In the run up to #IVW21 we’ll be featuring stories from people in our community about how they have found the last 12 months, what they’re looking forward to in the next year & how live music can only thrive if everyone survives.
Today we chatted with the lovely Dee from The Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast, an independent venue, music hub and registered charity. He spoke to us how the centre has fared during the last 12 months and what he misses most about live music.
“It hardly seems worth stating at this point but it’s been a year unlike any other and one that we probably never want to see again. The Oh Yeah Music Centre hasn’t hosted a live show with an audience since the 7th March 2020. This happened at the exact point we spent £50k on new equipment and just 2 months after we put in a new PA. The situation coming out of the initial lockdown moved a lot slower in Northern Ireland than elsewhere, restrictions were slower to lift and therefore venues and theatres, and those licensed as such like ourselves, never got the chance to even have socially distanced gigs. Then in October the NI Executive voted to ban live music altogether, and that’s the situation we currently find ourselves in. In saying that we’ve done what we can do to adjust and provide our followers, supporters, customers, and artists with content and entertainment. We developed a robust online programme of content that we’ve delivered in a variety of different ways since April, and plan to keep on doing the same. Our digital profile is much improved and we’ve all personally developed some new skills that will serve us well. I’m extremely proud of how we reacted and adapted, and the feedback we’ve gotten has been very positive so it’s important to note the good things too. Oh Yeah as an organisation is more than just the venue so that’s made us more robust than others, we’re extremely grateful for that, and proud of our model. On a personal level I’ve missed seeing friends like everyone, both friends within the music industry but also personal friends too. There is a limit to the amount of fun you can have on Zoom! One positive impact was the amount of time I got to spend with my only family and our little girl who I’ve certainly spent more time with than I would usually have gotten to. (Always end of a positive!)“
The Oh Yeah exists for the music community in Northern Ireland so it is absolutely central to what we do. We are there as a space for artists, performers, industry, music lovers, fans, families. We’re much more than just a venue space, it is a dedicated music hub and centre that is usually brimming with life all day every day. We have rehearsal rooms, class rooms for music students, offices for record labels, festivals, management companies, a recording studio, mastering studio, production companies, a rock and roll repair shop, the Northern Irish Music exhibition and other music charities. The centre is used by everyone imaginable and the interconnectivity of it all is crucial. Even the events we run are for everyone. We go from full on traditional rock and roll gigs, to 14+ shows, to family friendly acoustic picnics, to club nights. And it’s not just about what we do in the centre itself we now actively engage in the wider community through our Outreach programs working with teenagers through our More Volume project, to care homes and community centres with our Arts and Older People projects. Without the community we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. The space feels crucial to the Belfast music community but also the wider NI music community and beyond. Open Doors to Music is our motto and how we actively operate, unfortunately this year means that the physical doors have been shut a lot of the time but we’re still engaging and working with the community on a range of different projects, and we can’t wait to open those doors again.
The focus for events organised exclusively by the Oh Yeah Centre is always NI talent. The venue is used by a wide range of promoters and lots of touring artists but for Oh Yeah its always NI artists. We generally promote our own events across various festivals that we organise throughout the year and also around Independent Venue Week. Sound of Belfast in November is usually a 7-10 showcase of NI talent in various venues across the city. This year we were able to pre record 18 sessions in various spaces across Belfast and release these over a week in November on our YouTube channel. Sound of Belfast culminates in the NI Music Prize which we organise and administer (won in 2020 by Kitt Philippa, go check them out). The NI Music Prize awards the best NI album award and highlights all albums released that year from an eligible list right down to the final shortlist. Again this is something we were keen to preserve this year and we delivered a fantastic online live ceremony this year. The NI Music Prize usually takes place in the Ulster Hall and acts as a massive party for the industry and bands to come together. While that physical get together was missing this year having the online live prize still provided a gathering and focus point for talent. The industry in NI is still small and in its infancy but is putting out phenomenal music.We now have more artists than ever in a position to tour the UK, Europe and beyond. We are also continuing with our Scratch My Progress program which takes 4/5 acts each year on a mentoring style journey to provide them with the skills and knowledge to hopefully make that next leap in their careers.
The venue in the Oh Yeah Music Centre is right at the heart of the building. Situated on the ground floor, it’s fully accessible right off the street and has a max standing capacity of 300. It can be configured in a variety of different ways depending on the gig and can do 120 fully seated. It’s got a brand new L’Acoustic PA system in place and comes fully specced with everything else needed for a gig. As well as hosting local acts its hosted a wide range of touring bands from early visits by the 1975 to more recent shows from Frank Carter & The Rattlesnake. It plays host to any genre of music and is also occasionally used for various club nights, and in the last few years has become the home for Superfly Belfast Funk and Soul and the excellent national and international bands they play host too. It’s used as one of the main spaces for the Output Festival, Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Out To Lunch Festival and Belfast Ska Festival. Like any smaller venue we’re constantly looking at ways to improve and have spent the last 3 years significantly upgrading all aspects of it. Not being able to properly use all the new gear we invested in just before the pandemic is frustrating but means that we are sitting ready and waiting to go, hopefully in 2021!
We’re really looking forward to hopefully opening up the doors properly again! Live music is the life blood of any venue so the joy and relief when that returns in whatever shape or form to Northern Ireland will be palpable. I’m looking forward to the comradery of the team on the night of a gig, from the venue staff to bar staff, to sound and lighting engineers, the bands and standing at the front door with security sharing a joke. We can’t wait to see those sweaty, smiling faces dancing along to their favourite band. Beyond that we’re looking forward to our ever expanding outreach work and continuing to shine a light on the NI music scene but nationally and internationally. There are some great NI acts due for album releases this year, New Pagans will be a personal highlight. Personally I’m looking forward to a pint of Guinness in a pub. The one drink you can’t replicate at home!