By David Hennessy
Dublin songstress Imelda May and Olivier Award-winning/ Oscar- nominated actress Jessie Buckley were among the big names to feature in a full day of entertainment to celebrate Bloomsday at Embassy Gardens on Saturday 17 June.
The festivities were brought together by Robin Gill, the well known chef whose restaurant Darbys is located in the square, with the help of music producer Arveene Juthan.
Described as a celebration of Irish art, food and culture, there was music, spoken word, food stalls, Irish distilleries, and more.
The festivities started at midday with trad band The Curfew who were followed by Oisin Rogers, well known restauranteur, who is also known to sing.
Chimera, the dance act, would speed things up a bit.
The Curfew would play with the Scottish singer Life of Bryony, for an impromptu rendition of her own music and The Parting Glass. This was a spontaneous performance, she had not been billed but the crowd loved it.
Christine McGowan, Rita Farrell and Oisin Cooke would follow with some trad music before there was some spoken word as Stephen Hogan, Niall McNamee and Michele Moran read passages from Ulysses.
Niamh Mulvey, who stepped up to read passages from her work, joked that she wouldn’t have chosen to follow James Joyce.
Jessie Buckley, well known for films such as The Lost Daughter and Women Talking, read passages of Ulysses together with actor Trevor Kaneswaren and rapper Jelani Blackman.
The musical entertainment continued into the evening with London- based Dundalk electronica artist Video Blue, dreampop singer songwriter Aislinn Logan, Niall McNamee who has just released his EP of songs from the film he is currently starring in Love without Walls, indie songstress Theo and Dublin duo Sample Answer.
There was also fun with YouTube star Hugh Cooney leading a ceili and a Lovely Girls and Boys competition before the show came to a brilliant and poignant climax with Imelda May playing with her boyfriend Niall McNamee while also reading some Joyce and some of her own poems.
Imelda May told The Irish World fresh from finishing up her set: “I really enjoyed it.
“I’m hoping it’s the first of many.
“It’s great to celebrate Bloomsday all over the world so yeah, I loved it and the audience were very receptive.
“Because I came on at the end of the night, I wasn’t sure if they were wanting some poetry or some readings from Ulysses but they were up for anything at all and we ended up having a sing song, doing harmonies, bit of poetry, bit of readings, did a bit of Molly Bloom and got into a few rowdy ones as well but it was a beautiful flow, you know?
“It’s lovely when you turn up to an audience who are ready to go along with whatever, whatever way the mood takes us all.”
Asked what James Joyce means to her, Imelda said: “He’s a genius.
“For me, he’s so descriptive.
“He’ll really describe the visuals and the smells, and all your senses will be set on fire by him.
“He was one of the first writers to attempt to write about a female orgasm.
“And he was banned for it, but we love him for it.
“I mean he was masterful and we should be so, so proud of him but also be aware that he pushed the boundaries and we should push the boundaries.
“Know who it is and what it is we’re celebrating rather than just celebrate Bloomsday and go out and be merry.
“I think we should be mindful of what it is and who it is we’re celebrating.”
Robin Gill, the well known chef of Darbys who wanted to bring a Bloomsday celebration to the square, told The Irish World: “I’m so proud. I’m proud of all the people that helped bring it together, proud of my country.
“The Irish in London haven’t really been coming together as much and this is another excuse for us to get together and celebrate it.
“There was a lot of relief initially of just how many people came, because that’s the thing: You can put on the best show, could be the best musicians, could be the best food, the best restaurant but unless there’s people there to share it with then who’s ever going to know about it?
“And people bring other people and it brings an atmosphere.
“It just shows that there’s an appetite for something like this and the response I’ve had from people.
“I’ve been buzzing around, I’ve been running everywhere and I’ve seen nothing but great things all day.
“I tried to watch as many of the artists as I could and it just made me really proud of who we are and the culture that the Irish spread.
“What I want this festival to be is the opposite of cliche like silly hats and this old leprechaun association.
“What we have shown here today is that this amazing culture and artistry, and we came in force today.”
Robin told us before the event that he wants this to be an annual occasion and not just a one off.
“Anyone I spoke to today were surprised that this is the first time we’ve done this, and they were overwhelmed by it.
“But for me, it’s only the beginning.
“I want to tap into jewellers, I want to tap into craft even more.
“I want to have more Irish producers celebrated in every aspect: food, distilleries, clothing.
“There’s incredible designers out there and I want to spread that.
“I want there to be an artisan food and culture village. We touched on it and we did some great things today but I think there’s room for more.
“I have to say the bar was set high today. But I just want to keep it going.
“I want this to be something that outlives me.
“If this is something that can just get legs and grow and grow and grow, what a great success that will be.
“I just want to thank everyone who’s contributed and remember: 16 June next year- It’s going to be even better.”
The BBC’s Tara Kumar, who MC’d the day’s festivities told The Irish World: “It was just a day- And it’s no surprise that this is the case because it’s always this way when it comes to lots of Irish people being together- that felt like it was full of love and everyone just supporting each other, everyone just wanting everyone to have a really lovely time.
“The musicians were incredible. The spoken word was amazing.
“And to finish up with Imelda May was incredible.
“There’s no one else that could have topped it off as well as she did.
“It’s been a really great day.
“The curation of the line up today was amazing.”
Robin and Imelda both say they want this to become a regular event in the calendar.
Tara adds: “The bar is up here now so next year, I can’t imagine what it’s gonna be.
“But you know what’s great is I can see it happening next year.
“Today everything just ran really smoothly and it was just great to showcase Irish musicians, artists, actors, drinks, food, from cheeses to Irish beef to Irish oysters.
“That’s what it’s all about. It was amazing.
“The crowd was just brilliant. couldn’t say a bad word about them.
“Thank you everyone for coming and it was a pleasure to be involved, honestly.”
Niall McNamee told us: “I had a great time, actually a really special time outside here.
“I loved seeing people read Ulysses today and for it to be captivating the audience. I didn’t think that could happen outside on a public street but that was kind of amazing and credit to, not me, but the other actors who did it and Imelda. It was beautiful. Just special.
“It’s days like this you’re proud to be Irish and it wasn’t just Irish people here but we can be proud of this today
“This was a really good show of what we do best.”
Chimera told us: “It was absolutely incredible.
“It’s my first show and the crowd was amazing.
“The atmosphere was just so fabulous and I had a ball, it was brilliant.
“I felt really honoured to be asked to play because there’s so much incredible Irish talent and to be able to be a part of that and to celebrate Irish diversity and music and culture was just amazing.
“It’s like a chicer St Patrick’s Day.”
Life of Bryony told us after her impromptu singing: “It’s been magic.
“I just called them a few chords and they(the band)’ve just gone with it.”
It was that unplanned? “Yeah, completely. That impromptu, that Irish.
“I came down today not expecting to sing.
“But with the Irish being as welcoming as they are- Celts. We’ve got that in common- makes it work.
“That was beautiful, they’re amazing players.”
Actress Michele Moran said: “It’s so delicious as an actor to speak James Joyce.
“His language is so visceral and physical that it’s always a pleasure.
“It’s so visual. It’s perfect. It’s meaty. I really, really enjoyed it and I think the audience did too.
“A woman has just come up to me after performing there and she said, ‘I’ve been here 15 years and I feel like Dublin has come to London so thank you very much’.
“So that was lovely. That’s a good review.”
Actor Trevor Kaneswaren said after his reading: “It was great to bring the words of Joyce to life and put a bit of meat on the bones.
“It’s really nice that a lot of people who maybe wouldn’t have read Joyce before or are just new to Ulysses are getting a more modern day view of it by other people reading it rather than sitting with a book. I thought that was great.”
Rapper Jelani Blackman added: “I was actually asked to choose the pieces because I said that I was reading it at the moment.
“He (Joyce) means a lot of things.
“I think one of the things is creativity unbounded.
“I feel like that’s something which is not always appreciated across lots of different art forms, in literature and music.
“It (the day)’s beautiful. There’s a lot of good energy.
“Everyone’s smiling, having a good time and enjoying themselves, which is I’m sure is what he would want.”
Jim O’Donoghue Martin of Video Blue said: “There’s always a lovely feeling having finished a set when you feel like it’s gone well and when you’ve got a very receptive crowd of people.
“A lot of friends have come down with me today which is really nice and then obviously a lot of people on the bill, like Niall McNamee and Aislinn Logan, I know them well. Aislinn in particular I’ve known for a long time as a person as well as being a musician.
“So there’s a really good feeling around.
Is it like an alternative St Patrick’s Day? “Definitely feels that way.
“You’ve got all the right components in place because you’ve got obviously traditional Irish music, you’ve got some spoken word, you’ve got some storytelling, you’ve got some of the passages from Ulysses itself being read out by amazing people, including some really brilliant actors and performers.
“And then obviously, you’ve got the booze, the food, local Irish produce.
“It feels like a real showcase of London Irish.”
Aislinn Logan said after her set: “It was cracker, it’s such a lovely vibe here.
“It’s just been lovely.
“It’s been really nice to sing in the open air.
“It was great to see the other acts before me.
“Looking forward to the ones coming after
“What happened after me (Lovely Girls and Boys Competition) was absolutely hilarious, we were loving that.”