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Westport Arts Festival another kaleidoscope of creativity

Going Out



Undertones to top the music bill

Ciara Moynihan

September wouldn’t be September without the Westport Arts Festival to look forward to, and once again, the festival committee has pulled a hare out of their flat cap and put together a scintillating smorgasbord of top-quality events.
The Undertones will headline the music offering of this year’s event, which will be a five-day affair running from Wednesday, September 28, to Sunday, October 2. The legendary Derry band was first catapulted to fame after ‘Teenage Kicks’ was released on Terri Hooley’s fabled Good Vibrations label, and continued to make a name for themselves with hits like ‘Here Comes The Summer’, ‘Jimmy Jimmy’, ‘My Perfect Cousin’, ‘You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It)’ and ‘Wednesday Week’.
They split up in 1983 after Feargal Sharkey left, but reformed 16 years later. Many in Mayo will recall their 2012 performance at the Westport Festival of Music and Food—now the band returns to Westport as part of their 40th anniversary tour. Tickets are sure to sell out fast, so don’t be slow on the draw.
Other music highlights include fabulous folk duo The Unthanks, who are slated to play in atmospheric setting of Holy Trinity Church, as well as Dublin folk/experimental/soul pop band MoonLooksOn; pianist and silent film accompanist Neil Brand; the Bangers and Crash Percussion Group, whose repertoire includes works by composers Phillip Glass and Steve Reich; and renowned Belgian acoustic guitarist Jacques Stotzem.
There’s much to tickle the bookish too. Top of the bill is Irish literary giant Edna O’Brien in conversation with RTÉ Radio 1’s Arena presenter Seán Rocks. From her groundbreaking novel ‘The Country Girls’—banned, burned and condemned from the pulpit in the ’60s, and now regarded as a classic—to her most recent work, ‘The Little Red Chair’ (2015), the prolific author has challenged and captivated her readers with her deftly drawn characters, rich and powerful language and bold, absorbing tales. Last year, O’Brien was named a Saoi of Aosdána, the highest honour the State can pay an artist.  
Bookworms will also be drawn by acclaimed Limerick author Kevin Barry (‘Beatlebone’, ‘City of Bohane’, ‘Dark Lies the Island’, ‘There Are Little Kingdoms’), who will join Mayo-based poet Geraldine Mitchell and Galway-based author Alan McMonagle for an evening of literary chat in the Town Hall Theatre.
Particularly exciting is another evening in the same venue, this time with award-winning author Mike McCormack, originally from Louisburgh and now living in Galway. McCormack’s latest work, the astonishing and beautifully paced ‘Solar Bones’, was released earlier this year—and after reading it, I rushed to buy more of his books. A riveting, darkly funny, astutely observed and moving ode to family and society, to faltering and collapse, and to Big Questions, it has deservedly won enthusiastic praise and admiration from critics here and overseas.
Under the theatre, film and comedy umbrella, you’ll find much-loved straight-talking comedian Deirdre O’Kane, who returns to stand-up after a seven-year break, while film buffs will flock to ‘Sing Street’, the screening of which will be followed by a Q&A session and a live music performance, with lead actors Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna.
Theatre-wise, the festival includes two performances of ‘In Good Hands’, a one-hour play to be staged in the perfect surroundings of Front Page Hair Salon on the Mall Westport. A celebration in songs and story of ‘everyday intimacy, loneliness and our human need to connect’, ‘In Good Hands’ explores the unique relationship between the hairdresser and their customer.
The festival’s visual arts aspect will encompass a fascinating-sounding exhibition entitled ‘YU: The Lost Country’ by film maker, photographer and installation artist Dr Dragana Jurisic. Originally conceived as ‘a recreation of Yugoslavia, a homeland that was lost’, it ‘explores the issues of gender, stereotyping and the effects of exile and displacement on memory and identity’.
Photographic work by Newry-born artist Seán Hillen will also be on show at the Custom House Studios Gallery, while ‘Matchbox’, an open exhibition, will run in McGing’s, High Street, and work by the talented Octagon Quilters will be on display in the Town Hall Theatre.
There’s plenty more on offer too, including family events, the festival’s prestigious poetry competition and open mic and the annual parade. A colourful end to the summer is assured.

For the full festival line-up and to book tickets, visit www.westportartsfestival.com.

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