by / April 24th, 2017 /

Preview: 2017 Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival

The annual difficulty with the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival is pretty much the definition of a ‘First World Problem’ – how does one choose from the myriad acts on offer? 2017’s programme shows no clemency either. It’s a mix of comedy, poetry and readings, theatre, family events, music, film, and visual arts over a ten day period from 27th April to 7th of May. Below is a Ten Of The Best from the music section alone, but do take a look at the other acts on offer.

There’s ‘the world’s first reggae poet’ Linton Kwesi Johnson. The Danish comedian Sofie Hagen (Not suitable for misogynists, anti-feminists, bigots or bozos.) Or there’s SingalongaWickerman (dust down your best Scottish accent, dress up as your favourite character and come join in with the singing, buttock-slapping and dialogue of this horror classic). Shows have already began to sell out…

Ten Of The Best

The Americans 

Ryan Bingham espouses the songwriting of The Americans, and T bone Burnett reckons they’re part of a group of “genius 21st century musicians that are reinventing American heritage music for this century.”  According to frontman Patrick Ferris, everyone in the band plays the banjo, and that leads back to the days when they were a jug band that had the original drummer playing a suitcase with a soup spoon, and a jug was indeed employed in their set. In fact it was a shared interest in 20’s and 30’s music that brought the band together, with a big love for country blues that they honed over the years. This slowly ventured into rockabilly, and that eventually shaped into the rock and roll band they are today. Rock and roll with a deep base in traditional roots running through it. Check out Jack White’s American Epic series of music films for which The Americans were the “house band”, working alongside artists like Willie Nelson, Elton John, Beck, Steve Martin. They’re playing Voodoo on 30th April with support from The HardChargers.

William Basinski

Making his Belfast debut at this year’s CQAF, legendary composer and pusher of the proverbial envelope (perhaps literally too, just look at his tasty rotary boards!) William Basinski creates beautiful sounds with weird and wonderful machines. But wait, there’s MORE! His performance will feature the Irish premiere of Basinski’s Appreciation of Bowie: A Shadow in Time – for David Robert Jones. Basinski is one of the finest contemporary composers working today, and doesn’t tour extensively. This is a golden opportunity to see a uniquely talented musician ply his glorious trade, in the Black Box, on the 5th of May.

Joan Shelley  

I last saw Joan Shelley a couple of years ago at a Real Music Club show in Belfast’s Errigle Inn.  Her 2014 album Electric Ursa had been a recent discovery, of which I had written: “Electric Ursa is an album of strong words softly spoken. Created by Kentucky-based singer-songwriter Joan Shelley, it is a bare night sky of feeling and faded scene-setting, all pared down to the finest note — the finest, most evocative note.” It was one of those albums that was so beautiful it made me feel sad. Her next record Over and Even was equally as devastating. Her new self-titled release is set free on 5th May. Produced by Jeff Tweedy it includes regular collaborator and tour mate Nathan Salsburg. This gig will be special as she is playing McHugh’s on 30th April, just a few days before the big release date.


Taking over Voodoo this Thursday, 27th April, K-X-P push the boundaries of electronica, psych, noise, kraut, and more into a writhing sonic beast that has to be witnessed to be believed. Touches of improvisation allow their live performances to flourish, and there’s an acute – often hypnotic – bent to their music. With support from Skymas, expect everything from punkish techno to interstellar audio histrionics. Unmissable.

Joshua Burnside 

“I fell for a hologram/but I don’t give a damn/if I have to dance alone I will.” They’re words from Holllllogram off Joshua Burnside’s EPHRATA album which is being launched at the festival on 30th April, with support from Alana Henderson.  He’s one of our own, a “Northern Irish singer/songwriter and producer. He records all his own music at home, often experimenting with sample based loops and electronics, fused with the traditional sounds of Harp and banjo.” He’s playing 30th April in the Duke Of York. Go see, he’s very impressive.

The Divine Comedy

Neil Hannon’s the Divine Comedy has been bending the rules of popular music for the better since 1989 – a feat all the more impressive when you consider that Hannon has more or less single handedly ensured the outfit’s longevity through countless external musical trends, fads, and fails. Toeing the line between the orchestral, operatic, narrative, and pop, the Divine Comedy’s bank of hits rivals that of the Beautiful South, both in terms of whimsical songwriting and sheer melodic joy. Support comes from the wonderful Lisa O’Neill, a truly captivating singer-songwriter. Be in attendance at 8pm on the 3rd of May in the Festival Marquee, lest ye bathe in regret forevermore.

Emily Barker

Did anybody see the Emily Barker & Ciaran Lavery gig at Belfast’s Black Box in January ’16? She made us cry that day, seriously. I scoffed to my mate about the people in their seats wiping away the wet from their eyes. Then I had to have a wee dab or two myself a while later. She’s an Australian singer-songwriter, musician and composer. Her music has featured as the theme to award winning BBC dramas including Wallander, for which she won a Bafta and a Royal Television Society award for music she collaborated on for the show. That day in the Black Box I remember she was playing a 1938 Gibson guitar, and interestingly she had two mics – a regular one, and a beautiful Copperphone Mini that she uses for her harmonica. She’s playing the Black Box on 6th May. This one’s an afternoon gig, CQAF do good afternoon gigs.

The Sugarhill Gang

Pioneers of hip hop, The Sugarhill Gang burst in to popular culture with their 1979 track ‘Rapper’s Delight’, and now, nearly 40 years later (even through various legal battles and lineup changes), the group show no signs of slowing down. Taking residence in the Festival Marquee, Custom House Sq, for the evening of 6th May, you’d be wise to attend, bust a move, and lap up some hip hop history.

John Murry 

I think it was February 2014 John Murry last played Belfast. It was in The Empire, and he has fond memories of the people he had the chance to catch up with at that gig. His acclaimed 2012 album The Graceless Age is a haunting allegory of his battle with heroin addiction – of all that he lost, and what he somehow managed to surmount. Further releases have followed in the form of EPs Califorlornia, Perfume & Decay and John Murry is Dead, and he drops his long awaited new album A Short History of Decay in July. Originally from Tupelo, Mississippi, he now resides in Ireland but it’s been a few years since he has ventured North. His May 6th gig in the Sunflower sold out in days so a second show in the same spot has been set up for Sunday 7th May for which there are still some tickets left. His May 6th support is Mark McCausland, one half of The Lost Brothers, to be referred to as ‘Suitable For Trailers for this show.  He’s wanted to get back here for a long time, so there is a sense that these shows are saying welcome back to John Murry. This is going to be good.

Robert Cray  

Apparently, when Robert Cray started playing guitar he wanted to be George Harrison. Then he heard Jimi Hendrix and decided to back another horse. The following years offered influences from Buddy Guy to BB King; influences that carefully shaped the guitar maestro Cray was to become. Forty years later of blues, soul, and R&B, he’s played with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, and Eric Clapton – leaving behind him a trail of over 20 albums, and five Grammy Awards. He’s playing a sold out show in Belfast’s CQAF Marquee on 27th April and has a new album due on 28th April. If you haven’t managed to get tickets you can still tune into Later… with Jools Holland just two days before his appearance in Belfast.