Belfast Telegraph

Game of Thrones tours wow music superstars says Belfast Belsonic boss

The crowd at the opening night of Belsonic last night where Slash took to the stage
The crowd at the opening night of Belsonic last night where Slash took to the stage
Slash
A fan sits on the iron throne
Belsonic’s Alan Simms

By David O'Dornan

Music stars from around the globe have been enjoying secret visits to the Game Of Thrones set ahead of their gigs at Belsonic.

Alan Simms, the brains behind the festival, said he loves showing off Northern Ireland to celebs with "at least a dozen" acts desperate to visit the set and locations where the hit TV series was filmed.

Alan said he was able to get artists like Gaslight Anthem and Newton Faulkner access to the set because practically every one of the show's stars has asked to come backstage and watch gigs over the years.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "One of the big things for us is the Game Of Thrones set.

"The amount of bands, particularly the year we were down at Titanic, that want to see the set, we must've had a least a dozen of them.

"People wouldn't necessarily see it, but over the past decade pretty much every major character from Game Of Thrones has been back partying at least at one of our shows.

"And they obviously keep it on the down-low and in exchange for that we've been offered tours. I've been on one myself, I've sat on the iron throne and lived!

"But all the acts are blown away, we'll get them a car for tours up the north coast and stuff.

"It's a really cool thing for us that we can help so that they can have a unique experience here."

Music promoter Alan (50) launched Belsonic in 2008 and it has grown to be Northern Ireland's most established festival, with Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash kicking off this year's gigs in Belfast's Ormeau Park last night.

He said that their reputation has grown so much they can now attract major artists such as The Killers, Stormzy and George Ezra.

He explained: "We have two Glastonbury headliners playing this year, we have Stormzy and The Killers.

"The Killers wanted to do a show pre-Glastonbury, a blow the cobwebs off thing, and there were a lot of cities across Europe trying to get that show, so that's quite a cultural coup.

"It's very important for us to treat the acts well. If we weren't doing things at a level that's world-class, we would 100% not be getting these bands to come and play, it just wouldn't happen, they don't take chances.

"They just want it to be professional and it's a lot of pressure to live up to, but we've built up to that."

Alan said that as well as enjoying visits to the Game Of Thrones set, big-name stars have been raving about their Belfast experience in general.

He said: "Green Day were speaking very favourably about us, and Liam Gallagher always raves about Belfast.

"Richard Ashcroft when he come over last year, he went up and saw George Best's house.

"Our guys took him up on a bit of a tour and we got him a Northern Ireland football top and he brought it on stage and he was just loving the response."

He added that many stars also make charity gestures when they are in town.

However they don't brag about it because they are not doing it for publicity.

He said: "There's a load of stuff that happens that the public wouldn't see. I won't even mention any bands, you'll see them maybe making donations to local charities or they'll do meet-and-greets. One of the big bands last year arranged a meet-and-greet for some special needs kids.

"They are not doing it to look nice, it is something they do routinely when they go on tour and it's always nice to see that.

"That's one of the things I like to see. People have this image of rock bands being debauched but generally they are very nice people who are grateful to be put in the position they are in.

"And when you see examples of that, that's always the stuff that touches me rather than anything else. I always like to see people who still have their feet on the ground and we actually see more of that than you think."

The burgeoning music scene here includes Vital as well as Belsonic and their sister shows at Custom House Square, and Alan said a positive knock-on effect has been the boost to the local economy.

He said: "We get a lot of tourism now.

"It used to be that we were doing maybe five or 10% of sales from out of state visitors, whereas now we've had shows with 40% of people coming to them who aren't from here."

And here's another boost for local music fans... Alan says he is thinking of ideas for yet another music festival here and creating a family-friendly one which would allow parents to bring their kids.

The dad-of-two added: "That's something I'd love to do and it's definitely something to think about."

Visit www.belsonic.com for details about the rest of this year's festival.

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