos all over the world and is the only company in Northern Ireland to stock the prestigious Deering banjo.

"I was watching Play It Again and it was about different celebrities learning to play musical instruments, the one I remember in particular was Frank Skinner, who wanted to learn to play the banjo," said the father-of-two.

"I watched it with interest, I always wanted to play the banjo. At the end Frank Skinner said it is a wonderful instrument, if you have ever wanted to play it go out and do it.

"Within a week I had got myself a banjo, and of course I fell into the same trap as so many others and got a rubbish banjo, and it nearly put me off. DanGem was borne out of that."

Frustrated by the number of bad banjos on the marketplace, Mr Lockhart decided to take matters into his own hand.

And as he explains that passion for the banjo became "a hobby that got out of hand".

DanGem, which has been operating for 10 years, has carved out a formidable reputation through word of mouth.

That in itself is a testimony to Mr Lochart's passion as he works full-time for a company within the motor industry.

There are also two other enthusiasts working alongside him in DanGem, Billy Spence and Richard Leeman.

"I would call this a micro company. It is more a labour of love," said Mr Lockhart, who lives in Magheralin, Co Down.

DanGem, named after Mr Lockhart's daughters, Danielle and Gemma, is gearing up for the hugely successful annual Bluegrass Festival at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum this weekend.

As well as supplying a banjo for the draw, DanGem will be on hand to fix broken strings, do repairs and even supply instruments.

"I got involved through Richard Hurst and Patrick O'Kane, from the Ulster American Folk Park, following a chance conversation some years ago.

"It's the biggest bluegrass festival outside North America and the amount of tourists they pull in is absolutely fantastic, people come from all over. This is its 23rd year."

However, Mr Lochkhart doesn't feel there is a big enough demand to enable DanGem to become a full-time occupation as it's such a narrow genre of music.

The predominantly internet sales business, has also taught scores of people to play the banjo and offers a repair service.

The social side is a key focus for Mr Lockhart and he would also hate his passion to be tempered by the demands of running a business he depended on to make a living.

It's increased and retracted in equal measure. The music business is quite difficult. It can be quite a difficult thing to make a living at.

"To be honest with you sometimes when I see the accounts I am horrified, you look at it and you are really subsidising it to an extent.

"But it is for the love of the music and you get to meet some wonderful people, and talented musicians.

"It's not a monetary thing, it's more like a social service," he added.

Belfast Telegraph