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Befast's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival kicks off

The countdown is over, the travel arrangements have been made, the outfits chosen, and there’s been a lot of nervous talk about who’ll get the best seats.

It’s not the Royal wedding one is referring to, of course, but rather the opening of this year’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival today.

This will be the 12th festival and the programme once again promises the usual pot pourri of music, comedy, theatre and literature, with a helping of film and visual art for afters.

The line-up is impressive yet again, with headliners this year including veteran post-punk rockers Gang Of Four and Eighties icons The Human League, as well as such talented wordsmiths as Simon Armitage, Mark Steel, Michael Longley and Mike Scott — and that’s just for starters.

Festival director Sean Kelly is feeling pretty pleased with the line-up — in particular The Human League, who he describes as a “seminal band” (and he isn’t talking about Phil Oakey’s hairstyle!).

Another blast from the past is Adrian Edmondson — aka Vyvyan from The Young Ones — whose joined forces with two fellow musicians to form The Bad Shepherds, a band that takes punk classics and turns them into folk songs. Crazy... but it kind of works.

Sean’s pretty chuffed with the inclusion of Drive By Truckers, a great old southern rock’n’roll band from the States, and Ska Cubana, whose infectious sounds will have the audience up on their feet.

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Also in the frame this year are sultry songstress Camille |O’Sullivan, whose renditions of classics by Jacques | Brel, Tom Waits, Nick Cave and the like have earned her widespread critical acclaim, alongside comedian Russell Kane, author John Boyne and Irish indie group BellX1.

There are also film screenings and exhibitions on everything from Beat writer William Burroughs to songwriting legend Bob Dylan.

This year the festival is competing with two other headlining events — the Royal wedding and the Assembly elections.

Never one to let an opportunity pass him by, Sean has arranged a Right Royal Command Performance on the evening of Will and Kate’s nuptials tomorrow, where the marquee will be bedecked in all things romantic as contortionists, cabaret and dance acts share the stage alongside guest DJ Terri Hooley.

Once the wedding feasting has finished, the festival will stage the Great Big Election Comedy Quiz on the eve of voting, when Conor Grimes, Alan McKee, Abigail McGibbon and Vincent Higgins will put audiences through their trilingual paces in the Duke of York.

It’s a night of party manifestos, comedy sketches and quizzes, with prizes provided by the political parties themselves. Gets my vote, anyway...

Tickets for this year’s programme are available from www.cqaf.com or from Belfast Welcome Centre on 9024 6609.

Grania chooses her six of the best

1 I’ll definitely be pulling up a chair to hear Adrian |Edmondson (below) and The Bad Shepherds (Black Box, tomorrow, 8pm) turn angry punk into gentle folk songs.

2 I’ll also be rattling my jewellery at the Right Royal Variety Show (Festival marquee, tomorrow, 8pm) — the festival’s own celebration of the Royal nuptials earlier in the day. Expect plenty of jokes about bride and groom, crowns, princesses and peas and the rest in a show packed with music and song, as well as a DJ set from the legendary Terri Hooley. It’ll be just as much fun as the dance in Buckingham Palace...

3 Mike Scott of The Waterboys will be taking audiences on a trip down memory lane when he gives us a taste of his memoirs. Scott is currently enjoying acclaim for An Appointment With Mr Yeats, in which he has set some of WB’s poetry to music. And we’re really, really hoping he might sing a song or two as well (Saturday, Black Box, 6pm).

4 There’s a pretty funky production of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray (Harbour Commissioner’s Office, Wednesday, May 4, 7.30pm) which has my name on it.

5 And Before I cast my vote I’ll be heading to the Big Election Comedy Quiz (Duke of York, Wednesday, May 4, 8pm) to get the lowdown on the candidates in my constituency.

6 And to remind me that I’m still at home sweet home, I’ll be soaking up some of the city’s past in the Belfast Theatre Company’s show, Brian Moore’s Belfast (Black Box, Thursday, May 5, 1pm), which explores how the author brought its streets to life with their tea rooms, dance halls, shebeens and confession boxes. Paddy Scully recreates the early life and times of Moore through a dramatised reading of his life and work.

Send in the clowns for a bit of fooling around

By Sarah Rainey

From hip-hop grannies to daredevil acrobats, jugglers and court jesters, Belfast’s streets will come alive with theatre this bank holiday weekend.

The Festival Of Fools, sister festival of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, brings a host of amazing street performers to the city centre.

Now in its eighth year, the event will showcase the creative talents of 75 artists from across the world including clowns, comedians and circus acts.

Among the highlights will be a mini-Vaudeville show from rising stars Ramshacklicious, and Le Tennis, a combination of juggling and tennis taking place on the lawns of the City Hall.

Granny Turismo sees pensioners Doris, Mary and Marge speeding around on souped-up shopping trolleys, while Dirk the Homeless Robot will wander the streets to entertain crowds. The star of the show is Carillon, a giant working clock combining theatre with slapstick storylines, which will continue on into the night in St Anne’s Square.

Festival director Will Chamberlain said he hoped this year’s line-up was as outrageous as ever.

“There really is something for everyone — we’ve got naked skating, contemporary clowns and mischievous monkeys,” he said.

“I think it’s the scale of the festival as well as its innovative style that makes our events so popular.

“The main act, Carillon, has got cartoon, slapstick, romance and idiocy — and the fact that it runs into the night reinforces the European feel.”

The Festival Of Fools starts tonight at 9pm in St Anne’s Square and runs until May 2.

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