Lives Remembered

Harry Baird: Showband member and shop owner remembered as legend of music scene

Harry Baird died aged 73 on May 28

HARRY Baird would joke that he lived three lives - but only got enough sleep for one of them.

To musicians across across the north he was the friendly face behind Baird Sound Systems, an institution for almost half a century in Belfast.

As well as hiring and selling equipment to countless bands, it has long served as a hub for people to talk about music and gigs - and even try out new songs.

Harry was a talented musician himself, spending years on the road with The Regency Showband, whose line-up briefly included a young Van Morrison.

He also played bass guitar in groups including Barry Brent and the Jetset, making an appearance on ITV's Opportunity Knocks.

His third great love was his family, with son Darren continuing to run the business on York Street.

He described him as "kind, funny and passionate" and a legend of the music scene who always had a story to tell.

Harry lived his whole life within a stone's throw of his north Belfast shop, growing up with two older sisters on upper Canning Street and spending his adult life on lower Canning Street after seeing future wife Carole crossing the road one day and falling in love.

He trained as an electrical engineer after school in Mountcollyer and had his first experience of music performing in his father's accordion band.

He joined The Regency - then called The Olympics - as a 20-year-old and spent the next five years gigging across the country at the height of the showband craze.

They also played support to visiting acts to Belfast including The Kinks, Cat Stevens and Marmalade.

Bandmates included Barry Brent, Desi McBride, Stuart Smith and at one point Van Morrison, who filled in when saxophonist Phil Denver broke a wrist.

Harry recalled going to the east Belfast man's house one night to lift him for a gig in the Borderland in Muff, Co Donegal only to be told by his mother he was busy writing poetry upstairs.

He was still working as an electrician and around this time began repairing amplifiers and lending out equipment to bands, building up a business in his front parlour.

This became Baird Sound Systems in 1971, taking over a former hairdresser's and sweet shop on York Street.

A magical place for young musicians, Harry is remembered by all as a gentleman who loved nothing more than chatting about music and sharing a yarn.

Blues musician Rab Braniff said he gave him his first work experience job while he was at school.

"It was the best music school a young aspiring musician could ever want or need," he said.

Henry Cluney, guitarist with Stiff Little Fingers, said: "Without Harry there would be no Stiff Little Fingers. Might be an exaggeration, but only just. He was the go-to guy for PA and lights for as long as I can remember."

Blues guitarist Ronnie Greer also described him as a "legendary figure in the story of music in Belfast".

Harry never lost the performing bug, and was recruited to play bass for The Roly Stewart All Stars, resident band at the Talk of the Town nightclub, who found themselves supporting the likes of Shirley Bassey and Frankie Vaughan.

He also reunited with Barry Brent to perform on the cabaret circuit with Barry Brent and the Jetset, and later formed a two-piece with bandmate Billy Hollywood about a decade ago.

Even in recent months, aged 73, he had been talking about gigging again.

Harry Baird died aged 73 on May 28 and his funeral was held yesterday at St Paul's Church, next door to his beloved shop.

Musicians then gathered to toast his memory in the Park Avenue Hotel.

He is survived by his wife Carole, sons Darren and Campbell, sister Rene and family circle.

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Lives Remembered