Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 April 2015

Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival gears up to mark 15 years of arts

Legendary singer Martha Reeves
Legendary singer Martha Reeves

You can pack a lot of good times into 15 years. A lot of laughter, music, song and dance. And when looking back over the past decade-and-a-half, it's not surprising to see that many of its top moments have come courtesy of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.

Like all the best things in life, it started small, and with little fuss. A handful of acts in a couple of venues. But every year it's got bigger and better. It's now considered by many to be the best festivals Belfast has to offer, bar none.

There are dozens of acts from the world of music, comedy, literature, spoken word and visual art. Big international stars nestle alongside tomorrow's headliners, and cult acts share a stage with household names.

Director Sean Kelly knows what he likes and when he hits on a winning formula, he's happy to stick to it.

Take a look at this year's musical line-up: Two-Tone greats The Selecter, hip hop stars De La Soul, 1960s drumming badboy and founder member of Cream, Ginger Baker... and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.

Then we've got literature's 'Dirty But Clean' DBC Pierre; the wonderful Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty; rock journalist Mark Ellen, and former political big-hitter Peter Hain. There's a line-up for a dinner party, right there.

CQAF's favourite comedian Rob Newman (left), is back with his new stand-up show, while everybody's second favourite neurotic Jewish comedian Simon Amstell will be playing it for laughs. Phil Kay and Glam Role Model Katherine Ryan will also be tickling our funny bones during this year's festival. And don't forget Kevin McAleer, who'll be performing his act in Irish.

Comedy rap satirists Rubberbandits will be in town, complete with their plastic headgear, while dance pop stars F**k Buttons (chosen by director Danny Boyle to play at the Olympics opening ceremony), indie darlings Wild Beasts, The Handsome Family, and world music superstars Tinariwen will be providing more music. Jimi Goodwin of rock giants Doves will be giving his first solo performance in Northern Ireland at CQAF, while Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze makes his CQAF debut.

"If you've had told me 15 years ago that we'd be putting on the biggest, most vibrant arts festival in Belfast or that I'd be welcoming some of my biggest musical and literary heroes to the city, well I'd have raised more than one eyebrow," said festival director Sean Kelly.

"CQAF has expanded over the years to become this rather lovely, sprawling yet intimate feast of music, comedy literature and theatre that we hope stands for something rather progressive, unique and wonderful in these parts.

"We aren't the sort of festival to keep the audience at arms length, and they respond by generating a real buzz about the festival. We think this year's festival features the strongest line-up we've put together."

While organisers have pulled out all the stops this year, alas, there has already been one major pull-out in Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, who's cancelled his scheduled show as he undergoes pioneering surgery for the pancreatic cancer with which he was diagnosed in 2013.

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