Belfast Music Tour guide Dolores Vischer on The Beat of Belfast

TOO old for Rock n’ Roll? Not if you’re Dolores Vischer, punk fan, drummer, backing vocalist and (“mature”) graduate of Girls Rock School Northern Ireland who, at the age of 60, found a new path with the Belfast Music Walking Tour.

It’s the dream job for the former public relations consultant and events manager who, after qualifying as one of the new Green Badge tour guides for Belfast – coming close to being named the city as UNESCO City of Music in 2021 – created Creative Tours Belfast. earlier this year.

“I love music, I love walking, I love history and I love showing Belfast, so there was no doubting the theme of my walking tour,” says Dolores, who built a impressive repertoire of entertaining musical anecdotes to share. with walkers wandering the streets of the city.

One of her favorites is the night she unexpectedly took over the drums for punk and new wave band The Stranglers when drummer Jet Black took an unscheduled bathroom break during a show at Ulster Hall.

It was a lawless time, she reminds me, and so there was nothing really unusual about loud fans like her jumping onto the stage and “bouncing” with the musicians.

“It was 1978 and it was the punk era – there weren’t really any bouncers or barricades around the stage or anything – so I bounced back and started talking to the drummer,” she said evenly.

“I told him I played the drums a bit, so he invited me to take over while he went to the bathroom. I thought I’d better give it a try – there were so many people bouncing around, no one seemed to notice.

“The track was called Peaches and I kept the basic time and was pretty happy with myself. I didn’t do any fancy flourishes or anything, but I didn’t totally disgrace myself.

“Fortunately, he reappeared shortly after and fired me.”

It’s little nuggets like this, interwoven with facts and figures about Belfast’s rich musical heritage, that have so deeply immersed and entertained its walkers that before they knew it, two hours and half past and they are seated at their own private concert.

“We start at Ulster Hall and end the tour at the Oh Yeah Music Center where it is possible to browse musical memorabilia and then enjoy a live performance – often from a rising star who has completed the Oh Yeah program talent development.” she explains.

“In almost every corner of Belfast there is a musical story to be told, whether it’s 1950s hitmaker Ruby Murray, blues singer Ottilie Patterson, Rory Gallagher’s connection to the city or Van Morrison’s discovery at the Maritime Hotel.”

During 18 months of intensive study for her green badge – which requires more specialist knowledge of a smaller area – she learned about the economy, ecology and geology of Belfast, as well as the history , and was surprised at what she learned along the way. way.

“I grew up in Belfast and went to school in Belfast, but you don’t get a lot of history in schools here,” says the St Andrew’s graduate (English with French and Spanish) who worked in the marketing department at Queen’s University for 20 years. before his retirement just before the pandemic.

“I didn’t even know that Belfast was considered a liberal city in the 1700s – that we were the first to have newspapers and printing presses and that Belfast was then known as the ‘Athens of the North’.

“It was fascinating to discover that the Harper’s Assembly of 1792 – essentially the first music festival in Belfast – was organized by liberal Presbyterians who were trying to retain Irish music which was being lost.”

Because of this connection, the tour stops at Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church, Belfast’s oldest church and now a concert hall with its own resident harpist.

“Members of the early Rosemary Street congregations put on this very first harp festival, so people find bits like that really interesting,” says Dolores, a musician from the Over the Hill Collective (OTH), a “student” of the Girls Rock School of Northern Ireland and a member of Katie Richardson’s Cathedral Quarter Choir in her spare time.

“At Girls Rock School, we had to form a band, write our own songs, and perform those songs — all in eight weeks, so it was a fun challenge,” she recalls with a laugh.

“When I signed up, I initially thought I would just take a quick drum refresher course.

“We called our group ReSisters and I loved it so much I stayed on to be part of the Girls Rock School organizing committee, helping organize events for them in 2018.

“I met this other mature woman, a grandmother called Irene – who’s my good friend now – and she and I wrote a few songs together. We were lucky enough to record one called On a New Path, written from an older woman’s point of view, and we thought that was great. We did a few gigs but then the lockdown came and that was it.

The pair have stayed in touch, however, and were recently invited to join music collective OTH, with each contributing a song to an OTH album slated for release later this summer.

“OTH is a great initiative to get more mature women playing music together,” Dolores enthused.

“There’s a lot going on in the women’s music scene in Belfast. I myself got back into music in 2018 after jumping on stage – again – to sing at a karaoke night as part of of the Women’s Work Festival organized by Oh Ouais.”

She joined a band during her college years, but laments that it was only one of the backup singers.

“Back then, girls didn’t really believe they could be in a band,” she says, “but I had friends in bands and a drummer friend taught me how to play drums in his garage.

“I started playing bodhran and had a pretty good sense of rhythm. Then in college I joined a band as a backing vocalist – they were called Life Support and they were abysmal. I think maybe I could have been better on the drums, but I was only allowed ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ in the background.”

Now a nominee for the NI Music Prize hosted by the Oh Yeah Music Center, Dolores enjoys supporting up-and-coming musicians and providing a platform for young talent at every available opportunity.

“As Gary Lightbody [Snow Patrol]said it, music is part of Belfast’s DNA,” she added.

“It beats in the echoes of the past to the present day with new contemporary bands to come, as well as talented classical musicians from the Ulster Orchestra and, of course, the vibrant hip-hop scene.

“Music in Belfast spans all traditions and cultures, genres and tastes. It’s great to bring locals and international visitors on a musical stroll to experience it all.”

:: The next Belfast Music Walking Tour will take place on Friday August 5th, with another scheduled for Saturday August 20th. More dates and information on, email [email protected]