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Rab McCullough to headline Greatest Hits night

BLUES LEGEND: West Belfast singer/guitarist Rab McCullough will be back in the Devenish on August 31 BLUES LEGEND: West Belfast singer/guitarist Rab McCullough will be back in the Devenish on August 31
By Michael Jackson

HOSTED by the Andersonstown News, next week’s ‘Greatest Hits’ showcase is set to be a true celebration of the best local music from the last 50 years, and there are few musicians who know the Belfast scene better than legendary blues guitarist and event headliner, Rab McCullough.

The Andersonstown man has shared stages with some of the biggest names in the music business and has had more than his fair share of recording success, but, perhaps most importantly, he helped inspired the West Belfast blues and rock scene during its formative years.

Reflecting on those early days, Rab said: “The one that I made my name at was the Clubhouse, up beside the Green Briar. If you go up O’Hare’s Lane just off the Glen Road you can still see the ruins of it now – it has been pulled down. We started gigging there in 1976 and the guy said he couldn’t pay us, so we said we would just charge the door – whatever it was. They weren’t losing money, but if it went well we were making a bit of money.

“The first gig was a Tuesday night and there was about six people at it. The next Tuesday there was about 30 people at it. The following Tuesday night every seat was taken. We moved it to a Wednesday and then a Saturday, which was a bigger night of course.

“Most of the bands that were playing here were playing pop music – it was all chart. There was a lot of good stuff in the charts then, but I came up through the British blues scene, so I brought that style of a band. It was blues fused with southern rock.”

He added: “We played a lot of alternative stuff, so you were introducing kids to stuff they had never heard of before. They were teenagers, but I was listening to a different type of music. When we started playing they were going ‘where did that come from?’ They were totally oblivious too it. I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back, but you were introducing them to a music history. This was in the middle of the Troubles, and kids were saying to me it was like a light in the dark – they just couldn’t wait for Saturday.”

The Troubles, of course, took its toll on the local music scene, but Rab kept playing throughout, and as he says always managed to “keep the wolves from the door” with his music.

“Locally you were sort of brought into your own areas, which was between here, Ardoyne, the Bone, the Markets,” he said.

“The regular ones were in the town and those kept the wolves from the door.

“In 1998 the town was starting to open again and we started to gig in the Empire on Thursday night – we would still play there. We call it the 18 to 80 club because that’s the age group that goes into it. I’m 71 and there’s guys older than me. You have kids up boogying and ripping it up, and you have older people just there to listen.”
Although now playing in venues across Europe and beyond, Rab continues to hold the longest residency in the North of Ireland – an impressive 21 years at the Empire. While many come just to hear him play, Rab has always encouraged others to pick up an instrument and play alongside him

“You get the odd muso kids who come for a couple of weeks beforehand and are plotting your downfall,” he joked.
Amongst the musicians he has played with over the years, Rab is particularly proud of the fact that he has been able to help local musicians along their way to success including Ed Sheeran’s labelmate, Foy Vance and the late, Bap Kennedy of Energy Orchard, who also got his first guitar from Rab. As well as playing at next week’s gig at the Devenish, he is especially looking forward to taking in some performances from some of West Belfast’s greats, including the late Bap’s bandmate, Joby Fox.

“These types of gigs are few and far between, but you never know what’s going to happen on the night. I’m going to be bringing a couple of guys with me to play, so we’re expecting it to be good.”

He continued: “When you’re playing like I am you don’t really get a chance to go out and see other bands that are playing, so a night like this is rare occasion. I’m looking forward to seeing other bands playing. Joby Fox has been writing some great stuff. The Adventures are going to be playing too – they’re a great band. They invited me to their last two sell-out gigs, but I couldn’t go because I was playing myself, so this will be the chance to see them.”

For further information or to buy tickets for West Belfast’s Greatest Hits go to: belfastmediagroup.com/product/west-belfasts-greatest-hits-ticket/

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