That’s it all over for another year. The main stage has been dismantled, the slops wiped down and the ringing in our ears is fading fast. The 14th annual Cathedral Quarter Arts festival has undoubtedly been the best yet. A sterling lineup of quality acts across a range of venues, big names, up and coming acts and a few of us attempted to get around as much of it as we could.
2013’s festival set its stall out with a massive opening night slot for John Grant. The venue was packed, a complete sell out for the return of one of the world’s greatest contemporary songwriters. We managed to find a little spot near the stage for Owen McNulty who by all accounts really enjoyed the show.
There’s something incredible about that voice. It’s warm, it’s soothing, it’s comforting and it brings you in. It brings you close to the man.
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A Folkin’ Brilliant Weekend
The days which follow really showcase the plethora of folk based artists on show this year. A Friday night with Chuck Prophet is an excellent kick off to the weekend. We really shouldn’t use kick-off as a metaphor though. Chuck hates football and isn’t afraid to let you know it. Baseball, punk rock venues, and good ole fashioned Americana are his things and he ain’t afraid to let y’all know. He’s a San Francisco native but there are massive hat-tips to the East Coast musings of the likes of Petty or Springsteen and strangely a cover of Bowie’s ‘Sorrow’ thrown into the mix. It’s a soundtrack to cruise down a long straight road to, pedal to the floor and only occasionally stopping for gas.
By Saturday afternoon we’ve decided we’re in The Black Box to stay this weekend. On stage is the massive new talent of Valerie June. Whilst some vocalists are described as having voices like honey, Valerie June’s is much more marmite. Some love it; some hate it. We’re firmly is the first camp. Her band provide a great bluesy backdrop with vintage guitar tones and subtle brass to allow her to shine. New single ‘You Can’t Be Told’ is a particular highlight.
Feeling indestructible after a wonderful set and a few lusciously strong Erdinger’s we take in the sights and sounds of Belfast’s Sunflower Bar. Open mic blues and a bowl of piping hot stew sets us up for a night of venue hopping, name dropping and 1980s celebrity spotting. Yes, that’s our very own editor papping himself with Catchphrase’s Roy Walker. One looks a tad over excited, the other looks like he’d rather be finishing his Mr Chips. Just say what you see!
Sunday afternoon spent in the soothing company of Rachel Sermanni is just what the doctor ordered. Delicate finger-picked guitar, a stunning technically perfect vocal performance and a venue hushed in revered awe. If only all Sundays were like this.
Hanging With Roy
We’ve got some hugely contrasting shows taking place midweek with some ridiculously over the top guitar work from former Lambchop member William Tyler. Endless loops, waves of noise, perfect execution, it’s something truly spectacular to take in even if we’re not always sure exactly what’s going on up there. He’s followed in McHugh’s Bar by Hiss Golden Messenger who rolls into town armed with only an acoustic guitar and a massive back catalogue on vinyl which sells well after a short and sweet set of straight up acoustic story mongering. As a special encore, both our protagonists revisit the stage for a couple of duets, accentuating the talent of both men in their chosen styles.
The week began in an altogether more sedate fashion with Angel Olsen taking the stage of The Black Box on a Bank Holiday Monday and easing us all back out of the weekend with a beautifully intense performance. Alternating between guitars and swooping from the emotional to the downright deep it’s not a show for the casual listener but we’re fans and it’s an absolute delight to hear her in these intimate surroundings.
These guys are all beards, trucker caps and plaid shirts and you reckon you know what you’re in for when you see them; Americana, rock and roots but they’re better than that. The sound is familiar enough but there are touches of something a little different to let you know that they’re more sophisticated than they look.
Hiss Golden Messenger
The End Is Nigh
No Country For Old Men
It’s naturally assumed that music of a folky nature is reserved for us older types with grizzly beards and plaid shirts, whiskey hoarse voices and tales of woe. Someone really ought to have told the 250 plus fourteen to eighteen year olds who descended on the Oh Yeah Music Centre to hear to exceptionally talented Lucy Rose. Having played Belfast a few times in the quite recent past it would need to be a special performance to stand out and she goes and pulls it out of the bag. A mammoth set with full band backing and songs old and new sees everyone; young and not so young alike leave with childish grins plastered all over their faces.
As the festival begins to wind down we go a little leftfield with our choices and check out two very distinctive women from vastly different backgrounds. Katy Carr comes from Scottish and Polish decent and her latest album ‘Paszport’ is a bilingual masterpiece. Dressed like a 1940’s air hostess, she shimmies through some fantastic old time tracks backed by keys, brass and occasional banjo and ukulele. Only the roar of a passing Spitfire is missing to complete the 1940’s experience. We’ve a lot of Polish and Irish making up the crowd and it’s an utter joy to witness The Sunflower Bar packed to the rafters singing out the old Tin Pan Alley hit ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’.
And it comes to an end with Bronagh Gallagher. Born and bred in the 2013 City of Culture, most famous for roles in The Commitments amongst other things, she’s been adopted by the people of Belfast and every show feels like a triumphant homecoming. She’s all sass and witty charm between songs which vary from old style blues to more country tinged ballads. The crowd are lapping up every word and although hardly a drop of Sunday afternoon liquor has been downed we’re even cajoled into a little singalong.
She’s quite the talent. This is quite the festival.