LegenDerry Maritime Festival
Derry~Londonderry evokes the spirit of 2013 as the Round the World Clipper race stops off on the Foyle
How do you follow a critical, and popular, success like the inaugural UK City of Culture year in Derry~Londonderry?
After some head scratching, the clever people at Derry City Council came up with an idea to extend the bohemian vibe that broke out all over the Maiden City last year as a series of A-list cultural figures – from Elvis Costello to The Royal Ballet – put the town Gerry Anderson dubbed 'Stroke City' firmly on the arts map.
Deploying a neat marketing pun, they've called it the LegenDerry Maritime Festival, and the programme looks set to continue this new arts tradition by establishing a water-themed week along the banks of the river Foyle.
As Oonagh McGillion, Legacy Director, explains, there was a deliberate strategy to capitalise on last year's success. 'The main reason we got involved with the Clipper Round the World race in 2013 was because we recognized that if we received the (City of Culture) title in 2013, we'd have to generate interest.
'There is such a strong maritime story here, with heritage and the story of emigration, which affects so many people who would have heard stories from their grandparents. You can see photos of Derry as a significant port and these pictures of the industrial past allow you to connect with it.'
The city so good they named it twice has now been given a third name, Derry~Londonderry~Doire, with an Ulster-Scots tag. And it will be providing some serious cultural activity, and sheer fun, from midsummer's day onwards.
There are two elements to the LegenDerry Maritime Festival, the shore activity and nine-day carnival. This majors in music, with a fun sounding, free Music City! event taking place on June 21. Gareth Stewart is director of this piece of imaginative programming. It's a kind of musical smorgasbord and, as Stewart says, the venture grew out of the City of Culture success.
'Thousands of people visited for that but the large budget we had last year wasn't available this time,' Stewart adds. 'Without going into figures, we had less than a third to work with. A lot less noughts, in other words, but we wanted to establish an arts event that would get us back to level.'
Thankfully the organisers had quite a bit to work with, as the city is already a bit of a musical hub. As well as the Roaring Meg busking competition, they've added an Ulster Orchestra concert under Stephen Bell, featuring some orchestral work at the start, with a bit of Dvorak and the obvious but delightful bit of Mendelssoh, the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed on the right day.
Later, the orchestra will be accompanying Derry saxophonist Gerard McCrystal in some Latino work – timely with the World Cup in Brazil – and enjoying crossover with Eoin O'Callaghan from Best Boy Grip. There will be a magical Dawn Chorus event, in which you can sing to the rising sun, plus music from the Rambling Boys of Pleasure, the Jeremiahs and sounds from various genres to please just about everyone.
Stewart is satisfied with the programme, and the setting. 'The city is a great landscape for events. And although we can't control the climate, for City of Culture it rained at the right time, so I'm in direct communication with the weather gods.'
Even the famous Derry hills, which will be alive with the sounds of music at the end of the month, are apparently an asset. 'People will be wandering around, and walking up and downhill becomes easier when you're being entertained,' believes Stewart.
Music can do a lot of things but, can it bring together this handsome, sometimes conflicted city? Stewart thinks it can. 'Music occupies space and it fills the city walls with a beat and is seen as a contrast to what was happening here 15 years ago (and before). What happens then is that people claim ownership, the walls become the people's walls and don't belong to one side or the other.'
Helping promote a more inclusive Derry, the Ubuntu tented event on June 22 will include a recognition that there are now over 50 nationalities living here.
This vibrant series of exhibitions and performances illustrates the point of the South African word 'ubuntu', which has no direct English translation but essentially means that our identity is only properly expressed when we interact with others, and was a term that people often used in the transition from apartheid.
Set in the heart of the Festival Village, Ubuntu provides an introduction to the three continental zones, plus free demonstrations and family workshops from 1pm to 10pm.
Stewart then makes the salient point that financially, it's cheaper to forge this kind of creative link than endlessly police conflict, saying: 'Last year, £12 1/2m went on the City of Culture yet it cost £80 to police the flag parades in places like the Crumlin Road in Belfast.'
In branding terms, the idea of attaching fun associations to the city's name is spot on. The local Clipper boat, named Derry~Londonderry~Doire, has taken the message like some lovely floating logo on the journey from Australia to London via glamorous locations including Hong Kong and New York.
After all, as Julia and Peter Hitchens write in Successful Brand Management, the best way of maintaining a successful brand is by 'repeated and pleasurable associations'.
Continuing this attractive watery trope, the penultimate pitstop of the 2013-2014 Round the World Clipper race will take place Foyleside as these beautiful ships capture the imagination in their own way. As the Beach Boys – who, under Mike Love will be bringing their brand of 1960s bottled sunshine to Ebrington Square on June 26 – might put it, we should all be picking up good vibrations.