Tag Archives: Belfast

Leading from the front

Back in March I posted about how long it takes to recover from being at the front at a punk gig. I’m thinking now that maybe it was a one off, and here’s why.

Last weekend, the same band – Stiff Little Fingers – played a homecoming gig in Belfast, Northern Ireland as part of their 40th Anniversary celebrations.  The venue was outdoors, in Custom House Square, and the capacity was around 5000. When tickets went on sale, over 3000 were snapped up in the first 48 hours – I got two, one for me and one for my friend S – and all 5000 were sold out long before the event.  Dee came for the weekend but had decided that she didn’t want to join us at the gig.

The support acts were not too shabby: Belfast’s very own The Outcasts, Ruts DC (best known for Babylon’s Burning) and The Stranglers, who had their 40th Anniversary a couple of years back.  I hadn’t seen the first two before, so I was looking forward to hearing them: I wasn’t disappointed.

S and I met up around lunchtime and took in some of the sights (pubs) in Belfast. It seemed like everyone in the city was wearing a tshirt or something related to one of the four bands, and the atmosphere was brilliant. We moved to the pub nearest the venue a couple of hours before the gates were due to open and joined the throng of cheerful fans.

For the last couple of years Jake Burns, SLF’s lead singer and only ever present in the band, has worn a black shirt with white polka dots when gigging.  Someone on the SLF forum on Facebook thought it might be fun if fans turned up wearing something similar. Eventually it was decided that we’d all meet up near the gig venue an hour before gates opened for a polka dot photo.  There were 50 – 60 people in polka dot shirts (S and myself included) who congregated at The Big Fish (officially called The Salmon of Knowledge) on the banks of the river Lagan, and everyone was in a happy and excitable mood.

Once photos had been taken, people either went back to the pub or, as S and I did, started queuing to get in to the venue.  Once we got in, we headed straight for the merchandise stall and each bought a tshirt which had been specially produced for the gig: as it turns out, they were sold out very early on, such was the demand (more are being printed now, for a limited time only).

We then turned the corner and saw that there were hardly any people in ahead of us, so managed to secure a spot against the barrier at the very front, right in the middle of the stage.  This was a prime position and we were very surprised to have captured it.

As the various bands came and went, the venue filled up and the press from behind grew stronger and stronger – but we didn’t lose our spot. Cue SLF, and the place went wild: there was a general frenzy of singing, pogoing, chanting – everyone totally blessed out on the music and the fact that we were there, in Belfast, where it all began for our favourite band. What could be better?  What could ever top that?

From a music perspective, possibly nothing. But, the whole experience was enhanced by a couple of things.  First off, at the end of the gig, I managed to get a hold of Jake’s set list, which is now framed and on my wall. Second, it turns out that the Ruts were staying at our hotel, and I managed to grab a few words with their bassist and got a couple of photos with him.  Third, I found the exact spot – not far from the hotel as it happens – where the photo for SLF’s latest album, No Going Back, was taken: I of course had to get a photo of me taken there.  And fourth, we found Hope Street, which is the title of a song and album by SLF.

Me in the front row, 5000 fans behind me. I’m the one with big spots on my shirt!

At the end of the gig, the crowd dispersed, still on a high and in very good humour.  Since then, my Facebook feed has been full of praise for the city of Belfast, for the welcome the fans received, and plaudits for how good the gig was.  Just imagine that: a punk gig with 5000 people and no trouble, no fighting, no bad temperedness. Everyone was just glad to be there.

I described in my article in March how I’d been battered and bruised by being in the second row at the gig at the Barras, so how do you think I fared being in the front row at a gig that had more than double the attendance?  I was absolutely fine. Other than temporary deafness which went after a day or so – and which would have happened even if I was further back – I had no ill effects. My legs were fine, elbows weren’t damaged and there were no bumps or bruises to speak of.

So, this begs the question – when I next go to an SLF gig, will be at the front again? You bet!


Harland and Wolff’s Finest

Do any of you know what this is a picture of?  If you look very closely, etched into the ground on the left and the right is the outline of two ships, and in both there are circles marked where their four funnels were.  The ship on the right is less well known: it was christened the Olympic. Its sister ship on the left was Titanic.

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to have some spare time during a visit to Belfast, so I visited the Titanic Museum on the banks of the Lagan. It’s built at the head of the two slipways for these giant vessels, and was a really interesting tour.  Unfortunately my time was limited so I wasn’t able to read as much or linger as long as I’d have liked, but standing there looking out at those two outlines was quite something.  It was another of those moments when your hair stands on end, when there’s a palpable something in the air.  

The museum itself sheds light on the history of Belfast, on the importance of the linen trade and then shipbuilding.  There’s a short ride which gives some insight into life in the shipyards, and the cramped conditions the riveters had to work in.  The sheer scale of the endeavour is really brought home to you – those ships were massive. Seeing what the cabins would have looked like for the different classes of passengers, and taking a virtual tour up through the numerous decks was a real eye opener.  

I’d have liked to spend more time on the portion which talked about the discovery of the wreckage, and to have watched more of the eerie footage which has been shot there.  I have read that James Cameron, when pitching his idea for the film starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslett, had outlined his plans to have footage from the actual vessel as part of the opening scene, in part because he’d always wanted to go down to see the wreck for himself. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s some story if it is factual.

I mentioned the funnels earlier.  One thing I found out on the tour was that only three of them were “real”: the fourth was used for ventilation and to provide a more aesthetic look.  Is that a visual “alternative fact” perhaps?  It was hard to believe that under full steam the ship used 600 tons of coal a day.  I can’t really picture what that looks like, but I guess it gives some idea as to how big and heavy Titanic must have been when fully laden.  

Next time I’m in Belfast, I hope to have the opportunity to visit the site again.  There was so much more to see, and so much more to feel.