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Imelda May, Lisa Canny and Emma Dabiri to lead Bloomsday celebrations at Embassy Gardens

Dublin songstress Imelda May, Mayo trad trailblazer Lisa Canny and best selling author Emma Dabiri are among the big names set for a big celebration of James Joyce this Saturday at Embassy Gardens.

Imelda May at last year’s Bloomsday celebrations at Embassy Gardens. Picture: Noel Mullen.

By David Hennessy

The festivities are being 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 will be music, spoken word, food stalls, Irish distilleries, and more.

Last year was the first time such a celebration took place with Imelda May bringing the show to a close. Imelda returns this year, as does actor Trevor Kaneswaren.

Other names on the bill include Cathal Broderick, Ailbhe Reddy, Bukky the Person, Blanid, Fintan James, Amber Jade, Jeanette Murphy, Oisin Rogers, Gareth Freiheit, Nially and World Heart Beat. There will also be screenings of short films.

Robin Gill told us last year that he was happy with how the first big celebration had gone but that he wanted to grow it bigger.

Robin told The Irish World last week: “I was really pleased with the turnout from last year, I was really overwhelmed with the amount of people that came down considering it was the first year that we did it on that scale.

“I’m hoping that based on the success of last year, hopefully it’s on people’s radar and we get a few more down. It’s great to have Imelda back. We’ve got a bigger and better food and beverage operation as well. I’m super excited. I’m really pleased with what’s developing.

“This year we’ve got Aperol, rose, sparkling English wine alongside a Teeling stand also so it’s definitely a bigger and better collection this year. We’ve got a young guy called Paul Asher who worked with me previously who’s inspired by Northern Thai cooking. He’s going to be cooking some beautiful Thai barbecue dishes but using Irish beef.

“We’ve got a lot of artisan cheese and we’ll have a selection of oysters, Carlingford as well as a few other varieties from the west coast, north of Ireland as well.

“We’re super excited to be bringing over Dash Burger, I reckon they’re probably the best burger spot in Europe. We’re bringing them over from Dublin. They do a special burger which is inspired by George Motz the guy who is based over in Brooklyn. They’re top of their game in Dublin.

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“There’s a great selection of food on offer and different things and activities going on all through the day.”

Tara Kumar hosted last year’s events.

Record producer and organiser Arveene Juthan told The Irish World: “It’s amazing because there’s not a lot of opportunity bar St Patrick’s stuff or St. Brigid’s day to celebrate Ireland. We have so many great people living in London now who are Irish, and then obviously we have all our second generation so it’s great to just have another moment to be able to celebrate.

“We have people like James Joyce and Yeats. They’re heavyweights within the world of creativity. We have people like Imelda, they’re heavyweights. Creativity does take part in St Patrick’s Day but it also needs to stand alone, I think, and be celebrated. That’s the purpose of it really. It’s not just about the usual St Patrick’s stuff that we all kind of associate Paddy’s Day with, it just shows our depth and our quality.”

Last year’s event boasted Oscar- nominated actress Jessie Buckley as well as acts such as Aislinn Logan and Video Blue. All the feedback was amazing,” Arveene says.

“Imelda’s back again so we’re quite lucky really to be able to get her. She’s doing Jools Holland that evening so we’re gonna have her on at 4pm during the day. She’s wow factor. The last couple of years we’ve lost some absolutely iconic Irish musicians so there’s not many of her calibre. She’s got credibility and she’s got the talent. She ticks every box as far as I’m concerned, blessed to have her. She’s going to be amazing.”

Arveene wasn’t able to get Lisa Canny last year due to her busy schedule but the innovative Mayo harpist will close the show this year. We’ve got her this year. She’s another busy one. Lisa’s just awesome. She’s the rock ‘n’ roll queen of Irish music really, another one. Having her and Imelda in the same lineup, you can’t really get more rock and roll within Irish communities than that.”

In addition to more recognisable names there will be emerging talent. It’s high calibre stuff and that’s kind of the way I always love to do it. I think it’s really important to showcase those dynamics, you know what I mean and put someone like Imelda next to someone like Bukky and be, ‘You may not know them but they’re up there and this is the future’. It’s great for to have Imelda in the mix there because there’s direct lineage between these people and Imelda and Lisa. That’s kind of what it’s all about, these kind of connections of creativity and expression.”

The live music will be punctuated with spoken word and readings from the famous book that the day is all about. Emma Dabiri and Trevor Kaneswaren will be among those bringing Joyce to life.

“They’re the voice of the current generation of Irish creatives. Trevor’s just going from strength to strength. He’s a very busy boy and I think he’s definitely someone who we’re going to hear a lot from in the future. And Emma is just smashing it really. She’s just a voice of our generation. I’ve known Emma for a long time and we’ve grown up around the same circles in Dublin so it’s great to have someone like that as a front for modern Irish culture. It’s fantastic to have her involved in Bloomsday.”

Arveene says the amount of Irish talent in London goes far beyond what he’s been able to squeeze into the schedule. “I feel like there’s so much more we could do. If I could, I’d have booked 60 acts and artists that are based in London. I would have been able to do that. The potential for something like this could be so much bigger. It could be a bigger stage. The idea is just to grow it as much as we can.”

Robin adds: “Also there’s going to be a little bit more for kids as well this year where we’ve got World Heart Beat which is basically the music academy within Embassy Gardens and they’re going to be introducing children to a lot of traditional Irish instruments to get a bit of a lesson and a look and feel and a bit of an insight into Irish music as well.

“Bloomsday is from my hometown in Glasthule and I’m good friends with Peter Caviston and he’s sort of inspired me to bring this festival to celebrate Irish literature but not just literature. Through literature everything is kind of craft- led: Food, music, art, spoken word. It’s an amazing thing to be able to bring it to the UK. I want it to grow into is something almost celebrating Irish culture in the same way that people go and navigate towards St Patrick’s Day whereas in some ways St Patrick’s Day gets lost a little bit where it’s just massive big parties and a hell of a lot of drinking and music, we want this to be a big celebration but a celebration of the different arts and skills that the Irish do and the culture they bring abroad and celebrate everywhere they move to. That’s what I hope it becomes.

“London is one of the biggest importers of Irish culture and Irish people in the world. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Yeah, we’re known for music and rugby but we’re always renowned for being great craic and drinking. I kind of want to celebrate the literature more, we’re not just big eejits going round drinking, we bring a lot more than just the craic to the world. That’s important.”

Arveene continues: “I think there’s potential to make it a little bit bigger and get a lot more people involved and kind of open it up a bit more, but that’s kind of down the line. The main thing is we’ve just got a really good programme. The main aim is to create a really wonderful event that just includes a lot of people from the young to the elderly.

“Everyone’s so welcome on Bloomsday. Joyce is such a core part of Irish culture. He inspires a lot of different people for different reasons. Joyce is such a wide reaching kind of artist really. He kind of inspired everything. Almost all the people that we have all been inspired by Joyce, his wit and his use of words. Especially the musicians. They’ve taken a lot from his work and his constant stance for the artist as well. He was a person who just really stood by his art. At the end of the day, it’s gonna be a lot of fun. There’s gonna be amazing food, beautiful music, nice spoken word and then lots of creamy pints.”

Aislinn Logan.

Robin adds: “What I’m hoping is the ones that came last year will have told their friends. Everyone I spoke to was really overwhelmed with it. I felt we were part of something that was very special. You saw how intimate it was when the performances were happening. It was almost like being in a lock-in sat around a table but outside in Embassy Gardens in this lovely courtyard. It was so intimate. That’s what I thought was very special.

“The audience felt that they were part of it and they were adding to it and what was amazing was there was people from the audience that were singing along with Imelda A friend of mine Oisin just decided to sing with her and alongside her. It was almost like this lock in outside. It was almost like a session where different people pop in and there could 20 people different people getting in on the session and it just goes on throughout the day. This was like that on steroids but not just music, with spoken word, people telling stories, people talking about great Irish produce and eating well and drinking well and not just all the big brands that you normally see at these big festivals as well. That’s another thing that’s important to me: To celebrate the small craft breweries and distilleries and great producers but not just en masse producers. The underdog, the pure passionate people.”

Bloomsday at Embassy Gardens starts at 12pm on Saturday 15 June.

Entertainment runs throughout the day until 9pm before an after party at Darby’s.

The event is free but people are advised to reserve their spot on Eventbrite to avoid disappointment.

There will also be an after party in Darby’s with DJs including Arveene playing. This is a ticketed event.

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