What are Northern Ireland's greatest music moments ever?
Your first gig, your first single or the concert where you met your wife ... as the Belfast Telegraph, in association with U105, today launches the quest to compile the definitive countdown of rock and pop’s most memorable occasions here, Stuart Bailie gives his personal highlights.
Music has been a steady, positive force in Northern Ireland. It has often worked under the headlines, bringing smiles and adventure to cheerless days. We have long memories and we tend to dwell on the bad stuff, but the songs have sustained us, the great concerts have moved us and the words have steered us to better prospects.
In the past, the older generations didn't always get it. They thought it was a silly diversion. They didn't get the importance of young people getting lost in music, or the idea of some over-excited kid with bad hair and a few guitar chords, making his first rowdy statement. But sometimes those gruff lyrics and those faltering dance steps were the saving of us all.
The idea then, is to take stock of all this. There are plenty of musical moments that have helped to define the good times and the hopeful alternatives in Northern It's a fascinating idea because we all have our unique version of this — a personal jukebox of the heart. So please indulge me for a moment while I fetch out some of my own.
The date is May 19, 1998. I'm backstage at the Waterfront Hall with U2, Ash and a bunch of politicians. We've all been party to the ‘Yes' concert, which has been hastily put together to support the Referendum. The voters have been faltering and a feel-good moment has been lacking until Bono, Tim Wheeler and some raggedy bits of music have changed the agenda.
We watch the story beaming across the Ten O' Clock News, and we cheer because it's already doing its work. Unbelievably, John Hume and David Trimble had never shaken hands in public until that night. The spin doctors may have scripted it, but it was Bono who summoned up the sense of occasion and then sold it to the world's media. By the end of the week, the vote had been swayed by at least 3% and pop music had changed the course of our history. Really.
In the same spirit, Van Morrison had lent his own musical spirit to an event outside Belfast's City Hall on November 30, 1995. President Clinton and his wife Hillary were in town to switch on the Christmas tree lights and it was Van who articulated the mood. He played sax, to the approval of amateur muso Bill and he sang ‘Days Like This'. Brian Kennedy, another working class boy from the other side of the town sang backing vocals and the harmonious potential of this new era was sweetly delivered.
You could argue that Van Morrison's generation had been the first to look for a different culture, away from the mainstream. When he made his first official appearance with Them at the Maritime Hotel on April 17, 1964, the music was designed to be revolutionary.
Along with Billy Harrison and the other band members, Morrison was determined to reject the uniforms of the showbands, the cringey routines and the polite conventions of the time. So they smoked on stage, turned their backs on the audience and played 15-minute versions of Gloria and Turn On Your Lovelight.
The band members were fuelled on buckets of scrumpy which they had brought from the Spanish Rooms on the Falls Road. Shoes, maracas and other items were hurled into the audience and the light show was a solitary light bulb with a dimmer switch. I am so jealous of anyone who managed to see one of these gigs. They were evidently the greatest.
Rory Gallagher was another regular at the club and he would later write a instrumental called Maritime. But Rory wasn't just there for the good times and his visits to the Ulster Hall during the 1970s are rightly remembered as a loving gesture to a city that was otherwise off the entertainment schedule.
There were other weird aberrations such as Led Zeppelin's mythical show at the Ulster Hall in 1971, when they gave Stairway To Heaven its first public airing. And while the murder gangs and the random explosions scared most visiting bands, the regular visits of Horslips were highly cherished. Listen to their ‘Belfast Gigs' recording from 1980 and hear that crowd roar.
I was at the Ulster Hall on June 14, 1978, to cheer on the classic line-up of Thin Lizzy. Their ‘Live And Dangerous' album had just debuted at number two in the charts (cruelly held off the top by the Grease soundtrack) and Phil was supremely cool, charming us all and catching the stage lights with the mirrored scratch plate of his Fender bass. He was lighting up the faces of people on the balcony and every expression reflected pure joy.
Punk veterans will remember the same venue resounding to the Ramones, The Buzzcocks and The Stranglers. And of course The Clash had their first show cancelled in 1977. The rumpus on Bedford Street inspired a community of spikey teenagers and an anthem by Still Little Fingers, Alternative Ulster.
Back then, every record release felt like an event. Terri Hooley was in the thick of it with his Good Vibrations record label and the fourth release was Teenage Kicks a tune that will never fade. We spent many nights in 1978 listening to John Peel on his Radio 1 show, when he would rhapsodise about the song.
Every generation gets their chance, and the grunge enthusiasts had their moment at the King’s Hall on June 22, 1992. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana were met with a kind of delirium that I've never witnessed before or since. It was like a primitive ritual and the ceremony continued after the show and led to Kurt's hospitalisation. Poor little chap.
Around this time, dance culture was also causing a fever. Some of the best moments took place at the Art College in Belfast, where David Holmes and Iain McCready hosted the Sugar Sweet nights. I was there on a momentous night with the act Sabres Of Paradise and when the lights went on at the close of the night, even the bouncers were dancing.
Finally then, an immense party at the Oh Yeah music centre on May 5, 2007. The building on Gordon Street was a shell, the bank account was empty, but we were revving on the optimism of the idea. Gary Lightbody, one of the co-founders, sang a few songs with Lisa Hannigan. He had invited Elbow over for the evening and they also gave it their best. James Nesbitt made a funny speech while James Walsh from Starsailor sang a Van tune, Wild Night. Near the end, Duke Special sat at the piano and performed Oh Yeah a song by Ash that had become our theme song and the affirmative battle cry. The hope was that in our own way, we could add to the great tradition of peak moments. Music, filling your soul, making it precious.
Anway, how was it for you?
Now tell us your all-time favourite
Was it catching black and white images of Van Morrison and Them on TV’s Ready, Steady, Go way back in the Sixties?
Or maybe for you it will always be Ruby Murray — who achieved five top 10 records in 1955 — singing Softly, Softly.
Maybe it was when you were 12 years old and heard The Undertones blasting their way through Teenage Kicks.
Or maybe it was earlier this year when you got to go to your first concert — and watched mesmerised as Lady Gaga performed Poker Face at Belfast’s Odyssey.
Pavarotti or Elton John at Stormont? Oasis at the Limelight? The Chris de Burgh concert where you met the man you were to marry? Dana winning Eurovision?
Whether it’s an occasion filed under ‘legendary’ in the annals of rock and pop, a song that always takes you right back to a certain time and place, or music that is the soundtrack to the best day of your life, everyone has a moment. We want you to tell us what they are.
Then our panel, including Stuart Bailie, chief executive of the Oh Year Music Centre in Belfast, U105 head of music and presenter, Maurice Jay, and the Belfast Telegraph’s Maureen Coleman, will then draw up a shortlist of 50.
And next week, we’ll reveal what they are, counting down 10 a day from Monday until Friday.
As well as hearing the music from those moments played on U105 during the day, each evening on Jerry’s Jukebox, Jerry Lang will ask listeners to identify a song from the list printed in that day’s Belfast Telegraph. One lucky winner will be entered into a draw for a VIP concert night out.
So, what’s your best ever moment?
Send in your suggestions by email to: email@example.com to arrive by midnight, Friday, October 1.
Or by post to: 50 Top Music Moments, Belfast Telegraph, 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast, BT1 1EB, to arrive by Friday, October 1.