Rebel Reads: “Our Commitment is to Always Fight for This to Happen”

With progressives and community activists more mobilised than ever in recent years, the time was coming for a hub for ideas, thoughts and events. Enter Rebel Reads, a new community bookshop and co-operative space on Father Mathew Quay. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with co-ordinator Declan Synnott.

The tide has turned in Ireland in recent years. Our well-documented conversion from a once-conservative island fealty to a diverse, forward-looking nation has been an increasingly common international media story. The last thirty years have seen everything, from the decriminalisation of homosexuality and divorce, to liberalisation of laws regarding marriage equality and reproductive rights. The latter saw an unprecedented civic partnership of social and political groups come together, to push for citizen’s assemblies and eventual referenda on these matters, leading to hard-fought but decisive results in its favour. The question of ‘what next’ has many answers, and a great many debates are to be had regarding civil partnership among community groups and progressive political factions.

But on a local level, taking that energy and organisation forward and building on the work of the Together for Yes campaign was of vital importance, especially in the light of the loss of community arts spaces in recent years. Rebel Reads, a community bookshop and organisation space on Father Matthew Quay, occupies the campaign’s former headquarters, and as co-ordinator Declan Synnott reveals, came from the desire to move things forward. “An initial callout was made via Solidarity Books’ Facebook page. Solidarity Books was an anarchist bookshop on Douglas Street, which closed in 2015. People were attempting to reorganise, and we began holding meetings every few weeks to discuss how we’d go about it. The plan was to have a physical space with a bookshop running out of it, that would be acting as facilitators for radical, left-leaning political activities and organising, but also open to cultural and creative activities on the independent level in the city.”

The process of assembling a team and reaching consensus on a mission statement, while building on effort and enthusiasm, had to be taken seriously. In carrying on from Solidarity Books, a hefty precedent exists, and providing a progressive space requires solid policy and a plan. “Within those meeting was an overt focus on dialogue and discussing what individuals wanted and what the city needed, and start to organise according to ability to start to address these issues. That meant setting up working groups, so there was a policy group, for organisation and operation, PR groups for social media and engaging with the outside world. But there was always the understanding that they would be coming from a left-leaning background, working toward the end of social change. That was the discussion, understanding that that’s what we wanted.”

The idea of a multi-use space grew from these discussions. The process of taking ideas from different sources on board, and putting them all in one place to set about actioning them, has been essential to its development and general pitch to the public. “Part of our view is wanting to enable people to do what they want to do, or need to do, in the city. So, we’ve always had something of an open call for people to come and propose uses of the space, and we’ve attempted to enable people to do that by themselves, so that we would be in a facilitation role, providing resources. Again, it’s a conversation, we talk to them, see what their needs and our capabilities are, and find common ground.”

Community spaces right now in the city are at a premium as gentrification continues, which makes the shop’s existence even more important at this time. The response, support and interaction from other community organisations has been essential to its development. “It’s all been incredibly positive, people have been supportive. The space we’re in came through Cork Together for Yes, a lot of us were involved, and we’re, as is our policy, a pro-choice organisation, so that was one very natural relationship. But lots of people from varying backgrounds have been involved, and it’s been a positive response, whether it’s wanting to collaborate or showing support. There is that understanding that having community-focused, non-profit spaces in the cities is getting harder. People tacitly understand our existence is precarious, and want to help work to secure it. We knew space might be transient, and the nature of the rental market, gentrification, our government not really caring about how these things happen once profit is generated. But part of our commitment is to always fight for this to happen, and so many people feel the same way, cares, and reaches out.”

In terms of events – there’s screenings and plans for quiet gigs, and there’s already been cookouts and repair shops. The role of events in the space’s development is that of creating a destination for all manner of interests. “We have regular things, a screening every Friday, music. We have vegan food nights, repair cafes. All of those things are about community outreach, where people feel comfortable coming into a space where paying in isn’t essential, where we can do donations or keep admittance as low as we can, and that emphasises how we operate as a bookshop as well. We have couches, we want people to come in, drink some free tea, hang out and feel like they don’t have to pay any money to be in a space. Having these events is to have a sense of like-minded people, sharing an experience, and fostering a sense of co-operation and unity. Cities are alienating places, and spaces like this are where you find support.”

What’s in the future for the space, and what is its importance in light of the changes happening to the city over the next decade? “I believe that people will always come in with great new ideas. Keeping that open to external ideas, and letting those develop more, and more. It’s gonna add to what’s there and assist in changing things. We’re not focused on development for profit-making. We’re focused on aiding communities and positive, radical social and political change, and we’re always going to be dedicated to that. Offering support, a view to alternatives, and a sense that people care, people care beyond monetary value, about individuals.”

Rebel Reads is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10am-7pm, at 14 Father Mathew Quay, around the corner from RTÉ Cork. For more information on events and concerts, check out @rebelreadscork across social media.

HAUSU Records: “Something Local and Independent”

Collectivisation and co-operation is the name of the game in a Cork music scene ever more affected by precarity and gentrification. Amid all the uncertainty, some of Cork’s young musicians and music professionals are sticking together, with a collective, label and creative working arrangement known simply as HAUSU. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with some of the people involved.

The narrative in the city right now is of one generation coming of age creatively, post-recession: bands and musicians that have gutted out the “bad times” are perpetually set for bigger and better things. Having reorganised, focused and garnered resolve from formative periods spent garnering resources and connections without much in the way of formal help, they rightly stand centre-stage and place Cork firmly at the centre of the national music picture. But the seismic impact of DIY music on the city’s culture has left its fingerprint on a wave of younger musicians and facilitators that have witnessed change for themselves, and subsequent grown up with wider skillsets and changed expectations out of necessity. Against this background comes Hausu (pronounced ‘how-soo’), a collective of musicians, designers and press professionals based in Cork, emerging from various backgrounds but sharing a commonality of coming up through local music schools and programmes like the YMCA Groundfloor studio and student media.

Bands comprised of collective members, like Repeater and Ghostking is Dead, as well as solo projects, like spoken-word outlet Mothra (aka Hassan Baker, pictured) and electronic pop prospect Automatic Blue, provide a verdant creative offering musically for the group’s label aspect, while a team of young designers and student music journos-turned-DIY press relations people furnish the project with a unique visual identity. Repeater man Hassan Baker details how the collective initially rallied around. “We’d always talked about this while working on (first EP) ‘Who Sold It To Ya?’. We talked to other talented buds of ours, and planned on a more planned launch of it all. But then things fell into place when Ghostking is Dead wanted to release ‘Sweet Boy’ under our banner. This lit a fire under our collective asses, that just became a very Hausu way of doing things. Basically when something is going down, it’s all hands on deck, to chip in and to spread the word.” Intervening to help the artists organise were a number of volunteers, among them journalist and former college radio host Colm Cahalane, whose ‘Tapes’ radio shows had garnered something of a cult following locally. “It landed when we realised we had a lot of individual bodies of work coming up; debuts, follow-ups, singles, remixes etc – and we’d benefit from sharing support and resources every step from recording to releasing. At the start, I kind of pushed this attempt at a professional image of Hausu Records as a label; but lately I’ve been more honest about calling it what it is; a collective, a group of friends, something local and independent.”

In just over a year, the label has come to represent cohesion between younger artists in the city, something that, as mentioned, has become necessary in the absence of structure. They’re not the only ones, of course, and the lads are more than cognisant of the place of their efforts in the city’s wider musical landscape. For Cahalane, it’s arguably a Venn diagram of time, place and necessity. “I have a lot of time and respect for the shift towards collectives in Ireland as a whole. We’ve seen what people like Cuttin’ Heads and Outsiders are doing for Cork hip-hop, Anomaly taking that momentum to Waterford, what SESH FM are bringing to dance music in a national and even global sense, how Soft Boy Records are carving a niche for themselves in Dublin. We want to become a part of that scene for real and collaborate with them. I grew up on some of this stuff, going to Feel Good Lost gigs as a teen and through college to see acts like Talos and Young Wonder find their feet.” Lofty ambitions aside, it adds to the practicality of running musical projects that may be adjacent to each other regardless, to which Baker can attest. “It’s very important. We all have our own skills and experience. I spent some time in student journalism, so it helps knowing the process of journalists and bloggers. Then, for example, (collective members) Tadhg (McNealy), Emer (Kiely) and Neil (O’Sullivan-Greene) know the design world. They see trends, and formulate them into things us philistines can then understand. This helps us form our own system for traversing the Irish music scene.”

Matt Corrigan, operating under the nom-de-guerre of Ghostking is Dead, has been haunting the city in a few forms from a very young age, a preternaturally gifted musician with a tremendous flair for drama and/or sarcasm, as the mood takes him. The label this year released his most recent series of singles, and overseen a transition to full-band gigging, effectively providing him with everything necessary to expand on his vision. “Hausu has been a dramatic accelerant to my work. The force at which such ambitious and talented company drives one forward is like being pulled behind a car on a skateboard. I have come dangerously close to burning out a number of times, but the near-familial support and relationships keep me locked in. My drive is perpetually reinforced by how taken I am with the tremendous work of my friends and peers. Hausu makes me want to be better. It makes me excited to be a musician.”

Corrigan’s cousin Jack, creating music on the label as Actualacid, is drawn to the collective by the mutual supports shown among members, and how it’s benefited himself and others. “I think seeing Matt’s progress is like watching a superhero movie where they gradually begin to realize the extent of their powers. Everything he’s turned his hand to thus far, he’s been good at. He’s an inherently talented guy, same with Drew. Watching my two young cousins develop and getting to collaborate with them on the way has been the highlight of all of this so far. Hausu is a collective, a DIY label, a dangerous, dysfunctional co-dependency, but it’s family business for me. I’m just happy to be making things with the best people I know.”

Drew Linehan has been releasing steadily on the label under the Automatic Blue pseudonym, an initial aside to his role in Repeater, foreshadowing an electronic-informed indie/pop strain that draws on the likes of FlyLo and the Internet. The creative process behind the singles we’ve heard so far is a look at the ambition and greater reach to accessibility within the group’s electronic parish. “I recorded most of (debut) “Baby” in the background to everything I was doing in Repeater, and the formation of Hausu, which was more for fun without any thoughts about releasing the songs. I think I was embarrassed a bit by how poppy some tracks were. I’ve always loved melody and a good hook, and with Automatic Blue melody comes first, which is a relief now because melodies have always been the most rewarding aspect to write for me. Once I have the song though, I’m in the studio, trying to imagine what could be happening behind that melody and with the chords. I’m working on a new EP called “Junk” which has kept me in nearly complete solitude this summer. It’s gotten a bit obsessive but hopefully that’s lead to some more developed and creative songs.”


Baker himself has recently begun spoken-word work under the name Mothra, including a performance at Electric Picnic this month. Within the Hausu arrangement laid the freedom to pursue performance poetry, and transition from more boisterous punk-rock rhetoric into hip-hop. “I’ve been been writing poetry since I was young, as a writing exercise. I did open mics at (weekly night) Ó Bhéal, as a way to workshop lyrics or other ideas, and even did the odd closed mic gig. The focus was always on the music. The poems fed into the music pretty easily. It’s a lot easier to shout poetry in a punk song than to actually sing. Moving away from shouting and screaming myself hoarse, and into rap sounded like it was more suitable for my skill set.”

With a sense of community now firmly entrenched among its members and artists, the idea is to proceed with collaborative efforts. Whether it’s the fundamentals of DIY music infrastructure being extended to new venues and artists, or capitalising on the advance of the cloud and collaborative working tools, the group has an eye firmly fixed on the future, as Cahalane outlines. “Our number-one focus, even more than our next slate of releases, is getting events happening in Cork. Nights we’re playing and curating, using to support local talent, and collaborate with others outside our own reach; especially with other collectives, as I’ve said before. Hopefully we’ll do a listening party for our upcoming stuff, get proper live debuts for Automatic Blue, Mothra, Actualacid and Repeater, and showcase some other local bands while we’re on it. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be extending the lessons we’ve learned with Hausu to a national framework; running off a new Discord server or something of the sort. My own background is in software, so we’re going to try and build a community where we hold weekly demo critique and review sessions, share advice, resources and contacts, and give new artists everywhere the things that aren’t easy or obvious to find. Groups like First Music Contact have been vital for us, but we want to create a peer-to-peer environment for that too.”

Hausu releases, as well more artist and collective info, are available at hausurecords.com. Individual singles and releases are available for streaming on Spotify, and other streaming services.

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.

Groundfloor Theatre’s The Collector: “It Goes to Some Very Dark Places”

A study in obsession, boundaries and the depths of human behaviour, John Fowles’ novel ‘The Collector’ makes for an unsettling stage production, courtesy of Groundfloor Theatre. Before the show’s final run at the Everyman Palace from September 26th-28th, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with actor Andrew Holden.

When Frederick Clegg, a socially awkward man with a hobby in collecting butterflies, falls under the spell of Miranda Grey, the woman he admires from afar, the heady rush of longing and nervousness becomes something much, much worse. Unable to overcome his anxiety, he does the unthinkable, and resorts to kidnap to add her to his tally. Adapted from John Fowles’ deeply unsettling novel by Mark Healy, The Collector confronts in uncompromising fashion the depths to which obsession will stoop to be satiated.

For actor and co-producer Andrew Holden, who led crowdfunding for the initial run of the show via Irish platform fund:it, bearing responsibility for staging the show was a labour of love for the tale that unfolds. “For me personally, the attraction in taking on the project in the first place was the power of John Fowles original story. I found it to be dramatic, challenging and completely gripping. Obviously, adapting any novel for the stage is a mammoth task, but Mark Healy’s version has been a joy to work on. It is unmistakably the same story, but he has a brilliant understanding of how to tell a story to a theatre audience, and keep them engaged.”

Conveying a story that is inherently uncomfortable, and perhaps reflecting on an unfortunately all-too common fear for many people in the obsession of another, presented a very challenging environment for the cast and crew, with a very delicate balance to be maintained in storytelling and production. “It has been, without a doubt, a difficult piece to rehearse and perform as it goes to some very dark places at times. I think the main challenge involved for the director and actors has been not to pull our punches. A watered-down version of this story would be pointless, but judging from the reaction of audiences around the country we have managed to avoid that.”

The show has completed national touring, including engagements with major city theatres and festivals. For such an uncomfortable piece, garnering the response and making the decision to go on tour from Waterford was a big decision, but one that ultimately was the making of the production. “The reaction to the show around Ireland has been fantastic. Our first performances were in Central Arts, an intimate sixty-seat theatre in Waterford, and being realistic, if it hadn’t gone down well with the audiences there, we probably would not have had the confidence to tour, but the thing I am personally most proud of with this production is how the story is working for the audiences, and they’re having a brilliant night at the theatre.”

The Everyman is a unique venue, even among many of the older theatres still dotted around the country, and for the show’s crew, performing there was among the production’s end goals. “We have been touring the country with the production for many months now, and the Everyman is the largest venue that we will have visited. Obviously there are adjustments to be made from a technical perspective in adapting to a larger space, but we had been looking to bring the show to Cork for some time now, and the Everyman was always our first choice! We are delighted to finally be getting to bring the production to Cork audiences.”

The late September dates for the production herald its eventual end after the aforementioned run around the country. The weight of storytelling aside, the crew have achieved everything they have set out to accomplish and are winding down at the right time, according to Holden. “As it stands, these three Cork performances will be the final performances for this production of ‘The Collector’. It is now just over two years since we originally performed it. One of the original hopes was always that the production would have a life outside of a short run in one venue, and I think we can safely say we have achieved that.”

With that in mind, what’s left is for Holden to reflect on what crowds in Cork City can expect later next month, when the show pulls into the famed McCurtain Street theatre for its final curtain. “For anyone who has never read the novel, never seen the play or film, I describe ‘The Collector’ to them as a drama with a strong thriller vibe at times. When I first read it, the story just sucked me in, and, without sounding too cocky, feedback from our audiences indicates that the story works exactly the same way for them. I’ve still not met anyone who has been able to predict the ending.”

‘The Collector’, produced by Groundfloor Theatre in association with Central Arts Waterford, stops at the Everyman Palace from September 26th to 28th. Tickets €20, available at the venue’s box office now.

And On The Third Day: “A Story to Be Told”

Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with playwright Derek O’Gorman about new work ‘On The Third Day’, premiering at Cork Arts Theatre this August.

A young man falls into the River Lee. His partner and best friend scour the riverbank and wait, riddled with worry for news. A boatman stands by, doing his best to impart hard-won local knowledge and assist the search. These are the underlying tensions in new play ‘On the Third Day’. The idea of a river-rescue search, and the feeling of foreboding for those bearing witness, proved to be fertile ground for writer Derek O’Gorman, giving him the opportunity to study the city’s quays as a community and as a location. “The river is an integral part of the fabric of Cork City life, and that always fascinated me. Working in the city centre, I would cross numerous bridges every day, and at times of tragedy the community spirit shown by volunteers also intrigued me. There was a time when boatmen worked along Union Quay in particular, and the how and why of their life stories interested me. I felt there was a story to be told.”

Over the course of the play, three protagonists form a bond over the search, joined later in the story by a pair of estranged parents, creating an ensemble cast and providing scope to examine the nature of relationships between both people and environments, and how they are tested in times of uncertainty. For O’Gorman, this is a central element of the show. “I wanted the play to explore relationships, relationships with the river, the city but also interpersonal and intergenerational relationships. I wanted to explore these in as natural a way as possible. I think there are elements of all the characters in all of us.” Director Philip Anthony McCarthy has taken charge of casting for this production of the play, imbuing the story with the experience of local veterans and the energy of new faces from the local theatre community. O’Gorman is effusive. “Philip has assembled an unbelievably talented cast, mixing established local actors with, young, exciting talent. Tony Walsh, Cian Hurley, Rebecca McCarthy, Veronica Henley, and David O’Donoghue all really bring a natural feel to the piece, and (help) draw the audience into this world.”

McCarthy himself is an award-winning local director, with an expanding body of work in live theatre and film, and O’Gorman’s admiration for his work led to him being offered the director’s chair. But professional respect is only part of it for O’Gorman. “Philip is an extremely talented director, whose work I have always admired.He has a tremendous creative vision for whatever he puts his mind to, be it theatre or film. He is a very natural director, and has a real feel for Cork in general, and this piece in particular. The creative process has been dynamic. I have worked with directors off-Broadway and the Abbey, and I would put Philip right up there. What I really admire is that Philip has a great humility about him, and in my opinion that sets real talent apart.”

You’re working with the Cork Arts Theatre, colloquially known as the Cat Club, to stage the play’s debut run – what have they been like to deal with, and what effect has the room’s atmosphere had on rehearsals and the subsequent result? “The Cat Club is an amazing venue, but first and foremost is run by a dedicated team, who are committed to providing excellent theatre while also developing writers, directors, actors, and crew. Artistic director Dolores Mannion works brilliantly at finding a balance to put the Cat Club at the forefront of both local and national theatre. I think the space at the Cat Club is really going to complement the play.”

Once the August run is over with, the play’s story almost demands being brought to site-specific productions, a possibility already being mulled over. “I would like to bring the play into the community, and perhaps reach non-traditional theatre audiences in non-traditional settings. I like that idea, so watch this space.”

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: 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?”