Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival 2016: A TLR Guide

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Northern Ireland is a notoriously inhospitable place in which to stage any kind of regular festival – be it arts-oriented, or otherwise – with many organisers working against the odds to scrape together funding and council permission to put on their respective events. The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, which kicks off tomorrow, represents one of a number of persistent local fixtures that year on year delivers. And, as such, we at The Last Round would like to raise a toast for their years of good work as well as for making Belfast just a nicer, more vibrant place to be during the fortnight or so it runs.

This is our pick of the ten events that most tickled our fancy from this year’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival roster:

Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts – Thursday 28th April, 8PM (McHugh’s Bar)

Comic book artist and alternative rocker Jeffrey Lewis brings his newest ensemble, Los Bolts, to McHugh’s Bar on the back of a relatively successful 2015 which saw his album Manhattan draw a considerable amount of praise, finding its way into a lot of ‘Best Of’ lists at the end of the year. Support comes from local indie-rock outfit, Junk Drawer.

Shonen Knife – Sunday 1st May, 8PM (Black Box)

Returning to the CQAF, Shonen Knife are an all-female Japanese punk band who’ve been on the go now for well over three decades and can rank Sonic Youth and Kurt Cobain among their large international fanbase (past and present). Upon seeing the Osaka four piece perform in LA, Cobain is noted to have said: “When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert”. What’s not to love about this?

John Cooper Clarke – Tuesday 3rd May, 8PM (Festival Marquee)

Salford’s Bard and self-styled Prince of Darkness, John Cooper Clarke, makes a welcome visit to Northern Ireland for a reading at the Festival Marquee in Custom House Square. Dr Clarke, who Alex Turner calls his personal “hero”, will find plenty of support and resonance for his inimitable performance poetry in a post-industrial city that’s had no shortage of things to curse and bellyache about over the years.

Blackstaff Press Presents: New Poets from the North of Ireland Launch – Thursday 5th May, 6PM (The John Hewitt)

Blackstaff Press and their editors, TS-Eliot-Prize-winning Sinéad Morrissey and Stephen Connolly of The Lifeboat series, invite you to join them for the launch of New Poets from the North of Ireland. This anthology showcases the work of a number of local poets (some established prize-winners, some newer voices), including Miriam Gamble, Adam Crothers, Padraig Regan, Stephen Sexton and Emma Must.

The Death of Orpheus and Other Myths – Thursday 5th May, 6PM (Green Room, Black Box)

Leo Boyd’s exhibition of experimental printworks functions as a creative meditation on Belfast’s peculiar urban topography and history. Taking last year’s demolition of the city’s Orpheus Building as a starting point, Boyd works recent reformulations of Belfast into his ghostly narrative of the Northern Irish capital.

Alice Milligan: A Girl of Genius by Susannah McKenna – Friday 6th May, 1PM (Black Box)

The life of Alice Milligan – an indefatigable political activist, journalist, feminist, human rights campaigner and theatre pioneer from the nineteenth century – is reclaimed in this less-than-hour-long show by local playwright, Susannah McKenna.

Ciaran Lavery – Friday 6th May, 8PM (St. George’s Church)

Former CQAF artist-in-residence Ciaran Lavery returns this year for the launch of his second album, Let Bad In. With more than 30 million plays on Spotify, Lavery’s brand of indie-folk is certainly striking a chord (pardon the pun) with a vast audience that stretches well beyond local shores.

First Love – Friday 6th May, 8PM (The MAC, downstairs)

Samuel Beckett features in a number of CQAF events this year, getting a special mention in the Festival programme for one of the key, driving impulses in his writing – which involves “breaking with the past and forging something new” – and its thematic ties to this year’s punk-flavoured bill. Critically-acclaimed Irish theatre company, Gare St Lazare, offer up their adaptation of this early and little-known short story by the then-emigré Francophone Irish author. Conor Lovett stars in the single role and Judy Hegarty Lovett directs.

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – Saturday 7th May, 8PM (Festival Marquee, Custom House Square)

Grammy-winning producer and performer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry takes to the Marquee stage on the closing Saturday evening of this year’s Festival. Having influenced Bob Marley, and having worked with The Clash and The Beastie Boys, Perry has been at the cutting edge of reggae music and its related subgenres for several decades. It’ll be an honour to have him over for this year’s Festival.

Grandmaster Flash – Sunday 8th May, 8PM (Festival Marquee, Custom House Square)

What better way to round off 2016’s CQAF proceedings than with a set from one of hip hop and electronic music’s true innovators, the legendary Grandmaster Flash? You can expect some seriously tasteful beats on the final Sunday evening from a pioneer of several groundbreaking electronic music techniques which still provide the basic tools for live Djing today.

For more info on this year’s CQAF, click here