11th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival

Long-awaited programme is announced at launch in the Dark Horse. Listen to a podcast with festival director Sean Kelly and live music by Brendan and Declan Murphy


The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival returns on April 29, boasting the most ambitious line-up yet with a programme packed with music, comedy, literature, theatre and visual arts. For eleven days, the city centre will once more be transformed for the duration of the Festival as over 140 events take place in over twenty venues across the area.

Echo and The Bunnymen'Belfast has changed a lot in the 11 years since the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival first began,' says festival director Sean Kelly.

'We’ve witnessed a lot of growth and development both socially and in arts and culture provision in our city. We’re delighted to still be here delivering a programme that reflects that growth and one we believe puts the festival at the very heart of the city’s cultural calendar.'

Kelly adds, 'I know it’s often said on these occasions but I genuinely believe that we’ve managed to achieve a great balance of the old and the new, the emerging talent with the established big stars and the local with the international.'

The word ‘legend’ is bandied around a lot these days, but the CQAF musical programme delivers acts who can legitimately lay claim to the title as their own.

Jamaica’s finest Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare need no introduction, it would be easier to make of list of stars that they haven’t worked with over their illustrious 30-year career. One of the most famous double-acts in the music world, Sly and Robbie make an extremely rare visit to this part of the world to grace the main stage at the Festival Marquee.

As Saturday night headliners go, they don’t come much bigger than Echo and the Bunnymen. The self-styled ‘best band in the world’, have influenced everybody from Coldplay to U2. CQAF catches them just as they’re riding the critical zeitgeist once again with new album The Fountain mooted as a rival to their stone-cold classic Ocean Rain.

Sean Kelly's own must-see act is the dazzling nine-piece Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, on board to bring a little funk, soul and sheer authentic passion with their strictly unplugged powerhouse live act. 'They're going to blow the roof off the Festival Marquee...it's going to be electrifying!' Kelly says.

Elsewhere, from Josh Ritter to DJ Food, it’s a roster of unparalleled musical spoils, which includes a rare live performance from our very own Divine Comedy on the eve of their long-awaited tenth studio album, Bang Goes the Knighthood.

Speaking at the programme launch, Lord Mayor Naomi Long gave the organisers high praise.

'The advent of spring in Belfast means just one thing – the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. It’s incredible that it has been eleven years since the Festival first burst onto the city’s arts calendar and into our public consciousness. In little more than a decade, CQAF has become an essential fixture of Belfast’s cultural landscape and can justly claim to be one of the leading arts festivals, not only of our city, but of the island of Ireland as a whole.

'Over the years, the Festival has become celebrated for consistently combining the very best international star names with the cream of our home-grown talent, consistently providing a genuinely inclusive, eclectic and quality bill. Eleven years on since CQAF mark one and I’m delighted to be able to congratulate the organisers for yet another stellar line-up which looks set to once again totally energise the city centre.' The Lord Mayor says.

The Festival’s comedy programme boasts some of the top stand-ups on the circuit including a quick return for Andrew Maxwell following his blistering turn at the Out to Lunch Festival just a few short months ago. Ardal O’Hanlon award-winning star of Father Ted and My Hero, celebrated author and all round comedy Renaissance man also makes a welcome return to the festival as does the inimitable Reginald D Hunter.

Mark KermodeEveryone’s favourite movie critic Mark Kermode will be here to not only read from his highly acclaimed memoir It’s Only a Movie, but also to take up the double-bass as one quarter of roughneck outfit The Dodge Brothers.

CQAF has always been an ardent supporter of the ever-burgeoning Northern Irish theatre scene and this year is no exception.

The world premiere (in adjoining bedrooms at the Ramada Encore!) of Prime Cut’s hotly-anticipated Scarborough, Henna Nights by Rawlife, C21’s inimitable re-imagining of Sylvia Plath’s only radio play Three Women, and Wonderland’s stunning La Locandiera which transforms the Merchant Hotel into an 18th century Florentine Inn for one night only.

Throw in the likes of manic wordsmith Dan Eggs, ex-taoiseach Bertie Ahern, a Festival-full of Fools, Polish Cultural Week, film, street theatre, food and a  host of family events not to mention An Evening In With George Clooney, and the Eleventh Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival looks set to be the biggest, best and most exciting yet.

The Eleventh Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival runs from April 29 to May 9. The full programme is available at www.cqaf.com.

Eddie Mullan