Atlantic Sessions Crash the North Coast

The 'one of a kind' music festival's latest edition brings a host of free performances and special events to venues along Ireland's most breathtaking backdrop

Featuring almost 50 free gigs spread across four days, the Atlantic Sessions music festival on the north coast is becoming something of a phenomenon amongst music lovers. Whether you’re a musician or simply enjoy listening to original artists, it’s now a much-anticipated event on the music calendar and is attracting more and more visitors every year.

Now in its seventh year, the Atlantic Sessions – funded, organised and promoted by the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council (CCGBC) – fuses traditional and contemporary music in its line-up. Gig-goers can therefore expect an eclectic mix of sounds on any given day, including electric, acoustic and more.

Adding additional support behind the scenes is Portstewart music promoter Keith Millar, who has booked a number of the programme's performers. Having been a judge at the the Banbridge and Draperstown Buckfest Music Festivals for the past few years, he has a keen ear when it comes to spotting emerging talent.

Indeed, he regularly appears on BBC Radio Ulster with Ralph McLean, chatting about music and the great variety of original artists in Northern Ireland. He’s also event manager and music promoter at The Listening Post, which supports original live music throughout the province. Therefore for Millar, his involvement in the festival is a natural continuation of his day-to-day work.

'The Atlantic Sessions is about showcasing new talent – up-and-coming artists - and more established acts,' he says. 'It's a balancing act for the festival's organisers, who try to mix it up by bringing back favourite acts alongside fresh new artists.'

Vicky Stevenson, tourism and marketing officer at CCGBC, adds: 'The Atlantic Sessions has a contemporary folk bias, but we also have more indie-folk, blurgrass and pop coming in now. The last couple of years we’ve been approached by artists who want to play at the festival and they also recommend artists to us, with people coming from Northern Ireland and further afield.'

The festival’s popular Music Trail includes a great variety of free gigs, which take place across Portstewart, Portrush and Portballintrae in a range of restaurants, bars and coffee shops, says Stevenson.

As part of this year’s programme, Portrush Film Theatre is also showing the movies Amy and Whiplash, while there are also a few pre-book events including a headlining gig from Wyvern Lingo, who recently toured with Hozier and will again in 2016.

Other ticketed gigs include Hannah McPhillimy, who launches her latest EP at the festival, as well as Paddy Casey in Concert and An Evening of Female Singer-Songwriters at Flowerfield Arts Centre, with performances from artists including Mandy Bingham, Amanda St John and Edelle McMahon.

Meanwhile Ralph McLean hosts The Sunday Brunch Session at the same venue, where you can enjoy a light meal and hear stripped-down sets from some of the Atlantic Sessions artists. 'It’ll be very chilled out,' says Millar.

Describing the Atlantic Sessions as a 'one of a kind' festival, Stevenson and Millar agree that it just couldn’t happen without the support of the participating venues. As well as contributing to the costs of the performers, they help bring people into the area during a generally quieter time of year.

'It couldn't happen without the venues' says Stevenson. 'It’s a credit to the north coast, because artists come up here and say they get treated so well.'

Starting out in 2007 with the aim of boosting the local economy out of season, Coleraine Borough Council's North Coast Folk Festival was rebranded and refocused to become Atlantic Sessions two years later.

The festival's original inception used the senior common room at Ulster University in Coleraine, a venue also used by Millar and a group of friends for The Listening Post, which they had just set up after tiring of hearing cover bands all the time.

'We realised there was a breadth of original music locally grown,' he says. 'So we started putting on fortnightly showcases, bringing artists from all over the island to perform. After the forced closure of the senior common room, I then decided to take The Listening Post name and brand and open my own music company, promoting, organising gigs and managing.'

Still very busy with independant agency, Millar has enjoyed a busy summer, working on area and stage management at various events. These included the Aperture Festival at Corrymeela, the Stendhal Festival in Limavady and at Culture Night Belfast. In addition he divides his time managing former frontman of The Red Velvetines, Mark Blair, and in 2016, will work with Amanda St John and Luke Concannon.

He is also hopeful of bringing Brian Kennedy to the north coast, another famous name whom he encountered recently while working on a private gig.

'He was singing at a wedding ceremony and reception and I was lucky enough that the bride and groom asked The Listening Post to host for them and provide the sound. He was a lovely guy to work with – very talented and professional.'

Fans of the Belfast singer can stay tuned for more details on this possibility, but in the meantime, there’s a plethora of artists poised to entertain in and around the scenic region this weekend. From The Emerald Armada, Junior Johnson and Kaz Hawkins, to Lore, Manouche, The Vals and many more – there’s something for everyone to enjoy, and all but a few gigs are absolutely free.

Atlantic Sessions takes place across various venues from November 12 - 15. For more information and ticket booking visit www.atlanticsessions.com.