On the way to work recently I have been watching the latest developments as major construction work is being done on the site.
The Kings Hall hasn’t been used in a long while now that the SSE Arena is the major venue for concerts in Belfast now. But years before the Odyssey was even built, the Kings Hall was the only venue in Belfast capable of hosing the big names that came to Belfast even at the height of the Troubles.
The venue hosted more than just music as it had hosted major boxing finals and was also home to the yearly Ideal Home Exhibition. During the 80s my mum and dad would bring me to that. It was fascinating walking around seeing all the exhibits of the day that people would try to sell you.
The venue also hosted fun fairs like Funderland and Planet Fun as well.
There is a rich history of musical legends that have graced the Kings Hall over the years. During my teenage years, U2 were my favourite band whilst I was at school. For my 16th birthday I got The Joshua Tree album but little did I know that U2 were going to be playing there that summer. I never got a ticket for it and didn’t even have the guts to wander down to it in the hope of blagging it in! Wasn’t cheeky enough to attempt that.
It wouldn’t be until September 1989 that I finally got a chance to go to a gig and it was in the King’s Hall. As the subject when I first started this blog, my first gig was Simple Minds.
They had just released Street Fighting Years which is 30 years old this year. Belfast Child was the first big hit single from it and was the first Simple Minds record I ever bought. I was a bit late getting into them as most of the guys in my year in school were already listening to them in 1986 when Alive and Kicking was released but like everything else it took me a while to get into them. Think it was listening to the live version of Ghostdancing that changed my mind about them.
I went with my cousin John who took my second ticket. The tickets I got were a leaving present when I was leaving Allied Irish Bank in Belfast that summer. Support on the night came from fellow Glaswegians, Gun. For my first gig I really enjoyed it. I was totally blown away by the whole experience. Why did it take me so long to go to a gig? There was no going back now.
It won’t be nearly another year before I am back again and this time it is to see Iron Maiden make their Belfast debut.
Iron Maiden had just released No Prayer For The Dying which was the first Iron Maiden album I ever bought. I had listened to some of their songs before but for some reason I really wasn’t getting into heavy metal in my early teens.
This was a mental gig. I was with friends and we were nearly down at the front. It was like a tidal wave of bodies and at times felt a bit frightening but the place was absolutely buzzing when Maiden came on. It was a really good gig. Different to Simple Minds but equally enjoyable.
After the gig we went backstage to see if we could meet the band coming out. Sadly Bruce and the boys never ventured out but we did meet Wolfbane who were supporting and got our tickets signed.
The next big gig at the King’s Hall was the legendary AC/DC. The Australian band were on the road promoting their new album, The Razor’s Edge. Thunderstuck was the big single from that album.
I never thought I would get to see this band and they were amazing live. My ears were ringing for days as at the end of the gig we had the bells going off and 21 gun salute with fake dollar bills falling down from the ceiling. Probably the loudest gig I had ever been too. Even louder than Iron Maiden. Support on the night came from King’s X.
In 1992, I went to the King’s Hall three times that year. First up it was Nirvana, finally making their Belfast debut. I think they were due to play Belfast some time in 1991 but it never happened.
By now Nevermind had gone global and we were being swept away by the grunge revolution and they weren’t going to be playing smaller venues anymore. This was the game changer for me. Nirvana were opening doors for other bands that I would never had heard of and this was all before the internet.
This was a great gig. It was the kind of event that appealed to everybody at the time, metal kids and indie kids alike. Support was obviously hand picked by Kurt Cobain. We had Teenage Fancub opening up along with The Breeders . Both brilliant acts. At the end of the gig I was dripping in sweat from head to toe. It was just mental.
Following Nirvana, Def Leppard were next. This was quite a contrast in gigs as by the time I had bought tickets for both bands after the Def Leppard gig I would be finding myself going off them.
I really liked them around the time of Hysteria. They toured that album first at the Ulster Hall in 1987 and returned to Belfast the following year to the Kings Hall but I never made it to either show.
The follow up to Hysteria was Adrenalize and I must admit was my least favourite album. They were bring their new world tour to Belfast in the round format.
The stage was set right in the middle of the hall and the band would move around the stage during the performance apart from the drummer. This was a bit awkward to watch at times and I didn’t really enjoy it.
The last gig of 1992 was the return of Extreme to Belfast. High on the success of Pornograffiti they were moved up to the Kings Hall following a successful sell out show at the Ulster Hall the previous year.
Like a lot of things happening in 1992, my musically direction was changing but I kind of had a soft spot for this band. Was doing a bit of research for their second Belfast gig and there wasn’t even an entry for the 1992 show. I think it may have been poorly attended as alternative and grunge was definitely taking off at the time.
1996 saw me attend two completely different shows that blew me away. The first one was Bruce Springsteen coming to Belfast for the first time. Having previous seen the Boss in Dublin in 1993, this was a big deal as Bruce was coming to Belfast on his own.
I also missed the chance of actually meeting him as my mates got down early and I was on my way home from work. My dad was giving me a lift home and I saw my mates standing at the Kings Hall gates. Little did I know Bruce Springsteen was on his way! What a chance to meet him!
Bruce had just released The Ghost of Tom Joad which was a more stripped back Bruce album like Nebraska. The E Street Band were not involved in this tour. The Kings Hall is notorious for its awful sound so preparations were made to make the sound of the hall suited for an acoustic performance. This was an all seated gig and it was probably one of the best Bruce Springsteen shows I have ever been too.
The second ground breaking gig that year was the Prodigy. This was a major first for me as this would be my first dance gig. Previously I had no time for dance music but suddenly I was finding that there was actually some good dance music out there and it was just as good as rock music.
Case to the point of The Prodigy. I didn’t like their earlier stuff as I really didn’t like rave music at the time but suddenly with the release of The Fat of the Land everything changed for me. Singles like Breathe and Firestarter got me interested in them.
At the start I was wondering why I was there with lots of the audience waving glow sticks but when The Prodigy took to the stage all doubts were blown away. They were fantastic live. Probably one of the best dance gigs I have ever been too.
I wouldn’t be back to the Kings Hall again until 1999 when Garbage came to Belfast for the first time. I had become a big fan of the band in 1995 and remember actually buying both their album and Morning Glory by Oasis on the same day.
I first got to see them at the Big Day Out in Galway the year before but it was a very disappointing performance that day as they were late, played a short set and then had to leave for a gig in Scotland.
The gig in Belfast was good. Was great to finally see them. Support on the evening came from Moloko who I absolutely detested!
Big gig of the summer of 1999 was the arrival of Manic Street Preachers playing the Kings Hall for the first time ever. This was warm up gig prior to their headline slot at Glastonbury which I was also at.
The Manics had enjoyed the success of their first no.1 single, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next the previous summer and had now hit the big time with This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours. Support on the night came from Super Furry Animals.
After 1999 the music landscape in Belfast was changing. The Odyssey was being built and soon it would be the new venue to see big bands come to Belfast. February 2008 would be the last gigs I would attend in the Kings Hall.
First up was Queens of the Stone Age finally coming to Belfast. I remember having tickets for their gig at the Limelight in 2000 which never happened as Rated R got big and the Limelight was too small for them! Prior to that I got to see them at the Reading festival and also in Dublin.
The band were promoting their new album Era Vulgaris and the band were in stunning form. Support on the evening came from Portadown’s In Case of Fire.
I kept thinking the Kings Hall was an odd venue for them. They were not big enough for the Odyssey but easily could have played at the Ulster Hall but I think they Ulster Hall had been closed for redevelopment at the time.
Finally I got to see the Smashing Pumpkins in Belfast. Having only ever seen them once before in 1999 when they broke up on stage at Wembley Arena it was great to finally see them in Belfast.
I had a ticket to see them at the Ulster Hall in 1996 but it was cancelled out of respect then a huge crush had killed a young fan, Bernadette O’Brien at the Point. The internet was in it’s early days and it was hard to get information on whether the gig was going ahead but it got cancelled.
The Smashing Pumpkins got back together in 2008 for a 20th anniversary concert. While it was great to see them you got a sense the gig was big on nostalgia playing the songs we really wanted to here. It would also be the last time I would get to see the band. Support came from Concerto for Constantine.
That the was last of the gigs inside the Kings Hall. I had never been to any gigs in the smaller Nugent Hall which was at the back but the very last gig I went to in the actual grounds of the complex was to see Bruce Springsteen do a huge outdoor show in 2013.
At first I thought it was a mistake thinking Bruce Springsteen was playing in the Kings Hall. I can’t remember who was last to play there but when Bruce was announced I wondered why not the Odyssey but then it turned it out he was doing five gigs throughout Ireland that summer as part of the Wrecking Ball tour and one of them was in Belfast which was great not having to travel to Dublin to see him.
Prior to the show, Bruce done a five song acoustic set before the rest of the E Street Band came onstage. I was at the gig with friends and we were a bit late getting in a the queue was huge for this one. I think we caught the tail end of the acoustic set from the distance.
Bruce gigs are an amazing experience. Quite a lot of the crowd were holding up signs for songs that they want him to play. We got three that evening. Bruce as always was on top form and he finished the set with an acoustic version of Thunder Road on his own.
So and end of an era. The once big venue for music gigs was no longer hosting shows. The Odyssey, now SSE Arena is the main venue for gigs now.
I hope that whatever happens during the redevelopment that they make a bit of room to show the history of the place as I am sure people would like to see old photos of previous events and gig tickets over the years.