Final preparations underway for returning Belsonic music festival

NI’s biggest music festival returns this weekend and the organisers are satisfied they have everything covered – right down to making sure there’s enough portaloos.

Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 5:08 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 7:34 pm
Final preparations ahead of Saturday's opening night of Belsonic 2021 at Ormeau Park in Belfast, Pic by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

It has been more than two years since The Killers unknowingly became the last act to perform at the festival and for a time Alan Simms, one of the organisers, was unsure whether Belsonic would ever make a comeback.

As final preparation were made to the Ormeau Road site ahead of the first of seven gigs which will take place this Saturday, Alan told the News Letter: “Intellectually we knew at some point we would be back to normal, but when you’re in the middle of it, a year in, and things are getting more and more grim, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I think what people don’t realise is how much of miracle it is having highly effective vaccines – it’s like winning the lotto. That was the turning point when we could start putting a timeline on things.

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Event organiser Alan Simms has a look around the site ahead of Saturday's opening night of Belsonic. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

“I don’t think anyone believed we’d be here this time last year.

“These sorts of outdoor shows are relatively low risk, that’s why we’re doing these first. We voluntarily added Covid certification on the way in just to give people a little bit more of a comfort.”

For the Belsonic line-up, ticket availability and Covid entry requirements visit www.belsonic.com

Alan said that apart from the introduction of Covid marshalls, the set up of the site was almost as it had been in previous years. Though he did remark that some items were harder to come by: “It sounds daft, but even actually getting things like portaloos, because they’re all being used in vaccination and testing centres and in factories to allow for social distancing.

“The pedestrian barriers were also in short supply – some bright spark went and manufactured a lot knowing this might be the case when live events returned.”

Alan, who is also behind Custom House Square festival, said: “Before the first concert (Tom Jones on August 10) it was hard to believe we were actually doing a show again.

“You could see people being affected by it in a really positive way. Just watching people coming in very sheepishly, then by the end of the night people had relaxed and were in the moment.

“A lot of the acts themselves were very emotional, for some of them it was their first time back on stage.

“The staff as well are just so happy to be together again. They’ve been denied the ability to do so for so long.”

It takes 16 crew members four days to build the stage and set up the Belsonic site and three days to dismantle their gear and move out.

Alan said: “A lot of these people have suffered financially and socially due to the pandemic, for me it’s a real source of happiness to see them back doing what they’re good at.”

Safety mission for Paul as 15,000 fans head to Ormeau Park

The man responsible for the safety of more than 15,000 people each night at Belsonic is 66-year-old Paul Scott.

The events controller recalled that his first gig in a safety role was the 1992 Take That concert at the King’s Hall, when boy bands were a “new phenomena”.

Also working behind the scenes with The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Guns n Roses, U2, King of Leon and many more, Paul doesn’t get starstruck, saying, “they’re all fellas with guitars”.

The event is set to host in excess of 15,000 music fans per show, with the first 3,000 festival goers being given a special wristband, which gets them access to the golden circle, a 23-metre area at the front of the crowd.

The Belsonic site is surrounded by 3.5 kilometres of steel fencing, an area of 290 by 95 metres. Paul said the stage is built as high as an eight-storey building, with two large screens and a performance space the size of a football penalty box.

Paul alongside over 100 safety stewards, security officers and first aiders said he will not be able to mix business with pleasure at an event of this scale, as there are lots of procedures to be put in place to keep all spectators and staff feeling safe and comfortable throughout what is set to be an exciting event.

As steps are put in place to minimise the spread of Covid-19, the numbers for this years festival have been reduced slightly but Paul said: “In addition to safety we want them to have good customer experience and be able to see the acts.”

Whilst Paul watches from a secure stand where he can see the whole crowd and a range of CCTV screens, he does enjoy his music and said: “With my age, I hark back to the 60’s, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.”

However he is there to work and keep others safe, and said: “If I want to enjoy a show, I will buy a ticket.”

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