Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival Comes of Age

Belfast's best-loved arts festival marks its 17th year with an eclectic as ever line-up – see what's in store now

The programme has launched for the 17th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, featuring over 150 events to enliven the cobbled streets and cultural hotspots of the historic Belfast district from April 28 - May 8.

The dizzyingly eclectic music line-up this year welcomes a series of luminaries and legends to the city. The festival welcomes the almighty Lee 'Scratch' Perry to help celebrate the great man’s 80th birthday, and Guy Garvey won’t be giving Belfast audiences the Elbow when he hits the Festival Marquee off the back of his acclaimed-to-high-heaven solo debut Courting the Squall.

Marc Almond follows 'the Velvet Trail' to Belfast, with 35 million record sales and umpteen stone cold classics tucked under his glittery sash, while original innovator Grandmaster Flash beats a path to CQAF, to deliver his message of hip-hop genius.

BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winning husband-and-wife duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman are also in town, as is the extended family wondrousness of The Unthanks. Old 'super lungs' himself, Terry Reid, makes a rare visit too, with an unmissable show at the Black Box. And none other than Craig Charles will be inviting you to his Funk and Soul Club, ably supported by the Haggis Horns, on a magical Friday in May.

Elsewhere multi-legged groove machine Afro-Celt Sound System make their CQAF debut, Beta Band founder and all round electronic folk pop visionary Steve Mason hits town with possibly his most perfect album yet and home-grown genius David Holmes welcomes audiences to God’s Waiting Room.

The timeless brilliance of The Zombies will transform the Custom House Square Marquee, cult pop polymath and former Arab Strapper Aidan Moffat performs live after an exclusive screening of his film Where You’re Meant to Be, while master jazz pioneer Courtney Pine is joined by pianist Zoe Rahman, as they perform beautiful interpretations of timeless ballads.

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Meanwhile Teddy Thompson performs with American singer Kelly Jones, The Birds of Chicago take glorious flight in the beguiling surrounds of the First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street and Voodoo play fitting hosts to Hispanic punk-folk-voodoo tinged troubadours Guadalupe Plata.

Taking the reins as Artist-in-Residence is the singularly talented Jealous of the Birds aka Naomi Hamilton whose debut album Parma Violets has astonished critics. Ciaran Lavery has come a long way since his tenure last year, and returns to the fold once more to launch new album Let Bad In, one of 2016's most hotly anticipated local releases.

Rising Dublin star Gavin James makes a welcome festival debut as do 'sonic reprobates' Hillbilly Moon Explosion. Northern Lights, featuring Ben Glover, Malojian and Matt McGinn, finds three of the north’s finest singer~songwriters taking to the stage to bewitch and beguile in a CQAF style.

Spooky, timeless and irresistible – the music of Malcolm Holcombe is matched only by his stunning live performances channelling Leadbelly and poetic existential angst in equal measure.

Away from the music, performance artist, video artist and very funny man Kim Noble invites you to draw in a little closer and reassure you that 'You’re Not Alone' – his blackly comic masterpiece. The comedy line-up also boasts Rob Delaney, star of Channel 4's Catastrophe, as well as Roy Walker, who makes a nostalgic return to the Dockers Club – the scene of so many former glories.

Country music legend – and political person’s Barry Humphries – Tina C makes a long overdue reappearance at the festival, hot on the heels of the long awaited second volume of biography, Complete & Utter Country.

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Sheffield’s finest, John Shuttleworth, is back in the Black Box and so too is Richard Herring with his new show, Happy Now? Old festival favourite, and thinking person’s stand-up Robert Newman is also back, with The Brain Show, in which he takes a sceptical approach to some grand claims made by neuroscience.

The Salford Bard John Cooper Clarke also makes a very welcome return to headline the festival marquee and perhaps most famous of the many Fall refugees, Brix Smith Start, will be in town to read from her new book The Fall, The Rise, The Fall. Likewise Michael Bradley tells the story of his Life as a Teenage Undertone, recalling those white hot days of the punk revolution as seen from the front lines.

There is of course a glorious abundance of visual art, film, literature, spoken word and theatre too, such as the hugely acclaimed Gare St Lazare Players presenting First Love by Samuel Beckett, and a number of theatrical readings and performances in Belfast’s newest venue, The Barracks.

That's not to forget the Blackstaff Press launch of New Poets of Ireland, a screening of the utterly indispensable Tom Waits Big Time and Rude Boy, to mark the 40th anniversary of The Clash forming, followed by a discussion with star Ray Gange.

Rounding out the 11 days of music, comedy, spoken word, literature, film, theatre, visual art and more is Vegstock, Ireland’s first meat-free festival to mark Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink.

For full programme listings, ticket booking and more information visit www.cqaf.com. Photos by Joe Laverty.