As the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s marked its 50th birthday this year, the Belfast Telegraph — media partner to the event — asked festival-goers to help celebrate the special occasion by choosing their favourite act to be named as winner of the Belfast Telegraph Festival Audience Award.
And audience members responded in their thousands, with votes flooding in for acts across the range of festival events and genres, from comedy to theatre, classical to dance, all reflecting the high standard of performance and craftmanship in this year’s fantastic programme.
Meanwhile, the Belfast Telegraph’s teams of arts experts spent festival fortnight busily visiting events across the programme’s principal strands to pick out their personal best in show.
WINNER: Silent, Waterfront Studio
What the judges said: “So sad and beautiful.
“The actor (pictured) played the character of a homeless man and how he ended up where he is.
“He connects with two or three people in audience by asking their names.
The empathy he created was brilliant. One of the best things in Belfast in years.”
Standout moment: “The heartbreaking moment towards the end when he called out in appeal to one of the audience members with whom he had connected.”
Grania McFadden: Enquirer, Lesley Buildings. “For a journalist it was really like going home, everything about it I loved.”
Jackie O’Doyle: Michael Clark, The MAC. “The use of the music in this dance work was exceptional, and the physicality of the dance was really superb.
“It was very short but everybody in the audience wanted more.”
Hugh Odling-Smee: Enquirer, Lesley Buildings. “It was a very open-ended script which really didn’t force anything upon you.
“The acting was fantastic.
“For about five days afterwards I thought about the issues it raised.”
Grania McFadden — Belfast Telegraph theatre critic
Hugh Odling-Smee — freelance arts manager
Jackie Doyle — co-founder of the Belfast-based theatre company Prime Cut Productions.
WINNER: David O’Doherty, White Room
What the judges said: “He makes subjects like post break-up depression hilarious, with a tragi-comic skit about sitting indoors playing video games in the dark after splitting from his girlfriend. He worked the room well and built a real rapport with the crowd. Funny and engaging and gave the crowd a well-honed set with a very strong finish.”
Standout moment: Eating an entire Caramac bar (handed over by a member of the audience), all in one go.
Pete O’Neill: Abandoman, White Room. “A high-energy, full-on gig and the audience responded with a well-deserved standing ovation. There were a lot of local references, plus welcome local support from Mickey Bartlett.”
Joe Nawaz: Adam Riches, Elmwood Hall. “An experience that was at times terrifying, surreal and nightmarish but hilarious.”
Anne-Marie Mullan: Abandoman, White Room. “Very enjoyable and the crowd were the most animated I saw than at any other gig.”
Joe Nawaz — arts critic
Peter O’Neill — director, Belly Laughs comedy festival.
Anne-Marie Mullan — stand-up comedian.
WINNER: Ladysmith Black Mambazo
What the judges said: “This was a mesmerising performance from true legends. Highlights included upbeat selections from their latest release, Songs From A Zulu Farm, which were witty and engaging. Feelgood entertainment of the highest calibre, the music connected on a primal, spiritual level.”
Standout moment: The group's trademark dance moves and facial expressions gave proceedings a real visual kick.
Damien Murray: John Wilson & The John Wilson Orchestra, Waterfront Hall: “The quality of the individual musicanship and the singing was superb.”
David Matchett: Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, Waterfront Hall: “The band played for two hours and attracted a wonderfully eclectic audience from all ages who danced and cheered all night.”
Andrew Johnston: Elena Duran, Harty Room, QUB: “The Mexican-American flautist paid tribute to the cinema composer Manuel Esperon with a lovingly crafted programme.”
Damien Murray — music critic
Davy Matchett —founding director, Oh Yeah Music Centre
Andrew Johnston — music critic
WINNER: Wolfgang Holzmair & Imogen Cooper, Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church
What the judges said: “A world-class performance. A festival should bring the sort of repertoire which you wouldn’t normally see and, in a classical music |programme which included high-quality but rarely heard works, it had class written all over it.”
Standout moment: Holzmair’s performance of the song Urlicht — one of those moments when you could feel time stand still.
Philip Hammond: Polyphony, Clonard Monastery: “Stunning, especially in the surroundings of Clonard. Musical excellence with a very special atmosphere.”
Jane Hardy: Fifty Fanfares, Victoria Square: “Michael Alcorn’s work was a jubilant, loud, sexy introduction to the festival. The promenade idea worked well and the audience clearly enjoyed it.”
Terry Blain: Polyphony, Clonard Monastery: “Another uniquely world-class performance. It could go anywhere in the world and people would say ‘What singing!’.”
Philip Hammond — composer and music critic.
Jane Hardy — Features journalist at the Belfast Telegraph
Terry Blain — music critic.
WINNER: Claire Morgan, Gone To Seed, The MAC
What the judges said: “Claire is a rising star from Northern Ireland. Her work is a very elegant comment on an age-old theme of the cycle of life.
“The inventive and intricate use of natural and man-made materials mark it out as something very special.
“The work sat perfectly within the space and was a beautiful presence within the gallery.
“Walking around its delicate structure reveals hidden depths which hint at ideas of rebirth and transience, themes which appear frequently in this young, extremely promising artist’s work.”
Amanda Croft: Fata Morgana, Catalyst Arts. “It makes you look at the world around you with different eyes.
“Everything worked so well together.”
Liz Baird: Tom Binns & Magpie Art Collective, Naughton Gallery. “Tom Binns’ work was fun and imaginative.
“The Magpie Collective showed lateral thinking and making good use of waste products. Recycling at its best!”
Chris Caldwell: Fata Morgana, Catalyst Arts. “The film within the show, Mastering Bambi, which was made up of landscape photography and digital images, was an incredible piece of work.”
Amanda Croft — art lecturer
Liz Baird — art critic
Chris Caldwell — owner, Tom Caldwell Gallery, Belfast
And the Belfast Telegraph Audience Award winner is ... Altan
vocalist Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh and (above) with the rest of Altan
This year’s festival saw a welcome return for some of the very best in Irish traditional music to the programme.
It was a reflection of the prominent place the genre has always enjoyed over the years, when acts such as The Chieftains and Planxty packed out venues across Belfast.
And to mark the event’s big 50th birthday, festival revisited those glory years with its Folk Club Reunion, which saw some of the greats of modern Irish music reuniting at The White Room for a special evening of song and rhythm, including Sean Keane, Nollaig Casey and Arty McGlynn and Gerry Creen, among others. Other highlights of the programme included traditional banjo player Stevie Dunne and singer Marianne Green.
But the standout act for many were Donegal’s Altan, who played a storming set at The MAC, described by the Belfast Telegraph’s reviewer as “Irish traditional music at its enjoyable best”.
And it was they who garnered the highest vote from all the festival audience to take the Belfast Telegraph Festival Audience Award 2012.
Vocalist Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh from the band said they were delighted to have been named as the audience’s pick of the programme.
“Seeing as Frankie Kennedy — one of the founding members of Altan — was a Belfast man, it’s an even greater honour for Altan to be given the Audience Award,” she said.
“We thoroughly enjoyed performing at the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s and the lovely venue we played in.
“We look forward to performing in Belfast again!”