Belfast Telegraph

Reflecting on 17 days of diversity which truly delivered

By Grania McFadden

After 17 days of partying, the hosts have turned up the lights, coughed politely and looked pointedly at their watches. This year's festival fun has finally wound to a close.

And as we search for our coats and tumble out into the autumn gloom, it's worth reflecting on what's been a pretty good year for festival director Richard Wakely.

Not every festival gives us shows to remember in the months and years ahead - but this one delivered.

The sold-out sign went up at 17 events, from Tuareg musicians Tamikrest to local company Happenstance's More Than A Flag.

Crowds queued to hear The Gloaming, the Neil Cowley Trio and Trio Rafale - we're a more diverse lot than we give ourselves credit for.

And we're always up for hearing a good story. Adrian Dunbar, Bob Harris, Gay Byrne, Jonathan Powell and war photographer Paul Conroy spoke to rapt audiences about their experiences in music, theatre, politics and the field of war - all subjects dear to our hearts.

It was a sterling year for dance, with performances as diverse and delightful as Israel Galvan's breathtaking flamenco steps in La Edad de Oro. Maiden Voyage's Nicola Curry picked up the Spirit of Belfast Festival Award for the company's joint production (with Liz Roche) of Neither Either.

The theatre programme was small but beautifully formed - what a treat to see Thomas Ostermeir's An Enemy Of The People play in Belfast. Peter Brook's exquisite production of The Suit combined music and story-telling at its simplest and most powerful. Closer to home, Brassneck Theatre Company tapped in to local humour with its poignant comedy The Holy Holy Bus.

Festival is the place to try something different - artist-in-residence Claire Cunningham's absorbing Guide Gods shone a light on that difference, in a dance piece about religion and disability. Those of us who've always fancied having a go at singing got the chance to try that, too, with The Big Big Sing, which brought together people of all ages and abilities.

Not that there weren't plenty of top notch singers. Bettye Lavette gave us a whole lotta soul with her phenomenal concert in the Elmwood Hall. Hot on her heels came jazz singer Dianne Reeves, whose smouldering songs nearly set the place on fire.

And I haven't mentioned the poetry, exhibitions and screenings which popped up all over Belfast. And the wonderful Mike Night Cabaret, where friends of Mike Maloney gathered to celebrate the big Australian in an evening of circus, song and readings.

Director Wakely has been listing some of his personal highlights: "The unsettling, yet remarkable An Enemy Of The People; Israel Galvan and the legendary Bettye Lavette."

He's also proud of the way events were staged right across the city "...including performances from Claire Cunningham; the Schubert Ensemble and Bolshoi exhibition in north Belfast, Muriel Anderson and Poetry Ireland and Roland Pontinen and Vincent Dargan in west Belfast."

In total, there were 100 events of every kind for every sort of audience: from acrobats, elephants, dancers, singers, actors, poets, authors, photographers, painters, politicians and our own orchestra... something to watch, listen to, talk about and learn from.

It's been a good '.un'

My festival highlight

Ralph McLean, BBC music broadcaster

The absolute highlight for me was Bettye Lavette. I've been  waiting for her to come to Ireland for years. She is up there with Aretha Franklin and the other greats. It was a real coup for the festival to get her and my musical  highlight.

Sean Kelly, CQAF director

I particularly enjoyed the Mike Moloney tribute night at the Whitla Hall. It was a wonderful celebration of a great individual who gave so much to the arts in the city. The whole circus community and musicians gave their time freely to remember him. It was a very moving night.

Stuart Bailie, Oh Yeah

I enjoyed The Gloaming folk supergroup, they were absolutely mind-blowingly brilliant. I went to see Sharon Jones, an absolutely stomping soul review, and also Tamikrest, a Saharan trancey, blues thing that was an incredible spectacle.

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