Oh Yeah Commemorates Gary Moore

New exhibition features mementos of the Belfast blues and rock guitar legend's remarkable career

Late rock and blues guitar legend Gary Moore – one of Belfast's most celebrated musical exports – is the subject of a new exhibition at Belfast’s Oh Yeah Music Centre.

The exhibition, which is open to the public seven days a week, includes such rare items as Moore’s black, quilted Gibson Les Paul guitar case, a suit, shirt and shoes specially commissioned by the tailor Gresham Blake for an Amnesty International event, a brass plaque to mark a sold-out 2001 Hammersmith Apollo show and a mounted brick from Belfast’s Maritime Hotel, presented to Moore in 1992 by the Belfast Blues Society.

‘Graham Lilley, who worked with Gary for many years, got in touch a few weeks ago,' says Oh Yeah CEO Stuart Bailie. 'He mentioned that what would have been Gary’s 60th birthday was coming up and that the family wanted to do something to mark the occasion. So, he sent over a list of the items and we nearly dropped. The guitar case is particularly poignant, as there’s a beautiful photo of Gary with it, walking across the snow.’

The exhibition also features a series of gold albums, framed magazine covers, signed photos, backstage passes, tour programmes, posters, flyers and guitar picks.

Belfast-born Moore died aged 58 on February 6, 2011, of a heart attack in his hotel room while on holiday in Estepona, Spain. The journeyman musician had gone from earning his spurs alongside Phil Lynott in Dublin to touring and recording with giants of the blues including BB King and Albert King. Along the way, he traded licks with everyone from Bob Dylan to the Beach Boys.

Born in east Belfast on April 4, 1952, Moore was arguably most famous for his work in the hard rock and heavy metal genres. The guitarist was an on-off member of Thin Lizzy between 1974 and 1979, and also enjoyed a prolific solo career, unleashing a string of hit albums and singles throughout the 1970s and 80s.

This writer recalls seeing Moore, complete with ankle-length leather trenchcoat and abundant pyrotechnics, at Belfast’s King’s Hall in 1989, on the tour to promote that year’s heavy-duty After the War album, which featured a guest appearance from Ozzy Osbourne, who would remain a close friend throughout the Ulsterman’s life.

In 1990, Moore reinvented himself as a more soberly attired bluesman with the release of 'Still Got the Blues'. The high-charting album was followed by numerous further blues opuses, broken by occasional forays into the worlds of rock, jazz-fusion and even dance music.

Although February 6 marked one year since Moore’s untimely passing, the commemorative exhibition has been a rather rushed affair. ‘This all happened in a matter of weeks,’ reveals Bailie. ‘The items were brought over in a truck when the Straits played the Ulster Hall on March 5, so we’ve had a month to prepare an exhibition and get a new cabinet made. No pressure!’

Despite the short notice, the venture has had support from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, who, according to Bailie, ‘see this as complementary to their other plans. Their 2012 themes include legends and giants, and Gary fits that well,’ he remarks. Belfast City Council and the Belfast Welcome Centre have also been involved.

It’s all a far cry from when Bailie failed to secure an interview with Moore for his 1996 Thin Lizzy biography, Ballad of the Thin Man. ‘Gary was tied up at the time,’ the author clarifies. ‘However, I interviewed him for a Radio 2 documentary about music from Northern Ireland, and then in December 2006 I spent an afternoon with Gary in Brighton [the guitarist’s home in the latter years of his life], filming for a TV documentary about Northern Ireland music called So Hard to Beat.

‘The interview lasted for over an hour and this formed the backbone of a posthumous Gary Moore documentary that was shown on BBC Northern Ireland last year.’

Despite Moore’s reputation for being taciturn, Bailie found him to be ‘a charming, fairly modest guy’. ‘He spoke very tenderly about Phil Lynott, and was still a huge fan of Peter Green,’ the Oh Yeah man smiles. ‘He was also great about seeing the Beatles in Belfast and, much later, hanging out with George Harrison.’

As for the music, Bailie nominates the solo on the Thin Lizzy recording of ‘Still in Love with You’, from 1974’s Nightlife album, as his favourite Moore moment. ‘The new guitarists, Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, had a listen to the recording and admitted that they could never better it,’ he enthuses. ‘They were right. It’s heartbreaking.’

The Gary Moore Exhibition runs at the Oh Yeah Music Centre, Belfast, from April 5 to June 30. Admission is free. The centre is open on weekdays from 9am to 5pm, and on weekends from 1pm to 5pm.

Gary Moore