City of Music

Detailed history of Derry's musical heritage from Guildhall Press. Read three full chapters below

When we think about the history of music in Derry the same constellation of stars always comes to mind - world renowned musicians like Josef Locke and Phil Coulter; legendary punk band, The Undertones; Eurovision Song Competition winner, Dana; and (ahem), Girls Aloud starlet, Nadine Coyle.

But there's a hell of a lot more to Derry's musical history than meets the eye, as one quick perusal of Guildhall Press's glossy new publication, City of Music: Derry's Music Heritage, shows.

The UndertonesComprehensively detailing the Victorian stars, music schools, famous songs, marching bands, musical trends and chart-topping artists to have come out of Derry, City of Music combines finely written contributions from the likes of broadcaster Eamon Friel with a whole series of eye-catching photographs to present an accessible account of Derry's musical legacy. 

Contributing editor Declan Carlin recalls the origins of the book.

'In 1992, myself and Paul Hippsley were involved in the first series of jazz festivals in Derry, and through contacts with many musicians at that time we first thought of the idea of compiling an anthology of jazz players past and present in the city. Fifteen years later we decided to put all of our energies into a book that would go far beyond the original idea and encompass a detailed and wide-ranging celebration of music in Derry.'

It was, understandably, a daunting task for Carlin and fellow contributing editor, Garbhan Downey.

'At first the scale of the idea seemed preposterous, given the scope and nature of musicality in Derry,' continues Carlin. 'We set up a meeting with broadcasters, journalists and people who have been involved in staging and managing events of various musical disciplines down the years, and to our surprise – and delight – they were unanimously optimistic about its feasibility.'

'Our major problem was condensing an endless wealth of material into Nadine Coylejust three hundred pages,' adds Downey. 'You've got to remember, everybody in Derry can sing or play an instrument, and that's before you factor in their parents or grandparents. But you have to have a cut-off point. The one big complaint that we're hearing from people is that they would like to see more. Volume II is already beckoning!'

The wealth of musicians, venues, schools and songs to hail from the Walled City is remarkable to say the least. City of Music is consequentially encyclodepic in scope. Chapters like 'Danny Boy: Derry's Gift To The World', written by Michael Robinson, bulge with facts and musical figures. 

Personal accounts like 'Bliss It Was...'', by journalist Eamon McCann, recall musical eras in which big bands and Elvis Presley brought the people of Derry together. Whilst current trend-setters Fighting With Wire and Here Comes The Landed Gentry, to name but a few, are given their time to shine in 'Big Names and Young Guns'. 

It's no Liverpool or Manchester - cities famous for their musical exports like the Beatles and Oasis - but Derry certainly punches above its weight in the musical stakes. 

'All the money went to Belfast,' quips Downey. 'But singing - thank God - is free. 

'[Our music] has obviously been a great source of pride. Right across the world, when people hear you're from Derry they'll ask you if you know The Undertones. You've no idea how much of a kick it gives me to tell them that I played every Monday night with [Undertones guitarist] Mickey Bradley for ten years. 

City of Music'There are some tremendous resources too - such as the University of Ulster's School for Performing Arts at Magee and the Nerve Centre. The scene still needs some considerable infrastructural investment though - and in particular a 3000-seater venue to accommodate top international acts. 

'I think our new minister for culture [Gregory Campbell] should lead a campaign to establish the city as the centre for musical excellence on these islands.' 

City of Music: Derry's Music Heritage by Guildhall Press is available online at and from usual outlets priced £18.95 paperback and £24.95 hardback (limited edition).

Read 'Danny Boy: Derry's Gift To The World', from City of Music: Derry's Music Heritage.

Read 'Josef Locke: Ireland's First Superstar', from City of Music: Derry's Music Heritage.

Read 'Bliss It Was...'' from City of Music: Derry's Music Heritage.