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Dire Straits’ love for Northern Ireland wasn’t dampened by terror alerts : ‘Belfast was brill... despite the bombs’

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John Illsley

John Illsley

Dire Straits in their 80s heyday

Dire Straits in their 80s heyday

A ticket for one of Dire Straits' Belfast shows

A ticket for one of Dire Straits' Belfast shows

Paul Brady

Paul Brady

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John Illsley

Dire Straits have said they will always remember the “very moving” reception they received in Belfast, despite bomb scares on BOTH nights they played.

Their back-to-back gigs in January 1981 were disrupted by security alerts, but bass player John Illsley said they refused to let the scares spoil a “brilliant week over new year” in Ireland.

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A ticket for one of Dire Straits' Belfast shows

A ticket for one of Dire Straits' Belfast shows

A ticket for one of Dire Straits' Belfast shows

He added: “It was there, before very large and ecstatic crowds, that we realised we must be doing something right.

“The Irish were great and, with a shiver, today I can still recall the incredible warmth of their reception. It was very moving.

“It was the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and we were given a taste of the dangers facing the people there every day when we played Belfast and the promoter who met us dropped in casually that there had been ‘No bomb threats yet, but there probably will be’.

“We were staying at the Europa, then the most bombed hotel in Europe, and heading to check in was like crossing a small war zone as you had to pass through rings of barbed wire and concrete barricades. Inside, we were all body-searched.

“We played two nights at the Ulster Hall and there were bomb threats on both. The first came before the doors had opened, so we could sit that one out, but on the second night the call came when the house was full and the whole building had to be evacuated into the freezing January night.”

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Dire Straits in their 80s heyday

Dire Straits in their 80s heyday

Dire Straits in their 80s heyday

In his new book My Life in Dire Straits, bass player John (72) also told how at a gig in Italy they had Northern Irish singer Paul Brady for support — who took on an abusive bottle-throwing crowd and won them over.

He said the Strabane singer (74) had no fear when things turned ugly and a rowdy stadium threatened to kick off, with the Sultans of Swing fearing a riot.

John explained: “The anger was reserved for inside the arena. We had the Irish singer Paul Brady as our warm-up act and we wished him the very best of luck as he headed out on stage by himself with only his acoustic guitar as accompaniment and weapon of defence.

“Paul played music more suited to a large tavern than a giant sports stadium. Soon the abuse was rolling off the crowd and the bottles were flying.

“But the hordes were reckoning with the wrong bloke. Paul was a tough character and he was having none of it.

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Paul Brady

Paul Brady

Paul Brady

“He returned the abuse with interest, hurling profanities back at them: ‘Shut the f*** up!’ We watched him bellowing into the microphone, the projectiles filling the airspace. ‘I’m going to play these f***ing songs whether you like it or not’.

“And he did. Incredibly, he won them over and left the stage to applause. A truly heroic performance.

“We feared a catastrophe at every gig we played in Italy. You don’t want deaths or riots at your concert. It doesn’t make for great headlines.

“We feared the worst when a fire broke out in the goal mouth below us, a bare-topped gang of about 50 having created a bonfire of debris, including their own shirts.

“Apart from that, it all passed off swimmingly — not quite like an evening at Glyndebourne, but at least no one died. As far as we know. We didn’t hang round too long to find out.”


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