Bugg in Belfast
February 11, 2013
Over the last few weeks we have been bombarded with slogans such as Backin’ Belfast and Take Back the City in order to persuade the people of Belfast to get ‘back’ into the city centre. The aim is to encourage spending money in bars and restaurants as opposed to staying in, hiding away from the flag nonsense which has had a very detrimental effect on the city. This weekend had proved to me something is working, whether it is the Council backed campaigns or maybe just the fact that everyone is just more solvent now January has passed.
The first sign of this was when we took Jr down to The MAC on Saturday afternoon to see the new Warhol exhibition which opened a few days ago. We couldn’t get parked in St. Anne’s multistorey car park, and after the exhibition could not get in anywhere for tea and buns! The exhibition itself was packed out and there was a real buzz in The MAC. In fact, I think there was more of a buzz about it than anything else that has been programmed in the venue. It was crowded but we managed to see a bit of it and Rudy loved the large foil balloons which forms part of the show. I’ll definitely be back to take it in properly when I have a few minutes to myself.
We had tickets to go and see Jake Bugg play in the Mandela and with Jr booked in to spend the night at his grandparents we tried to book somewhere to get dinner before the gig. We phoned every restaurant in town and every place was totally full. We finally got a reservation at Birdcage on Stranmillis. We’ve been there a few times before and it’s a great place for a casual dinner – there is a quirky menu and a drinks menu which includes jamjar cocktails and multipacks of beer. We settled on a 4 pack of Heineken, as I have been cutting down my drink intake and am pretty much giving it up for a while, and didn’t start on the delicious looking cocktails as that would have been a bad idea given the bad hangovers I get on the very rare occasion I do go out these days! We ordered some chicken brochettes and potato skins (for me) and habenero wings and chips (for Mr.G-S). The food was well cooked, plentiful and full of flavour. We wanted to get down to the gig early enough so skipped dessert and off we went.
We saw Jake Bugg in the Black Box last September and since then his profile has rocketed. His album has been incredibly successful and his face is everywhere. The gig was sold out and the Mandela was totally rammed. We were in early enough to catch a few of the support band’s songs and I wish we hadn’t. They were Hudson Taylor and they have been joining Jake on all his tour dates and I cannot understand why someone thought they would be a good fit for his audience. Maybe I’m just old and cynical but I prefer my music to have a bit of substance and grit. They could play and sing fine but the songs were (to me) insipid crap. Anyway, the memory is making me shudder so let’s move on to the main event.
It was immediately obvious that Jake’s confidence has grown tenfold since the gig in the Black Box as he seemed undaunted by the raucous Saturday night crowd. He took us through all the songs on his album which tell tales of the usual teenage stuff – falling in love, heartbreak, hanging out with your mates and getting high. He does this with a maturity which belies his age but a simplicity which appeals to the mainstream, as well as people who genuinely appreciate good music. The sing along response to songs such as Seen It All and Lightning Bolt show that they have already become classics and will stand the test of time. Jake Bugg is 18 – flip knows what he’ll be coming out with in 5/10 years if he is this good now.
He finished up with a rousing cover of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues which took the roof off the venue. It was great fun and a great way to end the gig. I have to mention though that, despite the fact we had a brilliant time, the crowd seemed to be full of plonkers – we saw several fights and at one point the show had to be stopped and the house lights came up while a large fight was broken up and the offenders removed. It didn’t spoil our fun but it was another reminder of how Belfast crowds just don’t know how to behave at gigs a lot of the time.
We headed down to Lavery’s for a few drinks before rolling home after closing time. We bumped into a few people we knew and the bar was jam packed. The music was good and it was a nice way to end the night.
On Sunday we had an unexpected call to collect Jr earlier than planned as my parents had to go to a funeral so with tired bodies and slightly sore heads we took him home and attempted to entertain him. We needed an outing so we decided to go down and check out the Chinese New Year celebrations which were taking place in the Ulster Hall. As we drove down we could see the queue sweeping up the street and round the corner so decided to sack it off as our delicate constitutions could not hack queuing in the rain for a long time.
We dandered round to St. George’s Market and there was a lovely atmosphere with Valentine’s Day decorations everywhere and lots of friendly, smiley people. It was good to see that some of the traders had sold out of their offerings and were packing up early. A good sign that things are picking up, I think.
We treated ourselves to hot chocolate and a babycino (and a dog shaped balloon!) for the boy. It was delicious and the sounds of ‘mmmmm’ ‘mmmmm’ when he was drinking it means it was given two tiny thumbs up from him.
All in all, it was a great weekend and it was very heartening to see Belfast so busy and seeming to pick itself up from the disastrous past few months.