Belfast Telegraph

After hosting an impromptu barn dance, my uncles realised beer was more profitable than farming and Kellys was born

Renowned nightspot Lush! was once a cowshed - yet despite its humble origins, it has evolved into one of the top clubs in the UK. In October, to mark 20 years since its launch, owner Peter Wilson is throwing a huge party at the SSE, he tells Stephanie Bell.

You could almost set your clock by the fleet of private buses pulling up in towns and villages across Northern Ireland every Saturday and Wednesday evening with just one destination - Northern Ireland's biggest nightclub.

All roads have led to Kellys in Portrush for almost 20 years during which time Lush! nightspot has continued to up the ante as a mecca for clubbers.

Now to celebrate its status and success, Lush! is planning a spectacular celebration with a never-seen-before event for Northern Ireland in the SSE Arena in Belfast.

In what will be the party to top all parties for anyone who has ever enjoyed the pulse at Lush!, the company is bringing together 70 classical musicians from the Ulster Orchestra in a rare partnership with a mix of the biggest DJ names on the planet.

A nostalgic event, it will cater for Lush! party-goers past and present and people aged from 16 to 60 are among the thousands who have already snapped up tickets.

Not bad for a venue that started out 50 years ago hosting dances in a cowshed. Kellys has been an institution for close to 50 years. It has been in the same family all of that time and is currently run by Peter Wilson whose late uncle James Kelly started the business in the '60s.

The barn dances evolved into discos in the '70s and in 1996, the club, which each week was pulling in thousands of revellers who shared a love of dance music, gave way to the launch of Lush!.

For the past two decades Lush! has remained one of the best-known nightclubs in Europe, regularly attracting the biggest DJs in the world including Fat Boy Slim, Calvin Harris and Deadmau5 to name but a few.

To date they have welcomed over one million clubbers with people travelling from all over the north and beyond every week.

Peter (46), who currently runs the complex, is married to Judith (44) who also works in the business managing the company's holiday home park in Portballintrae. They have four children Lauren (14), Erin (12), Jamsie (7) and Thomas (5).

Peter grew up in Belfast with his parents Trevor and Sally, brother Nigel and two sisters, Carolyn and Deborah. From an early age trips to Portrush were a big part of his life.

It was his mum's late brothers, Desmond and James, who established Kelly's which had originally been the family farm.

Requests by the local Ballymoney Rugby Club to use the farm's cowshed to host barn dances is where it all started.

Peter recalls: "My granny lived in Portrush, as did uncle James and uncle Desmond and we would regularly spend summers and holidays in the 'Port'.

"I have many happy memories of the early venue and in fact as a teenager I worked in the cloakroom and cleaned glasses for my pocket money. The legendary barn dances were before my time.

"As a young lad of 23 my dad saw the opportunity for me to be in the caravan business so he took me to Millisle to become an apprentice in a caravan park, literally learning the ropes from the grassroots.

"I was 25 when I joined the business, very much at the holiday part end of it. It was due to the untimely sudden death of my brother Nigel 10 years ago that I was thrust into the nightclub and hotel business, but it was really my dad who saw the potential in me and it is him I have to thank for bringing me on board."

By that time any semblance of an original farm had long gone as over time it evolved to provide the North Coast with one of its landmark restaurants, bars and hotels - as well, of course, as the nightclub.

Peter says the business as it is today developed almost "like a Tardis" with bits added here and there as time went on creating unique nooks for visitors to relax in which today gives Kellys such unique character.

With his late uncles and brother having achieved so much, he says he did feel a huge sense of responsibility when he took over.

He says: "Kellys has always been very much a family business, from the early days when my granny was famed for her baking and hospitality, regularly hosting coach trips of holidaymakers to Portrush.

"So it would make me a very proud father if one or all of my four children showed an interest in the business and carried on the torch for the next chapter.

"Kellys was always a brand name and uncle James and uncle Desmond worked tirelessly to put it on the map.

"It was Ballymoney Rugby Club who asked if they could use the cowshed for their barn dances and I think my uncles realised there was more money to be made in a bottle of beer than there was in farming.

"In 1984, my late brother Nigel joined the ranks. It was always his intention to move with the current trends.

"In 1996, he created a dance club in the former barn, in fact it was a cowshed and Lush! today is still in that original cow shed.

"With a big orange circle logo Lush! was born and Nigel ran it with a strong team behind him - not least Colin Hamilton, our resident DJ, Gerry McAleese and Alan Simpson.

"My late uncle James believed firmly that the whole complex should continuously evolve, and that is something close to my heart.

"He was a visionary who was passionate about Kellys remaining at the top of its game. There was nothing that pleased him more than seeing young people having a good time.

"The importance of evolving continuously as a nightclub, hotel and holiday home park complex is imperative, and moving on from where uncle Desmond, Nigel and uncle James and most recently my dad left off.

"We are always investing - every year there is something new in the club. Last year we put in a new state-of-the-art LED screen or we might be doing a facelift or a new outdoor bar; it keeps evolving as it always has."

Lush! still hosts some of the greatest DJs in the world including Fat Boy Slim, Calvin Harris and Deadmau5.

You only get acts like that if you are at the top of your game and so when it came to the club's 20th anniversary bash it was a no brainer that it had to be held in the biggest venue in the province - the SSE arena. Says Peter: "Because it is 20 years since the launch of Lush! we wanted to do something different and when we approached the Ulster Orchestra they were over the moon. Steve Anderson, who is Kylie Minogue's producer, is working with us as well and on the night we will be featuring 20 years of dance classics.

"We hope that everyone on the night will know the songs and it is going to be fantastic."

Thousands of party people will hear some of the greatest dance tunes of all time played with a classical twist on a thundering purpose-built sound and lighting rig, at Lush! Twenty - 20 Years of Dance Music Classics.

The 70-piece symphony orchestra will be joined by some of the most famous DJs on the planet for this once in a lifetime event to be staged on Saturday, October 15.

Featuring will be special guest DJ Seb Fontaine and the event will be compered by Lush! legend John Cecchini, with some special live vocalists, soon to be announced.

World-renowned DJ, Seb Fontaine, who will be spinning some of his classic tracks at the autumn event, commented: "Lush! has always been close to my heart, so to be part of the 20-year classics is something really special. This is something truly exciting."

Dave Seaman, British dance music DJ and record producer, said: "It's a long time since I've worked together with my former studio partner Steve Anderson as Brothers In Rhythm, but following some amazing nights out we've had recently with Radio 1 and The Hacienda, we're very excited to be doing our own classical event. It's a one-off show, so we're hoping lots of you will come and join us."

John Cecchini, DJ and resident at Lush!, said: "I first played Lush! the second week it opened way back in 1996, and pretty soon became part of the furniture.

"I can safely say I have had some of the best nights of my life with the mighty Lush! people and this special event will top the lot of them … excited isn't the word."

Tickets for Lush! Twenty - 20 Years of Dance Music Classics performed by the Ulster Orchestra are available from and + The SSE box office

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