Friday lunchtime saw the Black Box packed out for the launch of the tenth Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. Outside on the street, fire breathers warmed up the already warm air, while inside more than a hundred supped their stew and listened as festival director Sean Kelly introduced the programme and teased the assembled audience with a taste of some of the acts this year’s festival would be putting on between 30 April and 10 May.
Lord Mayor Tom Hartley looked more comfortable than the dancing girls with feather boas who escorted him across to the podium where he delivered his welcome to the festival’s launch.
Showing off “the biggest bit of bling in Belfast” around his neck, Hartley got enough laughs in his short speech to give him a chance of a place on next year’s programme when his year of office is over. Highlighting the 80+ festivals that now run annually in Belfast, he touched on the value of the arts:
“The role of the artist is to increase the way in which we engage with our world. ... to be disturbed ... challenged, entertained ... Arts make us bigger people, who know a bit more, and love a bit more.”
The programme is available online as well as at venues, cafes and libraries across Belfast. Having warmed us up with the smaller Out to Lunch festival in January, the CQAF programme is packed with over a hundred events spread over a mere eleven days.
It would be impossible to attend all the events that jump out of the programme - though the organisers would like us all to try - so here are a few personal highlights ...
Get Lost! - Belfast City Hall - While some may call it “the UK’s largest street theatre installation” if you turn up in front of the City Hall you’ll find a hedged maze inhabited by “a range of bizarre characters who guarantee a surreal encounter around every corner”, and those are only the local politicians trying to find their way into the still not reopened Council Chamber. Part of the Festival of Fools.
John Baucher: Behind the Lens at CQAF - The John Hewitt - 30 April to 10 May - Moochin Photoman has been archiving the festival for nine years. His exhibition in The John Hewitt is surely worth a visit to catch a flavour of what John sees through his viewfinder.
Zoë Conway - Sunday 3 May at 3pm - When Zoë performed at the Out to Lunch festival in January, as well as accompaniment by her husband John McIntyre, she was supported by a large bump and a baby who could probably already tap their foot in time to Mummy’s incredible fiddle playing. Should make for a wonderful lazy Sunday afternoon. (Reviewed.)
Chronicles of Long Kesh by Martin Lynch - Monday 4 - Saturday 9 at 8pm - back after a sell out run in the Waterfront in January, and recommended by many who went to see it.
Talk Radio - Tuesday 5 to Thursday 7 May at 8pm - At the launch, Joe Lindsay previewed his performance as Barry Champlain, host of “Night Talk” radio show which is about to go nationwide at roughly the same time as he goes off the rails. From the snippet we heard, it’ll be a compelling one man show.
The David Ervine Memorial Talk - Tuesday 5 May at 7pm - Eilidh Patterson, Gerry Creen and Anthony Toner will provide the music before an as-yet-unannounced speaker takes to the stage. In partnership with the David Ervine Foundation.
BBC Blast on Tour - Wednesday 6 to Friday 8 May - The BBC Blast tour will be in Writer’s Square (in front of St Anne’s Cathedral and the Police Ombudsman’s offices. Offering teenagers workshops on all manner of creative media topics.
Mark Thomas - It’s The Stupid Economy - Wednesday 6 May at 8pm - Sharp, incisive critique of the financial mess, dressed in a comedy wrapper.
Mark Thomas reading from Belching Out the Devil - Thursday 7 May at 8pm - If live stand-up the night before isn’t enough, hear comic Mark Thomas read from his latest book as he “investigates the truth behind one of the planet‘s biggest brands”.
Rem Koolhaas - A Kind of Architect - Thursday 7 May at 5.30pm - As a fan of films about architects and architecture, this free screening should be an enlightening peek into the Dutch architect’s vision for buildings and community. (Reviewed.)
Art in the Wars - Thursday 7 May at 7.30pm - Belfast was woefully unprepared for the air raids that caused great damage and loss of life during World War 2. This event in the NI War Memorial Building will tell the stories behind the collected murals and paintings, as well as sampling some of the classic poetry about the two world wars. Having sat with the organiser at the festival launch, I’m fascinated by the stories that could fill my gap in local history.
Dave Gorman reading from America Unchained - Saturday 9 May at 2pm - Join Radio 4 and BBC Two favourite Dave Gorman as he explains what happened when he tried to drive across America from coast to coast only spending money with independent traders.
And lots, lots more at cqaf.com. Get your tickets quickly ... it'll be a blast.