As music cities go, Belfast gives good value. It’s got maybe ten venues that support excitement and creativity. There are a dozen special acts at any given time, plus a succession of songwriters and busy moments at the departure lounges as our best talents head off for business in New York and Nashville, Delhi and Kansas City.
This is the city that birthed Van Morrison. His potential became apparent at a little venue called the Maritime Hotel in 1964 and since then he has enthralled internationally. Happily, on August 31 this year, he chose Belfast as the location for his 70th birthday shows, playing to 4,000 people on a stage on Cyprus Avenue, the site of his magnificent 1968 song. It was a perfect Belfast moment.
Other fans were recently in thrall to the electronic act Bicep, causing exceptional havoc at the T13 space and The Mandela Hall. Or the The Ulster Orchestra, celebrating the BBC Proms in the evocative surrounds of the Titanic Slipway. A good week in town might feature the poise of Girls Names or a surprise DJ set from David Holmes. At the best of times, this city has variety, substance and soul.
Some of us remember how it was in the Seventies, when the conflict was at its worst and when a visit to the city centre was fraught with random violence, bombs and murder gangs. Normality was never an option but we did have an intense punk scene and a few fearless characters, like record label boss Terri Hooley, recently celebrated in the Good Vibrations film. He would not be suppressed. He released Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. We owe him.
We try to sustain this spirit in a dedicated music hub called the Oh Yeah Music Centre. Based in a large whiskey warehouse, the project is named after an Ash song. It has rehearsal rooms, a recording studio, a venue space and we deliver outreach projects for young people and for older practitioners also. Our most powerful work currently involves music in dementia wards, with music empathising and touching deep into those challenging situations. We also need support and Oh Yeah is honoured to be working with Help Musicians UK as an Artist Development Partner.
In mid November, we are summarising our work and putting out love for the city. The Sound of Belfast programme runs November 6-14. It starts with a gig by Bronagh Gallagher and it ends with a presentation to Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy, still vibrant after 25 years. There will be a Youth Music Conference, an afternoon of discussion about the nature of great Music Cities and the launch of new music from our talent development programme, Scratch My Progress. We’re proud of our work with new acts Sister Ghost, Owen Denvir, Treehome and Plague Artists and very thrilled to see previous Scratch Graduates like R51 and Hot Cops take their places at BBC Introducing stages in Reading, Leeds and Norwich. We believe that music makes a difference. November will be the proof of it.
Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast are one of our regional Artistic Development Partners.