Shelley Marsden takes a look at some of the standout cultural events coming up this year…
Great Britain, with its history of Irish immigration, has long proved fertile ground for Irish arts of every kind. Here, we take a look at just some of the cultural highlights coming up in the next twelve months from talent based in Ireland and the UK – and from traditional music to rowdy musicals, there should be something to suit every taste.
Irish theatre in the West End
If you want to catch some Irish theatre in the West End this year, it looks like there’ll be plenty of shows to choose from. Not only is Conor McPherson classic The Weir, starring Dervla Kirwan and Ardal O’Hanlon at Wyndham’s Theatre from January 16, across the way you have two Irish musicals currently wowing the crowds – the bombastic stage adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments at The Palace Theatre and the equally musical but rather more low-key stage Once, another stage adaptation, this time of the Oscar-winning indie film starring Glenn Hansard, about love, busking and the power of music in Dublin town.
Irish Heritage: Una Hunt
Celebrating 40 years this year, arts organisation Irish Heritage has its next event on Wednesday February 12, presenting Una Hunt (piano) in Irish Composers – their music and their stories at Regent Hall, 275 Oxford Street, London. One of Ireland’s leading pianists, Una has performed, recorded and broadcasted the work of many Irish composers, such as Thomas Moore, William Wallace, John Field and many lesser known Irish composers whose works she has brought to audiences’ attention. She is world-renowned for her work on Irish composers and has spearheaded the new Archive of Irish Composers at the National Library of Ireland. Tickets (£15 and £5 for students) including light refreshments, are soon on sale. Irish Heritage was founded in London in 1974 to share an appreciation of Irish and Anglo-Irish literature, music, drama, and other arts. See www.regenthall.co.uk and http://irishheritage.co.uk for more.
Echoes of Erin concert tour
The 2014 Comhaltas Tour of Britain Echoes of Erin is a much-anticipated date in the diary of trad fans and musicians across the UK, ad the tour is back this February with dates across the country. The Echoes of Erin tours provides a great showcase for Irish traditional music, song and dance, with top performers in all fields displaying the highest standards and regional styles that have become synonymous with these events down through the years. These are the same performers who have already thrilled audiences throughout the length and breadth of Ireland during the Comhaltas Irish Tour last October.
Venus Nights, set up by London-based Irish blues singer Fiona McIlroy, is back for a second year on March 30 at The Matcham Room, in London’s Hippodrome Casino, Leicester Square. Created to increase awareness and recognition of female talent working in music, this one-off all-female night of music creates a community network and platform for women musicians and performers, and raises funds for charitable organizations that support women and music (Nordoff Robbins, Eaves and Smart Works). Last year the ladies donned their hats to Patsy Cline, Sarah Vaughan, and Big Mama Thornton. This year, the ‘Venusians’ will be paying homage to three late, great singers: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Eartha Kitt and Brenda Lee. For more see www.facebook.com/VenusNights.
London-Irish St Pat’s game
Always a popular date in the calendar, London Irish’s famed St Patrick’s Party game will this year see Bath visit the Madejski Stadium on March 22 in the Aviva Premiership. A host of live bands will entertain the crowds pre and post match. Last year’s game saw nearly 20,000 watch the Exiles beat Worcester Warriors 26-6.
The Irish House Party
Just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day, Dublin’s award-winning music and dance show offers the warmest of welcomes to the finest house party in town. Inspiring a fun spirit wherever they go the Irish House Party are coming to the UK this year for two dates – March 11 in Swansea Grand Theatre and March 16 in The G Live in Guilford. Starring All Ireland Champion musicians, presenters bring their banter to the stage and some Irish dancing thrown in for good measure. The show has become one of Dublin’s must-see events with fans such as Dara O’Briain, Louis Walsh, The Dubliners and even chart toppers The Wanted (with whom they recently played live with on The Late Late Show). For more information, see www.theirishhouseparty.com.
London Irish Comedy Festival
This three-day mini-fest, which made its debut in 2013, celebrates some of the wonderful Irish comedy talents in existence in London town. With a host of excellent funny men and women from back home based in the capital, the pickings are far from slim. Last year taking centre stage were Andrew Maxwell, ?? and ???. This year more top comedians (tbc) will be taking to the stage from October, ???
There are some parts of the population that haven’t had enough of Ireland’s original song and dance extravaganza. For you, Riverdance – which is celebrating 20 years this year – is back with a new UK 20th Anniversary Tour. With two decades of global success since the show first came to the public’s attention at the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin in 1994, fans old and new can expect more of the same epic dance and music set pieces, with not only Irish traditions but bringing in dance styles and music from other parts of the globe, too. The UK leg of the tour begins in Southend on September 2, and ends with a three-day run at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, 10-13 December. For more and to buy tickets, see http://riverdance.com/uk.
Belfast Festival at Queen’s
One of the biggest arts festivals in Europe, the Belfast Festival at Queen’s takes place in October each year, and offers an eclectic selection of theatre, film, dance, visual arts, talks and more. For over 50 years it’s been lighting up the city and over its history has attracted the biggest names in the world– everyone from Laurence Olivier to Jimi Hendrix has taken part. It attracts some 60, 000 people from all over the world, and is a great excuse to get over and explore Belfast. For this year’s line-up, check back on www.belfastfestival.com later in the year.
Irish Film Festival London
There were a host of UK premieres at last November’s Irish Film Festival London, with film fans flocking to events across London, and there’s no reason to think that this year, in what will be its fourth edition, will be any less dynamic. Last year’s festival drew to a close at the ICA with a screening of Niall McCann’s acclaimed documentary, Art Will Save the World about the enigmatic musician Luke Haines. Other highlights included UK premieres for short film Rubai, documentary The Irish Pub, Men and Women, Life’s A Breeze, Lon Sa Speir, What Remains and Run and Jump, starring Silk actress Maxine Peake. Check in on the website later this year to see what’s in the offing at http://irishfilmfestivallondon.com.
Liverpool Irish Festival
One of few UK-based Irish festivals which takes place away from St Patrick’s Day in March, the Liverpool Irish Festival, whose tagline for this year’s event (October 23–November 2) is ‘It’s About Liverpool. And Ireland’ boasts an eclectic line up of cultural happenings in venues across the city. Last year’s event was its most successful to date, with major draws including a concert from trad group Dervish, a storming concert by Dublin balladeer Damien Dempsey and a gig from trad ensemble The Irish Sea Sessions. It’s too early of course for this year’s line-up to be confirmed, but check the website for updates at www.liverpoolirishfestival.com.
Return To Camden Town
Now a firm fixture in the music calendar, the Return to Camden Town Festival, which takes place each year between the end of October and beginning of November, celebrates the best in Irish traditional song, music and dance and continues to attract some of the best musicians from Ireland and the UK. This year is the sixteenth edition of the festival, and concert-goers (who incidentally range from 18 to 80) know to expect some top names in the trad world. Last year’s highlights, aside from the many vibrant sessions and pub gigs, included memorable performances from The John Carty Festival Band, new London-Irish outfit Crossharbour and Dermot Byrne (Altan) and Floriane Blancke. See www.returntocamden.org for more.
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