Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 1 March 2015

Waiting is over... Let arts sing out!

Opening night: Former Czars frontman John Grant
Opening night: Former Czars frontman John Grant
LA singer and harpist Low Leaf

Will Self, Lucy Caldwell, Sean Hughes, Lucy Rose and Gavin Esler. Sounds like a guest list for a great dinner party. But you can enjoy their company without even switching on the oven. They're just some of the cast who'll be educating and entertaining audiences as the year's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival kicks off today.

From comedy in Crumlin Road Gaol to outdoor movies in Writers' Square, the festival has scheduled 10 days of top entertainment, so clear your diary.

The 14th CQAF begins this evening with an impressive menu of entertainment. For starters, there's the Neil Cowley Trio, who'll be hitting their groove in the Black Box with their beguiling mix of poetry and pomp in a show that references Debussy, Steve Reich and Arcade Fire.

LA singer Low Leaf will also be weaving her sound pictures in McHugh's, as she plays the harp with one hand and the piano with the other, singing all the while.

One of the joys of the CQAF is that it allows local talent to rub shoulders with the stars. The Maiden City's Soak – aka Bridie Monds Watson – is an exceptional singer and she'll be talking about her impressive musical career, and showcasing her skills, in the Oh Yeah Centre. But the main course on opening night is undoubtedly former Czars frontman John Grant, who's preparing to take the festival marquee by storm. A couple of years ago the American singer brought festival audiences to their feet as he played songs from his debut solo album Queen Of Denmark, which was voted album of the year by Mojo magazine.

Now he's back to open this year's proceedings – and you can expect plenty of synth as he showcases follow-up Pale Green Ghosts.

"There's nothing I love more in the world than the sound of synthesisers," he admitted. "It probably started with listening to Abba, and I remember thinking it was one of the coolest sounds I ever heard.

"Then in the Eighties people went nuts with their synthesisers and I was in heaven.

"That was a huge part of what kept me going and made me happy. And I'm still listening today non-stop to the things I loved back then – New Order, Depeche Mode, Visage and Gary Numan."

The synth is very much part of Grant's distinctive music these days, although he's not quite sure he's nailed it yet.

"I don't think I've found my sound yet. I'm still a baby in the music sense," he said.

His burnt-sugar voice and bitterly witty lyrics reveal his struggle with drink, drugs and depression. It's hard to separate his music from his personal life. And although he may feel he's still progressing, it's a journey worth following.

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