30 Sept 2022

Derry’s dance music community pay tribute to ‘legend of Irish dance music’

Chris' passion for music made him a favourite for dance music lovers
DONATE HERE to Marie Curie in memory of Chris Hurley: The dance music community in Derry have paid a touching tribute to the late Chris Hurley, a DJ who changed the face of the local scene and ‘brought a war-torn country together through music’. Chris Hurley from Coleraine was 47 when he passed away earlier this month from cancer. He was well-known and much-loved in this city’s dance music circles and there is no doubt that Derry ravers who cut their teeth on the dancefloors of the North West would have styled it out to his uplifting house music. In the days when the Troubles were still raging, Protestants and Catholics started to come together having found a different kind of religion in dance music and Hurley’s pulpit was the DJ box. Chris took the ‘Barn’ in Kelly’s, Portrush, where a meagre 20 or 30 punters turned up for his first ‘Club Night’ and, within weeks, transformed it into a heaving success with 4,000 dance music lovers from Derry and all over the North turning up every week to make it an unbridled success. The Point Inn just over the border in Quigley’s Point, Donegal, was another club – a place of the stuff of legends for Derry ravers – where they went in their droves while Chris stood smiling at the decks. Derry DJs, promoters, those with fond memories of their raving youth and those who continued to enjoy Chris’ music over the years, shared their shock, disbelief and sadness following the news of his death on February 6. Charlie Dillon, also known as DJ Bill-X, believes it is only fitting that Derry’s dance music community, of which Chris was a huge part, should pay tribute to the man who has been hailed a ‘pioneer’ and ‘legend’ of the Irish dance music scene. “I met Chris in the early 90s, I had been working in Kelly’s nightclub when I was a student in Portrush,” he said. “Chris had only started doing nights in the famous Barn - within a few weeks he was catapulted into playing packed houses and bringing guest DJs from all over the UK. Chris was one of the reasons I started to DJ myself. He was a very modest and witty fella, but he knew his music inside and out and stuck to the type of music that he wanted to play, he DJed all over Ireland and the UK. A few years ago we were very lucky to get into guest DJ at our re-rub nights. “Chris was a true pioneer and was the godfather of house in Northern Ireland and his legacy will live on. My thoughts and prayers are with the Hurley family and his little daughter, Scarlett.” Derry DJ, Paul Moran, better known in music circles as DJ Paul P, described Chris as an ‘innovator’ and a ‘legend’. “I first met Chris in 1992 when I clamoured over the DJ box in Kelly’s to ask him to be our guest DJ at new night we were starting in the Point Inn,” he said. “Thankfully he agreed and the rest as they say is history. Our paths crossed many times over the intervening years. I will always remember Chris as an innovator, a DJ of principal who would not compromise his musical style to please the masses. “Chris set the bar high for all others that would follow. He was a real gentleman and a legend of Irish dance music. He will be sorely missed and his legacy will live long in the hearts of the thousands of people who were lucky enough to attend Kelly's in the early days of the rave - a magical time made by Chris Hurley.”
“He was definitely at the forefront of a 'life changing' movement - a movement that helped break down religious and sectarian barriers during the dark years of Northern Ireland's Troubles.”
Another of the city’s home-grown talents, DJ Darren McMenamin said Chris was an inspiration to him and set him on the path to do what he truly loves. “Although I was into dance/house music around the late 80s/early 90s, it wasn’t until 1992 and my first visit to Kelly’s, witnessing one of Chris Hurley’s now legendary all night DJ sets, that I even considered the thought of being a DJ,” he said. “Up on the Decks, top off, 3,000 people eating out of the palm of his hand...hanging on every tune! Everyone focused on him. I was instantly drawn into the scene. “After going week in, week out, for a few months, the Point Inn opened on Sundays with Chris at the helm. I was there the first night and didn’t take long to be over chatting to Chris about music and some general trainspotting on my behalf. “He was always generous with his time and knowledge and a true inspiration for me and many like me. After a couple of years raving I then went on to become a DJ myself and anytime I ran into Chris he always had time for chat and always showed me a lot of respect. “In more recent years we spoke a lot through Facebook and he invited me along to play at his Barn 26-year reunions in Sandino’s which was a real honour. “He was a gentleman and a true pioneer of the dance music scene and will be sorely missed.” Stephen Porter from Derry-based dance organisation Jika Jika, said Chris had the ability to unite people through his music: “We were very shocked and saddened to hear the news about Chris' illness. “I was lucky to have got to know Chris over the years and he was always an inspirational figure to me and someone I looked up to greatly. His passion for music was infectious and his mannerisms would make you feel at ease. “His legacy is that of someone that brought a war-torn country together through music and firmly established dance music in NI. Deepest sympathies to all Chris' friends and family.” While Ann Harley, Proprietor of Sandino’s, said: “Chris ran our Saturday nights for almost a year in 2017. I had missed the Kelly’s/Barn years, so didn’t realise at the time how well known and respected he was. “He put 110 per cent into every night he ran for us ,best DJs, classy posters and flyers, great attention to detail. Apart from that, from the start, he just fitted in and became a friend to a lot of us. Can’t believe we won’t see him again, as everyone says, a proper gentleman. RIP Chris.” ‘Godfather of House’ Poignant tributes also came from those in the dance music community outside Derry. Not least from Chris’ dear friends. Mark Mc Dermott from Dungiven said he was honoured to have been his close friend: “To me, Chris Hurley was the epitome of a gentleman, kindness, the most great friend, and musician. Also the epitome of class but so humble at the same time. To know him well was a true honour. He was such an inspiration to me in all angles of life and he helped me in more ways than he will ever know. “Chris had talent to burn as a DJ from such a young age and was a pioneer in music, the first to create the house music dance scene in Ireland that will forever be remembered as the Love Years, aptly named as he not only bridged the religious divide at the time with music but he brought all the youth together. He was a living legend but his legend will forever live on in my heart, and the hearts of many. “Gone but never ever forgotten - the Godfather of House, but most importantly my dearest friend and brother in spirit.” Hector McLennan, a dance music promoter from Strabane who has passed the genes onto his own daughter, celebrated Ibiza club DJ, Loéca, paid a heartfelt tribute to ‘the Godfather of House’. “Chris Hurley's name is synonymous with the introduction, development and explosion of dance music in Ireland,” he said. “He has earned a permanent place in the history of our dance culture. He was Northern Ireland's 'godfather of house.' I'm not saying that he was the only one, there were others who played their part, but he was definitely at the forefront of a 'life changing' movement - a movement that helped break down religious and sectarian barriers during the dark years of Northern Ireland's Troubles. “Chris had the tunes that every DJ wanted. I've often been in situations with people in the music business and we would hear a tune. One of us would always say, "That was a big Chris Hurley tune." Like DJs of his time, his message was spread through DJ Mix Tapes. What car didn't have a Chris Hurley tape back in the day? “Over the last few years I enjoyed some great nights with Chris. We reminisced about the good old days and we hit it off because we were both excited about the current 'house music' scene. Stand out moments include driving to Portrush after Sven Vath in Eglinton to hear Chris in Portrush with John Morrison on tow, a mad Paddy's weekend in Portrush in 2017 and of course having him as a guest in Sugar on a night co-promoted with Jika Jika. His love and passion for House Music had never faltered. He didn't want to re-live his success of the past but was still an innovator pushing out the barriers and seeking out those fresh new sounds. “I will always remember Chris for his love and passion for House Music. Chris Hurley, thank you for the memories.”
"He was erudite, intelligent and so so passionate about his music...he led from the front and was key to the start of the dance scene in Northern Ireland, a movement that would have a huge role in changing attitudes and lives."
Neal McClelland, DJ and Presenter at Downtown Radio and Cool FM, also paid his respects recognising how powerful Chris’ music was in turbulent times: “Chris was an innovator and total gentleman that loved the groove and helped shape the wave of rave that swept across our country and created the bridge between two religions that paved the path for the future through music.” Darren Drake, DJ and good friend, said: “Chris was a devoted father, a loving son, brother and uncle. Ever since our first meeting, in those halcyon days of the house music revolution of the early 90s, of which he was a true pioneer, Chris Hurley has been, and forever shall be, my inspiration and my friend.” Ray McLaughlin, also known as DJ X-Ray: “Chris paved the way for a whole new generation of DJs some of us wouldn't still be DJing today if it wasn't for his vision in the early 90s.” Glen Molly said he wished Chris could have been there for the 20th anniversary of the Barn: “The 20 years of the Barn was missing him,” he said, “I would really have loved him to have played it.” Timmy Stewart, a DJ from Belfast and close friend to Chris, said: “I loved the fact Chris was so upfront with his music. “We had heard Secret Knowledge’s ‘Sugar Daddy’ played on the Essential Selection one Friday night and he played a white label of it the very next night. I always felt privileged to be exposed to that level of cutting edge music especially at that age and time.” Col Hamilton, Promoter at Lush! Official (Formerly Kelly’s, Portrush), paid this tribute on behalf of the club where Chris first burst onto the scene: “We were saddened to hear the news of the passing of original Kelly’s resident DJ Chris Hurley. “Back in early 1991 when Kelly’s Barn was a live band and rock venue, the late James Kelly let a young local lad start a Saturday ‘Club Night’, the rest, as they say, is history. Chris Hurley started with about 20 people on the first night and within six months was attracting thousands of clubbers from across the North and Donegal flocking to hear the latest UK/European house music. To say he started a legacy would be only fair and Lush! would not be here 23 years later as one of the UK’s leading venues without Chris's original vision. “We would like to take this opportunity to extend our condolences to His Family circle and his young daughter. Until we meet again, old friend.” Liverpool DJ, Steve Vertigo, said a phone call in 1992 from Chris went on to ‘open the door on a magical Northern Irish adventure that has rumbled on for 26 years’. "When I met him we shared similar hair (his was better) and were both bang in the middle of an incredible love affair with house music," he said. "That first night waiting in the Barn for it to open with hundreds of people outside banging on the walls chanting 'Let us in!” like some sort of fantastic zombie survival film was only a hint of the craziness to come. That first booking turned into a friendship and many repeat visits hanging out for days after gigs in Portrush with Chris and Joanne. He was erudite, intelligent and so so passionate about his music. Always ready with a laugh and a plan and an appetite for good old-fashioned fun. He led from the front and was key to the start of the dance scene in Northern Ireland, a movement that would have a huge role in changing attitudes and lives. "In 2017 I played one last time with him in the main room at Kelly’s, a reunion and a waypoint on a long journey that now feels so short. It brought back memories of beautiful, messy hazy times in Portrush when we were all young and had no idea how big this dream of utopia would grow. "I'll remember his smile and the way he'd look you up and down, head tilted slightly back as he'd work out whether you were talking rubbish and how he was going to wind you up. He was a romantic and a dreamer and the gods know we need more of those. "My heartfelt sympathies to his loved ones, family and friends. He was one of the good ones. Rise in Power, Chris. Big Love." The Hurley family said that they have taken heart in the tremendous outpouring of love and sympathy since Chris’ death. In a statement they said: “We are finding it very hard to take in, we miss him so much - he was so special to each and every one of us. “As I said before Christopher was our hero; what a fighter to the end - he always believed he was going to get better. “We as a family are so proud of what Christopher achieved through his music bringing everyone together. Tributes that have been made to Christopher are so special to us knowing how well he was thought of and showed us everyone thought the same as us...what a gentleman he was.” The late Chris was son to Joe and Margaret, loving father of Scarlett and the late Ava, brother of Joseph, Sharon and Rhonda, a loving brother-in-law and uncle and a legend in Irish dance music. PICTURED ABOVE: The late Chris Hurley whose passion for his music made him a favourite with dance music lovers in Derry and beyond.

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