14th Feb 2020 in Arts

This week we meet Beannchor Operations Manager Tim Herron, the man who keeps things running smoothly behind the scenes at Beannchor, including the Ulster Sports Club. The quirky venue is approaching the first anniversary of its big relaunch, and it’s already established itself as one of the Cathedral Quarter’s favourite venues.

These days, not many people can say they’ve worked for the same company for 20 years – but Tim Herron is one of those people. He began his career in hospitality at the tender age of 13 as a bar back in the Boom Boom Rooms in Bangor, later known as Cafe Ceol, owned by The Beannchor Group.

The group is well known for running many of the Cathedral Quarter’s favourite establishments including of course The Merchant Hotel, Berts Jazz Bar and The Cloth Ear, as well as Bullitt Hotel, The Dirty Onion, Yardbird, The National and most recently, Ulster Sports Club.

Tim became supervisor in the Bangor bar soon after leaving school and has worked his way up in the group ever since, as he explains: “Fortunately management opportunities kept coming my way, ranging from places like Tatu, The Merchant, Cloth Ear, Cuckoo and the Dirty Onion.

“Covering such a range of venues in many different roles over the years helped me gain enough experience and progress to more senior management and I have been in my current role for over a year now. I have to say, it has been enjoyable and a role that was certainly necessary in the company, given our continued development and expansion.”

One of his key projects over the past year has been overseeing the relaunch of The Ulster Sports Club on High Street. The former social club had been open since the 1970s and closed in January 2019.

It was acquired by Beannchor and, rather than transforming the place into an entirely new nightspot, the group decided to take a punt on the enduring public appetite for nostalgia and kept everything – the original decor and even the name remained the same when it reopened in May 2019.

And boy, has it worked. What Tim affectionately describes as “Phoenix Nights on steroids” has really resonated with the Belfast audience. Tim says, “It’s a retro venue with bags of character, great staff and a ‘free-house’ draught offering. It’s been refreshing being able to offer a wide range of draught beers few others have and working with local breweries. Our monthly Beer Club and tap-takeover have been particularly popular.”

“Our vision was to bring something that Belfast hadn’t seen before and we felt there was a gap in the market. It is a multi-functional bar and event space with four rooms, beer garden and food offering.

“We wanted to respect what it was before, but take it in a new direction, attracting a wide range of clientele and a wide range of music acts and performers. Some of the gigs we have put on already have been incredible. This can range from live gigs, full-on raves, poetry nights, bingo or comedy. A very mixed bag but it works.”

Although it’s still in its first year, the venue has already gained a reputation for its music offering, with respected local and international names responding to the same irresistible pull that brings sell-out audiences to this intimate little 70s throwback.

The popular monthly Songbook sessions

Tim’s own love of music has been a driver in this respect. “I’m passionate about music and it’s exciting working in a venue that showcases original music only – you won’t find cover bands here.

“We have been working with some top promoters and getting in some amazing acts. Awesome Tapes from Africa, Jah Wobble and Crazy P have been stand-out live gigs but there have already been too many to list. Looking forward to Mercury-nominated ‘Black Midi’ [this Saturday 15 February] which has sold out – Strange Victory Records have been lining up some great acts with us.

“Working with local musicians has also been key, showcasing some great up and coming acts. Songbook, our monthly local music showcase, produces some of the best live music I’ve seen in Belfast – a must-visit.

“Collaborating with some of the most innovative and progressive club promoters in the city has also been exciting for us. Twitch, Breezeblock, AVA and Korova are just a few examples of guys at the top of their game, bringing in top international DJ’s, covering a wide range of music ranging from house, techno, garage, drum’n’bass and grime.

“I’ve always followed club music since I was a kid so whilst it’s been rewarding seeing our club nights become successful, it’s personally been enjoyable for me, especially with that killer sound system we have.”

Tim says it was important for the venue to be more than just a boozing spot, and that’s why Beannchor feel the Cathedral Quarter location is such a good fit for the vision they had.

He explains: “The CQ attracts a crowd into their music, art and culture and we feel we offer those things but with a bit of character and nostalgia. We are quickly establishing a reputation for good live gigs and there aren’t many in the area doing what we do.

“Working with the likes of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and Culture Night Belfast has also been a pleasure and it’s been clear there’s been an appetite for a venue like this in the area. We are just slightly off the beaten track and off-radar, but close enough for people to have a nosey.”

One of its most colourful collaborations has been with the Cathedral Quarter BID who supported the transformation of Ulster Sports Club’s outdoor space. They commissioned a small team of local street artists who used their skills to successfully turn grey walls into a funky and original beer garden.

These little splashes of design and personality define the USC, and Tim pays tribute to his creative team. “Creatively, it can be difficult standing out from the crowd but that is probably where we are strongest. Our graphic designer, Michael Murray is second to none in terms of his creative input and social media wit. He has certainly been pivotal to our brand development, sense of humour and social interaction. The overall reaction to our brand and style has been so positive and massively engaging.”

“Already I can see how much this place means to people, either culturally, musically or just a place where people can feel comfortable and be themselves. We haven’t pigeon-holed ourselves into a one-dimensional venue doing the same thing every week and thank God we did that. I think Belfast was ready for somewhere like this, without limitations or condescension, but plenty of craic, decent pints and good tunes.”

Keep an eye on the Ulster Sports Club Facebook page and on the CQ listings for all the upcoming gigs and events. Make sure to tag us on social media and use the #CQBelfast hashtag if you’re at a gig or enjoying a pint in the USC!

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