Billy McBurney: Bridging the Gap

Famed music producer, political activist and Outlet Records founder, Billy McBurney, died at the age of 84 on 10th February.

Billy was renowned for bringing a wide variety of music to his native Belfast. He recorded and produced music for a wide array of artists including, Luke Kelly and the Dubliners, Stiff Little Fingers and The Fureys.

Billy developed a love of music from his mother, who opened the Premier Record Shop in the old Smithfield Market in Belfast in the 1920s. His first studio was at the rear of the old St Mary’s Hall in Bank Street before he set up in Smithfield Market and formed Outlet Records in 1968. During this period, along with his brother Malachy, he was a leading activist in the Republican Movement. He stayed loyal to progressive socialist politics throughout his life and remained a supporter of the Workers’ Party.

Although shot by loyalist paramilitaries and his business targeted, Billy always stood steadfastly against sectarianism and saw music as something which could unify all traditions.

He was known for producing Republican music including, the anti-internment anthem The Men Behind the Wire but also recorded Orange marching bands and church choirs of every denomination. Billy’s shop dealt with orders for records and albums from inmates of Long Kesh, both loyalist and republican.

By the time the marred father of eight retired in 2002 he was a Northern Ireland institution.

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