FolkestoneJack's Tracks

A flying visit to Belfast

Posted in Belfast, Northern Ireland by folkestonejack on January 6, 2019

Our visit to Belfast for the gig was a short one, arriving just before 1pm on the Saturday and leaving just before 12pm on the Sunday. I don’t think I’ve ever flown into a city and stayed less than 23 hours before, but I’ve seen enough to know that I will have to come back to do justice to the city and the surrounding countryside. Even from the windows of the airportlink bus I could see sights that I wanted to come back to take a closer look at, such as the striking celtic cross on the facade of St Anne’s Cathedral. I was mentally compiling a list for the next visit before we had even made it to the city centre for our first…

As the gig we had come for was taking place at the Belfast Empire Music Hall we had booked a hotel in the Queen’s Quarter. The friendly and welcoming IBIS proved to be the perfect choice, just a short walk away from the venue and
the terrific family-run restaurant Scalini on Botanic Avenue. It is no exaggeration to say that Scalini served up some of the best Italian food I have eaten anywhere and easily rivaled the best meals of the past twelve months. No wonder they were queue outside the door to get a table when we left!

The extent of our sightseeing would be a couple of hours exploring the Ulster museum and the neighbouring botanic gardens, about five minutes walk south from the hotel. The museum offered far more than we expected and there would have been still more to see had we not reached saturation point.

One of the willow dragons created by Bob Johnston, basket maker at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum

Highlights of our visit to the Ulster Museum included the last weekend for the 137th Annual Exhibition of the Royal Ulster Academy which had plenty of brilliant exhibits to admire (including the memorable and amusing tale revealed on the back of the exhibit What my cat ate today) and the willow dragons that hang from the rafters.

The Ulster Museum had an incredible amount of history to reveal, much of it unfamiliar to me, such as the tale of the ships from the Spanish Armada that foundered off the Ulster coast as they attempted to escape around Scotland and back to Spain via the North Atlantic. The treasures (including a golden salamander) from one of these ships, The Girona, help bring the story to life in a fascinating display.

More recent history is tackled in The Troubles And Beyond exhibition which was opened in March 2018 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The exhibition places a strong emphasis on the human cost of the conflict. This is really brought home with one of the most ordinary exhibits, an otherwise unremarkable lined notebook that was used as the visitors’ guestbook at the Ulster American Folk Park, signed by a 12 year old schoolboy who died hours later in the Omagh bombing without having the chance to grow up. Other artifacts on display range from a bomb disposal robot to a remembrance wreath not laid at Enniskillen. Plenty to reflect on as we left the museum behind.

Adventures in Belfast

Posted in Belfast, Northern Ireland by folkestonejack on January 6, 2019

The most heavily played album of my teenage years was The Sea of Love by The Adventures, a terrific rock band from Northern Ireland formed in the early 1980s. I hadn’t heard of them until their breakthrough song, Broken Land, hit the UK charts in 1988 but I was instantly hooked. That track made it to number 20 in the UK singles chart and should have opened the doors to greater commercial success but somehow that was never meant to be. Nevertheless, there was plenty for the fan to feast on with four terrific albums.

The Adventures

It has taken me some 30 years or so from that initial hook to get my act together and see them play live at what was billed as their final shows as a band at the Belfast Empire. It doesn’t sound as though that is quite the case now, with the lead singer Terry Sharpe saying in recent television and newspaper interviews that you never close the door. Anyway, it did the trick – it got me on a plane to go and discover for myself just what a terrific band they are playing live. Better late to the party than never!

The Belfast Empire Music Hall, based in a converted Victorian church, has character in abundance and proved the perfect venue for the sold out gig. There were clearly plenty of long time fans and friends in the audience, adding to the feel of an intimate gathering. As well as a core of support from Belfast there were fans that had travelled from Denmark, Germany and the Phillipines. The atmosphere built up nicely in anticipation of the 10.45pm appearance of The Adventures on the stage.

The night really got going with the opener of Love in chains, followed by a set-list spread across all four albums that served as a good reminder (as if it were needed) of the strength of their back catalogue. Marvelous songs like Send my heart, Feel the raindrops, Hold me now, Your greatest shade of blue and Washington deceased. The live performance of Broken Land was as thrilling a moment as you could hope for. There was also the surprise of a new song that they have only played live a couple of times before and the wonderful choice of Two rivers that they had been persuaded to play for the last song of the night.

If that was the end, then it was a great way to finish, but I am taking encouragement from Terry’s ‘See you next time!’. If there is a next time, I think it will be impossible to resist.

The Belfast Empire

One of the quirkiest facts about Broken Land was that it ended up being the most played track on BBC Radio One in 1988. You might think it unlikely that a song that only made it midway up the top 40 could have achieved this, but it was released early in the year and had something of a slow burn. I guess the promoters were working very hard to make it a success too, though that’s harder to quantify.

The track spent 12 weeks in the charts, slowly but steadily progressing upwards in a relatively unusual pattern for the time. It finally peaked at 20 on 21st May 1988 a week or so after their appearance on Top of the Pops. I recall it being pushed on the radio and tv fairly heavily, so presumably someone at the BBC was a big fan. I certainly didn’t tire of hearing it!

The success of Broken Land didn’t follow through to the second single from the The Sea of Love, probably because this was released after the album. The album made it to number 30 in the album charts. I picked up a copy on cassette tape and it got plenty of my play in my room that summer, especially as a welcome distraction from my exam revision!

The albums The Sea of Love (1988) and Theodore and Friends (1985) have been re-issued in expanded form by Cherry Red Records with a rather splendid set of sleeve notes about the history of the band and the recording of the albums.

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