Belfast Telegraph

Ulster pub chain owners in administration

They were venues where stars were born. Now it’s the administrator who calls the tune

By Maureen Coleman and Margaret Canning

It’s been credited as the venue where Oasis celebrated the start of their success story.

On September 4, 1994, the little-known Mancunian band had just taken to the stage at the Limelight in Belfast when news came through that their debut album Definitely Maybe had gone to number one.

That show is still one of the most-talked about gigs in Belfast — every music fan over the age of 30 claims to have been there, despite it only holding 500 people — and even Noel Gallagher has hailed the Limelight’s role in musical heritage.

But the future of the famous music pub and its sister venues is now in question following the revelation that the company behind the chain has gone into administration.

John Hansen of KPMG has been brought in to run CDC Leisure and Tarwood and its four venues — the Limelight, Katy Daly’s, Spring & Airbrake and Auntie Annie’s.

All four have long been part of the fabric of socialising in Belfast and have played host to a multitude of acts over the years, including Paul Weller, The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Babyshambles and Duffy.

Local acts such as Snow Patrol and Ash have graced their stages, too, and many Northern Ireland bands got their first leg up in the live music scene at one of the four venues. However administrator John Hansen said he was “very positive” about the venues’ future after his appointment on Wednesday, which he said had come about as a result of a decline in business due to the current economic climate.

“I intend to keep on trading. I will get to grips with what has been happening and it will keep going as normal,” he said.

“Obviously I now have an assessment process to go through to determine the best course of action for the future.”

He said the venues would continue to book live bands and that he would use the expertise of the management team at the premises.

Mr Hansen said he would assess the commercial viability of other events which CDC is promoting, including Blondie at the King’s Hall next Wednesday and Deep Purple at St George’s Market on June 28.

He said he had “no preconceived ideas” about whether one bar had performed worse than the others.

Radio Ulster DJ Ralph McLean said he was saddened by the news. “It would be a terrible shame if those venues closed because they have been providing amazing entertainment for a long time,” he said.

The presenter also said he believed the difficulties of the venues reflected trends among concert-goers. “Perhaps it’s something to do with people preferring big events and festivals to seeing people in intimate pubs and nightclubs.

“But I have always preferred the smaller places, and The Limelight and Spring and Airbrake are two of my favourite venues. When it’s up close and personal, that’s when it really happens.

“I saw Oasis there when they were just on the cusp of making it big, and I saw Paul Weller playing there on his own as part of his acoustic tour in 2000. I saw The Fall with Mark E Smith — loads of really good people.

“What The Limelight in particular did was break new bands to smaller audiences, which is very important. People can’t just come straight in and play the Odyssey.”

Venues with special place in this fan’s heart

By Maureen Coleman

Like many music fans in Northern Ireland, the Limelight and its sister venues, Katy Daly’s, Auntie Annie’s and Spring and Airbrake hold some special memories for me — from the backstage capers with the Madchester bands to the joy of watching an unknown act go on to greater things.

At the risk of sounding like the oldest swinger in town, I first went to the Limelight as far back as 1989/1990, partying afterwards with The Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets. Over the years I’ve seen Paul Weller, Reef, Primal Scream, Interpol, Editors, British Sea Power and The Strokes.

I may have missed the Oasis gig of 1994 but I saw Arctic Monkeys play a smashing show in 2005, just before they exploded onto the scene.

Spring and Airbrake, meanwhile, played host to one of my favourite all-time concerts, The Magic Numbers. On a sunny summer’s evening they conjured up a show of sheer bliss.

It’s still business as usual at all four venues and fingers crossed it stays that way. Belfast’s music fans would be lost without them.

Belfast Telegraph