Friday, July 24, 2015

Féile an Phobail 2015 (30 July to 9 August) - theatre, talk, photography & currachs

West Belfast’s Féile an Phobail seems to be thriving in this age of austerity. The printed programme is physically larger than previous years, and there are hundreds of events – many free to attend – between Thursday 30 July and Sunday 9 August.

The money-spinning big top in Falls Park has grown again (capacity now up to 5,000) and acts such as The Human League, UB40, Hugo Duncan, The Wolfe Tones and (controversially) Frankie Boyle should subsidise much of the rest of the festival. Here are some picks from the programme.


Brenda Murphy’s one-woman show Two Sore Legs plays for two nights in Culturlann starring Maria Connolly. Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 August at 8pm. Tickets £10/£8.

The Holy, Holy Bus which has only recently departed the Lyric Theatre stops off at Roddy Mc Corley Social Club on Monday 3 – Friday 7 August at 7.30pm. Tickets £10.

Theatre critic Jane Coyle is increasingly turning her hand to writing plays, and a rehearsed reading of her new work The Lantern Man is being performed in Culturlann on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 August at 1pm. It’s Christmas 1915 and Johnny McGrath returns from action on the Western Front to Dublin, a city he barely recognises. Having inherited hundreds of glass lantern slides, he puts them on show to tell the public the real story of the war. Tickets £8 including a light lunch. (Free performance in the Lyric on Saturday 8 at 6pm.)

Pintsized Productions are offering audiences a surprise show that they’ll know nothing about before it begins. The mystery even extends to the location with punters asked to gather at the doorsteps of Conway Mill at 7.30pm on Monday 10 or Thursday 11 August. Tickets £10.


Malachi O’Doherty’s Back to Landscape exhibition of Donegal photographs opens in Ballaí Bána Gallery in Culturlann on Thursday 30 July at 7pm. Malachi’s giving a talk on What Is Photography For? the following day on Saturday 1 August at 2pm.


Vets – Hardtalk sees veteran republicans Bobby Storey and Danny Morrison in conversation about growing up in west of the city and the early days of the Troubles. Danny will also read from his book West Belfast. Andersontown Social Club on Thursday 30 July at 6.30pm. Free.

On the 12th I Proudly Wear – republican Sean (Spike) Murray will debate parading with Orangeman Mervyn Gibson. Why parade? Who parades? Why is it so hard to find tolerance and respect? St Mary’s University College on Friday 31 July at 7pm. [Not the first time they’ve shared a platform on this issue.]

Mairia Cahill will deliver the Gerry Conlon Summer Memorial Lecture in St Mary’s University College on Saturday 1 August at 5pm. Chaired by SDLP MLA Alex Attwood.

A collection of An Phoblacht articles were released under the title of Uncomfortable Conversations during the recent election campaign. Facilitated by Corrymeela’s Susan McEwen, Uncomfortable Conversations – Steps to Healing and Reconciliation will bring together deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, North Belfast minister and deputy chief Equality Commissioner Lesley Carroll, CRC chair Peter Osborne, and researcher Sophie Long. St Mary’s University College on Monday 3 August at 5pm.

Marriage Equality – Getting from Here to Yes: Amnesty International brings together a panel who are campaigning for marriage equality in the north. St Mary’s University College on Monday 3 August at 7pm.

Yiannis Bournous from the political secretariat of SYRIZA will deliver a talk on A Fight for Democracy, Peace and Social Justice that addresses the wider Greek political situation and the challenges faced by the left wing party. St Mary’s University College on Tuesday 4 August at 5pm.

Conflict or Peace: What difference does it make for women? Monica McWilliams delivers the PJ Mc Grory Memorial Lecture, highlighting women’s experience in conflict and post-conflict on this island and further afield. St Mary’s University College on Tuesday 4 August at 7pm.

Five speakers will explain what the 1916 Proclamation means to them in St Mary’s University College on Wednesday 5 August at 2pm. Actor Tony Devlin will read the Proclamation followed by the thoughts of Phil Scraton, Jacqui Upton, Pádraig Ó Tuama, Marie Quierry and Des Donnelly.

Later that afternoon in The Proclamation for Prods: What the 1916 Centenary Might Say to Non-Republicans, teacher, songwriter and Presbyterian elder Dave Thompson looks at how someone from a protestant unionist background can share in the 1916 centenary. Duncairn Cultural Arts Centre on Wednesday 5 August at 4pm.

Youth Talks Back returns to Whiterock Leisure Centre. William Crawley will chair a discussion about the issues raised from the floor with PSNI community police officer Paul McGovern, journalist Lyra McKee, Sinn Féin councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile and an as yet unnamed PUL representative. Wednesday 5 August at 2pm.

West Belfast Talks Back is the annual political debate in St Louise’s Comprehensive College. This year, Noel Thompson will chair the panel which will include left-wing Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn along with Sinn Féin South Dublin councillor Eoin Ó Broin, PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnston and DUP MP Gavin Robinson. Wednesday 5 August at 7pm.

Will the Questions of the Past Ever be Answered? Brian Rowan chairs a discussion with deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (who’s calling for uncomfortable conversations) and the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton (who’d like people to step outside their comfort zones). St Mary’s University College on Thursday 6 August at 7.30pm.

Britain’s Involvement in Torture in Prisons Part and Present brings together two of the ‘hooded men’ Joe Clarke and Jim Auld with Gerry Brannigan and ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg. Conway Mill on Saturday 8 August at 7pm. Cancelled by organisers Cogús to maximise attendance at Anti-Racism World Cup

And finally ...

If all that talk is too much you could head along to the Belfast Waterworks to watch traditional Irish boating and currach racing! Basic training from 11am-2pm and racing from 2pm-3pm on Saturday 1 August.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cooking up the beginnings of a mouth-watering Belfast International Arts Festival programme (9 Oct-1 Nov) #belfest

“You can’t keep a good thing down” as my Mum would say.

Putting the withdrawal of Queen’s University’s funding and support behind them, the Belfast Festival has gone through the administrative pain of forming a new company and shaken off its south Belfast shackles. The redesigned 2015 festival will bring internationally acclaimed arts and ideas to people and locations right across the city as well as appeal to those beyond Belfast and beyond these shores.

The ever-enthusiastic Festival Director Richard Wakely promises “a world class programme of theatre, performance art, moving image, visual art, dance and music from folk, to contemporary and classical with opportunities for audiences to directly engage and participate in the creative arts”.
The newly redesigned Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival will appeal to the much more diverse and multi-cultural community which makes up modern day Northern Ireland, whilst promoting all that is good about our country to the wider world.

The Ulster Bank remains the title sponsor, and the festival has kept the support of the Arts Council, Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland, the British Council and DSD.

While the full launch won’t be until early September, the organisers are teasing audiences with the a handful of the acts that will perform from 9 October to 1 November.

The Kitchen is a mouth-watering show about the healing power of cooking from South India that’s coming to the Grand Opera House. Tickets £12-£24.
On stage a couple enact a drama without words, stirring huge steamy vats of payasam, a traditional Indian dessert. Behind them, under coppery light, 12 drummers beat out a surging rhythm on their sacred mizhavu drums while the fragrance of aromatic rice wafts through the theatre. This mesmerising mix delights all the senses – especially taste – as the payasam is passed around for sharing afterwards.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite then try the absurd humour of Swiss acrobat and clown Martin Zimmermann who is bringing the UK and Ireland première of his show Hallo to The MAC. Tickets £14/£12.
Somewhere between Beckett and Buster Keaton, Hallo pits shape-shifting human against treacherous animate architecture, teetering on the threshold between collapse and order. Changing between trench coat, helmet, bowler and shroud, (while periodically stopping to vacuum), Zimmermann breaks walls and breaches skylights as his surroundings ceaselessly remodel themselves in sculptural echoes of his own creative mind.

More details on the emerging Belfast International Arts Festival programme on their website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Eden - a film in which the garage music speaks louder & longer than the characters (QFT 24-30 July)

Eden is a French tribute to the Paris garage music scene. Spread over a narrative arc of nearly 20 years, Mia Hansen-Løve’s film follows wannabe DJ Paul Vallée (played by Félix de Givry) as he trips his way through underground club nights with his French Touch.

Paul and the less-committed cartoonist Cyril (Roman Kolinka) form Cheers, “the garage duo that everyone’s talking about”, while friends Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (Arnaud Azoulay) and Thomas Bangalter (Vincent Lacoste) establish Daft Punk.

Every fifteen minutes or so Eden jumps forward another two or three years. Duos don’t last forever, and not everyone in the tight-knit posse survives the pace. The music allows Paul to climb the steps up to DJ booths in New York before descending back to Paris as he snorts his way in and out of love with Louise (Pauline Etienne) and eventually lands back in his mother’s apartment with debts, drugs and the knowledge that his dream is dying, if not dead.

The minimal script and unhurried plot let the music speak louder and longer than any of the characters. At least half of Eden’s scenes are based in clubs, and for a film whose soundtrack turned into a rights licensing nightmare that delayed production for years, the sound level in the cinema is pleasant and not at all overpowering. While surround sound is used effectively during an airport scene, the music is kept front and centre, and your heart beat won’t rise along with the beats per minute on-screen.

For some, the sounds and story of Eden will bring back strong memories. I should confess that I’m firmly in the category where ‘garage’ is the home of step ladders and old paint pots, so the significance of the French music scene was lost on me. In fact, the film brought back awful memories of spending a night, some 20 years ago, leaning against the wall in the Hollywood nightclub in Ipswich.

Over two hours, the clipboards holding club guest lists turn into iPads, record decks become more modern and are eventually joined by Mac laptops and female DJs, Francs are replaced with Euros, and the crowds queuing up to hear Cheers dwindle while austerity ratchets up the banks’ discomfort with debt and the cost of a cocaine-fuelled lifestyle. There’s a very human story behind the electronic music.

Eden rolls from exhilaration to depression as Paul faces up to tough choices about his passions and creativity. If you know your techno from your electro and your modern disco, then head down to the Queens Film Theatre to catch a screening of Eden between Friday 24 and Thursday 30 July.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Aperture festival at Corrymeela (31 July-2 August) - music, debate, talk, film, food & fire

The Corrymeela Community is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and is throwing its Ballycastle centre’s doors open for a mid-summer festival – Aperture.

From Friday 31 July through to Sunday 2 August, the family-friendly festival of alternatives will combine poets, musicians, politicians, circus acts, theologians, debates, games, food and fire in order to explore how far we’ve come on the Northern Ireland’s peace and reconciliation journey and to celebrate common ground and difference.

Friday 31 July

The first panel of the weekend will respond to the question Are we all done with the Good Friday Agreement? Alan McBride, Steven Agnew and Alan Meban.

Later at 7pm another panel with Dr Helen Beckett, Peter Doran, Matthew Baxendale and Kevin Hanratty will ask Who needs a Human Rights Act Anyway?

Amongst that there will be talks from Presbyterian minister Rev Mark Gray and a Zen Buddhist Daigan Gather, three films and music from Rory Nellis, Master & Dog, R51, No Oil Paintings and Jun Tzu.

Saturday 1 August

Writers Glenn Patterson and Sarah Perry speak during the early afternoon, and playwright Paul McVeigh takes to the stage at 7pm. Paul’s first novel The Good Son gives a glimpse of life in the turbulent Ardoyne during the early 1980s, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. The Forgiveness Project’s Marian Partington will tell her own story of brutality, traumatic loss and the restoration of the human spirit in the aftermath of her sister disappearing from a Gloucester bus stop and dying at the hands of serial killers Fred and Rosemary West.

An early morning discussion panel with Kevin Traynor, Nick Garbutt and Stephen McCaffery will look at Bad News – Are the media reflecting society or picking at our scars? At noon, Corrmeela community leader Pádraig Ó Tuama will be joined by Adam Turkington and Tracey Marshall-Elliot to discuss Why the Arts Matters?

Other afternoon panels will look at Finding Community in the Strangest Places and Stories from the Edge – Are some people not cut out for community?

Dave Magee will share his Perspectives on Loyalism in 2015. He’s currently a programme officer with the International Committee of the Red Cross, and has worked with socially disadvantaged and excluded groups including ex-prisoner groups and migrant workers and has a particular interest in non-violence, peacemaking, community relations and personal development.

If that’s not enough, there’s Dr Seuss-themed yoga, a creative writing workshop and instruction on and bodhran. And throughout the day there’ll be music from Ballymoney Rock School, Upstairs in the Attic, Sing for Life choir, Steve Macartney (Farriers), Voices Together, Goldie Fawn (aka Katie Richardson), Katharine Philippa, Luke Conannon and the Sands Family.

Sunday 2 August

While there’s time for a lie in on Sunday morning, the pace doesn’t slow down.

Speakers include writer and management consultant Tony McCauley, transformative story activist Mary Alice Arthur, and founding member of the Cloughjordan eco-village Davie Philip.

Writer solicitor, law lecturer and NI’s first Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan will address conference delegates at 3pm.

Afternoon panels will explore Faith and Aid in Action, look Beyond Cross Community, and a discussion about Playing at the Edges – Insights from the LGBT Community about contemporary Northern Ireland.

In-between there’s time for workshops on puppet-making, song-writing, dance, sketching, Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children and Film, and music from Jimmy Davis, William Dundon, Salt Flats, Hannah McPhillimy, Kiruu, Edelle McMahon and the Bad Hearts, Mo and the Tiger, and Duke Special.

Tickets for Aperture Festival are keenly priced at £25 per person, and £50 for a family. Under-5s go free and single day tickets are also available. The ticket price does not include camping or accommodation but there’s plenty available in the local area. There will be a shuttle bus running between Ballycastle town centre, the campsite at Watertop Farm and Corrymeela’s six acre site on Drumaroan Road.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Tall Ships Races 2015 - Parade of Sail

Tens of thousands of people took a chance on the weather - a good bet in the end - and flooded Titanic Quarter and the Belfast Harbour this morning to see the Red Arrows fly past and the Tall Ships depart to the north coast start line of their race.

Crowds lined the shoreline as the event seemed certain to hit its target of half a million visitors to Tall Ships events in and around the LIDL Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival.

Soon the ships were motoring out into the lough to get into position for the Sail Training International race start off Portrush at 10am on Monday and heading to Ålesund.

Ships like the Guayas started to unfurl and set their sails - wouldn't fancy being the sailor at the top of each mast!

Other vessels kept an eye on the ships ...

Heading back into Belfast Harbour just before 5pm, the crowds had gone, the blue t-shirted volunteers and liaison officers volunteers all but two tall ships had departed, stalls were being disassembled, the Belfast Telegraph souvenir programme sellers had given up flogging the good-but-overpriced brochure [£6 on Thursday, dropped to £5 on Friday and £3 after the Red Arrows had flown over this morning] and Belfast was returning to normal.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Tall Ships Belfast (2-5 July)

I’ve a single memory of the Tall Ships being in Belfast the first time. I thought I was younger, but I’ll have to believe everyone who says it was 1991. I remember walking along a quay, in the middle of waste ground in a Belfast harbour I’d never seen before, and there were boats with tall masts tied up. I’ve absolutely no memory of getting on board any of the ships.

That’s what I wrote in a blog post in 2009 when the Tall Ships returned to Belfast. The land around Belfast harbour was mid-way through its transformation for the second visit of the vessels whose masts reach up to the clouds. Chip vans had been replaced with a Continental market. It was my turn to drag my daughter around the Tenacious.

They're back! Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival – otherwise known as “the Tall Ships” – runs from noon on Thursday 2 July until 4pm on Sunday 5 July. The best tip from 2009:

The people that I’ve met with the most vivid experiences of the Tall Ships seemed to be the ones who wandered or cycled down to the Odyssey late on Wednesday or Thursday night. No crowds blocked their view of the assembled fleet.

This year 50 vessels of different sizes and classes are expected to berth in the various docks. The Guayas is already over in Pollock Dock beside the BBC Experience and will host The One Show on Friday evening. (You can also catch Hugo Duncan broadcasting his afternoon radio show from the Odyssey car park on Thursday and Friday.)

There are markets and fairgrounds on both sides of the river. Hot air balloon displays, kite workshops, Victorian games and … tall ships too. And the Dock Cafe is sure to be open. The Brazilian Cisne Branco is moored right beside the Odyssey and boasts the largest flag in Northern Ireland!

There’ll be fireworks at 10.20pm on Saturday evening. But perhaps the most spectacular part of the whole event will be the Tall Ships Parade on Sunday, when the whole fleet set sail from Belfast at 11am (preceded by a flypast by the Red Arrows who’ll go on to do a full display over Carrickfergus) and head around the coast as they head up to the Causeway Coast and the start line of the race for Monday morning.

Two Park and Ride sites are operating, one in Boucher Road playing fields, the other Airport Road West (Ikea exit).

A free shuttle bus can take you from Wellington Place (near Belfast Visitors Centre) down to Pollock Dock. Lots more details on the Tall Ships Belfast website.

Out on the water on Wednesday afternoon, the sheer scale of the event was obvious as we manoeuvred in and out of docks and followed a couple of smaller vessels up the lough and into their berths.

The four masted 100m long barque Statsraad Lehmkuhl [that must be close to the length of the City Hall?] will dwarf everything else when it arrives since the Royal Princess cruise ship will have long gone!