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.”

Cork Midsummer: The Collaborative Model

Ahead of ten days of art and culture across dozens of venues around the city, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Cork Midsummer Festival director Lorraine Maye.

Since its inception in 2008, Cork Midsummer Festival has heralded the onset of summer on Cork’s festival calendar, bringing with it ten days of art and performance that span multiple media and disciplines, across dozens of venues around the city. This year’s lineup is arguably the strongest yet, with a mixture of community and international arts groups collaborating with the festival’s producers across music and opera, dance, circus, film, spoken-word and visual art. Festival director Lorraine Maye is currently in the midst of the chaos leading into the event, and after a long day of meetings in advance of launch, discusses the process of organising in the months leading up to June. “The festival has a unique model in that it is very collaborative. So many events are run or developed in partnership with another programme partner or venue, and we work very closely with them to put together the programme every year. There are also lots of brilliant conversations with artists about projects and possibilities, locally, nationally and internationally. We liaise with our core funders, work with our event sponsors and partners, friends and patrons. As well as a dedicated team and Board, we collaborate with a huge amount of people year round to develop the festival.”

This year’s theatre programme is exceptionally strong, led off by the world premiere of the stage adaptation of the Louise O’Neill novel ‘Asking for It’, an acclaimed work that scrutinises attitudes to sexual assault in rural Ireland. The importance of a landmark story like ‘Asking for It’ making the transition across media on the festival’s watch cannot be underestimated, says Maye. “It couldn’t be more timely to have this story at the heart of the Festival. Asking for It is of course a devastating and brilliant book, which Julie Kelleher of The Everyman and Landmark Productions had the vision of bringing to the stage, in association with The Abbey Theatre. We are so proud it will receive its world premiere at the Festival. It is going to be a game-changer, this show. The book means so much to so many people and the staging of it will undoubtedly drive a vital conversation forward. Everyone should see it.”

Spoken-word is very well-represented this year too, among the standouts of which are a live taping of comedian and social commentator Blindboy Boatclub’s beloved podcast at Live at St. Luke’s, but it’s a really well-rounded programme coming at a time when spoken-word is thriving in the city. Maye is quick to give her take on the likes of poetry nights like O Bhéal and Sling Slang locally, as well as the extended spoken-word offering this year. “We have many exceptional writers and storytellers in Cork, and O Bhéal and Sling Slang provide year-round platforms for that work and those artists. Places for artists to test out new work, and for audiences to have access to that. We are working with Joe Kelly and The Good Room who put together the programme for Crosstown Drift and St. Luke’s this year, including the Blindboy Podcast. We’re thrilled to welcome Doireann Ní Ghriofa as our first festival artist in residence. The really brilliant thing about so many writers is that many of them are working in a cross-disciplinary space at the moment, which means such exciting possibilities for us as a multi-disciplinary Festival.”

The festival’s circus programme is a developing but distinct offering, including Union Black, a football-based dance piece from Far from the Norm. Circus has been another medium that has developed in the city over the years thanks to a grassroots effort, and Maye explains how to build, over a number of years, a unique programme offering that complements the festival, but also allows a medium its own unique voice. “Ultimately, we want extraordinary artists of all artforms, and at all stages in their careers, to recognise the Festival as a place to do a particular thing, as somewhere to do something they couldn’t do at any other time of the year, and to see us as a support year-round in the development of those ideas. We’re also really interested in how we link local and national artists and organisations to others internationally. This involves a lot of conversations with artists, and arts organisations. It also involves thinking a lot about our audiences and our potential audiences. What do they want to see, when and where? What can they only see in the Festival? Union Black is a partnership between organisations in four different countries with participating artists from each. It’s the culmination of years of work and it’s going to be one of the most exciting things you will see in Cork this year.”

The family programme is wonderful this year, combining community celebration with engagement with the city’s landmarks, assisted by established practitioners like legendary DJ Donal Dineen, working to create points of access to art for kids. Capturing young imaginations is at the heart of the festival’s remit. “We have been developing our family programme for a number of years now. This year we are particularly excited to be working with Dublin Fringe Festival and Baboro International Arts Festival for Children to co-commission Tiny Dancer: A DJ Set for Kids with Donal Dineen. The tickets are flying. We’re expecting 15,000 people, mostly family groups, to attend the Picnic in the Park which this year, has many specially themed events to reflect the fact that this year is the 250th anniversary of modern circus. Graffiti Theatre Company are staging the premiere of Ireland’s first opera for babies and small people. Those young audience members and artists are tomorrow’s adult audiences and artists. Ask anyone passionate about the arts, and they will all be able to cite an artistic experience from their childhood that was transformative. It’s also about general well-being and providing opportunities for families to come into the city together and have a great experience at the Festival.”

This year’s festival is nearly upon us now, and Maye’s enthusiasm for the end-result of the year-long process is evident. “This is such an exciting year for the Festival. We’re taking a big leap forward, driven by the momentum of so many great artists, arts organisations and curious audiences. We’re so proud of everything in the Festival this year and I can’t wait to experience the incredible work of so many inspiring creative teams. Is it June yet?”

Cork Photo Festival: “Expect Some Big Changes”

Cork Photo Festival celebrates photography and all its forms in the city’s venues throughout the month of April. Ahead of the festival’s opening, founder and director Naomi Smith speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan.

Placing photography at the centre of the city with exhibitions and events throughout the city, Cork Photo Festival has become a fixture of the local arts calendar, marrying the art of photography and curation of same with the DIY vibe that permeates Cork. For founder and director Naomi Smith, placing festival hubs around the city centre is an important pillar of its mission statement of community outreach. “(Last year’s) festival featured a festival HQ at Cork Photo Gallery, Fitzgerald’s Park. We held an open call to source work for the gallery and we were delighted to present Cork-based artist Derek Foott. Open calls are an important element to the festival, so this year, we linked up with Triskel Arts Centre, creating the Triskel 40 Photo Prize. Collette Lewis from St. John’s Central College came on board as one of the judges.”

“This year, we have five festival hubs. These are spaces where the Cork Photo team has curated or programmed the venue. Izabela Szczutkowska joins us as the lead on our partnership with TIFF Festival, Wroclaw, bringing the work of Marlena Jabłońska to CCAD Gallery at No.46 Grand Parade. The festival launches at this venue on April 5th at 6:30pm. Kate O’Neill, The OGC, joins us as guest curator to bring Elastic to St Peters Cork, a collective exhibition showcasing work by seven photographers, exploring mental health issues in work practice & process. You’ll find even more at the other festival hubs: Cork Photo Gallery, UCC’s Boole Library and The Glucksman.”

Submissions for various exhibitions and events closed last month, and the reaction to the open calls has been enthusiastic to say the least, with hopeful exhibitors sending work from all over the world. “We had a great response to the Triskel 40 Open Call. It was difficult selecting a winner, we had a lot of submissions with a broad range of approaches. It was great to see submissions coming from Ireland & further afield.”

This year’s programme forms a trail across the city with the aforementioned venues joined by the likes of Elizabeth Fort, The Vinyl Lounge at Golden Discs, St Peter’s Cork, South Parish Community Centre and more. Smith goes into detail on selecting venues and partners to work with. “Cork has a wealth of businesses & heritage sites already engaged in showing work, making it a great city to run a festival in. Also the Individual exhibitors joining us over the years have always been adventurous, making for some pretty interesting exhibition locations. Preparations for our Hub spaces began back in 2016, we work hard at these partnerships and are proud to be working with some of Cork’s finest arts venues & organisations. Plans have started already for CPF20. While we will continue with our open theme, you can expect some big changes.”

A number of exhibitions and events are happening throughout the month – what would be some highlights for those new to photography, or maintaining a casual interest? “Follow the map around the city, you’ll get to see some great work by a range of photographic talents. We’re proud to present a solid programme once again this year. We hope you’ll also be inspired by the DIY element of our festival, it is open to anyone working in the medium who has the determination to get work out there. We recommend dropping in to Phillip Toledano, Maybe: Life & Love at Crawford Gallery on Emmett Place and definitely take a trip out the Sirius Arts Centre to see Spike Island: People & Place. It’s a nice festival trail to follow, pick up a map at any of the venues and make your way round to all the shows! Triskel Christchurch are also presenting a season of documentary films which focus on four notable photographers – Vivian Maier, Don McCullin, Sebastião Salgado and Bill Cunningham.”

Touring publication curators Photobookshow are coming over from Brighton to partake in the Photo Festival proceedings, displaying the photobook medium and showcasing compilations from all over the world. “Book Show runs just for the weekend: April 14th & 15th in The Glucksman, this pop-up show features photobooks selected from open call and is presented by the great team over at Photobookshow. We’re excited to have them here in Cork, they are working their way through the alphabet and you can see the previous lineups on photobookshow.co.uk.” Another outlet bringing their specific expertise to the event is photography journal Source Photographic Review, reviewing local photography and touching base with the community. It is the continuation of a long-running partnership. “We’ve partnered with Source Magazine since 2015, they have offered free portfolio review as part of the festival programme each year. It’s a great opportunity to get work seen by an editor of Ireland’s most prestigious photographic publication and past participants of the festival have been published in the magazine. You can subscribe over at source.ie and get access to their digital library too!”

The festival culminates in the awarding of two prizes. In addition to the winner of the Triskel photo honours, a public vote opens online for the city’s favourite exhibited work from the festival’s array of submissions. “The Triskel 40 Photo Prize was awarded to Kallie Cheves after an open call to celebrate The Triskel’s 40th year here in Cork. Kallie’s work, Pageant Wounds, opens April 7th at 2pm in the Triskel Gallery Space, and we are very excited to bring you work all the way from Texas! Those joining us on the 7th will get a chance to chat to Kallie about her work. And from April 1st, we’ll be inviting you to vote online for the Lomography People’s Choice Award, we have a great prize this year from Lomography & love the buzz that the vote creates. Follow the festival trail and let us know which was your most memorable. The winner will be announced at the festival roundup in Cork Photo Gallery at the end of the month.”

With a packed schedule for the next month, and a steadily-building buzz behind Cork Photo Festival, Smith collects her thoughts on the weeks ahead. “It’s a busy & exciting time full of lists, coffee and emails. We can’t wait to launch and get out there to see some photography!”

Cork Sound Fair: “Be Inventive”

Cork Sound Fair, a crowdfunded, non-profit weekender is set to celebrate the proliferation of leftfield sounds at home and further afield. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with curator Conor Ruane as the event draws closer.

Cork has, in recent years, firmly cemented its reputation as the home of festivals in Ireland, with the city centre playing host to a plethora of new music weekenders and all-dayers that have taken their place alongside the city’s established lineup of genre celebrations. As the culture of music and its consumption continues to change, so too will the nature of programming and curating events: from community affairs like Soul in the City and Quarter Block Party, to specialist excursions like SoundEye and UrbanAssault, festivals have become at once more singular and more experimental, digging deeper into the interests and frames of reference of genre enthusiasts.

Cork Sound Fair, running on March 23rd and 24th in Cork City centre, is just such an affair. Taking place at historic buildings and music venues around the city, the festival is starting as it means to go on, building on a groundswell of support for leftfield and experimental electronic music. Co-founder and curator Conor Ruane discusses the festival’s beginnings, as a reaction to wider events and expansion on the continental scene. “I have had the idea of showcasing this new wave of Irish producers for some time now, but it wasn’t until I heard an excellent Resident Advisor Exchange podcast by Gosia, of Unsound Festival, that I really found myself thinking ‘I need to do this’, and secondly ‘it’s actually possible to do so’. Hearing the challenges they faced bringing leftfield ideas and sound to Poland and Eastern Europe, I found myself thinking that Ireland also needs push our new and exciting artists, to help the next generation.”

Over the course of its two days, the festival brings audiovisual installations and performances to two of the city’s historic spaces: St. Peter’s Centre on North Main Street, a former church, and Cork City Gaol, a landmark nestled in among the picturesque setting of Sunday’s Well. Working with the venues’ management, the festival’s crew has set about the goal of utilising their unique acoustic properties to add to each performance. “I try to bring something different to each project, and venue selection is a big part of that. As a rule of thumb, I try and source venues which are approximately two-hundred capacity. I think once you start exceeding this, it is hard to maintain the atmosphere and feeling in the room. In my book, each venue should be unique. Unfortunately in Ireland, we lack the unused industrial buildings European festivals like Atonal, Re-wire, and Unsound, have so brilliantly used to showcase their ideas. Furthermore, ideas like these rarely get funding or support from the powers-that-be. So we have to work around this, and be inventive, look at spaces which may be currently occupied, and suggest ideas how they can be used in a different way.”

The festival has been 100% crowdfunded via the fund:it platform, and established as a non-profit, in order to invest funders and supporters with a sense of ownership of the event. It’s relatively new territory for festivals in Ireland to formally announce non-profit status, and take the idea of community involvement beyond local support and regular custom. “The crowdfund has allowed us to put in place key pieces of production infrastructure needed to turn St. Peter’s and Cork City Gaol into venues ready to host live performances. Fund:it are really great, they helped us from the very start, and kept in regular contact helping us create further awareness for our campaign. They are hosting a fund:it day in Cork on the 21st of March (at the Bank of Ireland on Patrick Street), anyone who is interested in fund:it should come along to see what they are about. I decided to set CSF as a non-profit as I want people to feel this is also theirs, and that they are a big reason for this happening. Funding for small festivals is very competitive in Ireland, I believe a festival should help the people taking part, and give back to people who make it happen, i.e. the attendees.”

Among those headlining the proceedings are Derry-based composer Autumns and Corkonian producer/improviser African Fiction, while the festival features a wide array of local and national electronic artists up and down the billing (see panel for more information). Ruane goes into detail on choosing a line-up, and his goals in supporting and featuring the local community. “I had three aims when picking the line up. One, to showcase the best Cork based artists, at St. Peter’s on the Friday night.  Two, to showcase Irish artists who are pushing it internationally, but seem not to find applause here. And three, to bring new sounds and inspire the next generation of producers, with the likes of Autumns and Beatrice Dillon. The state of electronic music is both good and bad. I feel there is really great talent and quality acts in Cork, however – and this goes for Ireland in general – there is still a taboo around electronic music. I look at what is happening elsewhere, and I feel we are regressing. I see places like Berlin, where they are protecting the much-talked-about Berghain as a cultural events center, to Amsterdam and London, who are recognizing the importance of a night-time economy, and are appointing nighttime Majors and Czars to look after venues, and promote night culture. We, on the other hand, are closing venues, and further restricting events to highly sponsored corporate shows which are not giving back to the artistic community or the general punter.”

The lineup showcases the breadth and depth of Cork and Ireland’s electronic music community, drawn from a wide pool of performers and sound designers, some of whom are providing workshops in order to create access to production and composition for the community. It is this spirit and passion that is at the heart of Cork Sound Fair. “The lineup is diverse, but I think a theme which runs through each act is a passion and a dedication to sound and experimentation. For example, Robert Curgenven has had critically acclaimed releases on LINE, The Tapeworm, Dragon’s Eye, Touch Radio and his own Recorded Fields Editions. He has performed internationally at festivals including Maerzmusik, Sonic Acts and Helicotrema. Robert has been fine-tuning his craft for many years, and his new audiovisual show in St. Peter’s will be a dark and dynamic journey with many twists and turns. The workshops are, again, CSF trying to enable and inspire up-and-coming producers. Each class is targeted at beginners, and we are encouraging women and members of the LGBT community to join in.”

With support for the festival in place, and those involved getting in position to give back in various manners over the course of this first instalment, surely this is the beginning of another festival to add to the calendar for Cork’s resurgent independent music community. “We haven’t really thought that far in advance (laughs). This whole process has been a very valuable lesson to me personally. I think once this is all done, we’ll take stock, listen to our attendees and decide what is best for CSF.”

The Jazz at 40: Past, Present and Future

It’s said that history happens when no-one is looking, and this could certainly be said of the origins of the Cork Jazz Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan takes a look at the Jazz’ development, and what lies in the future for the October Bank Holiday institution.

Suffice to say, festivals in Cork were a far different kettle of fish in 1978 to the current state of play. While the city’s music scene was beginning to shift shape under wider influences, and Macroom’s Mountain Dew shindig had just entered its third year, the festival calendar in Cork wasn’t the hectic onslaught of genre celebrations and all-dayers that the city’s culture vultures are au fait with now. In fact, the city’s most enduring music festival wouldn’t even have happened if the Metropole Hotel on McCurtain Street hadn’t been able to go through with an altogether more pedestrian booking for the State’s first official October Bank Holiday. Jazz Festival co-founder Pearse Harvey explained the Jazz’ roots to the then-Cork Examiner for a special supplement in 1998: “A National Bridge Congress which had been booked in to the Metropole for the last weekend in October was cancelled. Jim Mountjoy, then marketing manager at the hotel, was in a dilemma as to how he might recoup some or all of his lost business, and he contacted me with an invitation to discuss a jazz idea he had for the hotel. Over lunch Jim explained the implication of the bridge cancellation, and asked me what I thought of the idea of staging a mini-jazz festival in the hotel over the weekend, and would I help set it up.”

Harvey’s jazz acumen, and Mountjoy’s prowess as a pitchman, helped seal the deal with the Jazz’ first sponsors, tobacconists John Player, a sponsorship move that would be unimaginable in the current climate. In October of 1978, the first annual John Player Jazz International was announced, booked by a committee of members of the recently-defunct Cork Jazz Society, in a manner that might be deemed ‘DIY’ in modern terminology, cold-calling agents and bookers to determine talent availability and fees. Their efforts bore fruit, as Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen packed out the Opera House, while the Ronnie Scott Quintet with Irish jazz pioneer Louis Stewart, sat alongside George Chisholm, Monty Sunshine, Will Bill Davison and Betty Smith among others in the billing at the Metropole, in addition to a strong lineup of local outfits, including Leeside jazz staples Harry & Friends. Many traces of the multifaceted music event with which we are familiar today emerged can be traced back to this community endeavour: the Metropole of course played home to the Festival Club and indeed a great amount of the programme, while the festival’s current Jazz Camp strand of events got its start in workshops hosted by Louis Stewart on guitar and Shaun Forde on jazz percussion, the latter becoming an impromptu jam with attendees.

Despite some hiccups in the early going, including the second installment’s headliner Oscar Peterson cancelling his appearance owing to illness, and the Dutch Swing College Band ending up in Shannon owing to a flight diversion, the festival swung from strength to strength. Leading lights of the oeuvre came through town on European swings in touring to lend weight to the event in its infancy, including Art Blakey, Memphis Slim, and headlining the third installment in 1980, the immortal voice of jazz herself, Ella Fitzgerald, performing matinee and late shows amid a massive media presence and a warm civic reception. The rundown of eighties lineups indeed read now as a ‘who’s who’ of jazz and blues history: Sonny Rollins, Mel Torme, Buddy Rich, B.B. King, Acker Bilk, and Stephane Grappelli are but a handful of the legends who came Leeside to put their mark on a rapidly-growing civic institution.

1981 saw the John Player company pass on further sponsorship, casting doubt on the festival’s development. Amid rumour and controversy that the white-hot festival would be relocated to Dublin, Guinness took the mantle, becoming main sponsor in an arrangement that continues to this day. Speaking on the matter in 1998, Mountjoy outlined his pitching process to the Dublin brewery and how the risks paid off. “I put my ideas to them on how I saw the Festival going forward – a large Pub Trail, a Jazz Boat from the U.K., a Jazz Train from Dublin, and greater domestic & overseas marketing of the event.. the results were immediate, with all types of accommodation within a 15-mile radius, and up to 35,000 visitors of all age groups attending the festival. Many of my friends (in marketing) consider the Jazz to be a classic in off-peak creative marketing.”

Jennifer Gleeson, sponsorship manager at Guinness, reflects on the company’s current relationship with the festival. “We’ve seen it grow and develop over the years, from what started out as a small gathering of people into what is now one of the most prestigious and hotly anticipated cultural events of the year. It takes a lot of effort year in, year out, and what’s really brilliant is that the passion for the festival just grows year-on-year. It’s definitely one of the finest examples of collaboration between ourselves and the Cork Jazz Festival committee, Cork City Council, Failte Ireland and all the publicans, hoteliers, venue owners and restauranteurs who play such a huge part in ensuring people leave the festival with such amazing memories and a longing for their return next year.”

As the eighties gave way to the nineties, and the Jazz become entrenched in the Leeside gigging calendar, the likes of Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck and Dizzy Gillespie headlined the festival, solidifying their legacies as attractions in the twilights of their careers. As the new millennium dawned, the Jazz Festival Committee began the inevitable expansion to a wider audience via jazz-influenced artists, as well as taking on crowd-pleasers like Damon Albarn. Jazz Festival Committee member Fiona Collins explains the balance behind the festival’s oft-scrutinised booking decisions. “It’s about looking at the quality of the acts, and seeing what best suits the venues we’re going to, and the type of audiences they will draw. For example, this year, we have the Miles Davis tribute on Saturday at the Everyman, and Soul II Soul at the Opera House at the same time. Both come under the broad jazz umbrella, but both are at completely different ends of the spectrum. So it’s about maintaining and figuring out that balance.”

With said balance in mind, the Jazz Festival has undoubtedly grown into the marquee weekend of music in the city. Case in point, the Jazz opens on Friday evening with Paddy Casey and Brian Deady, two well-travelled songwriters, in a free outdoor show, and the Festival Club is headlined by Ronnie Scott’s All Stars, in association with the late jazzman’s eponymous club in London, bringing the festival staple full-circle on its anniversary, also marked by an exhibition of behind-the-scenes photography from late Jazz committee chairman Bill Johnson.

Elsewhere around the city is a feast for music aficionados regardless of taste and age to get lost in, adding to the atmosphere and eclecticism of the Jazz. Says Collins of the festival’s atmosphere: “For me, the festival is Cork. You can’t have one without the other. I love that over the weekend, that you get to experience parts of the city that you don’t normally experience. For others, it’s getting out and exploring the streets of Cork – getting out and hearing the marching bands, getting to feel the buzz. It doesn’t matter what street you’re standing on, you’re going to feel it.”

Cork Jazz Festival: A Celebration of Music

The fortieth annual Cork Jazz Festival brings with it a jam-packed line-up of music from across the board. Mike McGrath-Bryan runs through some of the live highlights.

That time of the year approaches. Cork city fills up with the rambunctious strains of jazz standards from bands simply wandering the city, as the customary straw hats begin floating around for October Bank Holiday weekend. Meanwhile, the venues, pubs and spaces of the city ready themselves for a diverse programme that acts as an annual showcase for the city’s music scene for the thousands that roll in every year. Celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, the Cork Jazz Festival sets out its stall with a line-up that places jazz at its forefront, while shining a spotlight on the city’s vibrant and vital music community through performances, workshops and other events, running from October 27th to October 30th.

The Opera House, as ever, provides some of the festival’s marquee names for the weekend, including a much-welcomed focus on homegrown crowdpleasers on Sunday night. On Friday night, festival perennials Booka Brass Band tread the big boards, while Saturday night is marked by a performance from late-eighties chart-botherers Soul II Soul, led by OBE-winning producer Jazzie B. At 6pm on Sunday, Imelda May continues her explorations away from the pop-laden rockabilly with which she earned her rep, venturing into blues, folk and gospel influences. From the stages of Waterford to drawing 10,000 people to their appearance at Electric Picnic (opposite a screening of the All-Ireland final!), King Kong Company are a favourite among audiences on the annual festival grind for a reason, and Sunday night’s late show sees the Buckfast-toting boxheads bring the Jazz to a close with a bang for the city’s landmark music hall.

Jazz stronghold The Everyman Palace provides purists and genre enthusiasts with the best tickets in town for the weekend, with a mixture of new and veteran voices. In what is sure to be a sellout, Australian pianist/vocalist Sarah McKenzie shares a double-headliner with double-bassist Gary Crosby and the Nu-Troop, recreating Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ for its 60th anniversary. Saturday night sees Grammy-winning trumpet virtuoso Nicholas Payton and his Afro-Caribbean Mixtape fuse genres and sounds spanning jazz history into something new, in a double-headliner with fellow Grammy honouree Kenny Garrett and his quintet. On Sunday, the Palace plays home to its last double-header of the weekend, with veteran vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Monty Alexander Trio rounding off a marquee lineup. The Triskel Christchurch continues its run of support for jazz on the weekend also, with ECM Records supergroup Quercus headlining on Saturday, and jazz/trad fusion outfit Notify performing on Sunday evening before a double-header of Sue Rynhart and the Michael Wollny Trio that night at 8pm.

The eternally-busy Cyprus Avenue offers up a double-dose of headlining acts alongside a packed Bank Holiday schedule, kicking the festival off in earnest on Thursday night with a set from blues wizard Eric Gales. Meanwhile, Soulé, arguably one of Ireland’s breakout talents of 2017, shows Cork the vocal prowess that’s made her a quick favourite of music press and the Irish hip-hop scene alike on Friday night, becoming one of the youngest headliners in Jazz history to boot. Among other big-name acts appearing at Cyprus over the Jazz are DJ/producer Ben Sims, Kormac (with a full A/V set) and our own Stevie G, with his ‘Good Music’ night holding down the student crowd after Gales’ set on Thursday. Downstairs from the venue in the Old Oak bar, a constant stream of tunes for the weekend is on offer, but one would be remiss to miss local neo-soul smoothies Shookrah (Friday 7pm, Sunday 4pm) and funk 14-piece Quangodelic (Saturday 5.30, Monday 5.30) offer a madcap mix of funk/Blaxploitation classics and their own compositions.

The Music Trail has always been where it’s at for more discerning music heads, and among the strongholds of new and original music in the city, another anniversary is being celebrated, as Cork’s rock & metal outpost Fred Zeppelin’s marks its 20th year with, among other events, a celebratory gig put on by local metal promoters Pethrophile, headlined by noirish synth-rockers Unkindness of Ravens. Meanwhile, the newly-reopened PLUGD Records curates a weekender in its new home in the Roundy on Castle Street. Friday and Saturday are headlined by DJ sets from the residents of Gulpd Cafe staples Dim the Lights and Not How, When!, while Sunday features a titanic double-header of improvisation, psychedelia and exploration as The Bonk, led by O Emperor man Phil Christie, launch their new LP in a double-headline show with Cork jazz outfit Fixity, led by drum prodigy and community music advocate Dan Walsh.

Mallow Arts Festival: Bringing the Arts Home

Mallow Arts Festival is currently underway, reprising the town’s original summer arts programme for a new generation. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with festival curator Tadhg Curtis.

Established with the stated goal of establishing the arts as a part of life in the North Cork town, Mallow Arts Festival kicked off last night with a performance from John Spillane in the inaugural performance of the current incarnation of the festival. Over the course of the next few days, a number of acts will appear around Mallow, from Louisiana’s Sweet Olive String Band and the Shandrum Céilí Band, to Shandon Guesthouse improvisers The Quiet Club and upcoming acts, like Saint Caoilian, Ealadha and Outsider Y.P., in addition to the town’s first major visual arts exhibition in two decades, film showings curated by Cork film-maker Ger Browne, one-man theatre from veteran performer Dominic Moore, and other local arts attractions.

Various efforts have been made over the years to kickstart the arts in Mallow, succeeding to varying degrees. Mallow Arts Collective co-founder Tadhg Curtis explains some of the history behind contemporary arts in the town. “The first Mallow Arts Festivals were held back in the 1970s, when a group I was part of at that stage, while I was in my twenties, called the Mallow Arts Collective, a group established by Danny McCarthy, held a number of festivals. We managed to attract national names such as Clannad, Freddie White and Paul Brady to play Mallow. We also hosted national touring exhibitions, and equally, with cinema, we had late-night showings of Fellini films. That led onto the formation of the Mallow Arts Alliance in the ‘80s, where we teamed up with the then-Arts Club and the Pilgrim Players theatre group. Mallow Arts Alliance had a number of festivals again through the 1980s, up to the early ‘90s, at the stage then, it disappeared off the radar, and there hasn’t been an arts festival in Mallow for quite a number of years.”

The collective was assembled from local individuals with track records in the arts with the intention of bringing their experience to a submission process for a major announcement in the town. “There’s an umbrella grouping in Mallow called the Mallow Development Partnership, a grouping of state agencies, community bodies and the Chamber of Commerce. Mallow last year heard the announcement that the County Council were looking to establish an arts centre in the old Town Hall. MDP decided it should make a submission in regard to the use of the Town Hall, and what ideally they’d like to see. They asked me to do it, but I decided I wouldn’t do it on my own, I’d approach people that had been active over the years in the arts. I approached six or seven people who all came onboard, they joined in making the initial submission, and then forming Mallow Arts Collective.”

Twelve months ago last week, Mallow Arts Collective assembled a pair of arts events, the Living Space weekenders. A kite-flying exercise for the viability of arts in the area, their purpose was laying the groundwork for the longer-term goal. “After we made the submission, we took a look and said ‘is this arts centre going to be successful?’. We looked at a number of arts centres around the country which had become white elephants, because there wasn’t a community group based around them. We decided that if Mallow was to have a successful arts centre, that there needed to be a more vibrant arts scene. We agreed that we would promote and co-ordinate arts activities in the region, to help make that happen.”

The first year of a flagship arts festival in any town is always a matter of convincing people nearby of the viability of the endeavour. And while not every venue has been responsive, a number of high-profile establishments in town have lent their weight to events happening throughout the weekend. “In the case of (the Hibernian Hotel and adjacent venues, run by local entrepreneur Darren Owens), absolutely no challenge, totally welcoming, totally positive, right from the very beginning. Anything we’ve asked for in relation to that complex, be it Ocana’s, the Hi-B or Keppler’s, full, 100% co-operation. Regarding some other publicans, our initial idea was to try and have something in every single pub in Mallow. That hasn’t proved possible up to now, maybe ‘twas overambitious for a start. Think we mentioned it to about four other publicans, and three have responded. We’ve jazz in Jim Keeffe’s, who’d normally have country-Irish on a Friday night. We now have the likes of Ringo: Music Bingo in Maureen’s, a pub that would have very little entertainment, etc., and again, in Albert Lynch’s, we have a pub with an entertainment history, it has embraced the concept of having a bluegrass band, a folk band, and a post-rock band as well. All of that is very positive.”

Programming arts in a town that hasn’t had much exposure to the arts in the bones of a generation presented challenges in terms of creative direction, in terms of a balance to be struck between what might play well locally and taking risks. “We have to say to the community that as a new group, we can provide a little of what you want, or what you’d be interested in. That was the idea between being conservative enough in the main attractions, like John Spillane, who we anticipate would have a general appeal anyway. The Shandrum Céilí Band are dual All-Ireland champions, and that may be another safe bet to some extent. Beyond that, we’ve experimented with everything else. Bluegrass, jazz, ambient, electronica, hip-hop, we’ve brought in a number of different sessions that’ll all be strange to Mallow. We’re saying to people in Mallow, ‘we can do what you want, but we’ll also open your eyes to what else is out there’.”

The multidisciplinary line-up for the festival has been announced locally over the past couple of weeks via its website and social media, culminating in last week’s brochure. Curtis gets into how the lineup has been received and what the feedback has been. “It’s been positive, I must say. People were deprived of any sort of a festival, really, and they’re looking at the brochure and I imagine there’s a few raised eyebrows. But the message is that the vast majority of the acts and artists are free. Come along and find out what it’s all about. If you get involved, state what you like and sample what’s new, you can have a part to play in ensuring the future of the festival.”

With a full bill of arts and music ready to go, asking Curtis to choose his own highlights results in a moment of something between enthusiasm and indecision. “Everything. (laughs) Practically all of the music, like the all-dayer in St. James’ Church on Saturday, very experimental. I’m a fan of bluegrass, so I’m looking forward to the Sweet Olive String Band at Albert Lynch’s. Finally then, we have the best guitarist in Cork, Robbie Barron, in his blues band Bate to Debt on Sunday night at Keppler’s. At that stage we’ll be over the worries, and I’ll be enjoying it.”

This year’s festival is in readiness, and surely thoughts turn to the next step for the Mallow Arts Collective. “The whole idea is to try and stimulate and invigorate an arts scene in Mallow in preparation for the Arts Centre in Mallow. It’ll be two or three years before that comes on stream so what we need to do is keep having events, having festivals, try to keep having people motivated and mobilised, so that at the end of the day, when the centre comes, people will be dying to get into this, they’ll know what they want from it and have a variety of activities they’ll want to be part of.”

Mallow Arts Festival is ongoing, until this Sunday. More information on times and venues at mallowartsfestival.com, and on their Facebook & Twitter.

Right Here, Right Now Festival: “There’s a Lot to Be Proud Of!”

A celebration of the current Cork scene that sees a variety of acts across the genre spectrum take centre-stage on the largest stage the city has to offer. That’s the underlying philosophy behind Right Here, Right Now, a festival co-presented by the team at Douglas Street venue Coughlan’s Live and Cork Opera House. It’s been a labour of love for both parties, as Coughlans’ Brian Hassett explains. “As Coughlan’s Live Promotions, we have been involved in putting on a number of shows already in Cork Opera House over the last few years, and through that we’ve gotten to know the team there. I think we had all been expressing recently about just how much great music was being created and released throughout Cork, and that planted a seed of thought with Eileen, the CEO of Cork Opera House. She asked us to call in for a meeting as she was keen to have an event that we could work on together to celebrate this current scene. Right Here Right Now was born from that, a weekend to focus a spotlight on these songwriters and bands that are currently releasing all these great albums. In Coughlans we work regularly in a very grass roots level with many of these groups and it’s amazing to have Cork Opera House, which is such an iconic venue, wanting to be so actively involved and working to develop that scene within the city.”

The collaborative process behind the festival has seen the operating power of the Opera House line up with the ground-floor knowledge of the Coughlan’s team to provide opportunities for local artists to be part of something truly special. “Well, I would say we have really been working as a team on it, and that everything along the way has been through discussion from both sides. It’s something that we have all really come together on through a shared passion. The main theme of the festival is bringing together lots of groups all under the one roof that have great songs, great songwriters and great performers. So with curating it, we all talked about the tremendous amount of bands throughout Cork that are active right now, putting out new music and touring before we quickly realised that there was likely enough there to fill numerous weekends, really. A major benefit to the festival was funding secured from The Arts Council through Cork Opera House to enable what is going to be the big centre piece of the weekend, Jack O’ Rourke & Band, Strung and Anna Mitchell all teaming up with The Cork Opera House Concert Orchestra for a show in the main auditorium. For both the musicians as well as the audience this show is going to be a pretty thrilling experience and an amazing one off opportunity.”

Friday gets the festival off to a strong start with Interference returning to the Opera House after a sold-out show in January – what are Hassey’s thoughts on the band’s current incarnation? “We’re delighted to have Interference back to open the festival. Their previous show sold out so quickly and left a lot of people unable to get tickets. Fergus’ passing was a massive loss to so many people and it was really special to see the band together performing a stunning show to a packed out Cork Opera House. The band were joined by a whole hosts of guests including Glen Hansard, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Joe O’ Leary, Jerry Fish, Jack O’ Rourke, Mundy, and many others in a night that honoured Ferg and the great catalogue of Interference songs. It was an extremely memorable show and they’ve recently released a stunning album, ‘The Sweet Spot’ so I’m really looking forward to welcoming them back. There’s lots of special guests lined up once again (which is a closely guarded secret for now), but let’s just say you definitely won’t want to miss it!”

Saturday is headlined by Cork singer-songwriter Jack O’Rourke with the COH Concert Orchestra, a spectacle in itself, as well as Anna Mitchell and Strung. The preparation for this centrepiece event has been thorough, with a pair of composers adding their work to expand each artist’s sound for the night. “We’ve been really lucky to team up with John O’ Brien who is writing the scores for Jack’s show and Cormac McCarthy who is writing for Anna Mitchell & Strung. John will then conduct and direct the Orchestra throughout the night. Both of them have been incredible with working alongside the artists, adding so much to the music. It’s a very rare opportunity for artists to get to reimagine their music and play with a cast of over 30 musicians so we’re all very excited for this.”

Sunday is the busiest day of the line-up by far, with Mick Flannery, The Shaker Hymn, Shookrah, Hank Wedel and more, a very varied line-out. Hassett takes us through the day and gives a little insight into juggling all the elements of the day. “Sunday sees six different shows in the one day, with twelve acts performing and for this we will be utilising two different spaces: The Right Room, which is on stage at Cork Opera House, and The Green Room which is in the backstage area. The shows will be staggered so that there’ll be very little overlap from one show to the next, with the live music going from one room to another throughout the day. Two of the shows I’m really looking forward to on the Sunday would be both of the late night shows; Marc O’ Reilly & band and John Blek & the Rats in The Right Room; and then also Shookrah in The Green Room, as these will be the final shows of the weekend, running until 2am, and it will feel pretty great to be able to settle back a little and enjoy them fully.”

We’ve seen the Green Room as of late in Cork Opera House events, but The Right Room is getting its debut with Right Here Right Now – what can we expect from this addition to the Opera House?

“As part of the festival, we wanted people to be able to have new and different experiences at Cork Opera House, and we hope that through the different setups and spaces there will be a different participation from the audience also. We’re taking over the backstage area for the weekend, transforming it and inviting everybody to come and share in it. So in The Right Room, the audience actually joins the bands on the stage, for the show. The whole thing happens ‘behind the curtain’, so to speak. For certain shows it will be nice and intimate with seating & tables, and for others it’s going to be much more of a party. Did I mention there’s also going to be a bar on the stage?”

The scene in Cork seems to be going from strength to strength with the development of fests like Quarter Block Party, Coughlan’s Live Music Fest, and now Right Here, Right Now. Hassett is full of enthusiasm for the development of the scene in recent years. It seems there has always been great music coming from Cork but definitely of late there has been a real abundance of wonderful albums. There are a lot of tirelessly working passionate musicians and in the last few years there has been a real growth in more of an industry and opportunities for them. There are festivals, venues. promoters, DJs, booking agents, studios, journalists, etc. all working together with musicians in sharing this wealth of great music. With the scene in Cork, right here, right now, there’s a lot to be proud of!”

The question at the end of all of this is simple – what about the festival going forward? What will the long-term hold? “Right Here Right Now ’17 is a three-day festival, but it could very easily be a week long with the amount of other groups we would have loved to include. We would love for this to become a yearly event in the calendar in Cork, an opportunity for people to come see some of the best music, both established and emerging.”

Right Here, Right Now happens throughout the weekend at Cork Opera House. Tickets are available at the box-office and at corkoperahouse.ie.

Sudden Club Weekender: Sudden Movement

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Ahead of a colossal weekend of independent music, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with some of the artists and producers at the Sudden Club Weekender.

This weekend sees some of the cream of Irish and international independent music hit the recently-revived Kino venue on Washington Street. Sudden Club Weekender, presented by erstwhile Leeside culture auteurs Southern Hospitality Board, is a three-day run of gigs and afterparties created with a sense of spontaneity in mind. Caoilian Sherlock, SHB co-promoter and The Shaker Hymn guitarist.

“We aimed to have a pop-up club that moved around non-traditional venues. Started with MNDSGN in The Sextant, SassyBlack in AMP, and we did a kind of pilgrimage to Connolly’s of Leap over the summer. I guess the intention was to make people raise their eyebrow with certain shows and venues in the hope that it would make for a more interesting show but also, “sudden” is such a statement of a word. I liked the idea that The Sudden Club is a temporary gang – and you’re in the gang as soon so you come to the gig.”

The idea for a festival emerging from out of nowhere played well into a big gathering of artists capping off landmark years, says Caoilian. “We just wanted to throw a big party at Christmas, or for the end of the year. So that’s what we’re aiming to do. Make it a party. All of the acts that we asked know that’s our shtick, so I’m sure we’ll be successful in that aspect. And Gulpd are throwing some late night events that are tying in with us – so it’s my favourite type of weekend. A real showcase.”

Headlining night one, on the 9th, are Rusangano Family, one of the most influential musical outfits in the country at present. Socially-conscious hip-hop with a multicultural voice, the trio is comprised of a pair of MCs, Zimbabwe-born Godknows and Togo-born Murli, with Clareman mynameisj0hn holding down beats. 2016 has been their breakout year, with the release of long-player Let the Dead Bury the Dead.

The album examines the act’s place in the world as artists and as people, taking in soul-searching internal monologue on expectations and cultural shifts, taking a step forward from the outfit’s early solo and collaborative configurations. Godknows speaks on the record: “Our music, although people might say it’s political, we happened to make an objective album, and if we look at the world’s outlook right now, the best thing is to love, and to be objective, and I’m happy that our music is what’s getting me through what’s happening in the world. That’s something for me, maybe personally. I’m happy I can still listen to the album, because that means we made a good album.”

Having decimated Cork venues twice this year with a hyperkinetic live show, including a sold-out album launch at the Kino earlier in 2016, the question of what we can expect now emerges, an inquiry Godknows tackles with a glee readily evident even down the phone line. “Aw, man! I think we’re gonna be well-rejuvenated. Y’know, we’ve learned a lot since the album came out in terms of performance, in terms of stage, in terms of our own voices. What you can expect is a bigger live show. The energy stays the same, but I think, the show, for some reason, maybe through experience, keeps getting more grand. I love that, ’cause at the end of the day, we have to go out and perform every time. For us, it’s the joy of doing something new, something we’ve done a lot of times, but in a new way.”

Supporting Rusangano Family is Corkman Ruairí Lynch, a.k.a. Bantum. Following an extended radio silence, Lynch re-emerged in the latter half of the year with new album Move, a work rooted in extensive collaboration, not only with Rusangano Family and Senita on leadoff single Feel Your Rhythm, but across its creative process, as Lynch reveals. “This record could never have happened without collaboration. Initially I intended to just release a follow up instrumental track to the Take It single back in February, but a series of fortunate events led to these collaborations. The Rusanganos are just the best lads. I traveled to Ennis to hang out with them when we recorded the vocals and they’ve been fantastic to me this year.”

The Altered Hours have had an incredibly busy year of it, releasing their debut LP earlier this year via Cork labels Penske and Art for Blind, and undertaking a comprehensive European tour. There’s one more round in Ireland this month for the band, including headlining the 10th at the Kino with The Bonk in support. Guitarist/vocalist Cathal McGabhann is ready for more. “You could just put me in the back of a van tomorrow, and tell me I have shows booked for the next year straight and I’d be the happiest man alive. I really like playing the guitar and I love travelling with my band mates. When I don’t know where I am, and I have a gig that night is when I’m at my best I think, shaking these illusions of attachment one gig at a time.”

The band’s debut long-player In Heat/Not Sorry has made this year a landmark for the band. MacGabhann reflects on the band’s relationship with the record. “I’m proud of that record. In my opinion, it was the first step for us into our own world, sonically and conceptually. The release of this record out of my hands was a great relief too. I have so much energy to burn when it comes to making music I’m pretty sure at this stage it’s an entirely insatiable desire, so finishing a project and getting it off your chest allows me to shed all those positive and negative feelings and move on the next bunch of songs. Looks like this will continue for the foreseeable future while hopefully learning and expanding along the way.”

The weekend’s final headliner, on the 11th, is U.K. songwriter Rozi Plain and band, supported by The Shaker Hymn and Anna-Mieke Bishop.

An established composer and a seasoned session musician for artists like This is the Kit, 2015 saw third album Friend released on London indie Lost Map, followed up by this year’s companion piece Friend of a Friend. “The album was a mixture of songs that’d I’d been playing for a couple of years, and really, brand new songs. We recorded in a very short, very intense space of time at a studio in London called The Total Refreshment Centre. Lots of things about it came together in this really cosmic-feeling way, it was a great time! Friend of a Friend‘s name was Johnny from (labelmates) The Pictish Trail’s idea. We’d had a few remixes come in and so it was a good excuse to ask pals if they fancied doing some more and then putting them all together. It includes some live session tracks and covers as well including a Sun Ra cover that we do that I really enjoy playing so it was fun to be able to get it on something.”

Plain is excited about coming back to Cork, having done a few tours of duty here with her own band and amid collaborators. “Yes, we love coming back to Ireland. We played earlier this year at Quarter Block Party in Cork, and at Levis’, and they were two of my favourite shows of all time that we’ve done. So, it’s very exciting to be returning! Everyone is always so welcoming, and such great vibe dudes. I used to come on holiday to Ballydehob every summer when I was little, and have great memories of it.”

The Shaker Hymn have been no slouches this year, either, with new album Do You Think You’re Clever? preceding a big Irish tour and several music video releases. Caoilian holds forth on the process. “We’re all very proud of it as a record. It was the album we had been yearning to make for a long time, in terms of sounds and style. It’s much more of a full-band record than the first in respect of ideas, and it’s been picked up very nicely throughout the year. Couldn’t ask for much more than that.”

Amid all the excitement is the announcement that Southern Hospitality Board are to wind up their operations under the moniker for the foreseeable future. A veritable force of nature on the Cork scene since going into business for themselves post-Pavilion, they’ve been one of the anchors of Leeside music, a sentiment echoed by MacGabhann. “Caoilian and Aisling should be extremely proud of their work in Cork city. They really are incredible people with a wonderful sense of style, loyalty and dedication to a great gig experience. I have come to know the lads through music in Cork over the past 6 years or so and they have just been on the ball the whole time. They’ve been an invaluable support to our group for years now and so many others.”

Caoilian, looking to the future, explains the rationale behind SHB’s decision to call it a day. “We had a very busy year booking shows and working on our own music, and then just working our own jobs that pay the bills. We never really had a chance to talk about the toll it was taking on us. It hasn’t been making us rich either. Which is fine, it’s not why we do it, but it is important. We both took some holidays in November, and separately came back with the the same ideas, a bit of clarity… I have pledged myself to about 408 new projects and bands, so I’m sure I’ll wear myself out with those. Aisling is the same, we won’t be stuck for things to do anyway.”

IndieCork: Declaration of Indiependence

IndieCork film and music festival has become an important cornerstone of the city’s cultural community. Before this year’s instalment, from the 9th to the 16th of this month, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with festival co-ordinator Mick Hannigan.

Mick Hannigan is a man in a good place. With the IndieCork film festival he co-chairs now in its fourth year, and having recently regained control of his former cinema, the Kino, now a theatre, things have come together after a period of upheaval that resulted in the creation of the fest.

“The genesis of IndieCork was the parting of the ways four years ago of my long-time colleague Úna Feely and I from our then employers, Cork Film Festival. There was much talk of CFF becoming a ‘red-carpet festival’ and we were concerned at the loss of focus on young and emerging filmmakers, particularly those working in short film. We had, after all, spent many years building the festival up to be the premier festival for shorts in Ireland. While we had no doubt about our ability to attract great shorts from Ireland and abroad, we did wonder if there was a sufficiently lively Irish indie scene. We needn’t have worried. Wonderful Irish features land on our laps each year, made without Irish Film Board or Section 481 funding, but showing great talent and inventiveness.”

The new festival placed heavy emphasis on short film as a staple of the programme. As mentioned, short film was Mick & Úna’s speciality, and it represents the pioneering spirit of the season.

“The short film is the R & D arm of the film industry. It’s in shorts where new styles and techniques of story telling are tried out, for the most part by imaginative young filmmakers. We love shorts as an art form in their own right but as the place where new filmmaking talent can be identified. Identifying young talent and following their subsequent film careers was always the payback for us. I remember, for example, Harry Potter director David Yates as a diffident 21-year-old in Cork with his wonderful short When I Was a Girl, or John Moore with Jack’s Bicycle or Lenny Abrahamson’s 3 Joes. There are other many examples I could cite. And of course we have two programmes of Cork-produced shorts. It great to be able to present these in a proper cinema setting to large appreciate audiences. And if a festival can’t support the creative people on its own doorstep, what’s the point?”

The crew struck up a working partnership with Rising Sons and have added web hosting firm Blacknight to the lineup of sponsors this year – how are these groups to work with, what do they add in terms of the running of the fest?

“Frankly, the festival would not have happened on the scale it is without the support and endorsement of Benny McCabe of Rising Sons – he approached us when we were planning IndieCork, saying he liked the idea of an independent festival, it fitted with his perspectives on independent breweries. It’s a good fit. Blacknight Solutions’ support has been really timely. When we wanted to expand to a second venue they were there lending support and advice for the Blacknight Festival Centre. And again it’s a good fit as Blacknight already work with Irish film production companies.”

Last year saw an expanded IndieCork Music programme, which is now a full-fledged week of music replete with an annual award. Mick is succinct about why it works. “I guess it’s the whole indie thing – indie film, indie music. The SXSW festival in Austin, Texas is huge of course but it’s a good model for mixing film and music. Anyways we love both, so why not!”

At time of writing, the brochure was just launching, and Mick is ebullient about the offering this year, highlighting some personal favourites of this year’s lineup. “We love our opening film. It’s sold out now but it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy that audiences will really enjoy. There are two Cork-produced features – horror flick Beyond The Woods and visually astonishing Storage. It’s great to be able to give them their World Premieres. The Film Feast is always a special occasion – food and film. What’s not to like!”

The Cork City Council Arts Office has also extended its support this year, a notable gesture after the parting of ways from the Film Festival. It’s an elephant in the room that’s not long waiting to be addressed. “It’s heartening to receive the support of the Arts Office. It doesn’t mean that we are in ‘financially sustainable’ territory – we’re still 100% volunteer-led. Festivals and arts events thrive if they are supported from a number of sources. We’re glad the City Council sees the value of the festival to Cork and to the Cork film community. I think over the past four years we’ve shown that there’s a space, perhaps a need, for an Irish festival of indie film. We’re glad it’s in Cork.”

On further discussion of the film community in Cork, Mick is glowing. Just off the back of recent successes, he’s optimistic about its future.“Well Peter Footte is way up there. What he has done with The Young Offenders is simply amazing, fulfilling the promise of his earlier shorts, which we screened in Cork. I think people are gonna be impressed by producer/actress Sinead O’Riordan’s work on Dead Along The Way. One project worth looking out for is the screen adaptation of Lisa McInerney’s wonderful Cork novel, The Glorious Heresies.”

The one question that always emerges and your writer imagines vexes festival folk nevertheless emerges: what to do when all is done and dusted for another year? “I’m heading to Liverpool straight away! To present Irish shorts at the Liverpool Irish Festival. What a great city. I love it and the people.”