This was a great end to the second East Belfast Festival, on its fifth day. The promise of ‘A Load of Aul’ Folk’ attracted me to the Strand Arts Centre on the Holywood Road. The names on the bill did not mean anything to the aul’ folk of my generation so it was refreshing to hear the vibrant talent of a new generation of performers: Master and Dog, Katie and the Carnival, Emerald Armada, Alana Henderson and Mike Donaghy and Border Crossing.
These young musicians are all very talented and deserve recognition by a wider audience. Alana Henderson is a singer and songwriter who comes from Dungannon in County Tyrone. She is a cellist who released her debut EP ‘Wax & Wane’ in February 2013. Alana learned how to play the tin whistle when she was 7 and went to Armagh Pipers Club. She started playing the cello when she was 9. She now teaches tin whistle to 7 year olds for the APC herself. Her performance in February on BBC Radio Ulster’s Ralph McLean Show can be viewed here.
Mike Donaghy from Bangor in started the night with a group called Border Crossing, one of whom is from Newry. Perhaps this is why the backdrop for the stage was a glorious mixture of black and red, the Down colours (as one of the later performers remarked!). Their genre which has been described as Celtic/Americana is a blend of folk, blues, country and rock and it was very easy to sit back and enjoy their set. A couple of numbers stood out: one was a song about whiskey. The other was called The Fisherman’s Daughter, from his 2011 debut album ‘I Wish You Well’, which you can also listen to here. I notice that the proceeds from the album were donated towards the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice.
Mike is now trying to raise funds for the band to make a trip next year to Nashville, where an American producer has invited them to showcase their music and second album, ‘No-one can hear me’. Accompanying Mike are Andrew Dorrian and Brian McClean with Lynsey Smyth. They have toured Ireland and played festivals and tours in Europe. They have also toured and shared stages with the likes of Brian Kennedy, Sands Family, Paul Brady and Finbar Furey.
The next act was billed as Katie and the Carnival. There was certainly a carnival atmosphere but it turned out to be the singer/songwriter Katie Richardson with just one person accompanying her, Daragh Gillen, who provided a wonderful sound on harp. Katie’s voice and the setting of the old (but comfortably renewed) Strand cinema transported me back to the pre-Second World War era in Berlin when cabaret was fashionable. I notice that Katie herself had just returned from Berlin and I hope she enjoyed the visit to my favourite city abroad. Her performance reminded me of when I had listened to Agnes Bernelle singing at an evening at the arts centre in Annaghmakerrig, near Newbliss in County Monaghan. But Katie plays the guitar, so that gives her added attraction!
After a break following over ninety minutes of varied music, it was the turn of Master and Dog (formerly John, Shelly & the Creatures) who started up in 2007. The band’s original name came from a chance meeting with two Irish twins named John and Shelly but they changed their title this year to Master & Dog for various reasons, the name originating from one of the band’s favourite songs “Master & Dog” by Quasi.
They are made up of Kevin Carlisle (Drums, percussion & vox), Philip Watts d’Alton (guitar, vox, keys, bass, mandolin), Ger Gormley (bass, vox, guitar, mandolin, keys) and Walter (guitar, vox, keys, mandolin and drums). They say they are influenced by a wide variety of genres and are unafraid to mix things up when it comes to recording and playing live. Plenty of one-liners from Walter who played the melodica on one of the songs as he attempted to interact with the audience. Maybe he thought he was at the Empire! Good craic anyway.
To see what they sound like I would recommend a video they made for their song ‘Canada’, which I would have called ‘Take My Hand’ based on the chorus. The video has been shot in Dublin. If you look closely enough at the road signs, you can see that the opening scenes were filmed around Chamber Street in the Coombe area. The closing sequence is shot around Irishtown, not far from Sandymount Strand as you can see the Pigeon House chimneys. The Pigeon House ‘B’ electricity generating plant is now redundant and the landmark chimneys are no longer sending plumes of smoke into the sky above Dublin Bay. Their track ‘Long May you Reign’ was used in television advertisements in Spring 2009 to promote Northern Ireland tourism and featured on The Late Late Show on RTÉ.
The Emerald Armada brought the folk night to a wonderful close. The members are Neil Allen, Gary Lynas, Ben Hamilton, Dermot Moynagh and Tony McHugh. Their song ‘I Don’t Mind’ the title track of their new EP was released a year ago and can be viewed here. Great bodhran playing by Dermot.
In summary, a great opportunity to listen to a new generation of musicians performing live in a very relaxed setting. With a bit more advance promotion this gig would surely have attracted a lot more punters to the cinema complex, where two previous nights were ‘Sold Out’ for Kandu Theatre Company’s ‘The 39 Steps’. My thanks to the organisers of the East Belfast Festival for giving me access to the different performances, which I enjoyed. Sorry I did not get to see any of the events on Saturday or the one man show by Noel Magee ‘I, Kavanagh’.