Red Hot Chilli Peppers at Belfast's Ulster Hall
One of the joys of being a music lover in Northern Ireland is the sheer variety of live music venues within a relatively small geographical area.
We’re able to play host to the biggest acts on the globe and our audiences have a reputation for being world class party starters – often still keeping the singing going long after the band themselves have gone home.
Maybe best of all though is that you can get up close and personal with bands on the rise, in a way that you can’t elsewhere.
The Ulster Hall
The Ulster Hall may be over 150 years old, but it remains the jewel in Belfast’s crown as far as live music goes, and has hosted many of the biggest names in rock music.
Built in 1862 and dominated by the spectacular Mulholland Grand Organ, this beautiful listed building will forever be famous as the place where Led Zeppelin fans got to hear Stairway to Heaven live for the first time.
It has been the setting for unforgettable shows by the Smiths, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Strokes, Chic and the Specials.
The Ulster Hall also serves as the home of the Ulster Orchestra and at lunchtime, you can drop in to hear budget-friendly classical recitals by some of our most accomplished musicians.
The Waterfront Hall has been a spectacular riverside feature of Belfast’s city centre since 1997. The main auditorium has hosted plays, comedy greats and the line up of featured musical acts has included artists such as Paul Simon, Bjork, Morrissey, Moby and Blur.
In 1998, it was the setting for a famous free show at which U2 guested with local heroes Ash to mark the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
The hall now forms the centrepiece of an expanded state of the art conference and exhibition centre, opened in 2016.
This is really three venues in one – the Limelight 1 and Limelight 2, bridged by Katy Daly's bar. The original down ‘n’ dirty Limelight has hosted the Northern Ireland live debuts of Britpop leading lights including Suede, Elastica and, perhaps most memorably, Oasis.
Also taking their first steps onto a Belfast stage have been Franz Ferdinand, Duffy and the Scissor Sisters, playing to just a few hundred people. Remember how it used to be said that not many bought the Velvet Underground’s first LP, but everybody who did started their own band? The Limelight can have that effect on you.
Rocking Chair Bar
This local treasure holds as much history outside its' doors as it does behind them. Found next to the historic walls in Derry~Londonderry’s city centre, this bar gives a warm welcome to both locals and tourists alike.
Memories were made in 1978 when local born talent The Undertones performed an array of their iconic songs including their biggest hit ‘Teenage Kicks’.
Today at the Rocking Chair Bar, you can expect to make your own memories with local music being played five nights a week. Guinness in hand, this bar promises a sample of Derry~Londonderry’s fantastic live music scene you are sure not to forget.
The Mandela Hall
Located at the heart of Queen's University within the Students’ Union building, the Mandela Hall is a venue tailor-made for cutting edge music acts. Over the years, it has seen barnstorming live sets by bands like Public Enemy, Primal Scream, Mercury Rev and Elbow.
There are people who still talk in awed tones of that June night in 1997 when a few hundred people were lucky enough to see Radiohead play a secret warm-up show for the juggernaut OK Computer World Tour.
Part of the Northern Ireland’s Landmark Millennium project, the Odyssey Pavilion, the SSE Arena opened in 2000.
Formerly known as the Odyssey, the arena is home to the Belfast Giants ice hockey team and has a capacity of 11,000. It has been the port of call for superstar acts including U2, Coldplay, R.E.M. and Oasis. In February 2016, it was the venue where Adele first said “Hello” to adoring fans on her massive world tour.
The arena acts as a venue for many other prestigious sporting and entertainment events and in 2011 hosted the spectacular MTV Europe Music Awards.
The King's Hall
Opened in 1934, the King's Hall was the largest exhibition venue in Northern Ireland and, prior to the completion of the Odyssey (now SSE) Arena and the Waterfront Hall, was the only large indoor concert venue in Northern Ireland.
Until recently, the King's Hall and its' surrounding showgrounds were the regular home of the Balmoral Show, an annual agricultural show with attendance in excess of 75,000. The stepped facade of the hall features substantial windows and distinctive Art Deco motifs on its' doors and buttresses.
As a concert venue, the Hall has seen shows by David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and U2. Perhaps most famously, in 1964 it was the venue for two shows by the Fab Four at the very height of Beatlemania.
Legend has it that this was around the time that George Harrison had confessed a fondness for a certain type of sweet and the concerts were played amidst a hail of Jelly Babies…
The Empire Music Hall
Another small but beautiful venue in the centre of Belfast’s university area, the Empire is a converted Victorian church and a beautiful setting for intimate shows. Many still kick themselves for missing Sigur Ros playing their Irish debut here in 2000 as the support to local heroes, Snow Patrol.
The Empire’s stage has been graced by some of the great cult bands of the last 20 years. There have been outstanding shows by Spiritualized, Antony and the Johnsons, Sparklehorse and Death in Vegas to name but a few.
Homegrown talents that have cut their teeth there have included Ash, the Divine Comedy, the Answer and Duke Special and that tradition continues in the regular GIFTED! showcase for local bands.
If music isn’t your thing there’s always the consistently popular comedy club hosted by Colin Murphy and Jake O’Kane. Beware though, it’s not for the fainthearted!
Being a two-tier venue, downstairs is the Empire Bar - one of Belfast’s best loved drinking holes, with live blues from Rab McCullough on Thursdays and Salsa nights for those fancying a bit of a dance.
Tucked away in the centre of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter is the Black Box. This performance space hosts many of the music and comedy events for the Out to Lunch Festival each January and the Cathedral Quarter Festival in May.
Black Box is also home to regular exhibitions and a cabaret-style burlesque show and on the first Sunday of every month hosts the Flea Market, selling vintage and second hand items and craftware. Visitors can also enjoy pizza, coffee and beer in the adjoining Green Room cafe.