Cork Sound Fair: “Challenges of a Different Kind”

Following a successful debut last year, Cork’s non-profit electronic music festival returns with a vastly expanded lineup at venues across the city, and new working relationships across its music community. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with curator and facilitator Conor Ruane about Cork Sound Fair 2019.

Last year saw the debut of a few different festivals and one-day events around an ever-shifting calendar for Cork music, with an increased focus on targeting specific genres and audiences. While metal one-dayers like Monolith, and broad alternative weekender It Takes a Village were among the group of maiden voyages, it was Cork Sound Fair that garnered attention and specialist headlines around the country for its ambitious mission and status as a non-profit. Citing the likes of Dimensions Festival as an influence in terms of presentation and programming, the festival itself was crowd-funded, with all ticket money, donations and merch sales going back into the festival or into artists’ pockets. Combining live performances with intricate sound-system installations and a fair amount of free workshops between its two outposts at Cork City Gaol and St. Peter’s, the festival was a critical success, and its immediate future was set in stone.

This year sees Sound Fair expand into new venues around the city for its sophomore installment. While the Gaol and St. Peter’s are part of proceedings, new spaces like the Crypt at St. Luke’s, and Washington Street venue The Kino form an important part of the proceeding, each considered specifically for their suitability for a certain artist, according to festival director Conor Ruane. “Each venue was chosen with the performing artist in mind. Friday’s show will have a visual aspect to the performances, and the Kino being a former cinema was the obvious choice to host audiovisual acts like Underling. Saturday sees us move into the familiar surrounds of St. Peter’s Church, which will host the UCC Javanese Gamelan Ensemble, a large room with ample floor space was required to host such a performance. CSF and UCC have teamed up to bring UCC’s Sound Sound Day to the Nano Nagle Place, where a series of talks will be held in the conference hall, whilst the live performances will switch to the 150-year-old, and stunning, Goldie Chapel.”

While the festival has been able to sell tickets directly this year, weaning itself off of crowdfunding and other first-year revenue raisers, the learning curve continues, as the expansion of venues and the facilitation of new artists is a never-ending task for any festival that keeps looking forward. The community basis of Cork Sound Fair, however, has acted as a powerful hook for early adapters. “The second year brings challenges of a different kind, new venues pose new production issues, and bringing people back a second year is always difficult, but the response has been great. Many of those who made last year’s fair possible are back again, and we are really appreciative of this.”

This process of setting down roots in the city’s DIY community, and staying true to those ethics, has been a difficult one after a certain point in time for many successful events in Cork, and around the country, as demand drives supply, and the thrill of supporting a small festival dissipates after a certain point in expansion, at which point more casual music consumers become the focus of attention. On its second year, Sound Fair’s trajectory seems to be pointing upwards, but it’s the community aspect that is at the weekender’s heart. “We operate on a non-profit basis. We feel this is intrinsic in ensuring attendees feel they are contributing to the artistic fibre of the community. We all love to experience genuine things in life, however many experiences these days, while very well put together, leave us feeling a little empty. Cork Sound Fair hopes to provide a multiple-beneficial experience, one where artists are given the support and exposure they rightly deserve, and those who enjoy the experience feel that they have help to establish something that is lasting.”

The line-up is hugely diverse, and in addition to the artists mentioned above, headlining acts include Limerick skratch alchemist Naive Ted and crossover metal duo Bliss Signal. The undercard is also, for the most part, drawn from local and Irish talent. Ruane divulges the booking philosophy behind Sound Fair, and the process of confirming a line up. “Last year, we received a number of really great submissions following our programme announcement. For this year, we wanted to give people ample opportunity to apply to play, and that is why we launched our Open Call in October of 2018. The quality of submissions made for tough decisions, a lot of which have gone into the CSF 2019 programme. Open-call artists, along with non-open call artists, were chosen on their proximity to CSF merits and values, which is original live sound and art, with experimental and electronic undertones.”

The festival also hosts numerous workshops and ancillary events again this year, including UCC’s Sound Sound Day, a showcase for the university’s Experimental Sound Practice MA, furthering a rich tradition of improvisation and experimentation with the lines between sound, music and performance art that reaches all the way back to the outset of the Corkonian avant-garde. “UCC Sound Sound Day, and their director Dr. John Godfrey have been doing something similar to what CSF has tried to establish, and as a result, a pooling of resources was a logical move. John has put together a programme of artists and experts, working in experimental sound, and I for one am very interested to see the multimedia ensemble that is CAVE, in the Goldie Chapel on the Saturday of the Fair.”

As the clock ticks down on the event’s big weekend, and anticipation builds in Leeside music circles, Ruane collects his thoughts heading into it, what’s left to get done, and the festival’s future. “I’m really happy for this year’s programme. I’m not going to lie, it’s great fun to put some of your favourite artists on the one bill. But I am also apprehensive, as we still have a large body of work to get through, so I’m not wishing the days away just yet. There are interesting projects in the pipeline, though, like potential input into Cork’s hosting of the annual ISSTA (Irish Sound, Science and Technology Association) conference, which will be launching their own open call soon.”

Cork Sound Fair runs at venues around Cork City between Thursday March 28th and Sunday March 31st. Tickets for all events are on sale now at eventgen.ie/cork-sound-fair

Cork French Film Festival: “A Collective Achievement”

At a time where the link between culture and international relations is more important than ever, the Cork French Film Festival celebrates its thirtieth anniversary with the theme of togetherness in a time of division. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with director Jean-Christophe Trentinella.

Since 1989, Cork’s French Film Festival has proved to be an important cultural bridge between Ireland and France, bringing the best of the latter’s storied cinematic history to Leeside audiences every spring, with the help of the local Francophone community, the city’s most dedicated cinema enthusiasts (see panel below), and the infrastructural oversight of Alliance Française de Cork.

On its thirtieth anniversary, the festival’s chosen theme, ‘Ensemble’ (‘together’) is more than apt, coming along at a time of international upheaval as Brexit drastically changes the contours of European relations, and as calls are renewed for stronger ties between the countries. The importance of these two points to this year’s festival were outlined by the presence at this year’s launch of Tánaiste Simon Coveney, acting as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Speaking at the launch event last year, Coveney emphasised the importance of the international collaboration that underpins the festival annually. “France and Ireland have vibrant and historic ties. Culture is an important part of maintaining and strengthening our links, so it is particularly appropriate that the theme of this year’s festival (explores) how we are all interconnected.”

On the importance of these seismic events to the programming and curation of this year’s event, recently-installed director Jean-Christophe Trentinella discusses the uncertainty Brexit has created, and how it has inspired the festival’s theme. “The imminent Brexit is difficult to ignore, as it’s going to impact everyone in ways that are difficult to foresee because of the multiplicity of ties, cultural, economic, social, etc. that connect nations to one another. So the notion of uncertainty was the starting point of the thought process. However, it became increasingly clear that the focus should be on interdependence, the undeniable fact that, for the better or worse, we are in this together.”

Working with guest curator Marie-Pierre Richard, the process of bringing together this year’s selection of films is the first step in reinforcing these cultural ties, as the festival works closely with filmmakers, distributors to bring these pieces of work to Leeside audiences. “Marie-Pierre and I have been working constantly over the phone and through emails, and it is through our conversations that the theme emerged progressively. Marie-Pierre’s sensitivity helped her select and source films that would speak to different audiences, and would speak to this year’s theme. In a way, the work process itself is an extension of the necessity of working together in uncertain times. In regards to dealing with filmmakers, guests and distributors, Marie-Pierre operated her magic behind the scenes.”

The festival’s spirit of collaboration extends to its opening night, where the gala opening happens at St. Peter’s on North Main Street, with turntablist and DJ Jean du Voyage playing a set, and invited guests from the French film community attending. The importance of these partnerships not only to overall cultural life in Cork, but specifically the Francophone community in Cork city and county, can’t be underestimated. “Partnerships are essential for the life of a festival, that’s why we are so grateful to be supported by wonderful partners and sponsors. Beyond that, fostering partnerships and relationships is at the core of the Alliance Française’s DNA. We are always looking at ways to make our countries and people closer. And bringing the best of French culture to Cork and Munster is an essential part of it, the other main aspect is teaching French. An event like the opening night gala of the festival really embodies what we are all about, because it is thanks to partnerships with the City of La Rochelle, and La Fondation Alliance Française, the support of local food producers, sponsors, the French Embassy and St. Peter’s that we can bring Jean to Cork. And we hope that it will bring both the Irish and French communities together.”

Aside from hitting themes of togetherness on social and political levels, the Festival will also be working with the Cork Environmental Forum and local food producers to produce crossover food events. With food being a large growth sector in Cork county in recent years, and a central component of trade between Ireland and France, the importance of these extracurricular activities to the festival extends beyond secondary programming. “We wanted to make this festival relevant to people by offering a program that reflects the current complexity of life, and also by involving different groups and community groups. The environment is certainly one of the most pressing matters as we may simply end up facing extinction by destroying our habitat. These moments of gathering are essential to connect, bond, communicate and create forces that will drive change. And of course, food plays a big part in the French art of gathering in the dynamic of a festival.”

The festival itself enjoys support from numerous international partners, and as has been stated, is seen as an important link between Irish and French cultures. The diplomatic importance of events like the French Film Festival is seen in the attendance of dignitaries like An Tánaiste and the French Ambassador to Ireland at launch events, and is a valuable opportunity for cross-promotion in the fields of tourism. “There is, of course, a diplomatic dimension to cultural networks such as the Alliance Française, the British Council, Goethe Institute, Confucius Institute etc. in the sense that their purpose is to foster understanding and positive relationships between countries, and good relationships facilitate tourism and business. An event like CFFF offers, incidentally, a window to promote France, its beautiful countryside and invite viewers to come and visit. This is, therefore, no coincidence that some of our partners and sponsors include Cork Airport, or Brittany Ferries.”

As the time draws closer for the festival’s launch, Trentinella’s work is well cut out for him, but with a rich and varied programme of cinema ahead (see panel), getting out to see everything might not be such a clear-cut task. “A festival is a collective achievement, and I am extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of our team, our volunteers, and for the support of our Board, our partners and sponsors. I hope that the choice of films will inspire viewers to come and see them, and that they will leave the theatre with a heightened feeling of connection with the rest of humanity. I personally would like to see as many films as possible, but I know that I will probably only manage to see one or two, as our team and I will work behind the scenes to ensure that the festival runs smoothly.”

Three decades in, the Cork French Film Festival continues against not only a backdrop of international change, but a shifting urban landscape, as the city reacts to expansion and the turnover in venues and spaces available to festivals and cultural facilitators. “Most of the problems we are facing collectively come from a false sense of disconnection. This is symptomatic of the dominant economic model, which relentlessly seeks growth whereas our resources are limited, and our world finite. That’s why we are not seeking growth, but growth within reason, and simply to continue to be a player in Cork’s cultural landscape, and continue to bring the best of French cinema to Cork. As Cork continues to evolve, we will evolve with it. We have been doing it for thirty years already!”

Cork French Film Festival runs from March 3rd to 10th at the Gate Cinema, North Main Street and other venues around the city. For more, check out corkfrenchfilmfestival.com.

Outsiders Festival: “We Want It to Be Much Bigger Than Local”

March 2nd at Cyprus Avenue sees the Outsiders Ent. collective of rappers, musicians and visual artists take their vision to the next level, after years of work and learning, when the all-night Outsiders Festival puts a spotlight on themselves and their collaborators. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Outsiders Y.P., Kestine and Sai Wing Ho about the process.

A great amount of column-inches and bandwidth have been spent in recent years singing the praises of the rapid development of Irish hip-hop and its related culture, with a vast amount of videos, music and documentary content of various kinds providing the genre with a massive bottom line on which to continue its growth. As the broad fragmenting of listenership continues within the music industry, and younger musical palates are nourished by access to an unprecedented array of artists and styles via streaming services, Irish hip-hop’s rise is tied not only to demographic phenomena, but social change in Ireland. A new generation of multicultural artists whose lives, experiences and creativity centre around Ireland and its society, have vested the genre with their hard work, vision and ambition.

Central to this development among a new generation of Corkonians have Outsiders Ent., a group of creators brought together by common artistic goals, in the manner that’s been happening all over Cork music in the post-recession environment. Threading together music, visual art, photography, conceptual art installations, fashion and publication over the past number of years, the Outsiders’ gutsy take on keeping all of these things up in the air is, as is usually the case nowadays, a matter of necessity, according to co-founder Y.P. “When I was still in Uni, (co-member) Olympìo and I thought of creating a collective. Like, a place to include any person that we vibed with. But it wasn’t until, like, late 2016, that we really started doing anything. We were both kind of busy with life, and still trying to figure ourselves out. To be honest, we still are. But now we are more focused than ever before. We’ve decided to fully commit and put one hundred percent into the year, and hopefully, we get something in return, and help boost the hip-hop and music scene in general.”

When it came time to put names and a mission statement to the group, the process of arriving on common goals, an aesthetic, design, and other aspects of the operation among everyone involved was a natural one, as interests converged and people came into their element as creators. Getting all that together was a matter of coming up with a common workflow to the various things that come with creating and releasing music, which didn’t exactly unfold across a number of meetings, according to Y.P. “I’m in charge of editing, mixing, and mastering. Sai (Wing Ho, visual artist) usually deals with the visual aspects, whether it’s album covers, the logo, overall image, and more recently music videos. The rest of the guys focused on the music really. I suppose now everyone is getting a bit more involved with different aspects of the brand. It’s great to see that. I’m more confident that we can go really far because everyone has their head down and is really pushing themselves. I suppose the mission statement came about when we all agreed on what we felt the main goal for Outsiders Ent was, and is. We want Outsiders to be much bigger than local. I guess that would be our goal this year.”

The various members of the Outsiders have been steadily releasing singles and EPs online over the course of the past few years, almost entirely off their own steam in the absence of any established infrastructure outside of the community. The learning curve involved has led to the lads looking at their own goals as individuals, and as DIY musicians, as opposed to industry-centric heads. “We’re not really like that to be honest”, says Y.P. “Like, we really just want to leave a big impact in the world, more than anything else. We don’t function like a business yet. Although we are working on that this year. I think maybe it’s necessary to think of ourselves as more of a business to maximise our chances of success. We are trying to get more organised, and more precise, and just better at doing things for each other.”

Fellow Outsider Kestine is circumspect about his time in the group so far, the mutual support it offers, and having watched its accomplishments to date unfold. “It’s been quite an experience. Especially seeing Y.P. push through and do his thing. For me, I think, it was the last year where I’ve been really able to put focus on the music. ‘Cause I recently graduated from university, and after my graduation period, it was time to put my focus onto music. But definitely seeing him put in the work, has been inspiring… I don’t want to gas him too much, but he… he is a quote-unquote genius, in his own right.”

Visual artist and video editor Sai Wing Ho’s cinematic visual work for various singles’ promotional videos, like Y.P. and Pharaii’s ‘The Bag’, has done wonders for the group in terms of garnering wider attention online. Now, more so than ever, the idea of garnering traction as an independent artist means going where your people are, and for Sai Wing, capturing sets of eyeballs on social media is part of the process, but design and print are of equal importance to the mission. “To be honest, I only started making videos because we believe that is what people like to see. Releasing music alone is not enough to draw people’s attention nowadays, people like to see more, especially with the internet and social media. Artists have to be able to showcase their persona through different outlets, let it be music videos, social media or whatever… If you look at artists like A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator, I love their visual aesthetic and music videos and that’s how I actually become a fan of their music. What I’m saying is that artists nowadays have many ways to become successful, they just need to get creative with it. This year, Outsiders will definitely release a lot more music videos and content, to garner as much attention as we can and hopefully we will see the result by the end of this year. We’ve actually also already worked on and finished our ‘Solitude’ magazine. We hope to release it later this year. It’s like really a representation of what connects us all together, and we hope that everyone that reads it can relate and understand us a little bit more.”

The road to the group’s endgoals goes through The Outsiders Festival at Cyprus Avenue, an all-night gathering of like minds that happens on Saturday March 2nd from 9pm, co-produced by Dublin-based outfit WordUp Collective, of whom Y.P. is a working affiliate. Alongside collaborative and solo performances from the Outsiders themselves, firm festival faves like Tebi Rex and JYellowL are joined by emergent voices like Belfast’s Jordan Adetunji, and hosting proceedings is this parish’s own Stevie G. For Y.P., the gravity of this event is heightened by circumstance, as he, like others, is weighing up his options in Ireland. But in the now, it’s about getting the event over the line. “In terms of organising, it hasn’t been easy. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to organise events like this. But we are lucky. Just because of the venue and the Word Up family, even though we actually recently had to cancel the daytime part of the event because we were worried about the overall costs. But Ger, who is the owner of Cyprus Avenue, and Eoin who runs the show there, have been super in helping us make this happen. Ger has been one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. So they’ve made it as easy as it could possibly be for us. I suppose the hard part was really getting all the artists, figuring out fees, and trying to promote the event. These are the parts that can be very hard. The Word Up collective was pivotal for that. They helped us get in touch with the artists, and contacted some of their connections to get the word out about the show as well. We’ve had help along the way. You’d be surprised by how helpful people are sometimes.”

The event’s stated goal is to represent a celebration of Irish hip-hop and urban culture in its current form, and what it’s come to, as well as where it’s come from in the form of host Stevie G’s involvement (see panel). It’s a combination of time, place and talent that deserves to be celebrated at this point, as the genre’s mainstream presence in Ireland continues to grow. “It’s looking like it’s gonna go pretty far,” opines Y.P. “The talent, at least for me, is at its peak. I don’t think there’s been this much buzz and quality in terms of urban music at least in my time. I also feel the artists are more internationally-friendly in terms of their sound. Better production, and everything. Even the music videos look way more interesting and creative than before. So we think the potential is huge, and hopefully, it becomes huge, and we play even a small role in making that happen.”

The Outsiders Festival happens on Saturday March 2nd at Cyprus Avenue, with kickoff at 9pm. Tickets €12.50 available now from the Old Oak and cyprusavenue.ie.

Cork Film Festival: “The Mission Doesn’t Change”

From documentaries and animation to shorts and industry events, this year’s Cork Film Festival sets the annual event on a longer-term path. MIKE McGRATH-BRYAN speaks with producer and chief executive FIONA CLARK.

It’s a little under two weeks to go to Cork Film Festival as this goes to press, and as Fiona Clark, the festival’s producer and chief executive makes her way into the Opera House Café, the Jazz weekend’s street entertainers begin filing past the street-facing windows in uniforms of various, increasingly lurid hues. It’s festival season in the city, alright, and Clark is a mixture of excitement, nerves, and pre-festival exhaustion as the last pieces fall into place for her own project. This year sees the festival celebrate 63 years of operations in the city centre’s screens and venues, launching in 1955, five years after gaining international approval at Cannes (see boxout). 2020, then, marks a milestone anniversary for Cork Film Fest, a fact that is mentioned as a focus of attention for staff in this year’s brochure.

While the approach of a landmark anniversary is apparent, the thought process behind the festival this year is, for lack of a better term, business as usual, according to Clark. “The mission of the festival doesn’t change year on year. We’ve taken some time to consider, refresh and realign what that is, but it’s simple and applies regardless of year: to connect people through outstanding films, and for there to be a shared festival experience of those films across ten days. We have a programming team, and we’re clear about the shape and feel of the festival. We’re the largest film festival in Ireland, showcasing the best in Irish and international film, across features, documentaries and shorts. We’re selecting award-winners from the international circuit, and the festival being on in November is a great opportunity to reflect on the state of the world, and film reflecting that, from throughout the year.”

Irish cinema is indeed in sharp focus throughout the festival’s programming, from the gala European premiere of festival opener ‘Float Like a Butterfly’, directed by Corkonian Carmel Winters, to the prominence of documentaries like archival presentation ‘Cork on Camera’, supplemented by events like special screenings of international co-productions and seldom-seen classics of Irish filmmaking. This year’s homegrown offering anchors the festival’s wider variety of programming, and Clark is rightly excited. “Very strong. It’s important to us to showcase the best of Irish work in the programme, and we’ve certainly got that in spades. ‘The Favourite’, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest offering, an Irish premiere that we worked hard to secure, produced by Element Pictures, that we believe will be a sumptuous feast for people. The award-winner from Galway, ‘The Dig’, ‘Belly of the Whale’… then you’ve got ‘The Overcoat’, a retelling of the Gogol story (see boxout), and we have nine programmes of Irish shorts, including the world premiere, supported by Screen Ireland, of six short programmes. We could go on, and I think that demonstrates our commitment. It’s where new talent is discovered and we’re keen to profile that.”

Documentary programming is a pillar of any film festival, and CFF has a very strong programme of music documentaries happening throughout the course of events (see boxout), telling a variety of compelling musical stories that help flesh out historically important chapters of the medium’s development. For Clark, these films form part of an ongoing and wider mission, regarding the documentary format and Cork audiences. “It’s always been there. Film and music go hand-in-glove anyway. For a wider audience, there’s a lot to take away. The Blue Note documentary will take you through its history leave you with a smile on your face all through it. But there are plenty of films that embrace that element, too, from ‘9 to 5’ to (black-metal biopic) ‘Lords of Chaos’.”

Outside of the realm of the city’s speciality venues and cinemas, the film festival’s remit as a pillar of the civic cultural offering expands into the community. Screenings of selected festival-entered features and classic movies in regional partner theatres are an important part of mid-festival outreach, as well as the establishment of a year-round viewing centre at the City Library on Grand Parade, showing selected festival entries on-demand for members. These initiatives among others are central to the festival’s continued development. “They’re absolutely vital. When I started out in arts education, (my thoughts were) ‘unless you create access and opportunity to enjoy, experience and participate in the arts, why would they be interested?’. And it’s such an important part of the fabric of who we are, and where we live. We’re able to do these regional screenings through our work with Gate Cinemas, our principal venue partners. So, for the first time, we’re going to be running our schools programme in Cork, eight titles in Midleton and Mallow, and building on that, we’ve received 2019/2020 funding to extend the outreach of a pilot for our ‘Illuminate’ mental-health and wellbeing programme to Transition Year students. We’ll be rolling that out in Cork next year, and across Munster in 2020, and that’s a great opportunity to work with young people to engage and express their ideas.”

On the further topic of outreach, a trio of industry-geared events across the first weekend of the festival will allow local filmmakers and arts professionals to interact with industry names and players on topics from training and networking to documentaries and distribution. This degree of engagement with an active and ever-developing core of local creators adds to the value of these sessions to the festival. “What we’ve tried to do this year is recognise that filmmakers need different things at different points in their career, so whether you’re a student or an emerging filmmaker starting out, need advice on funding or promotion, or connect to international industry players to generate markets, that’s what we’ve focused on. We’ve got ‘First Take’ and ‘Doc Day’, and we’ve introduced a new day this year, ‘Focus Forum’, which is a networking and roundtable event to help (filmmakers’) professional development, from shorts to features. We’ve aligned that with the Screen Ireland World-Premiere Shorts, as a lot of the filmmakers will be in town for that, and it’s a free event. Festivals have a role to play. We’re platforming 120 shorts, if we weren’t recognising that they were an important constituent to the festival, and responding to their needs as creators, I think we’d be doing them a disservice.”

With the wheels firmly in motion on the festival ahead of doors opening on the 9th with the gala premiere of ‘Float Like a Butterfly’, Clark collects her thoughts ahead of the big season of screenings, and casts an eye on what’s left to be done. “I’m super-excited. I keep having to pinch myself. A terrific team of people, nearly all returning from last year, so there’s a great sense of collaboration. The programme is really strong and the audience reaction has been very positive so far, and we’re really proud of that. The big push is always to get to the point where the schedule is locked down and we’re able to share it. Our job now is to make sure to make sure people know about it, vote with their feet, come along and have a great time. The best outcome is that the people attending come away from it thinking, ‘I’ve experienced my city in a different way’, or that they visited Cork and thought, ‘that was amazing’. The festival experience is important to us.”

Cork Film Festival runs in venues across the city and county from November 9th to 18th. For more information, check out corkfilmfest.org or pick up a hard-copy brochure in town.

Cork Jazz Fringe Festival: Engaging with the Community

The Fringe and Music Trail events have always been important to the Jazz Weekend’s engagement with the city’s community, with hidden musical gems and workshops aplenty. MIKE McGRATH-BRYAN takes a look.

Engagement with the city’s community groups, residents and businesses has been key to the growth and development of the Jazz over the past four decades: it is, after all, with this support that the weekend festival has been able to expand into a bank-holiday staple capable of attracting music fans from all over the world. The Jazz Fringe Festival, a programme of events at venues around the city, is an important part of this process, bringing music, tuition and performances to the citizenry as part of the weekend’s proceedings.

At the heart of the Fringe is the festival’s club, running all day and night throughout the weekend from the festival’s spiritual home at the Gresham Metropole Hotel, where the first Jazz was booked in 1977 to fill a gap left by a cancelled bridge tournament. With numerous resident performers, and appearances from ensembles also playing elsewhere throughout the weekend, it’s the very heart of the festival itself, and any perusal of the festival requires a stop at the Metropole at some stage during the weekend. Other all-weekend festival venues around the city for some free jazzin’ include the outdoor stage at Emmet Place (outside the Opera House, also playing host to the Jazz Bites Food Fair), and the River Lee Hotel’s Riverside Bar.

The City Library has long been a staunch source of support for musicians in the area, and it’s fitting that the library’s music department opens proceedings with a pair of crash-courses in music theory and appreciation. Wednesday 24th sees a special beginners’ seminar in reading sheet music take place at 11am, as musicians and guests attempt to help stave off confusion surrounding the written language behind the sounds. The class is suitable for all levels of musical knowledge and all ages. The following day, same time, same place, a special workshop on listening to Jazz takes attendees through the question of jazz music, and why casual listeners have historically odd about it. This presentation is aimed at introducing jazz to suit all tastes, new pathways into listening and enjoying jazz, and to providing information on a vast and exciting sonic world.

Hallowe’en preparations kick off in earnest on Thursday 25th with a Festival Parade, winding through the city in celebration of Dia de Los Muertos, the Latin-American Day of the Dead. Held in association with Cork Community Artlink and setting off at 7pm, it’s suitably spooky fun for all the family, as a marking of the beauty of life and death takes in major floats, dancers, musicians and performers, weaving their way through Cork city. A New Orleans-type jazz funeral is at the centre of proceedings, with live improvising jazz musicians paying homage to departed jazz greats. Friday the 26th marks a major first for the Jazz, as the Festival has commissioned ‘Unity’, its fully-immersive audiovisual experience, fusing Jazz, contemporary classical and electronica, juxtaposed against the surrounds of St Luke’s Church, now better known as the ‘Live at St. Luke’s’ venue. 4k microscopic projections, a full lighting show, and The David Duffy Quartet unite to accentuate a show that examines what it is that connects, unifies and binds us. Tickets are €15, from uticket.ie.

The CIT Cork School of Music has long been a destination on Jazz Weekend, for a look at the new generation of musicians and performers, as well as family-friendly entertainment. On Saturday 27th at 10.30am, the CITCSM Youth Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Sarah Dewhurst and with special guests from the New York Jazz Standard Project, provide a programme of big band music, suitable for all ages. Wee jazzers will also have the opportunity to meet all the different instrumental families, as they feature in familiar tunes from TV and the silver screen. At noon in the same building, the CITCSM Jazz Big Band gets ready for a High Noon Jazz Gala, as the finest young musicians on the degree programmes of the CSM are directed by award-winning composer, pianist and arranger Cormac McCarthy in a recital of modern and standard classics that’s kept the event a hot ticket among jazz fans for years. Tickets for these events are are online at events.cit.ie.

While the Sunday is packed with the usual favourites, including live jazz at Cork City Gaol at 4pm (tickets €5, email info@corkcitygaol.com), Monday 29th has a pair of highlights for musicians and poets alike amid all the sore heads and smaller shows that typically accompany the festival’s last day. Vocalists can head to Voiceworks on South Terrace at 1pm, for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with Cork Jazz headliner Sachal Vasandani, alongside veteran Cork vocalist, Gemma Sugrue. These two world-travelled singers promise an intimate vocal workshop, working with all levels of singers to up their vocal development game (€40 for participating students, €20 to attend as a non-participating member). That night, poetry night Ó Bhéal has its annual jazz-poetry session. The night begins as usual at 9.30pm, with the group’s customary five-word poetry challenge, followed by impeccably-monikered guest poet Sex W. Johnston, who will be accompanied by jazz musician Darragh Hennessy, who will also improvise music to the later open-mic poetry session.

Meanwhile, throughout the weekend, there’s a lot on for more discerning palates, as the best of original music from Cork and further afield can be spotted amid the chaos and jazz standards of the music trail. Electric on South Mall plays host all weekend to performances from Cork folk singer-songwriter Marlene Enright, as well as DJ sets from this parish’s own Ronan Leonard. Fred Zeppelin’s keeps metalheads happy on Friday night, with a crushing headliners double-bill of Scots doom lads King Witch and Leeds post-metallers Hundred Year Old Man, while punk rockers can shine their boots for Saturday’s free gig, featuring Dublin oi merchants Jobseekers and seldom-seen Cork punx Stanton’s Grave. Sunday sees Cork’s finest neo-soul six-piece hit the back room of Coughlan’s on Douglas Street, as Irish Times Band of the Year winners Shookrah look likely to pack the venue out for a late show at 11pm.

For more information and tickets, check out GuinnessCorkJazz.com.

Cork Folk Festival: Heralding Change

Gender equality, book launches, and the appearance of a new generation: the 39th Cork Folk Festival has all the makings of a defining year for the annual weekender. Mike McGrath-Bryan looks at highlights of the billing, and talks to some of its voices.

Over nearly forty years, the Cork Folk Festival has been the city’s premiere showcase for folk and traditional Irish music in its multitude of shades. This year, with forty-five gigs and events across fifteen venues, this year’s line-up is among the busiest in the festival’s history. With the festival’s landmark fortieth anniversary approaching next year, a huge cross-section of folk sub-genres, age groups and city communities are catered for, arguably setting the tone for the future of one of Cork city’s landmark cultural offerings.

The festival is underway, and last night saw the launch of legendary poster designer Barry Britton’s first poster book, with An Spailpín Fánach serving as the venue for a celebration of a lifetime forging the identity of folk festivals all over Europe. Showcasing his trademark Celtic motifs, spiritual fantasy themes & penchant for metapictures, the book features over ninety posters for music and surfing events, including the Hawaiian Triple Crown of Surfing, the Rossnowlagh Intercounties, Cork Folk Festival and Ballyshannon Folk Festival, the longest-running event of its kind in the country. As in the book, stories were told about the creation of many of Britton’s celebrated works.

There’s been a great emphasis in the new wave of Irish trad on cultural crossover, with bands like Slow Moving Clouds fusing Nordic and Irish sounds together with the modern post-punk tendency. This sets the stage for another international crossover tonight at the Triskel, when the age-old sean-nós tradition meets its Portugese counterpart, fadó, as singer Claudia Aurora headlines at the venue, making her Cork debut after her sold-out concert as part of the inaugural Songlines Fadó Series in London, last September. Much like the current rush of new blood washing through trad, Aurora has been heralded as the voice of fadó’s new generation, investing it with a bluesy tinge. Meanwhile Máire Ní Chéileachair and Nell Ní Chróinín open proceedings with their take on sean-nós.

While a lot of the emphasis of the festival is on the future of folk and trad, a powerful nod to the genre’s past occurs tomorrow night at the Triskel, as three of Ireland’s longest-tenured instrumentalists bring their KGB supergroup to the Folk Festival billing. Paddy Keenan (The Bothy Band), Frankie Gavin (Dé Danann) and Dermot Byrne (Altan) began touring as a trio in January of this year, and the trio draws on their historic songbook throughout their live performances, with violinist Kevin Burke accompanying.

Also playing tomorrow night at the Roundy on Castle Street, is John Blek, a singer-songwriter better known as the leader of indie outfit John Blek and the Rats. In recent years, he’s solidified his reputation as a prolific creator, and this year marks a milestone for him, with his first Folk Festival appearance, with Laura Ní Carthaigh in support. Speaking ahead of the gig, Blek discusses what the show means to him. “It’s a genuine pleasure to be invited to play the Cork Folk Festival this year. It’s an event with integrity and heritage that is held in high esteem in the folky calendar worldwide. I played a show in Birmingham last month and was informed by a couple in attendance that they have been making the pilgrimage to Cork Folk Fest for the last 15 years. That’s impressive! It’s an honour to be involved and to become part of its long and wonderful history.”

Saturday sees a multitude of afternoon events kick off at venues around the city, but among the highlights will be a speaking appearance from former Solas vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Karan Casey, at St. Peter’s at 12pm, as she continues to plough new furrows for gender balance and equality in folk with the Fairplé organisation. Speaking to your writer earlier in the year, Casey outlined the immediate need for this conversation in Irish music, and the talks that brought it about. “Many of us started asking questions about why there were so few women at many of the gigs. There is a clearly visible imbalance in the line-ups for traditional and folk music festivals and gigs, most are populated and dominated by men, even though the gene pool has many female performers available for work. We also started talking backstage at Celtic Connections 2017, about walking on and off the stage, and how awkward that seemed at times. Ewen Vernal, the bass player I often work with, mused “is it perhaps a gender issue?”. This really opened up the conversation that we were all afraid to have. The main people at the table were myself, Ewen, Pauline Scanlon, Niall Vallely, Seán Óg Graham, and Niamh Dunne. I was really surprised to hear the inside of my head being given a voice that night. It really got me thinking, and it gave me a bit of hope that perhaps something could be done.”

Saturday night at 7pm in An Spailpín Fánach, the conversation continues, as Greenshine’s Mary Shine presents Gals at Play, an all-star line-up of women in Irish folk, including Limerickwoman Emma Langford, a well-travelled singer-songwriter who’s been gigging furiously in recent months to promote her new record. Ahead of her performance, she waxed philosophical about playing Cork Folk Festival for the first time, and memories of her first Leeside excursion. “I still remember my first ever Cork gig. I used to hang out with the emo kids on Paul Street – tacky Penney’s corsets, lacy gloves and purple lipstick were all the rage – and I played music with my pal James. I remember joining him on stage for a couple of tunes at a battle of the bands called in the Half Moon Theatre. It was… I wouldn’t say it was the defining moment of my career, but it was interesting. I certainly don’t think I could ever have imagined myself playing gorgeous festivals like the Cork Folk Festival. I’m really excited to join the Gals at Play lineup, Mary Shine has curated a great show and I think everyone involved has something really special and unique to offer.”

The festival comes to a close this Sunday night with headliner Kate Rusby taking to the hallowed stage of Cork Opera House. As early as 1999, at the age of just 26, Rusby was named as one of the Top Ten Folk Voices of the Century, and has spent her career as a flag-bearer for folk in England subsequently. Defying convention to garner Mercury Prize nominations for her music, Rusby has made a virtue of refining her strain of folk songwriting, staying true to an acoustic-centric approach.

For more information, check out corkfolkfestival.com.

Culture Night: “An Expression of Cultural Capital”

Once a year, cities, towns and villages around the country are filled with the hard work, ideas and creativity of artists and facilitators in their communities, as the spotlight goes on them for Culture Night. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with some of the co-ordinators of the event.

Since its inception in Dublin in 2006, Culture Night has become an annual highlight for arts organisations and practitioners around the country. Expanding nationally two years later with the help of city and county councils around the country, the first Culture Night in Cork city saw 34 venues partake in proceedings, a figure that has jumped over ten years to a staggering 130 spaces, hosting over 250 distinct and separate arts events, with fifty thousand revellers filling the streets for the occasion. It’s a phenomenon that continues to grow, and for City Council Arts Office’s Trish Murphy, it’s an event that places their office’s work in perspective. “This is a city wide collaboration that wouldn’t be feasible without the engagement and participation of cultural venues, both traditional and non-traditional, practitioners and volunteers across the city. It includes people and institutions from all walks of life, and across all creative genres, that make up our vibrant city, including music, theatre, visual arts, dance, performance, spoken word, literature, craft, heritage and sport. For one night only each year, this is an expression of the cultural capital this city has to offer its citizens, and all for free.”

The process of assembling a programme comes from input from participating organisations, many of whom organise major annual showcases for the night. Working from there to get everything in place, and getting the overall programme over the line involves an extended process of consultation. “Cork City Council, under the remit of the Arts Office, coordinates the production of the Culture Night Cork City programme each year. However, this wouldn’t be feasible without engagement of all of the participants, including venues, practitioners and volunteers, who make it happen on the night. The call for participation in Culture Night began in May of this year and marked the start of an intensive three-month procession of following up with venues, collating information, design, proof and print.”

Within ten years, there’s been a tremendous amount of turnover in the city’s artistic and performance spaces, which has only accelerated amid the current property bubble. Meanwhile, the city’s ongoing expansion provides opportunities for growth for the arts, alongside the resurgence that various arts groups have been having as of recent. Murphy tends toward looking forward when quizzed on her thoughts on the venue changes. “What has been evident is how much Culture Night has grown over the years, and has become such an intrinsic part of the City’s cultural calendar. What is particularly evident is the increased level of participation across non-traditional venues, like hospitals, sports grounds, offices and banks, as well as the continued growth and development across our more traditional cultural venues, like museums, theatres, galleries, libraries etc. As the City is redeveloped, and expands, it is anticipated that Culture Night’s reach will expand as well, and in particular it is hoped to reach out further into local communities to host events and to have a truly city-wide celebration.”

Meanwhile, the greater county area will be engaged in a wide-ranging series of events, as the towns and villages of Cork will play host to community-organised events, concerts, installations and exhibitions. It’s a broad church, with West Cork towns drawing from a rich vein of artistic talent, while the North and East county areas begin mounting their plans for rebuilding the arts and music in their areas as a means of community work and rejuvenation. For visual artist and Ballyhea woman Judy Reardon, the challenge of her first Culture Night as its co-ordinator is to be relished, presenting new opportunities. “It’s been a very positive experience. Everybody’s been only too happy to get onboard. There’s a lot of time invested in organising by all the participants, and everyone is doing so free of charge, and there was a lot of good feedback when I contacted them and asked them to be part of it.”

While working with community arts groups and venues is part and parcel of the Culture Night initiative, it comes into especially sharp focus in smaller towns and villages around the county, where, in many cases, such groups are the only arts infrastructure in town. Additionally, many of these groups are helping take the mantle of social recovery after decades of underinvestment and the onslaught of austerity. “People are talking among themselves, creating their own Culture Night, seeing what each grouping has to offer, be it the library, the local gallery, the local artists… it’s become more collaborative within small towns, that’s the feeling I get. When I’ve been onto participants, they’re telling me they’ve been onto others that are organising, as well. Working together.”

The knock-on effect that Culture Night has had on arts uptake and engagement in towns and villages around the county is evident, providing a rare opportunity not only for non-festival programming, but also for arts programmers and enthusiasts to co-ordinate and get planning among themselves, as stated. As an artist herself, Reardon sees firsthand the initiative bringing out the best in people. “I see it as an opportunity for artists to showcase, get known in their community, and become part of an event. It wouldn’t be as intimidating as setting up by themselves. It’s a very enjoyable way for people to get out there as artists (and facilitators).”

Culture Night happens on Friday, September 21st around the country. For more information on Culture Night in Cork City, check out culturenightcork.ie. Physical brochures are also available throughout the county, in venues and other public spaces.

…and remember to support your local artists, musicians and facilitators, because for them, every night is Culture Night.