Belfast Telegraph

Ballroom blitzed... but fans recall when Stones and Orbison lit it up

By Allan Preston

Music fans have lamented the demolition of a legendary Ballymena concert hall, which in its heyday hosted iconic acts like the Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, Pink Floyd, Dusty Springfield and more.

The Flamingo Ballroom was opened in 1960 by local entrepreneur Sammy Barr who, for 20 years, brought the biggest stars of the time to the town.

The venue was also famous for serving hot-dogs and milkshakes instead of alcohol.

After the Flamingo closed its doors in 1980 the hall was used for years as a recreational facility by Wellington Street Presbyterian Church. It was put on the market again in 2009 and has now been demolished, with only the steel frame still standing.

Among the regular attendees to the Flamingo Ballroom was broadcaster Jackie Fullerton.

"I'm looking at the walls and girders, it's gone and it's very sad," he said yesterday as he walked past the ruins of the Flamingo on Ballymoney Street.

"It was our place of entertainment for myself and my mates, because I've a passing interest in singing I liked to go - apart from eyeing up the femme fatales on the other side of the hall - to hear the top singers like Dickie Rock, the Miami Showband, Butch Moore and the Capital, Joe Dolan, Brendan Bowyer and the Royal Showband.

"It was great entertainment and the remarkable thing that young people wouldn't realise now was that there was no alcohol. But it was still the place to be. I twice watched Roy Orbison sing there and I watched The Rolling Stones. The place was bouncing and the price was 10 shillings because Mick (Jagger) and the boys were there.

"But Roy Orbison was just remarkable, this little man with tinted glasses and he just stood there with his guitar and a little backing group and he sang all his hits and never missed a note.

"I always thought Sammy Barr should have been rewarded with an honour for what he did, at that time we thought he deserved a knighthood."

Mr Fullerton said it was fantastic for a town like Ballymena to see all the top acts of the day. He added: "It was a wonderful place and so many people, as I am, will be very sad to see its demise before my very eyes.

"I think there should really be a commemorative concert to see if we can get a few of those great names from the past to appear again and I think that would fill the town hall."

In 1987, Sammy Barr's daughter-in-law Amanda Barr, reopened the milk bar area of the ballroom as the Flamingo fitness. The ballroom's original disco ball is still working and hangs from the ceiling of the dance studio.

Yorkshire-born music fan Darren Davy (44), who lives in Martinstown, visited the ruins of the Flamingo yesterday.

"I felt it was worthy of keeping just for the heritage of the building. I know it's not architecturally important, but the list of bands that played there is quite long. Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett on their first tour, The Rolling Stones with the late Brian Jones, Thin Lizzy played there twice, Van Morrison with Them, Roy Orbison, Tom Jones, Jim Reeves, the Small Faces with Steve Marriott.

"These are pretty rare events for Northern Ireland and they all happened in Ballymena.

"I heard about the venue 20 years ago when former Rolling Stone member Bill Wyman mentioned it in his autobiography.

"On July 31, 1964, they played a concert in Belfast at the Ulster Hall which had to be cut short because of a riot, they jumped in a van to get to the Flamingo club in Ballymena. He said the streets were lined with people and they were taken aback so many turned out." One picture of the time shows Wyman and Jagger posing with an RUC officer.

"Thin Lizzy played it in 1975 when they were pretty well established," added Darren.

"Can you imagine Phil Lynott standing on that little, tiny stage in the corner of the room?"

Belfast Telegraph


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