Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Lights dim on another year... but Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival will linger in the memory

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The audiences have gone and the lights have dimmed. The 2013 Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival has come and gone.

But if there's any justice in this world, CQAF director Sean Kelly is, as you read this, relaxing by the side of a pool, wearing a silk dressing grown, sipping champagne and tearing open telegrams congratulating him on a job well done, in the style of Faye Dunaway.

Truth is, he's more likely to be in the festival office wearing his donkey jacket, drinking coffee and sifting through piles of paperwork. But Sean doesn't need a telegram to know that this year's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival has been an Oscar-deserving triumph.

To say that this year's festival has exceeded all expectations is an understatement.

Thousands of happy punters packed out the 150 shows, which recorded an astonishing 90% box office sales. More than 50 volunteers worked around the clock to keep things ticking along. And it's been worth every minute. As the bunting is removed and the marquee taken down, Sean's been giving the Diary his thoughts on Festival Number 14.

"It's been a festival of real giddy highs," he said. "One of the reasons we stage CQAF year after year is to bring artists and audiences together. It's hugely rewarding when people respond by coming in their droves."

Sean has always worked on the principle of "if you build it, they will come". And come they did. Not only the audience, but the performers, too.

This year Will Self, Kevin Rowland, Adam Ant, Mary Gauthier, Robert Fisk and Mark E Smith were among those who came, saw and conquered. And they enjoyed themselves every bit as much as those they entertained.

"I've been delighted at the sheer spread of shows across the city, as well as the big names who've visited us," said Sean.

"We've broken all previous box office records, but one of the real thrills for organisers has been feeling the sense of camaraderie between punters, staff and artists, in what we think is the friendliest festival around."

That feeling of friendship sparked six festival romances – who knows, next year could see the first CQAF wedding...

Sean's own loved-up moment came when his long-time hero, Kevin Rowland, came to town.

'I don't really want to pick out a single show, but for me, seeing Dexy's Midnight Runners on a CQAF stage in front of a packed audience gave me goosebumps.

"But everyone has their own favourite moment – the feedback I've been getting from the audience and artists has been absolutely amazing.

"It's a great feeling when you're really connecting with the audiences. We couldn't do it without them and this year they've been exceptional. I hope we have too!"

It's been a blast, Sean. And an honour to report from the very heart of the festival.

If I can just crawl out from under the marquee stage, where I've been stationed for the past 11 days, could someone give me a hand with the typewriter?

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