Music in Belfast - A Personal Reflection

Geoff Harden offers his insight into the city's music scene

This article appears as part of the Creative Belfast Showcase, which took place at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast during February 2006.

The most striking thing about the live music scene here is the ever increasing number of festivals. Not long ago, we had to rely on the Belfast Festival at Queen’s. Now we have one of the best folk festivals around, the Open House; a strong music element in both the West Belfast Féile and the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival; and a wonderful showcase for local talent in BelFEST.

There is still a shortage of venues for intimate live shows. The Spring & Airbrake has been a welcome addition to the Limelight complex but the Errigle has continued its renaissance as the best place to hear acoustic music, thanks to the Real Music Club.

For the really small venues, the Rotterdam Bar and the John Hewitt continue to be the best bets. The Empire Music Hall in Botanic Avenue seldom seems to generate a good atmosphere - maybe it’s the high ceiling.

Blues continues to occupy a small but significant niche with the Rab McCullough Band blowing up a storm in the Empire Basement every Thursday and the re-appearance of Taste, with Sam Davidson filling Rory Gallagher’s role in great style.

Traditional Irish music is more and more available with many sessions around the city.

While Snow Patrol carry on being the best band from the north (sorry Ash), others are snapping at their heels with a kind of melodic music with good lyrics that is beginning to emerge as a local style. In this area, the Amazing Pilots have continued to develop with a superb album, Hello My Captor.

But the year most definitely belonged to the truly wonderful Duke Special. After several years making good music as Booley, Peter Wilson has taken on another persona and now has all the elements in place: visually unique and entertaining, a great voice and wonderful, original, melodic and quirky songs.

Much good work in helping the music scene has been done by NIMIC, the Northern Ireland Music Industry Commission and Moving on Music. In 2005 NIMIC released a promotional double CD, with support from the Arts Council, of roots music to complement their two earlier offerings.

Geoff Harden
Radio presenter with U105 & Music Correspondent with the News Letter