Friday, March 06, 2009
The Ulster Hall
It’s going to be a day dominated by the reopening of the Ulster Hall, and people’s reminiscences of concerts, gigs and events in the years gone by. If the number contractors’ vans parked outside the front of the building early this morning are anything to go on, there’s a lot of effort going into clearing the snagging list before tonight’s opening concert.
While I've many memories of the Ulster Hall appearing in news bulletins over the last 25 years - mostly the scenes of fairly excited political rallies - my own connection with the Ulster Hall probably started with a Nana Mouskouri concert that I went to along with a friend’s family. I was probably about 13 or 14 15 years old, and I think it was the first concert I’d ever been to. [Update - her website suggests either Wednesday 28 or Thursday 29 September 1998!] Seated about 10 rows from the front, the stage was dominated by an enormous black speaker stack on either side, while an impossibly-large array of keyboards were played by the composer of most of her music.
But perhaps the biggest memory from that night was of Mouskouri standing at the very front of the stage for one song, with no mic, no reverb, and no accompaniment. Her toes gripped the edge of the stage. And yet she filled the hall with her pure voice singing Amazing Grace. Quick little known fact is that Mouskouri was elected as a Greek MEP in 1994–1999. [Update - so she was an MEP when she sang in Belfast! Imagine that, a touring MEP ...] She’s unlikely to appear in the Ulster Hall reopening festivities, since she performed her farewell tour in 2008, and gave last concert in Athens about seven months ago.
I can also remember getting the train down to the Ulster Hall with school friends from Lisburn to go to Mannafest in the early nineties, and then repeating history by driving youth groups there ten years later. In the intervening time, either the music had got louder, or my hearing was less willing to put up with the abuse it once had. But the trip to Burger King or McDonalds afterwards hadn’t changed.
The Ulster Hall also tended to host the IEE’s Faraday Lectures (now the IET) if and when they bothered to come across to Northern Ireland. Just before we got engaged, we spent a Valentines Day in 2002 at the free lecture/presentation on Smart Living @ Home with Technology. Funny enough, we got a table in Pizza Express across the road without a problem despite the romantic date.
Tonight’s Ulster Hall reopening concert is unsurprisingly sold out, as is Across the Line’s Remember the First Time on Monday night featuring an enormous number of local acts and artists who have played the Ulster Hall over the years. Ash, Divine Comedy, Therapy?, Duke Special, Foy Vance, Ian Archer, Fighting with Wire, LaFaro, Kowalski, The Lowly Knights, Cashier No.9, Jet Plane Landing, Panama Kings. That’ll be some sound check!
Catch the ATL concert on Radio Ulster from 7.30pm on Monday 9th, with highlights on BBC2 at 9pm on St Patrick’s Day.
Update - And if you're interested in exploring the revamped Ulster Hall and its architecture with a camera in hand, join the Flickr Meetup on Saturday 14 March at noon which will be taking a look behind the scenes.