How Belfast Got the Blues (Book)

A Cultural History of Popular Music in the 1960s

Highly original and fascinating cultural and political history told through Belfast’s popular music scene in the 1960s in the context of Northern Ireland’s sociopolitical milieu. With particular emphasis on Van Morrison, Them, and Ottilie Patterson; also features the Peter Whitehead film of The Rolling Stones. 15 b/w illus.


Was the first white European blues singer an Irish woman? What links The Rolling Stones to the birth of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement? Did the state suppress the work of a key countercultural director because his film was shot in Belfast in 1965?

This book provides the answers in an engaging and dynamic reconsideration of Belfast’s long-ignored contributions to the popular music and cultural politics of the 1960s. In an expansive sociocultural history, Noel McLaughlin and Joanna Braniff explore how popular music engaged with and influenced the global cultural and political currents of the decade.

The popular history of Northern Ireland has been overshadowed by the violence of the Troubles. How Belfast Got the Blues offers a corrective, reconsidering the period before 1969 and arguing that popular music in Northern Ireland was central to the politics of the time, in ways not previously understood or explored. By intertwining politics, culture, and unexplored key personalities, the authors reexamine this  radical decade and the complex but essential relationship between music and identity in a place where it could mean the difference between life and death.

Noel McLaughlin is a popular musician historian and a senior lecturer in the Department of Arts at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. He is the coauthor of Rock and Popular Music in Ireland: Before and After U2 and numerous articles and book chapters on rock and popular music culture.

Joanna Braniff is an independent scholar based in Belfast. She was features editor of the Irish News from 2002 to 2008 and director of political communications in the Northern Ireland Assembly from 2010 to 2015. She now works as a freelance author, journalist, and media consultant specializing in arts and culture. 

Introduction: Belfast at a crossroads

Chapter 1: 1964

Chapter 2: The political power of a film that might have been

Chapter 3: ‘We gotta get into this place’

Chapter 4: ‘Them are coming!’

Chapter 5: A story of Them

Chapter 6: Irish lady sings the blues

Chapter 7: 1966 – The summer of love?

Chapter 8: Crossroads – Times have surely changed

'How Belfast Got the Blues provides a meticulous account of Belfast’s popular music culture and politics of the 1960s, going beyond the big names and greatest hits of the decade and, crucially, includes some of those disregarded in previous historical accounts. [...] [It] marks an incredibly valuable contribution to both Irish studies and popular music studies that both celebrates and critiques the multifaceted role of Belfast’s music scenes and its international impact.'

Áine Mangaoang, Estudios Irlandeses

A fascinating and highly original book that (re-)places Northern Ireland at the heart of key popular-musical, and broader popular-cultural, moments in the 1960s, offering fresh insights and presenting huge amounts of new material.

Dr Sean Campbell, Reader in Media and Culture at Anglia Ruskin University

This is a brilliantly innovative book that pushes back the boundaries of existing knowledge quite substantially. It will remain for many years the definitive study of the subject and a point of reference for further research and controversy.

Martin McCloone, author of Irish Film: The Emergence of a Contemporary Cinema
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