January is the month of empty pockets. Christmas has taken care of that.
Now the new year engulfs us like a damp fog; how can we raise our spirits?
Well, a scrabble down the back of the sofa might yield a handful of coins — and that’s all you’ll need to book a place at the hottest show in town.
Yes, the Out To Lunch Festival is back for another year, promising heart-warming shows and hearty lunches for just a few of your English pennies.
Festival director Sean Kelly has once again shoved aside his Christmas celebrations to ensure there’s something for the rest of us to look forward to in the post-tinsel days of austerity.
And he’s cooked up quite a treat.
As he likes to say, it’s ‘Our thyme, our plaice’.
The price of a lunchtime ticket will bag you a seat and plate of something scrumptious, courtesy of Mourne Seafood Bar. And the food’s not the only thing that will get the tastebuds tingling.
On offer is a recession-busting month-long menu of cultural tapas — 46 shows in all. There’s a mixture of music, comedy and spoken word events, one cultural bus tour and a couple of exhibitions. That should see us all safely through this evil month, to a safe berth among the hearts and flowers that is February.
Tickets are going fast, though. Funnyman Steve Hughes, poet Paul Durcan, singers Jim Jones and Arlo Guthrie are already sporting ‘sold out’ signs on their dressing room doors.
Other acts attracting attention include Sean Hughes, Rob Newman, Philomena Lynott (who’ll be talking about her much-missed son, Thin Lizzy frontman Phil), Kieran Goss, Kelly Joe Phelps and Niamh McGlinchey.
Fans of Sigur Ros will be queuing for a seat to see Valtari, a project which sees 12 filmmakers creating images to go alongside songs from the album of the same name. Clare Langan, Melika Bass and John Cameron Mitchell have produced some breathtaking work to accompany those soaring vocals.
And those who like their entertainment served up with wine and canapés should investigate the sumptuous festival production of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray. And you might want to consider complementary dressing, too.
But before all of that, first off the blocks is Maria Doyle Kennedy’s opening show this evening. The former Commitments star has been popping up in Downton and Dexter, Father Ted and Queer As Folk. She’s even donned a crown and given us Catherine of Aragon in The Tudors.
But she’s taking the stage at the Black Box to do what she does best of all — sing. For OTL audiences, Maria will be performing from her current collection, Sing, which she co-wrote with her husband Kieran Kennedy.
Director Kelly has already booked his front row seat for what he believes is the start of the greatest festival of lunchtime arts in the world.
“We’re hugely excited at the line-up we’ve put together,” he said. He promises a festival that will “mark the Cathedral Quarter as Belfast’s Capital of Culture for 2013’’.
And who — unless they’re from Derry — would argue with that?
Top picks from a very tasty menu
The Strypes, Black Box, January 5
The Black Box will take on the air of The Cavern on Saturday, when a four-piece beat group from Cavan step on stage to strut their teenage stuff. The Strypes (average age 15) came together out of a love for The Beatles, the Blues, British beat and skiffle music. They’ve already been tipped by NME as one of the top five acts to watch in 2013. They look like The Beatles, but rock it like the Stones. They could prompt many future ‘Where were you when...?’ conversations among the crowd. Too good to miss.
Wild Thing, Black Box, January 9
Wild thing, you make my heart sing ... and whose heart didn’t soar when they watched the magnificent man/bear that was Oliver Reed? The hellraising actor provided many, many hours of pleasure for his fans whether he was wrestling naked on a rug with Alan Bates; drunkenly trying to kiss an outraged feminist on a late night chat show, or making a posthumous appearance in Gladiator. Rob Crouch tries to harness some of that animal magnetism in his one man show which promises to remind us of all we loved — and hated — about the legendary hellraiser.
Paul Durcan , Black Box, January 10
Another highlight for the OTL diary. Poet Durcan’s readings have attained semi-legendary status, often reducing audiences to tears of laughter. Here, he’ll be sharing some of the works in his latest collection, Praise In Whit I Live And Move And Have My Being. There are poems of love lost and won, and others in memory of friends and relatives. There’s praise too for the modest heroism of truckers, air traffic controllers and nurses. Sartre famously said: 'Hell is other people', for Durcan 'Heaven is other people, especially women'. It’s going to be a treat.
John Shuttleworth, Black Box, January 24
He’s been described as “the 42nd Best reason to Love Britain” and an evening (or lunchtime) in his company will be enough to convince you a much higher position is warranted. The versatile singer-songwriter (his words) from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, will be making a long overdue return to the Black Box for his latest show, Out Of Our Sheds. While he’s best known for standards such as Austin Ambassador Y-Reg and Pigeons In Flight, you can expect some new ditties, such as Whatever Happened To Vince Hill (Last Seen On Pebble Mill)?’ and ‘A Day In The Life Of Alfie Boe’.
Daughter, Black Box, January 27
This English two-guy/one-girl trio are fast making a name for themselves as one of the hottest emerging bands on the scene, with what are described as stunning, heart-achingly honest songs receiving plenty of critical acclaim. Go see, pronto!