Mar 17 2009

Does Belfast Remember Rory Gallagher?

Published by at 2:32 pm under commentary

Some things just seem to naturally go well together; like Peaches and Cream, Frye & Laurie, or Fish and Chips. And then there’s that great combination of Rory Gallagher and Belfast’s Ulster Hall. Since the 70’s no other performer has played the Ulster Hall more times than Rory, nor has anyone filled the Hall on as many consecutive nights as the legendary G-man. Yet when the BBC announced recently the upcoming re-opening of the famous venue after a lengthy closure for refurbishment, there was no mention of the Irish guitar wizard on their list of famous bands who played the venerable hall. Oh they trotted out the usual suspects: the Stones, Who, Zep, U2, and even Coldplay got a nod — but no Rory. Here’s a link to the article by Chris Page on the Ulster Hall: Ulster Hall Reopening. Feel free to contact the BBC and voice your displeasure:
BBC Comments and Complaints

So what’s the big deal? What does it matter if they forget to mention Rory?

If there’s ever a city whose name seems forever linked to the term “war-torn” it’s Belfast. It was Belfast that saw the most intense violence of the August 1969 riots, what is commonly known as the start of “The Troubles”, and it was in Belfast on July 21, 1972, on “Bloody Friday”, that 22 bombs were set off killing 9 people and injuring 130 more. Belfast’s hotel Europa is considered to be “the most bombed hotel in the world.” During these tragic times, few musicians would play in the troubled city. The street outside of the Ulster Hall was christened “Bomb Alley,” and when Rory and his mates first performed in Belfast in 1971 you could hear the bombs going off in and around the city while they played.

The first night we played Belfast in ’71, there was ten bombs that went off around the city as we were playing…you’re always worried.– Gerry McAvoy, bass player for Rory Gallagher Band

Yet play they did. Every year, during the Christmas Holidays, Rory would perform at the Ulster Hall, seemingly immune to the violence that otherwise gripped the city.

Rory was accepted by all sides. I wouldn’t say he was untouchable but there was an element of that. Particularly at Ulster Hall…–Donal Gallagher.

So how many other big name bands would play at Belfast’s Ulster Hall during the height of “The Troubles”, and of those, how many would have come back a second time? Certainly not the bands that Mr. Page trots out to sell the grand re-opening of the famous concert venue. It was Rory, and only Rory, who stood by the Ulster Hall during those troubled times.

Nobody will come now, it’s impossible. There’s only Gallagher here who’ll do it. — Jim Aiken, Belfast’s legendary concert promoter

Rory Gallagher has once again returned to Belfast, at least he came, and for that we must thank him. Belfast has now become a graveyard for music. Concerts and big groups are a thing of the past…We want action now, for too long the groups in England haven’t given music where it can give the most help. Lennon tells us to give peace a chance, but has he visited us? All we want John ,baby, is the truth. Perhaps he is furthering the peace movements somewhere in Hyde Park. Perhaps the groups don’t want to make any sacrifices, maybe they are afraid, maybe they cannot stir themselves to help the people who need it most, who have no power to speak of.– excerpt from early 70’s Belfast underground paper,’Take One’.

Rory’s concerts at the Ulster Hall were packed to the gills with protestants and catholics alike and for a few brief hours there was a respite from those tumultuous times; for a few brief hours it became all about the music. Politicians could talk about bringing the two sides together, but it was Rory who could deliver, at least for those few shining moments. Of course, Rory, being the humble soul he was, would never in a million years claim any part of the credit for the easing of tensions in the stark battlefield that was 70’s Belfast. But I will. And hopefully others will too. The following is an excerpt from Roy Hollingworth’s review of Rory’s January 1972 concert at Belfast’s Ulster Hall.

I’ve never seen anything quite so wonderful, so stirring, so uplifting, so joyous as when Gallagher and the band walked on stage. The whole place erupted, they all stood and they cheered and they yelled, and screamed, and they put their arms up, and they embraced. Then as one unit they put their arms into the air and gave peace signs. Without being silly, or overemotional, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. It all meant something, it meant more than just rock n’ roll, it was something bigger, something more valid than just that.

You just wanted to take the lid off the walls from around this hall and put it on a huge platform, raise it above the city and let just everyone see it, and hear it. Two thousand people together as one…–Roy Hollingworth, NME January 1972

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4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Does Belfast Remember Rory Gallagher?”

  1. Dino McGartlandon 17 Mar 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Hi Milo
    Great piece, well put together and well worded by a “genuine” Rory Gallagher fan, a man who’s knows what his subject is all about.
    Loved reading through the various quotes which gave it a feeling of authenticity and realism. Great title by the way and very very true!
    Dino McGartland

  2. […]  Performers were warned to stay away. Most listened. But a few kept going, like Rory Gallagher, who played Belfast’s Ulster Hall more than any other performer. How the city loved […]

  3. […] warned to stay away. Most took heed. A few – too few – kept going, like Rory Gallagher, who played Belfast’s Ulster Hall more than any other performer. How we loved […]

  4. […] Rory Gallagher continued to include Belfast in their annual tours of Ireland, with Rory playing Belfast’s Ulster Hall more than any other performer. How we loved him. He played on, even as our country was in the grip of “The Troubles,” […]

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