Northern Ireland is home to some of the world's most talented musicians and music artists. From Van Morrison and The Undertones to Snow Patrol and Ash, discover the artists that have left their mark on Northern Ireland's music scene forever. You can even take part in the unforgettable Belfast Music Exhibition and Tour which gives you an exclusive insight into the upbringing of these musical sensations.
Take a look at our homegrown talent below:
It’s impossible to understate Van Morrison’s impact on music with a back catalogue of hit singles and albums that stretch back over six decades. He cut his teeth as the raw-throated singer with Them in the clubs of sixties Belfast, notably at the Maritime Hotel on College Square North with its regular rhythm and blues night.
Success with Them was followed by a solo smash hit with 'Brown Eyed Girl'. From there, Van the Man’s music evolved from the freewheeling Moondance and Astral Weeks to a rich cocktail of folk, pop and jazz in the eighties and beyond. Many of his songs evoke memories of growing up in Belfast during the early years of rock ‘n’ roll, and reference the places of his childhood including Hyndford Street, Cypress Avenue, Orangefield and Coney Island. This strong sense of place is merged with a literary sensibility and a questing, restless spirituality.
He has received six Grammy Awards and a Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music as well as being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. Since 2014, visitors to East Belfast have been able to follow a self-guided Van Morrison Trail, which over the course of just over 2 miles, leads to eight places that were important to Morrison and inspirational to his music. In 2016, Van Morrison was knighted for his musical achievements and his services to tourism and charitable causes in Northern Ireland.
The Undertones formed in Londonderry in 1975 were inspired by the New York punk sound of the Ramones. With a budget of just £200, their signature song 'Teenage Kicks' was recorded in March 1978 in Belfast’s Wizard Studios and released on Terri Hooley’s label Good Vibrations. The legendary DJ John Peel played it twice on his Radio One show on the night he received his copy, saying “it doesn’t get any better than this”. It remained Peel’s favourite song, and the lyrics “teenage dreams, so hard to beat” are inscribed on his gravestone. Sire Records president, Seymour Stein, heard Peel playing 'Teenage Kicks' and signed the band to his label in September 1978.
The band’s most successful single was 'My Perfect Cousin', which rose to UK number 9 in April 1980. They released a further four albums before disbanding in 1983. Singer Feargal Sharkey went on to solo success in the late eighties, including a number one hit with A Good Heart. In the nineties, he took up work in Artists and Repertoire with record companies, and has since become one of the British music industry’s most important figures. After The Undertones disbanded, brothers John and Damian O’Neill went on to have further success with cult indie act That Petrol Emotion. In 1998, the original members of The Undertones, minus Feargal Sharkey, reformed with new vocalist Paul McLoone. The band continues to tour and played Glastonbury festival in 2005.
Snow Patrol are one of Northern Ireland’s most famous musical exports. The band was formed at Dundee University in 1994 by Gary Lightbody and Mark McClelland. Following a couple of LPs on Jeepster Records, they signed with Polydor Records in 2003 to release the hit album Final Straw, including their breakthrough single 'Run' – their first real taste of commercial success, winning the inaugural Ivor Novello Award for songwriting in 2004.
The follow-up, Eyes Open, was released in 2006 to become the UK’s biggest selling album of the year. The single 'Chasing Cars' became one of the most downloaded songs in the USA and was voted ‘Song of the Decade’ in a UK national TV poll and ‘Best Song of All Time’ by listeners of Virgin Radio. On 30 December 2009, the music licensing company PPL announced "Chasing Cars" as the most widely played song of the decade in the UK.
Since releasing Final Straw Snow Patrol have sold over 13 million albums worldwide. Their debut gig is commemorated with a plaque at Belfast’s Duke of York pub.
Raised in County Fermanagh, the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon wears his influences on his sleeve. His songs blend the lush ballads of Scott Walker, the baroque soundtracks of Michael Nyman and the seventies pop of ELO with his own instinctive gift for melody and the wittiest, most literate lyrics this side of Morrissey. He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Robbie Williams and Yann Tiersen and with his friend Thomas Walsh and produced two further albums of alt-pop in the guise of The Duckworth Lewis Method. And if all that’s not enough, he wrote not just the theme tune for TV’s Father Ted but the show’s very own Eurovision entry, My Lovely Horse…
Born in the Ormeau area in 1969, David Holmes began DJing at the age of 15. One of the first Northern Ireland DJs to specialise in techno and house music, he has built an international reputation for his mix albums, remixes and soundtrack work. He was a hugely influential figure in the early nineties revival of Belfast’s club culture, helping to set up the clubs Sugarsweet and Shake Yer Brain at the Art College. In 1995, he released his first album This Film’s Crap, Let’s Slash The Seats to critical acclaim. The Holy Pictures, an album released in 2008 and inspired in part by his parents, was nominated for Irish Album of the Year in the Choice Music Prize and The Meteor Awards.
Holmes’ soundtrack work includes collaborations with director Steven Soderbergh on films such as Out of Sight and the Ocean’s Eleven series. His score for the multi-award winning Hunger won Best Score at the 2009 Irish Film and TV Awards. David was a co-founder of Canderblinks Film and Music.
Company, which recently produced Good Vibrations, the critically acclaimed biopic of Belfast music legend Terri Hooley.
Downpatrick’s Ash have been one of Northern Ireland’s leading alternative bands for over 20 years. Formed in 1992 by schoolmates Tim Wheeler, Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray, their debut single Jack Names the Planets appeared in 1994 followed by the mini-album Trailer. Signing to Infectious Records, their first album proper, 1977, made its' debut in May 1996 at number 1 and was accompanied by a stream of hit singles including Kung Fu, Goldfinger and Girl from Mars.
The band was joined by guitarist and singer Charlotte Hatherley prior to the release of their second album Nu-Clear Sounds. This struggled to match 1977’s success but with the release of 'Shining Light', the first single from their third long player Free All Angels, the band scored another huge hit and the album went to number 1 with Tim Wheeler collecting an Ivor Novello songwriting award along the way.
Following the release of the album, Meltdown, Charlotte Hatherley left the band to pursue a solo career. From 2009 – 2010, Ash released 26 singles in a year from their A to Z series and completed a tour of the UK playing consecutively in towns beginning with the letters of the alphabet. Their music has been used in various films including A Life Less Ordinary and Shaun of the Dead as well as the videogames Gran Turismo and Star Wars - Republic Commando. The band continues to record and in 2014 Tim Wheeler released a hugely acclaimed solo album, Lost Domain.
Born in Belfast’s Donegal Road in 1935, Ruby Murray’s trademark husky voice was partly the result of a childhood throat operation. A child star, Ruby appeared on television from the age of 12, releasing her first single 'Heartbeat' in 1954. A second single, 'Softly Softly', reached number 1 and cemented her fame.
A hugely popular singer, Ruby had a single in the charts for each week of 1955 – including a period in March 1955 with five singles in the top twenty at the one time. And this was in an era when the UK charts listed only the top 20 singles. She appeared as the resident singer on TV show 'Quite Contrary' and had her own television programme in the late 1950s.
She took part in the 1955 Royal Command Performance, and her career also included a film appearance with comedy legend Frankie Howerd and Denis Price of Kind Hearts and Coronets fame. Ruby’s final chart hit was Goodbye Jimmy, Goodbye, released in 1959.
Married twice, Ruby Murray died in 1996. Ruby’s biography was written by her ex-husband Bernie Burgess, while Belfast dramatist Marie Jones wrote a play based on Murray’s life. Titled simply 'Ruby', it opened at Group Theatre in Belfast in 2000. In 2006, a commemorative plaque was erected in her honour on the fascia of Belfast's Ulster Hall, a venue where Ruby performed many times as a child.
Sir James Galway was born and raised in East Belfast and studied flute at the London Royal College of Music, the Guildhall School of Music and the Paris Conservatoire. He has played with Sadler’s Wells Opera, the Covent Garden Opera and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1969 to 1975, he was principal flute of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Herbert von Karajan before leaving to pursue a solo career. During the 1970s, he became renowned for his ability to incorporate contemporary music into his performances, playing new compositions by modern composers alongside classic pieces.
He has collaborated and performed with many musicians from other genres, working with the Chieftains, Stevie Wonder, Henry Mancini, and John Denver amongst others. He performed at Roger Waters’ 1990 staging of Pink Floyd’s The Wall in Berlin, a show which also featured Van Morrison. He also appears as a soloist on the soundtrack to director Peter Jackson’s The Lord of The Rings trilogy. Over the years, Sir James has been invited to perform for many of the world’s leaders including the British Royal Family, Pope John Paul II and 3 US presidents.
Sir James continues to encourage and support young flute players, running annual masterclasses from his home in Switzerland, where he and his wife give tuition to flute players of all abilities. He was awarded an OBE in 1979, and knighted in 2001. In 2005, he was awarded the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Classical Music’ at the Classical Brit Awards.