Belfast’s stunning Grand Opera House has been the city’s prize since 1895. Located in bustling City Centre, Northern Ireland’s premier performance space presents local and international musicals, drama, music, comedy, opera, dance and other special events. Its majestic Victorian main auditorium — designed by prolific theater architect Frank Matcham — underwent an extensive restoration in 2021, securing its future as the heart of Belfast’s vibrant theater scene. In the early 1960s, Belfast nightlife was limited to sedate clubs and ballrooms where strait-laced singers and showbands performed cover versions of the latest hits. In the aftermath of the global impact of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, a rhythm ‘n’ blues nightclub opened in April 1964 that would forever alter the city’s musical identity. The Maritime Hotel was Belfast’s answer to Liverpool’s Cavern Club, and the career it launched was Van Morrison’s, who at the time fronted a band called Them. Heavily influenced by American blues, it was here Morrison began fusing R&B, jazz, blues and folk into what would eventually be called ‘Celtic rock and soul’ and produce such worldwide hits as “Gloria,” “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Moondance.” A solo performer since 1966, Morrison remains the most successful musician to come from Northern Ireland. The Maritime fell victim to The Troubles and closed in 1969. A plaque celebrates its importance as the ‘Birthplace of Rhythm ‘n’ Blues in Belfast’ on a building in College Square North. OH YEAH A testament to Belfast’s belief that music is a catalyst to changing lives for the better is the Oh Yeah Music Centre. The city boasts a variety of music venues: SSE Arena features huge international acts, the Empire Music Hall Belfast hosts music and comedy and Limelight delivers weekly shows. Oh Yeah, however, is Belfast’s most important music venue. A dedicated music hub and resource for music makers, it was constituted in 2007 to provide a¡ordable rehearsal space, a live space, a recording studio, a songwriting room... in short, a place for aspiring musicians to pursue their dreams. According to former Oh Yeah CEO Stuart Bailie, “Belfast is one of our great natural resources. France might have cuisine and Italy makes great cars — we design great music.”

“Music is woven into the DNA of Belfast. We have so many incredible bands and artists — and more every single year. I’ve watched in these last 25 years of relative peace the music scene grow and then thrive and now burst at the seams with fearless and limitless talent. Being designated as a UNESCO City of Music honors the gargantuan e¡ort that the entire music scene has made to help raise Belfast up and out of the darkest of times.”

Official Belfast Music patron Gary Lightbody, lead singer & songwriter of Snow Patrol.

MUSICAL INSTITUTIONS All great music cities have iconic venues, and Belfast is no di¡erent. Since opening in 1862, Ulster Hall has been a cultural mainstay throughout the city’s tumultuous history that every Northern Irish act continues to dream of playing. With curved ceilings that amplify sound, the ‘Grand Dame of Bedford Street’ has hosted readings by luminaries such as Charles Dickens, James Joyce and the Dalai Lama. The 1970s saw it become a main rock and roll destination, with Led Zeppelin debuting its classic “Stairway to Heaven” there in 1971, and AC/DC, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones playing legendary shows. After a refurbishment in 2009, and despite its small size, Ulster Hall continues to feature the best rock music in the city.

Joe Wall is an American writer who’s lived and worked in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand. His affinity for the word ‘mate’ appears permanent.


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