NewsNorthern Ireland

Ex-punk rocker opens Belfast's first open air market

Northern IrelandBy Roisin Gorman
Joby Fox
Joby Fox

Singer Joby Fox is still a punk at heart after taking on Belfast City Council.

The former Energy Orchard front man lead the campaign to get the city its first open air market in 400 years.

It took six years and a change in Belfast’s bye laws to create Folktown market, which opened for the first time on Thursday.

But it’s all in the spirit of punk for Joby, who was once arrested in London for giving out fake £50 notes as a PR stunt for his first band The Bankrobbers.
“It’s the punk attitude, that you can do anything.

“There are too many people telling you what you can’t do and if you listened to them you’d never do anything,” he says.

The Bank Square market is a world away from life on the road as a bass guitarist with two of Northern Ireland’s best known bands.

He signed up with the Bankrobbers as a teenager and later spent three years on the road around the UK, Europe and America with Energy Orchard, fronted by Bap Kennedy. Joby also wrote its biggest hit, Belfast.

“It was more like sex, drugs and sausage rolls than sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” he says.

“It was tough on the road and I had three children so I had to make a choice between coming home and being a father or being a pop star.

“I came home, and I made the right choice.”

With partner Sophie Rasmussen, who’s also been involved in setting up the market, he’s now father to one -year-old Ruairi, which has been part of the motivation to help his home town.

The plan is not just to run a weekly market but to create a Folktown quarter to revitalise the overlooked south western corner of Belfast city centre.

“I love Belfast so much I wrote a song about it. I love my city and I feel like a responsible sibling towards it.

 

“My partner is Danish and I spend a lot of time in Denmark but this is always home.

 

“I wanted to give something back, especially to this area which has been socio-economically deprived for years.”

When the plan for a market was first floated several years ago he thought the council would jump at the chance, but it was less than enthusiastic.

“To us it as a no brainer, but it took years. The reaction we got was one of inertia,” says Joby, who worked closely with the Forum for an Alternative Belfast.

“It’s all about citizens coming aboard and using the underused assets of the city. It seemed unfair that we are unpaid volunteers who had to put our time and energy into this. 

“I started off thinking I didn’t really want to get involved in the politics of it all but we had to face that down.

“We had cross-party support from the politicians but it was on the administrative end we had problems. It was like walking through treacle.”

After convincing the city fathers to open the historic market the council then had to change its rules on open air trading, before the DSD started a renovation project on the area which took almost two years to complete.

“It will provide employment, it encourages people to buy local, it supports the slow food movement, and it regenerates the area. Its value is beyond economic, it’s social too.”

Joby still works as a musician, most recently with the End of the War music and film project which he took to New York and Hong Kong.

He’ll never escape the notoriety of his punk days but looks back fondly at the Bankrobbers’ most infamous escapade.

The band distributed thousands of fake £50 notes with their name on them in London, but the Bank of England didn’t appreciate the PR stunt.

“It was the equivalent of a quarter of a million in notes and we were throwing them around, but we knew the knock on the door was coming.

“We were cautioned in Scotland Yard and about six months later they came and arrested me in Belfast and flew me over to Paddington Green police station.

“I went to court the next day and even the judge thought it was funny when he saw exhibit A. But the guy from the Bank of England didn’t see the funny side.”

He was fined £25 and ended up with a conviction for forgery and counterfeiting, which the 52-year-old admits he’d like to get expunged.

Now he’s more likely to get excited about the history of the city and the Folktown quarter.

“The first Catholic Church to be built in Belfast is here, which was built with funding from the Presbyterian Church. This area is full of wee gems and we want to tell people about them,” says the former punk.

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