Belfast Telegraph

Cheers Martha! Soul star raises her glass to a memorable year for Cathedral Quarter Festival

By Grania McFadden

'Whoever programmed this festival is a great great great man.'

That's one tweeter's sum-up of this year's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. The happy punter in question may not have known director Sean Kelly by name (seems hard to believe), but she voiced the views of the many hundreds who headed to the heart of Belfast's arts scene for 11 days of May magic. Mr Kelly, you're spoiling us.

From the opening chords of F*** Buttons in the festival marquee to last night's outstanding closing concert by De La Soul, the 15th CQAF was one to remember.

There really was something for everyone, from Kabosh's nod to the Giro (the other event taking place in the city at the weekend) in Grazie Italia! to the hypnotic grooves of Mali superband Tinariwen.

One of most highly anticipated performers, Wilko Johnston, was sadly unable to make it.

But The Blockheads stepped into the breach, and gave us a rousing night out. Fans of jazz and rock came together for drumming legend Ginger Baker's night of Jazz Confusion.

Ginger was forced to leave bandmate Pee Wee Ellis behind (he was having an operation on his lip) but British sax veteran Andy Sheppard was more than able to pick up the slack, despite Ginger introducing him as 'Alan'.

There was the odd Harrington on display when Selecter took the stage, and transported many of their audience back to the days of acne and O-Levels.

The average punter's age plummeted when bands like Yuck and Dum Dum Girls showed that good tunes and an attitude still count for plenty.

But age was no barrier when the fabulous Martha Reeves and her Vandellas came to festival.

The temperature soared in the marquee with hits like Heatwave and Jimmy Mack, and the dancing did indeed spill out on to the street. One of the finer festival moments was watching Martha down a pint of the black stuff. Motown majesty indeed.

So many good nights, it's difficult for diary to do credit to them all. But memories are stored on smartphones these days, and there'll be plenty of special moments for CQAF audiences.

Director Sean Kelly gave his assessment: "I think it's fair to say we've had an outstanding 15th year. Audiences responded in huge numbers to virtually every show and made us immensely proud.

"Closing the festival is always a bittersweet experience; so many great memories compressed into 11 days, friendships made, shows enjoyed," he said.

"On the other hand a few days rest and solitude have never seemed so appealing."

After a short rest, he'll be working out how to raise the CQAF bar next year.

If he's not careful, he'll have Metallica banging on the marquee door, begging for a slot.

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