Back in January of 2002, a great friend of mine Michael O'Keefe, an actor of some renown based in Los Angeles, rang and asked if I would be free to give a few musician friends of his a tour of the Falls and the Shankill.
Me being me couldn’t say no to my Buddhi Michael and my mind was blown away when I heard who they were: Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, and John Prine. They were staying in the Europa hotel during their anti-landmine tour which was staged in the Waterfront.
I agreed to meet them around 5pm in the hotel foyer. I arrived as cool as a Freddie Fusco's cone and welcomed them to our city.
I was greeted by Emmylou, who introduced me to the rest of the legends as I shook their hands one by one with a warm céad míle fáilte.
listening to Emmylou Harris and recalling a Belfast gig featuring her, Elvis Costello, Nanci Griffith, John Prine, Steve Earle. #somelineup— brendanbelfast 🇪🇺 (@brendanbelfast) May 29, 2015
They boarded the minibus and off we went on Franky's magical mystery tour. I drove them up the Shankill and we stopped so they could take photos of the wall murals. I told them how as a boy, I experienced this area when it was buzzzing with shops. By 2002, however, most of the locals had left to live in other locations.
I was amazed that when we stopped to take pics no one recognised any of the celebrities or asked questions; pedestrians just walked on by, going about their own business.
I took a non-judgemental approach to the tour as I wanted them to make up their own minds. As we all know the Shankill is quite a short distance from Jebb’s Peter's Hill to Lanark way. The Shankill had been reduced to a few shops, butchers, chemists, pubs and pound shops. I could pick up the despairing desolation compared to the Shankill that I knew of back in my youth.
I drove our visitors along Lanark way and pointed out where HH the Dalai Lama planted a tree during his three day visit to Belfast as the way of peace in 2000.
Of course on hearing this everyone had to have a pic of the tree with yours truly, their Belfast guide. I continued our journey up the Springfield and down the Whiterock, I pointed out the various barracks along the way. I then turned up the Falls and continued to Milltown then up by Kennedy centre right up to Twinbrook roundabout and back down again to Castle Street.
We stopped of at the memorial gardens along the way and photographed many murals all the way down the road as we referred to the Falls, only this time when we stopped for pics they were recognised by westies and got pics taken with the tourists.
Arriving back at the hotel I was invited to dine with the guys and it was then that a thousand questions were asked. They were amazed at the contrast between the Shankill and the Falls. They detected the decline and desperation of the Shankill compared to the growth of the Falls.
After dinner I invited them over to see the famous Crown bar and I remember how proud I was walking into the bar with my new best friends, especially when I stood between Emmylou and Nanci as Elvis shouted over to me, "what would you like, Frank?"
Who came into the bar at that very moment and almost crashed into me: none other than my old mucker and one-eyed punk rock legend Terri Hooley. It's fair to say that my old friend's eye nearly popped out when he saw me with those music legends.