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Marty will be Wilde about Floral Hall's restoration


Floral Hall

Floral Hall

Choir guest: soprano Julia Clarke

Choir guest: soprano Julia Clarke

Shady role: Caroline Curran

Shady role: Caroline Curran


Floral Hall

Veteran pop star Marty Wilde (76) of Rubber Ball success - singing about it, not bouncing it - will be pleased to know that the Floral Hall at Hazelwood, where he crooned to a packed audience once upon a time, could soon be restored.

A friend of mine, who would smile if I called him an entrepreneur, has a dream to transform the old place that has fallen in to disrepair, and has even been used as a hay barn, and present it as a custom-built concert hall to Belfast. He believes the city is desperately in need of such an entertainment centre. He doesn't want his name revealed yet, but I know he's out there spotting Hazelwood and other possible sites.

I have to agree that the city's places of entertainment come nowhere near to being described as concert halls. My acquaintance's notion about building one follows the Waterfront's decision to devote more time and space to conferences, even though it was opened as a centre of entertainment (I was there on that memorable first night). The Odyssey Arena, now known as the SSE Arena is ideal for the occasional Tattoo, ice hockey, boxing match or rock gig, but falls short on concert nights.

I remember the Floral being filled to capacity one night in the spring of 1962 for a concert by Wilde singing his hits, Rubber Ball and Blue Moon Of Kentucky. Marty remembers the night well, especially the revolving glitter-ball suspended, all aglow, from the ceiling. Whatever happened to it?

The Grand Opera House and the Lyric, both in Belfast, are what they are - traditional theatres, and do a good job as such staging music and drama. The Ulster Hall, refurbished and looking good, has the best acoustics in the city and I love the old place which is hosting The Coronas, a much-respected rock band, in December. But it's no concert hall. Will it ever happen? Watch this space. And why did the King's Hall go out of favour as an entertainment centre for all the greats in its day?

At least it has something others don't - its own car park.

How Julia found her musical footing

Soprano Julia Clarke will be guest artist with Donaghadee Male Voice Choir when they play the Ulster Hall in Belfast on Saturday, September 26 (7.30pm).

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Julia was born into a musical family, and her own music career took its first steps at six, when she started having singing lessons with Catherine Humpter, who was also her music teacher in primary school.

And Catherine continued as Julia's music influence, even when she graduated to Methodist College.

Julia has graced Carnegie Hall in New York, recorded a solo album and become a familiar face and voice on television and radio.

One of her favourite pieces is Morning Has Broken, which she sang with Aled Jones when she toured with him.

On at the Ulster Hall, too, will be comedian Gene Stewart and Alan Corry and his Festival Brass.

Stage is set for Maggie to show her true colours

Actress Caroline Curran promises to have audiences rocking in the aisles of the Grand Opera House tonight when she reprises her character Maggie Muff in the spoof Fifty Shades Of Red White And Blue.

She's one of the best-known faces on the Belfast stage now after switching from stage-managing to acting.

Caroline explains: "I followed my dream of being a performer and playing Maggie is another dream come true."

It started with a lady called Leesa Harker writing her Belfast take on the book Fifty Shades Of Grey, the stage version of which became a sell-out in 2013 and is now at the Opera House by popular demand for a couple of nights.

Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue tells the story of Maggie and her search for love, featuring characters such as big Sally Ann, Sinead the Greener and the mysterious Mr Red White And Blue.

The show is directed by Martin Lynch and produced by Martin and Joe Rea, the team who brought you Dancing Shoes: The George Best Story.

Winging their way to prayers

European Heritage Open Day will be celebrated tomorrow at St Catherine's Parish Church in Flying Station Aldergrove  (formerly known as RAF Aldergrove) from 3-5pm.

This is the only civilian place of worship inside a military base in the UK and has regular Sabbath services.

St Catherine's was there at Aldergrove before the RAF arrived in the Twenties. In fact, it was dedicated and opened way back in November 1712, and is now in need of some 21st century refurbishment.

Visitors will enjoy being shown around a splendid old church - but don't forget to carry ID to get you through the military checkpoint. Morning service in St Catherine's tomorrow is at 11.30 with Rev William Orr.

So, what's the news on Ducky?

Are Ducky Campbell and the Belfast Newsboys Club still around? 

The original Newsboys used to sell newspapers on the streets of the city.

They had a club in Frederick Street, formed in the Thirties, and Ducky was certainly one of their most enthusiastic members.

They sold stacks of Belfast Telegraphs.

I'd love to be told that there are still one or two Newsboys around and I hope they get in touch.

There is a band somewhere called The Paperboys. Perhaps they took their name from those street sellers of papers.

All along the (stone) Watchtower

Once upon a time a couple of centuries ago stone towers like this provided shelter for a watchman at a Northern Ireland linen mill.

He was guarding rows of newly woven linen webs, stretched and pegged down on the grass to bleach in the sun during the summer. The natural colour of unbleached linen is brown, but over several weeks the effect of sunlight helped to bleach or whiten the linen cloth.

The watchman kept straying sheep and cows away from the bleaching linen at Tullylish near Gilford in Co Down, but in the 18th century his real task was looking out for linen thieves who had no difficulty selling on their ill-gotten gains,. I learnt that from editor Duncan Berryman of the Ulster Archaeological Society Newsletter.

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