Culture Night Belfast returns for its ninth year of making Belfast look and feel like the capital city that it is. Firstly, heading to Buoy Park, the boys of No Oil Paintings kicked off the day at 3pm. With a new EP titled ‘Too Close to the Sun’ and a music video for their new single ‘Icarus’ released just a few days previous, the boys continue to climb from strength to strength. Opening with ‘God Only Knows’ their trademark rockabilly licks and effortless harmonies fill Buoy park.
The raw strength of lead vocalist Chris Kelly’s voice on this track reminds me how they are a band you need to see live to fully appreciate their energy. It is apparent to see that the boys love what they are doing as they joke with each other and make wise cracks to the crowd. They are a band for a big stage and a large crowd and I am excited to see where the rest of the year takes them.
The Buoy Park stage was provided by Help Musicians NI and hosted a whole variety of talents throughout the day. Alas, the curse of culture night set in and we promptly moved on as the fear of missing activities elsewhere began to creep in.
Next on the agenda was Lauren Bird on the rooftop of the Oh Yeah Centre. Not to be fooled by her small stature and ukulele Bird is a competent songwriter and composed yet confident on stage. Her sugary vocals accompanied by a three-piece band matched the fairy lit rooftop setting perfectly. Her final song and by far her standout piece would have to be ‘Goodbye, Good Luck’. The sombre subject matter contrasted with the perky chords of the ukulele puts you in mind of Noah and the Whale. I am interested to see if she can begin to build on the composition of her song writing improving slightly on her lyrics to match her tender subject matters such as her track ‘Ode to Anxiety’.
Leaving Oh Yeah we were carried by the crowd to the Black Box by a sea of people. There we were greeted by Rebekah Fitch. It’s moments like this that, through the fuzz of a few pints you realise the true importance of Culture Night for aspiring musicians, artists and poets. The exposure and experience gained from the night truly is second to none. Fitch’s stand out track ‘Here We Go’, is if Regina Spektor’s piano was combined with a drum machine. The pop synth of tracks like ‘Another Show’ is perfectly teamed by her strong and interesting voice. Without a doubt Fitch is one to watch considering she has no problem inhabiting a stage, with each song she was greeted with huge cheers and the crowd’s unwavering attention.
Following Fitch were the old hands the Emerald Armada. Seated up against the wall to the right of the stage the boys performed a stripped back performance, putting you in mind their earlier EPs of less electric guitar more trad. Little needs to be said about the Armada. They never disappoint and truly are an integral piece of the city’s music scene.
Culture Night continues to grow each year with more and more tourists and locals alike flocking to the city. Now fully cemented as a kerbstone in Belfast’s yearly calendar, it will only continue to become better and better.
What remains amazing about Culture Night is that despite the massive budget cuts the committee find themselves facing, that the spectacle, scope and size of the night seem only to grow with each passing year. As the size grows, so too do the crowds, which numbered in the thousands on Friday 22nd.
I found myself abandoning the guidelines and simply walking the streets, as literally every participating corner had an event that showcased the diverse and blossoming new cultural identities present in Belfast. Starting at Kelly’s, I wove my way through the crowd, past food stalls selling everything from fish and chips, to curry to poutine. The outdoors music venue of the night featured a number of acts from local legends Electric Octopus, traditional musicians and a smaller group featuring a number of Syrian refugees. Fantastic drinking music.
Making my way from Kelly’s towards the Cathedral Quarter, I dipped in and out of the side streets of Royal Avenue, each one with its own distinct theme. Outside Fresh Garbage, you could get a fresh burger while listening to some of the more exciting young bands in Belfast give free live gigs, whereas around the corner you could dance the night away at Aether & Echo’s free outdoor rave, a now yearly staple of the event that proves to be a massive draw. Heading further into the event, you would be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to a massively cosmopolitan hub. You might turn your head and see a Reggae Dub rave, turn another way and you’ll see street artists giving a live session while simultaneously adding to Belfast’s already impressive graffiti gallery
Truly a testimony to how much Belfast has changed and how much it has to offer if given the chance, Culture Night has entrenched itself in the hearts of Belfast citizens as an excuse to beat back the darkness and just have a good time. Something we can all throw ourselves behind.
Culture Night Belfast has become an unavoidable phenomenon in recent years. This time last year funding cuts put its future in doubt but once again it returned to bigger things. An simply unmissable night on the Belfast calendar.
I started mine at Head Records, where we hosted four acts alongside Spectrum Festival in the afternoon. Scottish poet Mark Evison started proceedings before Fox Colony, playing as a stripped back duo raised the volume. Playing tracks largely from their latest EP, they were in fine voice, performing to a sizeable crowd squeezed amongst the racks. Glass Wings followed, using the relaxed atmosphere to try out a few new tracks before Emer Maguire rounded things off, placing a cover of Lorde’s ‘Green Light’ amongst originals including ‘Belfast’. A great way to get the culture started, big thanks in particular to everyone at Head for hosting a great event.
A quick hop over to Buoy Park was made in time to witness Silences performing on the Help Musicians NI stage. The band are on a roll at the moment, with plenty of gigs in the festival period and beyond. It’s always a pleasure to hear personal favourite ‘There’s A Wolf’, with its persistent keys, over the top solo and Conchur White’s impressive vocals. The new material is equally impressive, with ‘LA’ certainly set to make a splash.
After dithering over food options and eventually moving on empty handed, myself and our photo editor Conor took the lift, pint now in hand, to the Oh Yeah Centre’s rooftop for one of the evening’s highlights. The ukulele wielding Strabane star Lauren Bird played a fantastic set to a capacity audience. With the backing of drums, bass and keys, Bird’s hour long set incorporated much of her debut album released earlier this year, ‘It’s OK’ is always a treat, alongside covers of ‘God Only Knows’ and her indie folk version of Nirvana’s ‘All Apologies’. It may have been a bright evening when they started but an hour and a sunset later, the fairy lights were put to good use. A really magical way to spend an evening, put on by Spectrum Festival.
From the Oh Yeah through a crowded Hill Street to Old Fang’s Culture Night party in the Black Box next. First on was Belfast songwriter Rebekah Fitch. I’ve now seen Fitch a fair few times but she has always blown me away with her hook laden songwriting only bettered by her stunning pop diva vocals. Fitch played to a packed out room, impressing the big crowd before ending with two covers of Michael Jackson and Ed Sheeran. With beats coming into play under Fitch’s vocals and keyboard playing, there was more than a little sadness for Fitch’s set coming to an end.
Tucked away by the venue’s sound desk and sitting down, the Emerald Armada did their best to bring a real pub gig atmosphere to the big room. Equal parts laid back and rowdy, the band are so adapted to live situations and bring a feel good attitude wherever they go.
The rest of my night was spent across in the Oh Yeah centre, fuelled by a few pints and a well needed packet of Tayto (thanks Jayne!). Michael Mormecha, playing as a three piece, smashed out tracks from his ‘LoFi Life’ album, with the enjoyable romp ‘I Know What You’re Looking For’ a highlight. Playing to a big crowd, Mormecha and band put on a great set. With the night drawing to a close for many, the much heavier Bosco Ramos closed things out at the Oh Yeah and with that another hugely enjoyable Culture Night came to an end for me. Here’s to next year.