Hey Joe - how come you got the blues?

Dessie Blackadder


Dessie Blackadder

BALLYMENA man, Joe Allen, is a familiar figure on the local rock and blues music scene.

He’s one of those characters , born in the early 60s who grew up listening to some of the best pop and rock songs ever written.

But while his tastes are, as they say, many and varied, his personal musical nirvana is found in the simple but powerful sound of The Blues.

So how did a boy from the Demesne estate learn to love the sounds of the delta and heed the call of Chicago?

Here’s the story .. in his own words.

I was born in 1961, my family have been resident in Ballymena for generations, Allen, obviously, on my father's side and Gribben on my mother's.

My parents moved into the Demesne Estate shortly after it was built, first living in Carnduff Drive and then after a few years moving to Glenshesk Drive where they lived the rest of their lives.

I attended Ballymena Boys Secondary School. Music lessons were pretty much a non event.

Every exam time each student would be hauled up to the front of class to sing a song and was awarded a C grade.

My standout memory of music lessons was hearing the music teacher playing an album of Holst's Planet Suite to himself, this at least started a life long love of classical music.

In my early teens Glam rock was the big thing but apart from Bowie, T Rex, Rod Stewart etc I seldom listened to the charts.

I was more into album bands like Cream, Taste, Hendrix, early Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and especially Led Zeppelin.

Of course I followed the usual links from these back through Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf to the Delta greats, Robert Johnson, Son House and Charley Patton.

First real early Blues album I heard was by Leadbelly and then Robert Johnson : 'The King of the Delta Blues ', album which has been a major influence on my playing ever since.

I started playing bass guitar when I was about twelve then switched to six string.


My first paying gig was at The Flamingo playing bass with local rockers Angel when I was fourteen.

After discovering the joys of Blues and Booze, I could be found many a night after closing time, sitting around a fire in the woods at the back of my old school, playing guitar and singing the Blues with friends.

Many Friday nights were passed in The Bridge, Dunloy listening to South Bound Train and most Saturdays were spent in The Pound or The Harp Bar in Belfast, catching as much live music as I could.

This was during the dark days of the Troubles, with bomb warnings and check points an everyday normality but somehow music lovers seemed to live in a world apart, music clubs being one of the few places religion didn't encroach on.

I have played in various bands throughout the years, including Angel, AGS, Harper's Hill Blues Band, The Flood and BIDDY EARLY as well as playing as a solo Delta Blues player, playing slide guitar/harmonica.

Lately I have seriously got into electric Blues Harp, being influenced by Sonny Boy Williamson ii, Little Walter, Paul Butterfield, John Myall, Walter Horton etc.

I currently play Blues Harp with The Matchstick Men, Ireland's premier Status Quo tribute act, and I also regularly sit in with Legal Tender and Blues Taxis.

I can be found most first Saturdays of the month at the excellent BT Blues and Rock Club sitting in on Harp with the featured bands. For the last six years I have been host of BIDDY EARLY'S Open Mic at the BT Club, one of the Province's most successful Open Mics which I also founded.

I have finally decided to call an end to it at the start of this year to concentrate on my own music.

I play various instruments; guitar, 12 string guitar, slide guitar, bass guitar, banjo, mandolin, auto harp, Appalachian mountain dulcimer and of course Blues Harp.

Yeah, after all these years, I've still got the Blues, once your hooked, that's it for life! - see BB King, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy etc.

As for other local promoters of the Blues, there's the afore mentioned BT Blues Club which Looi Burns has been doing an excellent job of running for many years and of course local bands like Legal Tender and Blues Taxis.

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