All About Jazz

Home » Articles » JazzLife UK

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Northern Ireland: Jazz is on the Rise

Northern Ireland: Jazz is on the Rise
Bruce Lindsay By

Sign in to view read count
In geographical terms, the island of Ireland is small: just 300 miles by 175 miles, with a population of around 6.2 million. Northern Ireland is smaller still: 1.8 million people in six counties in the north-east of the island. In the wide world of jazz the country rarely rates a mention. But Northern Ireland's jazz scene is stirring: a small but highly-talented and enthusiastic bunch of musicians is rapidly expanding the scene and beginning to export the music around the world.

JazzLife UK's recent whirlwind tour of Northern Ireland was in the company of trumpeter, broadcaster and band leader Linley Hamilton. He's a key part of the jazz scene: a first-call backing musician who has played with a diverse array of stars including Van Morrison—probably Northern Ireland's most famous contemporary musician—Jean Toussaint and Ken Peplowski. He also broadcasts a weekly jazz show on BBC Radio Ulster, After Midnight, that features contemporary jazz.

In fact, it was Hamilton's show that first made me aware of the growth of the Northern Irish scene: his diary spot seemed at one point in 2010 to be expanding week by week as new venues were added to the list. Such apparent growth, and Hamilton's unbounded enthusiasm for the scene, led me to visit the country for a couple of days in early November.

As far as jazz in Ireland is concerned, if Hamilton doesn't know about it, then it isn't happening. He was immensely helpful to me and ensured that my two day visit gave me a real immersion in the Northern Ireland jazz scene, enabling me to experience a few venues, meet some key people and begin to share their enthusiasm. I also experienced one of my musical highlights of 2010.

Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland's capital, sits on the country's east coast. Unsurprisingly, the city is home to Northern Ireland's busiest and most vibrant jazz scene but what is surprising given Belfast's relatively small size—around 260,000 people live in the city—is just how busy and vibrant the scene currently is. Hamilton estimates that there are about 50 jazz musicians active in Northern Ireland, mostly enthusiasts rather than fulltime players. Belfast features venues where some of these musicians have been playing for many years—the Europa Hotel, for example, where the Gerry Rice Quartet's Saturday evening residency has been going on for ten years—and others that are just beginning to establish themselves.

It's the newer venues that give the clearest indication of Northern Ireland's resurgent jazz scene: these are not the back rooms of out-of-town pubs, or the damp basement bars of tatty hotels. Indeed, two of Belfast's newest venues are at the heart of the city, and as stylish and up-market as any to be found in London or New York.

The most up-market of these is Bert's Bar at the Merchant Hotel, which features jazz seven nights a week. There's an emphasis on vocal jazz, and the venue attracts musicians from across the island—on the night I spent there it featured Ronan McGee, a stride pianist and singer from Dublin. The bar is very comfortable, the stage easily accommodates a quartet and the behind-the-stage mural is a clear indication of the music to be heard here.

The slightly funkier Teatro is on Botanic Avenue, close to Queen's University. It's co-owned by Kyron Bourke (pictured left), who programs the jazz at Bert's Bar. Bourke is also a singer and keyboard player, with a Leonard Cohen crossed with Tom Waits style, who has developed Teatro as a restaurant and piano bar complete with its own candy striped mini-stage. The venue has a relaxed and good-humored atmosphere that brings audience and performers together to share the experience.

But Northern Ireland isn't just Belfast, and the jazz scene is also thriving in towns like Bangor and Derry. Both of these places epitomize another vital aspect of the country's jazz scene: the involvement of enthusiastic and motivated local councils. Bangor lies a few miles to the east of Belfast in County Down. Derry sits on Northern Ireland's western border, in County Londonderry. The two towns differ in many respects, but both have an enthusiasm for bringing people together through artistic and cultural activities. Derry already has a thriving jazz festival, and Bangor's program of musical activities includes jazz gigs on a regular basis.


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read ReVoice! 2014: collaboration is a key to success JazzLife UK
ReVoice! 2014: collaboration is a key to success
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: September 10, 2014
Read The Art Of The Song JazzLife UK
The Art Of The Song
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: August 8, 2012
Read Eat Worms Or Be Loved JazzLife UK
Eat Worms Or Be Loved
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: May 2, 2012
Read The JazzLife UK Gilded Butterfly Awards 2011 JazzLife UK
The JazzLife UK Gilded Butterfly Awards 2011
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: December 15, 2011
Read It's Our Generations JazzLife UK
It's Our Generations
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: October 17, 2011
Read So Why Can't Jazz Guitarists Play Chords? JazzLife UK
So Why Can't Jazz Guitarists Play Chords?
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: July 29, 2011
Read "Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz Legend" Book Reviews Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz Legend
by David A. Orthmann
Published: November 15, 2017
Read "The Brian McCarthy Quartet At FlynnSpace" Live Reviews The Brian McCarthy Quartet At FlynnSpace
by Doug Collette
Published: December 10, 2017
Read "Kika Sprangers: Musical Adventurer In Holland" Interviews Kika Sprangers: Musical Adventurer In Holland
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: August 14, 2018
Read "Jazz Stories: 2017" What is Jazz? Jazz Stories: 2017
by Michael Ricci
Published: January 1, 2018
Read "Andreas Varady: Guitar Wizard On The Rise" Interviews Andreas Varady: Guitar Wizard On The Rise
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: June 18, 2018