The top cultural treats of 2007

Critics and culture vultures highlight the year's best music, books, performances and art

What were your top cultural choices from the year gone by? Email us on info@culturenorthernireland and have your say!

Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive, Arts Council of Northern Ireland
2007 began with the launch of the Arts Council’s five year strategy, Creative Connections, driven by a bold vision to work to place arts and culture at the heart of Northern Ireland’s social, economic and creative life. 

As the year evolved, Northern Ireland’s image was elevated on the international stage with presence at the Venice Biennale and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC. On our home ground, positive regeneration was continuing to take place across Northern Ireland as 34 community organizations were awarded the first £500,000 of the Re-imaging Communities Programme.

Hugh Odling Smee, Art Development Officer with Belfast City Council
I had two theatrical highlights this year; Henry & Harriet at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, produced by Kabosh Theatre Company, and To Be Sure by Tim Loane at the Lyric. My exhibition of the year was British Watchtowers by Donovan Wylie at Belfast Exposed.

In music there's And So I Watch You From Afar, the perfect antidote to all the atrocious drivel which was heavily promoted as NI music this year. Apart from that I think I missed everything else. Oh and The Delawares. They’re bloody magic.

Lucy Caldwell, author of Where They Were Missed
In non-fiction, Patricia Craig’s memoir Asking For Trouble and Kester Aspden’s Nationality Wog: The Hounding of David Oluwale were both brilliant and disturbing reads.

This summer I went to Münster in Germany for the ‘Skulptur Projekt’, a contemporary art event held only once every ten years, during the course of which sculptures and installations go up in and around the entire city.

A Rough Trade shop opened near me earlier this year, which has been good for my music collection but awful for my bank balance. One album that’s stood out is Person Pitch by Panda Bear, and I'm listening to the recently-released collection of Morr singles.

Francis Jones, CultureNorthernIreland writer
September marked the anniversary of Louis MacNeice’s birth. Belfast-born and raised in Carrickfergus, MacNeice was one of the great poetic voices of the 20th century and a distinguished broadcaster.

Though he died in 1963, the wealth of celebrations in this anniversary year proved that death has not diminished his significance, that in its coupling of the eternal and the everyday, MacNeice’s poetry retains a rare potency.

Elsewhere, Glenn Patterson was transporting his readers from FATLAD pastures familiar to a Hiroshima stained with the shadow of ‘the bomb’. East meets west in The Third Party, our consumerist modern world rushing to embrace the void. A thrilling, profound read.

December spawned a monster in the shape of Clone Quartet’s debut album Well-Oiled Machine. Here dance and rock are in beautiful equilibrium - a late, but worthy contender for Irish record of the year.

Glenn Patterson, author of The Third Party
My book of this year, if I’m allowed it, is properly speaking a book of next year, David Park’s The Truth Commissioner, which I got a proof of. A very good writer’s very best novel to date. The other highlight of the reading year wasn’t a 2007 book either, but Vladimir Nabokov’s The Gift. Brilliance beyond description, if you can stick with it through the first forty or fifty pages.

Albums? Julian Cope’s You Gotta Problem With Me was the now-familiar mix of inspiration, self-indulgence and occasionally electrifying noise, and I listened to the Go!Team’s 'Proof of Youth' for about two weeks straight after I bought it. My discovery of the year was Pony Up! (a year for exclamation marks) from Montreal. 'Make Love to the Judges With Your Eyes' wasn’t just my favourite record, but my favourite title. Performance of the year unquestionably Truth in Translation at the Lyric.

Sara Thompson, manager of the Ava Gallery at Clandeboye Estate
Emma Connolly’s exhibition of vibrant panoramic landscapes was a real Ava Gallery highlight. The show was the result of a client commission to paint the view from their house looking out towards Strangford Lough and the Mourne Mountains, and the paintings and associated drawings on show displayed a growing maturity in the young artist’s talents.

There has been an ongoing focus in the gallery this year on contemporary NI artists, which has been very exciting. This included two successful solo shows of new work by both Conor Fleck and Gareth Reid, as well as a popular joint exhibition by Martin Mooney and Lindy Guinness.

In particular Reid’s painstakingly accurate paintings of people and landscapes in Black Mirror were most rewarding, and extremely beneficial for the emerging artist’s developing career.

William Crawley, BBC Journalist and Broadcaster
In February, I sat on the third row of the London Palladium to witness Rufus Wainwright's musical recreation of Judy Garland's famous 1961 performance in its entirety, backed by a 36-piece orchestra.

Rufus was understated, as ever, in a gold (fake) leopard-skin suit. Martha came on stage to perform 'Stormy Weather', and Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft belted out a couple of numbers. It was a glorious, unforgettable evening which I expect to be talking about for years.

My Belfast performance event of the year has to be Orchestral Manoeuvres in Belfast, which opened the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival: Duke Special, Foy Vance and Julie Feeney joined creative forces with the Ulster Orchestra at the Waterfront Hall in May and the result was - well, electric. Both live performances were later released in edited form on CD.

For theatre, I can't get beyond the Lyric's stunning production of Dancing at Lughnasa, directed by Mick Gordon, which easily compares with the best theatre I've seen on any London or New York stage. During the Belfast Festival, the Lyric also hosted Truth in Translation, a brilliant examination of the South African truth and reconcilliation process directed by Michael Lessac - it was like a fusion of 12 Angry Men and A Chorus Line.

As for books, I am proud to have been an early champion of Anne Enright's The Gathering, on the BBC Book Programme I present. Indra Sinha's Animal's People is a genuinely important book which was my personal pick for this year's Man Booker Prize.

Brendan Deeds, CultureNorthernIreland writer
One of the theatrical highlights of the year was Owen McCafferty’s Days of Wine and Roses. The two actors on the top of their game took the playwright’s script and invited the audience into a world of  broken beauty, self deception, and the desperate yearning for redemption.

It's a play about the lies we tell each other and the lies we tell ourselves - there was heartache but there was hope. This powerful two-hander reminded me of why I love the theatre.

Martin Lynch, playwright
One of the best things I saw in 2007 was at The Black Box, Belfast - Limavady, My Heart's Delight, a play with music, starring, written and directed by Little John McNee.

For those who haven't been converted yet, who haven't seen his annual productions, Little John McNee is the closest thing we have to sheer genius. His writing and performing is absolutely brilliant. It's not just the belly-laugh humour, it also has a great sadness, poignancy and human insight that is rare combination for the theatre.

As a performer - part Chaplin, part Harpo Marx and part John Wayne - McNee is a total one-off. If there is one performer alive today with whom I'm guaranteed to get a laugh that actually hurts my side, it's him. He should be a national treasure.

Graham Little, Sports Reporter
There have been many NI sporting highlights this year, but some upsets too. The change of manager came at just the wrong moment for the NI football team, and I think it probably cost them a place at the European Championships next summer.

Nigel Worthington did well once he settled in - great results against Sweden and Denmark - but the performances against Latvia and Iceland were pretty poor. Had Lawrie Sanchez been there the momentum the team had generated would've seen them getting points from those games, points which would have seen them through. It's a shame because on the whole it was a tremendous qualifying campaign.

Alice McCullough, visual artist at The Studio, Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

The visual art event that stood out for me was the Art Tourist, a bus tour of art galleries, studios and places of artistic activity. I found the tour fascinating and very rewarding, as it gave the opportunity to see what other artists are up to.

Art Tourist is a worthwhile event with the potential to enrich the Belfast art scene hugely, and I hope it will be happening again in the 2008.

The most engaging and exciting piece of theatre for me this year was The Wooing of The She-Wolf, by Jim Johnston. The epic and poetic tale of wolves in the night was performed by The Theatre Knights, at the Old Museum and Crescent Arts Centres. It was also the first play to be performed in the foyer of the Art College. Two smaller plays also captured my imagination this year, Red Lemon Production's Jack’s Last Puff and Cahoots NI's The Flea Pit in Botanic Gardens was a thrill and delight.

I was lucky enough to be part of a performance of The Vagina Monologues at The Black Box, with a group of 20 local women in June of this year. The show passed all our expectations, with a sell-out audience for all 3 nights. Coupled with the VaginArt auction, the performance raised more than £3,000 for the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre.