Having spend the last 10 weeks in the purgatory that is the post Christmas anticlimax I decided that a bit of fun was in order. So I booked SWMBO and myself into the Dukes Hotel in Belfast for the weekend of the 6th Annual Guinness Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival now that might sound a little bit too country and western for my taste and yes there was some C&W but we managed to avoid it :-)
I have to say that although I travel all over the world it is seldom I feel I have to mention the quality of a hotel and Duke's wins hands down! Friendly and attentive without being intrusive staff, decent food, drinks at sensible bar and not arm and leg hotel prices, big well decorated and well though out room design. There was even an iPod dock with full surround sound speakers and a nice big well positioned flat screen TV with DV Recorder should you just not be able to miss Friday's edition of Emmerdale. Oh and a bathroom that has one of those automatic closing lid toilets and a monsoon shower of quite stunning efficiency!.
Anyway the festival - my famous cousin Andy White was one of the headliners and I thought it would be good fun to take a trip down and heckle from the front row as it transpired Val, myself my sister Janet her partner Mike my other sister Ruth, a close friend Carmel and my cousins Cathy and Allison and her partner and Andy's parents (my aunt and uncle) were in the front row @ the Black Box on Friday night.
Andy was supported by two other singer song writers John McGurgan from Omagh (who looks a wee bit like Jesus) and Gavin Mee from Dublin (who doesn't look like Jesus) both of whom are excellent and well worth making a detour if you are near by any of their gigs. [Val wants me to add that Mr McGurgan is exceedingly good looking not that in any way should colour your judgement!]
The family duly gathered and Andy took the stage to much applause and some gentle heckling from the front row, well we had to get our money's worth didn't we? Now I have to come clean and admit that I have seen my cousin perform 3 times, once in the early 80's and then twice in the last 3 months, so I have been somewhat remiss in following the musical progress of my talented cuz .. mea culpa. He was all I was expecting and much much more :-) a fantastic gig, well done Andy!
Post gig as in the nature of these sort of events I got a talking to "non family" and i managed to get the email addy of a passing poet to join in Jonvon's circle of wordsmiths in will be interesting to see what she brings to the anvil of our creativity.
Falling into a taxi we headed back to the hotel with a minor detour to the festival performers post gig session in the Madison hotel. There various adventures followed some that will remain secret for the moment but may involve an act of community creativity .. we shall see. Now come a bit of name dropping ... we had a chat with Ralph McTell (over whom Val went a wee bit girly) nodded at Charlene Carter, said hi to Nanci Griffith, bout you to Iain Archer. Patted Henry McCullagh on the back and made some "interesting" plans with Anthony Toner it did seem that we were for once the odd ones out.. we were famous for not being famous :-)
Twas in the wee hours we made our way back to our own hotel and fell into the enormous bed.. ( That was Val and I doing the falling.. the aforementioned musicians were not invited, it was a big bed but not THAT big )
Up an about the next day, we had no plans so got up late, breakfasted and went for a dander into Belfast City Center. We ended up in St. George's market and spent a glorious couple of hours picking through the stalls, drinking coffee, avoiding eating from EVERY food stall and listening to the musicians playing in the "town square" in the centre of the pavilion. Fantastic and I STILL want to try the Nepalese potatoe, cauliflower,chickpea and broccoli curry so a return visit is definitely on the cards!
We wandered back to the Hotel for 4pm so we could watch the Irish beat the English in the 6Nations rugby which was very very satisfying ! Shower Shaved and fed we went to another of the Belfast Festival gigs in a very nice pub called the John Hewitt This bar is unique in its ownership as it is owned by The Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre. The Resource Centre's managers had always relied on various grants to fund its work, when in the mid nineties, they came up with the idea of generating some of their own funds by going into business... And why not a pub! John Hewitt, the late poet, socialist, pipe smoker and Freeman of Belfast officially opened the Resource Centre on Mayday 1983, hence the name of the bar and if you are every in Belfast well worth a visit.. good beer, good food and a stream of good events.
Guinness, god bless their dark stouty loveliness, paid for the artists and the gig was free, so for the princely sum of £0.00 we saw, heard and enjoyed Sean Rea, Guy-Michael Grande, Paddy Taylor, Brett Perkins, Madeleine Slate, John McGurgan (OOOOOOOO he is soo tasty ! adds Val) and The Corncrakes. All of whom came sang, introduced the next session and then joined the crowd for the craic. I spoke to most of the performers and to a man and woman they were all good people :-) I recommend all of them if you are nearby.Another late nite came to an end and we wandered our weary way back to the hotel.
Sunday - up and about late (again) and I had eggs Benedict for brekkie, now me and the pope don't get on but his brekkie is lovely! ;-) There being a few hours to kill before our next gig we hit the Ulster museum which has just had a major facelift and boy have they done a good job! Oddly the museum's Egyptian mummy has a northern Ireland name "Takabuti" which as any northern Ireland native will tell you means "Do have a sandwich" and that is a very very odd name for even an Egyptian mummy!
Post a light lunch and culture feast, it was down to St. George's market where the local Indian community was celebrating the Festival of Holi or the festival of colours. There was seriously good banghra music and lots and lots of people of all ages throwing vivid poster paint powder over each other.
Newton Faulkner and his support Sharon O'Connor (a young lady we are BOUND to hear more of!)
After a brilliantly smooth and well carried off performance from one so young The main act took the stage and for the next 2 and half hours just blew the audience away.. This was a big concert with the feel of an intimate gig and the uninitiated were immediately converted. A fantastic night and a fantastic end to a weekend away that left both Val and I refreshed and revitalised!