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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 May, 2004, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Beautiful Night dazzles in Belfast
By Greg McKevitt
BBC News Online

With a diverse range of performers, a fantastic stage set-up and mercifully dry weather, more than 18,000 people enjoyed a wonderful evening of music in Belfast city centre.

The Beautiful Night concert was the centre piece of the BBC's Music Live, an 11-day festival running throughout Northern Ireland which featured more than 100 concerts across all genres of music, most of them with free admission.

Bob Geldof on stage
Bob Geldof opened the concert in style
The crowd gathered in front of the city hall on Saturday to witness performances by acts such as Alanis Morissette, Katie Melua, Jamie Cullum, Divine Comedy, Bob Geldof, the Hothouse Flowers, Moya Brennan, Kila, Brian Kennedy, and even grizzled Italian rocker Zucchero.

Classic Irish songs were played throughout the evening on the beautifully-lit stage, and Bob Geldof set the tone by opening the concert with The Boys are Back in Town, flanked by original Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham.

Looking dapper in a flurry of grey hair and white cloth, Geldof also sang his Boomtown Rats hits I Don't Like Mondays and Rat Trap in an impressive start to the evening.

Every act was backed by the Ulster Orchestra, adding a touch of class to proceedings.

Patrick Kielty was the master of ceremonies for the night, trying to keep the crowd lively with his trademark cheeky quips and injecting a bit of spontaneity to distract from the fact that the concert was also a recording for a television programme.

This was understandable given that the show was being broadcast on BBC One with a delay of an hour, and probably led to a few stressful moments backstage, where a group of video editors were presumably piecing the programme together.

Pre-recorded performances by Ash, Westlife and Kila were shown on big screens. Although this was seamlessly edited in the television broadcast, it meant the crowd was sometimes left with nothing happening on stage.

Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy
The Ulster Orchestra complemented the Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon
A variety of well-known names were paraded throughout, starting with former Boyzone member Shane Lynch, fresh from his athletic success on The Games.

He introduced former colleague Ronan Keating who came on to duet with Liam O'Maonlai of the Hothouse Flowers on a singalong of Van Morrison's Bright Side of the Road.

Everyone at the concert had been handed a piece of card containing the lyrics on the way in, and the words were also flashed up on a big screen.

Fermanagh's own Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy was another highlight, performing National Express and Absent Friends, the title track of his new album - his suave pop was boosted by the presence of the Ulster Orchestra.


Howling feedback meant a false start for Alanis Morissette's new single Everything, and despite this disruption, she started again and went down well with the crowd who sang along with her best-known song Ironic.

Irish comedian Ed Byrne risked her wrath by coming on afterwards and insisting the song was a catalogue of events which were not ironic, merely unfortunate.

"Rain on your wedding day is only ironic if it's a weatherman setting the date," he joked.

"The only thing ironic about the song is that it's called Ironic and it's written by a woman who doesn't understand what irony is."

There must have been a frosty atmosphere backstage, but out front, people continued to enjoy the night.

It was time for another piece of audience participation when Katie Melua and Belfast singer Brian Kennedy came on to sing another Van Morrison song, Brown Eyed Girl.

The duet turned out to be a bit of a mismatch with Kennedy belting it out while Melua changed the melody into something more jazzy and unfamiliar.

Ronan Keating
Ronan Keating was introduced by former colleague Shane Lynch
She returned later on to safer territory with her top ten crowd-pleaser The Closest Thing to Crazy.

Many people had come especially to see rising jazz star Jamie Cullum, and he received a rapturous reception. He leapt off his piano before playing a cover of Jimi Hendrix's The Wind Cries Mary.

Maybe he fancies himself as the modern piano-playing version of Hendrix, as he finished the song by thumping and sitting down on the keys, clearly relishing the racket.

He didn't go as far as Hendrix by setting fire to his piano, which would be much more expensive than a guitar, but that was just as well, as he followed up by playing a tender version of U2's All I Want is You.


Next up was Italian singer Zucchero, a singer popular across Europe but largely unknown here apart from his manly 1991 duet with Paul Young, Senza Una Donna.

He did a strong cover version of Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime, a hit for the Korgis in 1980.

Kielty put his foot in it during a rather painful interview given Zucchero's shaky English, when he asked him who was "that sexy mama" on backing vocals. To Kielty's horror, Zucchero replied: "My wife."

Another unexpected highlight was provided by the Hothouse Flowers, who performed Don't Go in a calypso style, backed by the London Community Gospel Choir.

The former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan was brought on stage, and movingly spoke of how this song was the first piece of music he heard while in captivity.

As the evening drew to a close, Clannad singer Moya Brennan did a haunting rendition of Harry's Game amid swirling dry ice and atmospheric lighting.
Beautiful Night concert
The stage transformed the look of Belfast city centre

The grand finale, a specially composed piece, was performed by what seemed like a cast of thousands, including drummers and choirs.

Brian Kennedy came back on at the end to sing You Raise Me Up, a song which sounded like a mix between Danny Boy and Wind Beneath My Wings.

It depends on your personal taste whether this sounds like a good idea, and it would be a broad-minded music fan who would love everything on offer here.

Still, it would be churlish to complain. The event was an impressive feat of organisation and talent which temporarily transformed Belfast city centre and put smiles on a lot of faces.

The BBC's Denis Murray
"All it takes to fill the streets with music is one guy and his guitar"

BBC NI's Colman O'Sullivan:
"All 18,000 tickets for the concert were snapped up earlier this year"

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