Culture Night Belfast has grown and grown with each passing year. Since its inception in 2009, more and more of the local population has flocked to the areas in and around Belfast’s Cathedral quarter to witness the wide variety of arts and culture that Belfast, and Northern Ireland as a whole, has to offer.
This year’s Culture Night seemed destined to run into a few problems due to significant cuts in arts funding. The organisers have been very outspoken about how damaging the cuts are to events such as theirs. With this in mind it was perhaps hard to envisage this year’s Culture Night living up to previous years.
All that being said, any doubts were thrown away almost immediately. Even a glance at the size of this year’s program showed the event was not slowing down. A huge number of events took place all day and into the night.
For myself Culture Night truly started with a visit to Redeemer Central. Last year the musical performances in the church were a real highlight and this year despite a more stripped down aesthetic, the quality remained high. In what was sadly only a brief visit I caught only a brief glimpse of Giraffe Stairs‘ set. Up afterwards however was DANI. Folk and trad appear to be this singer-songwriter’s vices. Blessed with a voice more than suited to the trad style, what shines most in DANI’s music is her guitar playing. Her songs are often framed and embellished with accomplished and intricate guitar parts. Certainly an encouraging start to the evening.
From here, after a brief dart across to the food vans, there’s time to take in a little of the Ulster Youth Jazz Orchestra, performing in the stunning setting of St Anne’s Cathedral. Alas, as always with Culture Night, there is much more to be seen.
Where Culture Night really comes to life is on the cobbles of Hill Street, a street that is crying out to be pedestrianised on a full time basis. The bustling atmosphere right here, soundtracked by the blues rock of Thee Penny Dreadfuls blaring out of the hairdressers, is what makes Culture Night special. On a corner by the Black Box, a magic show gets under way but for us its on towards Waring Street to take in the sound of the Belfast Community Gospel Choir. This large choir is somehow dwarfed by the huge crowd gathered around Waring Street and the steps of the Merchant hotel. The choir belt out song after song including the likes of ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ and Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’. Every is re-imagined with audience participation and enjoyment at its heart. It would have been very difficult to find someone not enjoying themselves, this Soul In The City event was certainly one of Culture Night 2015’s triumphs.
Of course it wouldn’t be Culture Night for a Chordblossom correspondent without some local bands. First off was the Oh Yeah Centre. Amongst a great bill, sadly missing the originally booked Hot Cops, was the noisy experience of Autumns. Their set, mainly a mix of guitars and backing beats was a unrelenting cacophonous roar. While not for everyone it certainly caught your attention. Sadly for a act so reliant on an aural onslaught the venue’s sound did them no favours.
Sadly at around 10pm the wide variety of events around the night seem to drop off. Those wishing to continue into night must head to the likes of the Hudson or Aether and Echo, bars which will continue when many punters have since gone. For myself 10pm signalled a trip across town to The Bar With No Name to take in another event. The vast majority of events on Culture Night are free to all but unfortunately this isn’t. Certainly the quality of acts on show warrants more than the price of a fiver but it does not seem in the spirit of the night. The distance of TBWNN from the heart of Culture Night reinforces this.
Nonetheless anyone making their way out here was in for a few musical delights. First up was the folk of Wolf Like Me. The first thing to hit your ears from this five-piece has be the vocals of frontman Liam McCartan. Inspired surely by the one and only Tom Waits, McCartan projects a bellowing growl throughout each song. Backed most prominently by Sabrina Rodgers’ fiddle, McCartan voice pushes through to the fore of their traditional folk sound.
Next on stage is Vokxen. It always seems a little backwards to focus at all on Vokxen’s all female line-up but sadly they appear to be one of the few in the Northern Irish music scene. The band are relatively new to the live scene but their strong performances absolutely mask this. The band are gearing up to the release of their latest EP and this was another typically polished performance. However much like the Oh Yeah Centre earlier in the night, the quality of sound is poor and slightly hampers their set.
Last on the bill for Culture Night was the always incredible Joshua Burnside. Backed by his brother Connor on drums he played a largely new set. The only prominent older tracks were crowd favourites ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Dessert Wine’. Songs like ‘Red, white and blue’ have found their way into Burnside’s sets a few times recently but there were still a few surprises, not least a song written only a few days before the show. It was another great performance by Burnside who seems to capture an audience’s attention with ease.
It is fantastic to be able to say that despite the challenges of funding cuts Culture Night Belfast is still going from strength to strength. This year’s was another night were Belfast truly comes together in celebration. On Culture Night Northern Ireland’s arts and culture can be enjoyed without concern or trouble. It would take a lot to stop this ball rolling.