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Live gigs worth all the Troubles: Concerts by bands like The Smiths helped unite Northern Ireland during dark days of the past, says Joe Lindsay


Joe Lindsay

BROADCASTER Joe Lindsay has told how seeing The Smiths when he was 13 changed his life for ever.

Speaking ahead of a new BBC radio series about famous concerts of yesteryear, the DJ and presenter said music was the sound of hope during the Troubles and that he still loved The Smiths despite Morrissey's flirtation with far-right politics.

Joe added that live shows, currently on hold because of the pandemic, helped people in the dark days of the past.

"Particularly during the bad times here, it lifted you and kept you going. It was a ray of hope that got you out and into town and mixing with people at a time when you might not otherwise have done. It was an escape big-time," he added.

"Going to my first gig to see The Smiths at the Ulster Hall when I was 13, I had never seen anything like it and it absolutely lit me up.

"I couldn't take my eyes of Johnny Marr and Morrissey. Johnny was and still is one of the most effortlessly cool men on the planet. He always had great hair.

The Smiths

"They weren't much older than me, really. Morrissey was about 20 at the time and writing those great songs of depth and emotion.

"We know now that he's become a f****** t**t, but it doesn't diminish my love of that band because they were everything to me.

"That (the concert) was an incredible experience. Up to that point I had inherited my love of music from my parents - stuff like Bowie, T. Rex and Sinatra - as well as from my sister, with stuff like The Jam, Small Faces, Duran Duran and Adam and the Ants.

"But The Smiths I found myself and they were my band. Seeing them live was just like, 'This is it'.

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Morrissey (Ben Birchall/PA)

Morrissey (Ben Birchall/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Morrissey (Ben Birchall/PA)

"I knew that I was never going to be in a band, but I knew that music was going to be vitally important in my life and, if I could, I'd be involved in music for the rest of my life.

"I was very lucky to see Bowie and Prince nine times, REM more than 10 times. All that stuff fuelled me - it kept me going.

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David Bowie

David Bowie

Getty Images

David Bowie

"It was also formative and I think that's the role of music. If it grabs you at a very young age. It is something which can be so important to the rest of your life.

"You weren't buying into the ugliness and the darkness, you weren't letting it envelop you. You were going out to seek the light and the music. Everything that came from that - the sense of community and people who were there for the same reason you were - was the love of music and discovering.

"That became a real cornerstone for my taste in music. Seeking out stuff I had never heard before lit a real fire in me.

"I'm very lucky and have seen some amazing concerts in Belfast and beyond.

"What it did was get me through some really bad times. I think that was the same for everybody.

"When the Troubles ended, we opened up a bit more and had more interesting, more esoteric music coming here. That inspired a lot of musicians as well."

The forthcoming BBC Radio Ulster programme, called Up the Front, is a six-part series written and presented by Joe which takes listeners back through some of the most famous concerts ever staged in Northern Ireland.

The Getaways presenter said he came up with the idea because he missed live music and felt compelled to explore the value of going to gigs.

"I had the idea because, like most people here, I am missing going to live gigs big-time," he added.

"I go to a lot of concerts and gigs, I DJ out a lot and I just miss it all. I miss the social fabric of it and the fact you go and see some of the most amazing bands on your doorstep.

"I miss the opportunity to go and support local musicians and local venues, particularly when they really need it.

"We wanted to put together this programme because we need the comfort that live music can give us.

"We need to know those days will come back and we will see bands again. It will take a while, but it will happen.

"It was just an idea of being able to remember those great gigs of the past which inspired people to get involved in music or to join a band and enabled people to witness incredible things which really enhanced life.

"For example, during the series we talk about how the three boys from Ash went to see Nirvana. It lit them up so much that they thought, 'We're a three-piece, we can do this'. That was formative moment for them."

  • Up The Front begins today at 6.30pm on BBC Radio Ulster

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