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By Gráinne Brinkley

A TWINBROOK man has spoken of his desire to persevere with staging one of the highlights of the Belfast music calendar despite pressure on funding.

Seamie O’Neill, organiser of the Belfast Blues Festival, said he can’t let the festival go. Despite the lack of financial backing, he’s managed to pull together another stellar line-up for the fourth year of the Blues Festival which takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend (August 24-26) at venues across Belfast.

“In the current economic climate there are many festivals that have gone to the wall,” said Seamie, speaking after the festival’s launch at the John Hewitt Bar in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. “But we couldn’t let this one go. So we kept it going and kept it going without any funding.  This year we have over 100 gigs taking place involving over 100 musicians.  Last year we had 9,000 attend the festival throughout all the venues so we’re just hoping to get that number back out there again.”

Seamie, who has been involved in the Irish music scene for over 30 years and worked with the likes of U2, The Undertones and Irish blues legend Rory Gallagher, said he decided to organise a city blues festival after hearing of the success of similar festivals in the rest of Ireland.

“When you look at the rest of the island of Ireland and you see the blues festivals in Derry, Cork, Dublin, Warrenpoint and Armagh, we saw that Belfast didn’t have such a festival,” he said. “So we had to do this. It’s basically a celebration of blues music and musicians that have come out of the city and who are still playing in the city and it has grown nicely in the four years it’s been going.”

This year’s line-up includes all the usual favourites such as the Speedy Mullan Blues Band, 68 Charger, Ian Sands and the Blues Katz, Susan Tomelty and blues legends Henry McCullough and Rev Doc.

“After its success last year, ‘Blues on the Boat’ is also back,” said Seamie.

“The Mona will embark on a two-hour cruise up and down the Lough on two nights of the festival, with performances from Rev Doc and Rab McCullough and Co.  This is one of only four paid-for events as the entire festival is free.  The other ticket events are two gigs on the Belfast Barge, the first year we are using the Barge, with Henry McCullough and the Rory Gallagher tribute band.”

And what gig would Seamie recommend to someone catching a live blues gig for the first time?

“I would recommend two main gigs, and that would be Henry McCullough at The Barge and the Blues on the Boat, which are great fun,” he said.

“When you look at the rest of the island of Ireland and you see the blues festivals in Derry, Cork, Dublin, Warrenpoint and Armagh, we saw that Belfast didn’t have such a festival.”


“But in general, all the gigs in the pubs are a great afternoon or evening out. Personally, I always look forward to seeing the Speedy Mullan Blues Band at the John Hewitt as it’s always great craic.  It’s a great Saturday afternoon.  I’ve often said if I wasn’t organising the festival I would be attending myself.”

A special fundraiser for the Belfast City Blues Festival will take place at the King’s Head on Sunday, August 19, from 2pm to 7pm.

For more information on venues, line-up and tickets for the Belfast Blues Festival, visit www.belfastcity


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