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.

Coughlan’s Live Music Festival: “A Way of Saying Thank You”

Coughlan’s Live Music Festival marks the Douglas Street venue’s seventh anniversary, and a special programme of gigs. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with co-founder Brian Hassett about the line-up and the future.

Ambiently-lit and covered in posters from gigs over the past seven years, Coughlan’s Live, at the back of the renovated but otherwise unassuming Coughlan’s pub at the Capwell end of Douglas Street stands as one of the unlikely pillars of Cork music. Since opening under the direction of In Bloom agency man Brian Hassett and former Lobby Bar booker Edel Curtin seven years ago, it’s been an important place for intimate gigs of all genres in the city, with a particular eye on the folk and Americana gigs that have cemented its place. Every year, Coughlan’s Live Music Festival marks the venue’s foundation with a special weekend of music, celebrating what the promoters call ‘the little room with the massive heart’.

This year, luminaries like Lisa Hannigan, Mick Flannery, The Lost Brothers and Luka Bloom share stages with the likes of psych-rockers O Emperor, groove experimentalists The Bonk, and psych-pop cadets The Shaker Hymn among others, while the likes of Emma Langford and The Ocelots build on their live momentum. Hassett, known for years to friends and collaborators simply as ‘Hassey’, talks about the fest’s modus operandi. “The first Coughlan’s Live Festival was an opportunity for us to open the doors to the venue, and to be able to celebrate what was then a new space in the city, for musicians and audiences. Since that first weekend, we have been hosting lots of shows every week, taking in local, national and international singer-songwriters, bands, DJs, rap groups, comedians, etc., so it has been a pleasure for us to work with so many people that we admire, and also over time been able to watch so many of them grow much bigger audiences.”

Assembling a festival lineup is the dream for many music fans, so it’s no surprise that for the crew of Coughlan’s, it’s an exciting time to look at availabilities, projects and local happenings, and take them all into consideration. “It always begins with a wishlist, groups or artists that we are fans of. We try to have artists who would be well established, and then have them in a more intimate space where it is a very different experience for both the artists and the audiences. As an example, this year Lisa Hannigan or Mick Flannery, who would both regularly sell out rooms the size of Cork Opera House, will be performing shows to just sixty people in a very up close and personal setting. Having established groups on the lineup also gives us the opportunity to invite some newer bands. This year we’ll be welcoming the likes of Orchid Collective, The Ocelots and Paddy Dennehy for the first time to Coughlan’s, so we are very excited about that.”

In addition to a fine lineup of folk artists, as is the venue’s speciality, bands like O Emperor, The Shaker Hymn and The Bonk are also on the billing, as mentioned. What’s the importance of that kind of variety to assembling an overall lineup? “Variety in the line-up is very important, the different types of shows over the festival also means that we can change the way the shows are presented in the venue, swapping between full-band shows with a standing audience, and more intimate seated gigs, so that people get to have different experiences also within the venue. We’re really excited to be welcoming O Emperor back, having last played here back in 2013, so it’s a long-awaited return.”

Over the course of five days, several gigs and events take place in a very small space. The intimacy of the venue, as well as the demand for space in the back room on the weekend, means production and show-running can often be challenging. “It starts on the Wednesday, September 26th, and runs to Sunday September 30th, and takes in eleven different shows and seventeen artists, over thirty-five musicians and performers. At this stage, we’re able to run it pretty well, having figured out over the years where any potential surprise might be, and we have a great crew in-house. We are lucky also to have really good relationships with so many of these bands and artists, many of whom have previously also played Coughlan’s, as well as with so many of our audiences that come to shows, so as well as making sure that everything runs smoothly we are also able to have the chance to catch up with some great friends.”

The venue has been a home for comedy over the past few years, also, and this has been reflected in the line-up. For Hassey, it’s about nurturing something new as it’s been growing in his backyard. “Comedy has grown massively in Ireland over the last few years. Both on a local and national level, there are some really great new Irish comics coming through. Every week, we host free comedy shows presented by ‘Comedy Cavern’. It can be a mix of local, national or international comedians, there’s also an open-mic night which is a great opportunity for both new comedians or established comedians trying new material. There’s also a series wherein comedians perform their Edinburgh show, which is more longform or story-based comedy. Once every month, ‘The Bold Ensemble’ perform a set of improvised sketches and skits based on audience suggestions, which is brilliantly unpredictable and always hilarious.”

The venue is also home to some of the gigs that are part of the locally-curated Quiet Lights festival in September, just announced this past week and featuring some of the leading lights of a new generation of folk and traditional Irish music. “Jon from Islander Music approached us to be part of this new festival, and we are really looking forward to working with him to establish this as part of the Cork live music calendar. We will be hosting three shows over the weekend with Lisa O’Neill, Ye Vagabonds and Cormac Begley. We have worked shows before with both Lisa O’ Neill and Ye Vagabonds, so are delighted to be welcoming them back and really looking forward to Cormac’s first Coughlan’s show.”

For the short-to-medium term, CLMF will remain in place as the centrepiece of the main venue’s calendar, alongside the crew’s Right Here Right Now festival, happening annually at the Opera House. It’s about maintaining that sense of community, says Hassey. “The festival is a celebration for us every year so we specifically programme a lot of free shows so everyone can have the opportunity to come in and catch some great live music, and also as a way of saying thank you to the all the audiences that have come to gigs and supported both us and the artists throughout the year.”

The real challenges lie ahead, though: amid all the urban renewal and gentrification that’s been happening and looks set to continue apace over the next ten years, the small venue as an urban cultural pillar is under threat, and support for venues like Coughlan’s will become all the more important. “With all the changes that have happened within the music industry over the last ten years or so, and also the changes within the city with urban renewal and gentrification, it can be difficult for a small-capacity venue to keep its doors open, but for us it is very special and rewarding to be able to share in so many great live experiences and we are really grateful for the support from both audiences and bands over the years and we really look forward to creating many more great memories in the coming years.”

Townlands Carnival: “A Bit Like Life, Really”

Ahead of the return of Townlands Carnival to the ancestral home of the Irish festival circuit, Macroom, Co. Cork, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with team members Sami Beshoff and Greg Woods about its growth and the future.

In the annals of Irish music history, and more to the point, that of our annual parade of summer festivals, there is only one town in this country that can rightfully claim to be the spiritual home of the phenomenon: Macroom, nestled away in the outer reaches of County Cork. In many ways, the first Mountain Dew festival in 1977 was a reaction to difficult circumstances for a town left behind by economic development, a destination event to counter the town’s rep as a stop on the way out west. Publicity stunts, like inviting Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, helped whip up mainstream curiosity about the festival format, but the arrival of Rory Gallagher onstage, sprinting from an Aston Martin in a straw cowboy hat and out to a baying, sold-out crowd, cemented the festival’s popularity for the following years, and laid the foundations for festival weekenders as a summer institution for generations of music fans.

The emergence of a spiritual successor to Mountain Dew’s legacy could also be seen as a reaction to the festival circuit in recent years, with a gap in the market opening up for a community-based alternative to a mainstream festival scene largely caught between detached festival “experiences”, nostalgia-show pandering, and late-teens rites-of-passage. Four years ago, a team of festival professionals took it upon themselves to go rogue, creating Townlands Carnival. Organiser Greg Woods talks about the festival’s creation. “The ethos of Townlands is in the name. We consciously chose to call it a Carnival and not a festival. A festival is something you turn up to, a carnival is an event you take part in. More and more festivals are becoming just billboards for advertising. We feel that if you take part in something, you get much more out of it. To this end, we have lots of workshops and participatory events, to give revellers an experience they won’t forget, because they were part of its making. The scene four years ago was also very biased towards the east of the country. Every summer, there is a mass exodus of talent from Munster. We felt it was time to harness all that creative energy, and showcase it on its home turf. The natural beauty of Rusheen Farm is perfect for us, it gives the decor/creative team a diverse environment to play with.”

Year one of the festival was always going to be part of the process of trial and error. Organising a festival, corralling together talent & people, and dealing with marketing all present unique challenges the first time out, and for Woods, this was compounded by geographical issues.

“Over the years many small festivals have tried what we are trying to achieve. There’s a reason why many festivals end up in the same catchment area of a couple of hours away from Dublin: the logistical difficulties that arise. All the infrastructure is more expensive, and harder to get at this end of the country, and the catchment is far bigger up there. The core team all had many years’ experience of working festivals at home and abroad, and a wide range of experience in the field. However, it’s a massive subject area and there are always going to be areas you lack expertise and experience in… and that means you go through a series of very steep learning curves. Luckily, we have managed to gather a group of hard-working volunteers and professionals that are very supportive and giving of their expertise. In many ways, you have to know that if you step back and look at it, taking on an operation of this scale involves a certain level of insanity. Ultimately, you have to just jump in, hope you’re making the right decisions and give it your all. A bit like life, really.”

Building a festival from there across a number of years, the team worked on the essential elements of expanding Townlands’ reach – working on relationships with potential headliners, dealing with the scale on which the festival operates, and setting in stone an aesthetic for the weekend that has kept dedicated revellers returning annually. Woods gets into the nitty-gritty and the growing pains. “For a small independent festival, we started ludicrously big in our first year. We tried to do all the things that we had wanted other festivals we’d worked on to do. We’ve learned the hard way to show a little restraint.  In the first year, we started with nothing except ourselves and some bare field. We had to make make our own workshops, rebuild sheds for storage, and then make a stupidly ambitious Townlands fantasy world from scratch, using materials we scavenged from here, there and everywhere. In your first years, persuading bands to come onboard just for the love of it is quite a struggle, but we still ended up with some serious line-ups. It doesn’t stop at the bands: persuading suppliers to take the risk on an unknown has its challenges too. Thankfully, we’re a bit more time-served now, and it’s more of a case that we a daunting number of bands applying. Year on year, we have managed to change and grow, providing new twists for our participants, whilst still maintaining all the elements that make us stand out.”

While Townlands has always assembled something for all tastes across its weekends, the past year or two has seen it attempt to broaden its reputation for electronic music, booking a wide variety of headliners and local draws that this year includes Sister Sledge, Neil Barnes of Leftfield, Choice nominee Bantum and recent Kerrang! magazine featurees Bailer. Booking specialist Sami Beshoff goes into the balance necessary to put together a well-rounded festival. “In year one, we had eight stages, and funnily enough, we have eight stages again this year. But in year two, we had fourteen. We really bit it off and went for diversity. We want people to feel that there is something for everyone, we want everyone to participate, and find new music that they’ll love, across genres and styles. Building the platform each year. This year, we’ve gone with Sister Sledge and Leftfield, two old-school names that (a broader audience) will recognise and identify with. (It’s especially important) for our locals that we didn’t want to be perceived as just a dance festival. Each year, our locals have come and enjoyed it, warmed to us, and last year, our biggest area of growth in ticket sales was with them.”

That spirit of outreach this year saw the festival feature a Battle of the Bands across the county, putting on events in towns that have been otherwise starved of new and original music in recent years, like Mallow, Skibbereen and Fermoy. The winner, decided right after this issue was going to press, gets a spot on the festival’s new Rising Sons stage. Beshoff discusses the idea and the dividends it’s had so far. “I think this is huge for us. It’s been on the back burner for a few years, and it’s great to have Rising Sons as partners this year to facilitate this. We want to be able to give everybody that chance. There’s a huge amount of bands and a huge amount of talent in Cork, and to harness that talent, and give them a chance to be seen… just looking at the applicants for Mallow, for example, a friend of mine that I hadn’t seen play in six or seven years applied, and I was shocked.”

This year’s Carnival is a few weeks away, and when asked about his thoughts heading into the event, Beshoff is enthused. Things are on the up-and-up, with the emphasis this year being on improving the festival-goer experience. “I can’t wait. Ticket sales are strong, stronger than any other year. We’ve moved sites this year, so it’s quite a different show to put on. We left five stages behind last year for different reasons, and we move forward this year, with four new stages. Lots of change, but change for the good. The layout caters for the customer a lot easier: less walking, closer to your car, closer to the arena, and it’ll be a lot more intimate of an event. It’ll filled up better with sculptures and installations. A whole new Townlands.”

With the first four years of the festival nearly down, and a great deal of positive momentum behind it, Townlands Carnival looks set to be a pillar event in the festival calendar for new and independent music in Ireland. When quizzed about the future, however, Woods opts to leave some things to mystery. “Ahhh. now that would be telling (laughs). The feedback from last year and the buzz for this year is great. There’s a lot of competition, but we have something unique, and we are just going to build on that. Onwards and upwards. We don’t want to go massive. We want to get to our capacity, and just do what we do as well as we can.”

Cork Midsummer Festival at St. Luke’s: “A Fabulous Space”

Live at St. Luke’s presents a varied bill of music and discussion next month for Cork Midsummer Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan takes a look at the programme and speaks with some of the artists involved.

For years, Cork Midsummer Festival has represented the beginning of Cork’s summer festival season. Across ten days, art and performance spanning multiple media and disciplines, occupies dozens of venues around the city in a collaborative effort between the festival and the city’s arts scene. This year’s lineup is arguably the strongest yet, with a mixture of community and international arts groups presenting music and opera, dance, circus, film, spoken-word and visual art.

In this spirit, and off the back of the success of their own first festival in Trabolgan-based weekender It Takes a Village, promoters The Good Room are mucking in on the effort with some high-profile events from the worlds of folk and traditional music, as well as hosting a live taping for the country’s most popular podcast. The Good Room’s Joe Kelly talks about the collaborative process. “For the last few years, we’ve got on well with the Midsummer Festival, and Lorraine (Maye, festival director). We did Fleischmann at the Glen with them last year and obviously for the last few years, we’ve done Crosstown Drift (music trail) with them. We’ve always had a good relationship, and Lorraine is an incredible frontwoman. They’ve got a lot of bang for their buck, because they collaborate. And the end result is we have a much better festival, because they collaborate with people.”

The venue plays host to some of the festival’s flagship musical events this year, but also homes three of the festival’s prominent visual arts events in the former cathedral’s crypt, from the likes of Vicky Langan, Alice Maher and Ailís Ní Riáin. Kelly is enthused about this expansion of the venue’s use. “St. Luke’s sat idle until the last three years, when we started doing stuff in there, and now we’ve seen the Crypt come into use for exhibitions. Being honest, at the moment, we’re existing alongside Midsummer Festival (with both spaces being used for it)… I can’t really say ‘oh, we just booked a few gigs to piggyback along with the festival’, but it’s not like we were sat down tearing our hair out. The most important thing was the double-use of the building, for us, and the City Council, who own it. The Crypt is a fabulous space.”

On Friday June 15th, alternative/folk outfit Little Green Cars open Midsummer proceedings at the venue, continuing their momentum over the past couple of years after their ‘Ephemera’ LP saw them move into a more mature, contemplative space. Amid a busy touring schedule, the band performed this past month at the Together4Yes fundraiser at the Olympia in Dublin, an important fundraiser for a largely grassroots-driven movement. “To be able to contribute to a cause we so strongly believe in was beautiful. It was a powerful night. The sense of togetherness and compassion was really moving. The Repeal movement is so important to us and it’s brought a lot of people together in an exceptional way. There’s been so much devotion, energy and self-sacrifice put into the campaign over the years, it was an honour to be involved in our own small way,” says band co-founder Adam O’Regan.

Ahead of the band’s Midsummer gigging at the Summerhill venue, O’Regan also speaks warmly of the gigging experience. “Live at St. Luke’s is by far one of the most unique venues around, and the atmosphere it generates reflects that. It’s a special gig for us. We love playing in Cork and we are delighted to be back playing in St. Luke’s.”

Fairplé is a movement dedicated to the rebalancing of the Irish folk/trad business along gender lines, joining a larger sea change of movements in different genres and formats towards addressing payment, billing and booking inequities. Leading the charge ahead of a special gig at St. Luke’s on Saturday June 16th is singer Karan Casey. “It came about from conversations backstage between many women and men, about how women were being treated in the trad and folk music worlds. I made a statement at a gig in Dublin about how things needed to change, and I also wrote a Facebook post saying things needed to change radically. We then called a public meeting in Dublin, and it has mushroomed from there really. Twenty people came to the first meeting, and forty to the second, and we now have a website followed by hundreds (at fairple.com). The response has been overwhelmingly positive from both women and men. We’re advocating on behalf of female performers looking for more access, more support, and more respect in our musical workplaces.”

Casey and Pauline Scanlon, accompanied by guests The Whileaways, Kate Ellis, Anna Mieke, Julie Goo, and Niall Vallely among others, round out a heavyweight line-up for the cause. For Fairplé, it’s about setting the tone for future major events. “It’s my own personal view that people and children need to see women on stage more, to know and understand in their bones that women are equal.  The role-modeling is vital to future performers. The average lineup of many of our festivals are 76% male, 24% female, and that’s on a good day. It’s often worse. This is a problem. It needs to be addressed and a radical change needs to happen. St. Luke’s is addressing this problem.”

From releasing prank phone-calls on CD-R while still at school, to touring the world and leading the national conversation on mental health, Limerick comedians/conceptual artists The Rubberbandits have over the years become a beloved institution for unofficial Ireland. Little surprise then, that one-half of the duo helms the country’s most popular podcast, with the Blindboy Podcast averaging 250,000 listeners weekly, topping Irish listenership charts for thirty weeks and counting. Appropriately, then, Blindboy Boatclub’s show on Thursday 21st is about to sell out, as he treads the boards at St. Luke’s to tape an episode of the podcast with support from poet Cormac Lally. Speaking to the Irish Examiner’s Richard Fitzpatrick last month, Blindboy outlined succinctly the appeal of the medium. “The best thing about podcasts is the element of choice… a podcast is never forced on anyone; it’s always sought out. It’s pure democratic. It’s a vernacular medium where mistakes and rough edges are part of the craic.”

Those numbers have allowed for the further opening-up of the media process for Blindboy. Releasing the show for free every Wednesday morning, Blindboy’s main source of funding comes from his listeners, donating via membership platform Patreon. On the topic of crowdfunding, Blindboy is effusive. “My Patreon page is fantastic at the moment. It’s giving me a lovely incentive to deliver on time each week. I also love the philosophy of it – it makes the podcast experience feel reciprocal.”

Having quickly sold out his first show on Friday June 22nd, Corkonian singer-songwriter Mick Flannery has been announced this past week for a second show on Saturday 23rd, as part of the St. Luke’s Midsummer festivities. Off the back of last year’s politically-informed ‘I Own You’ album, Flannery has been pursuing his usual endless touring itinerary, spending the past few weeks touring the Netherlands and Germany in support of the record, and working on new material. “I enjoy travelling and seeing places I’ve never seen. This trip I took was on my own, which gave me more time to work on new songs. When a group of people go on tour, it can be very hard not to head out to bars and stay in said bars and have a good time, but travelling solo makes it easier to stay a bit healthier. The end of the German tour was three gigs with a group of German musicians who were running a kind of musical collective, called Vereinsheim. This was a nice way to end the tour, I got to meet very nice people and hang around with them and play music for four days.”

An excursion to North America, including dates in New York City among other locations, awaits Flannery on the other side of his Midsummer dates. It’s going to be something of a journey of discovery. “I’m looking forward to going to Canada and America. Songwriters and singers from these countries have been the major reason I found myself in this business. I’m still stuck with a slight American twang when I sing, which I find very hard to shake because of early influence. I’m lucky to be heading to some festivals in Canada like Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver, I’m looking forward to seeing those places. My youngest brother is going to join me for the month and share some driving. We’ll see how that goes.”

Mammothfest in Ireland: “We Wanted to Trim the Fat”

The rundown to a Corkonian addition to Brighton’s Mammothfest metal extravaganza is almost over, and on the 26th at The Poor Relation, four bands compete for the Irish Best Band crown. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with promoter/organiser Danny Fitzgerald ahead of a fatal four-way of Irish heft.

“Rock and metal” is a nebulous designation for heavy promoters and festivals at the best of times, especially with full consideration for the nuances and subtleties between bands and subgenres. With that being said, though, as loud, noisy music deals with venue restrictions and changes in demographic all over the continent, festivals have become ever more important as a musical and social forum for devotees of distortion. In the UK, Brighton’s Mammothfest has been an upcoming presence on the annual calendar, providing an all-indoor billing of emerging metal from around the world across the stages of the city, linking in with the promoters’ network of media and event contacts to establish themselves as a destination for riff purveyors and connoisseurs alike. Eventually, the hype was going to spread.

Cork has been a quietly resurgent outpost for metal in the country in recent years, with this past Saturday alone offering no less than four gigs of interest to heavier palates. It makes sense, then, that a festival like Mammothfest would choose Cork as the Irish outpost for a Best Band competition, with the winner taking a prized festival slot this October. Promoter and local affiliate Danny Fitzgerald explains how he came to be involved. “I really wanted to put on a battle-of-the-bands show in Cork that appealed to metal bands and a metal audience, as all the battles-of-the-bands I’d seen and been part of were all up in Dublin. The way the voting works sometimes, it can be a bit of a home-field advantage for Dublin bands, so when a Cork band goes up to play, they’ve already lost on the crowd vote. I just wanted to create something different, something fairer, so that the best band gets through, not just the band with the crowd. I looked up a few festivals that didn’t have a battle-of-the-bands, but that had exposure and would give us exposure in turn. I saw Mammothfest and saw previous lineups, messaged them to ask if they had a stage for new bands. They sent me a mail directing me to apply, I went into further detail to explain that I was looking to set up a competition. That’s when I found out that the guy replying (and handling socials) was the boss of the whole thing and not just someone working for them. And we just went from there.”

Heaviosity in Ireland is in as rude health as it’s ever been, with Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway all boasting distinct scenes with venues and promoters underpinning each, while cities like Waterford have slowly been rebuilding after the toll of the bad years was taken. In the first year of Best Band’s Irish excursions, however, and even with a very selective process of entry, the uptake on qualifying slots has played on an old rivalry. “So, it was essentially a split between Dublin and Cork. There wasn’t a whole lot from anywhere else except for The Crawling (death-metallers from Belfast who were booked for the festival itself after applying). They’re well able for it. As far as I know with others, it’s first-come first-serve, but with this, we wanted to trim the fat and get down to the best band going through. So, we wanted a competition where every band that entered the first round had the potential to win. No unfair heats. Bands were to send in EPKs, we looked on all of that, and made decisions based on quality.”

The established Irish music industry in general, much less metal, is based squarely in Dublin, and has often been accused of operating in that bubble, for better or worse. As touched upon earlier, basing a big promotion and recruitment mechanism like the Best Band contest for a big festival like Mammothfest in Cork could be seen as something of a transgression in itself, much-needed as it has long been. Fitzgerald’s shop-talk pace of conversation slows somewhat when quizzed on the matter. “To be honest, I’ve only received good stuff from all the other promoters. Robbie McCabe in Dublin has been very helpful, has offered a hand with promoting up there. He has a good thing going up there (with Bloodstock Festival’s Metal 2 The Masses contest). We’re not competition, we’re the same cause. It was rough at the start, alright, but more down to gig clashes in town than anything else. You can never judge it, but we’re confident, especially with Bailer headlining the final, they’ve never had a gig that wasn’t insane. We want Mammothfest to see the best of what we have to offer, and see that it can be sustainable after year one.”

The format of a metal battle-of-the-bands sprawling across multiple dates and venues potentially provides excitement, anticipation, and for the dedicated, an opportunity to compare and contrast bands, engaging in fantasy matchmaking and following their favourites over the course of it. It’s a format that gig-goers have been quick to pick up on here in Cork after years of indirect exposure via Dublin promoters’ ties to big UK fests. But there has been trial and error like every other music start-up. “It’s definitely a lesson we’ve learned, that spacing out gigs is important rather than promoting weekly, people’s lives are just too busy. It’s the way things have fallen: we didn’t have a whole bunch of time and we had ten other Battles around the UK to organise in correlation with. We had to schedule the Final for a certain night so the Mammothfest crew could attend. There wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle room this year with dates. Next year: I would like them more spaced-out and running deeper into the summer.”

The running has been tight, and the quality has been competitive with anything the country has offered in the last two decades. And the hard graft of everyone involved has produced a top-quality line-up for the final, happening on Saturday 26th at the Poor Relation. Post-metal youngsters God Alone are maturing and improving at a rate best described as frightening, sludgers Coroza have quietly solidified a presence in local metal, no-wave-inflected weirdos The Magnapinna bring an obtuse angle to proceedings, and Dublin’s Jenova have impressed in the heats. In combination with local heroes Bailer in the headline slot, it’s shaping up to be a monumental evening for metal in the city. Fitzgerald relays his personal thoughts heading up to it. “I think it’s going quite well. Some nights have been rough, but that happens, mostly Fridays (laughs). It’s not been about making money, but it’s about finding a band that is ready to go to Mammothfest. The commitment is there among gig-goers, more so among older heads, but hopefully younger metallers in time… the atmosphere will pull you in.”