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Festival Preview: Open House Festival


This year’s Open House Festival has once again delivered a strong blend of music and arts to charm audiences throughout the month of August.  An array of top-class talent is brought to Northern Ireland during the course of the year under the Open House banner, but the annual festival is the pinnacle for its promoters; when they round-up a list of traditional and cutting edge folk artists to perform in Bangor.  Taking place from August 1-31 there will be over 100 events in 26 different locations within the seaside town.  A whole range of concerts, performances, film screenings, talks, exhibitions and food events will take place.

It was once based in Belfast’s cobbled Cathedral Quarter before relocating to its newfound seaside setting in Bangor.  Regarded as Ireland’s premier roots festival, it had quite humble beginnings.  It started out showcasing home-grown Irish traditional talent; since then it has grown significantly as a result of its success and popularity, allowing festival organisers to book international artists; namely American folk musicians.  Well-known hobo-bluesman Seasick Steve has credited the festival with launching him into the big-time, after playing a career-defining solo performance at the John Hewitt bar back in 2007.  He would return to the festival a few years later as part of a formidable line-up which boasted Mumford and Sons, Wilco and Modest Mouse – a band Mr Steve may have had a hand in coaxing since he produced a couple of their albums.

Amongst the many musical highlights this year in a line-up steeped in Americana are: festival stalwarts Hayseed Dixie; the silky tones of Lucy Lou and the Flatbellys a pair of American banjo playing provocateurs in Morgan O’Kane and the impressively moustachioed Curtis Eller and his American Circus; with inaugural Madchester band Happy Mondays thrown in for the sheer fun of it.

Sun Kil Moon features among the strong cast of musicians.  Floating unassumingly under the radar for most of his career, Mark Kozelek was lauded by the press after the release of 2014’s Benji; since then he has gained unwelcome notoriety following a few unsavoury outbursts.  Focusing on his abundant musical talent; he has produced two supremely accomplished albums of late in Benji; and this year’s Universal Themes – an album more sporadic in terms of pace and story-telling structure.

He isn’t afraid to delve into the darkness of death and depravity but ultimately looks for the love and humanity that surrounds us.  You’re unlikely to find albums that get anywhere close to that level of emotional complexity and rawness; he relives past tragedies that have peppered his life thus far and withholds nothing as he pours his heart out over his, at times, startling finger-picking style.  He is a truly unique individual in contemporary music and the opportunity to see him perform these songs live at the Marine Court Hotel, should not be missed.

Joan Armatrading is another artist whose music has the ability to emotionally connect with an audience. Whereas Kozelek’s songs are of confessional nature and normally accompanied by acoustic guitar, Armatrading has the backing of a band and has always maintained that her songs are observational. Her voice remains as distinctive and powerful as ever, and she has always expressed an understated dignity and energy in her performance.

Formerly of Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty is a multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter.  Under this, his most recent pseudonym, he has released two works in Fear Fun and this year’s concept album released under Sub Pop – I Love You, Honeybear.  His songs adopt an honest, if somewhat cynical worldview.  He makes use of traditional instrumentation, but a distinctly 21st century outlook and attitude showcase an artist attuned to a contemporary audience.

Providing a rare opportunity to see him perform solo, Ian McCulloch (of Echo and the Bunnymen) will perform at this year’s festival.  Regarded as a true icon of indie music this is a chance to see him play stripped-back Bunnymen numbers alongside his solo work.  A proud Liverpudlian, McCulloch has never been the least bit reticent; he’s always spoken passionately about the quality of his music and will come to Bangor intent on making his mark.

Representing Scotland are singer-songwriters Kenny Anderson AKA King Creosote, and the country’s all-time top-selling female artist Barbara Dickson.  King Creosote will be playing an intimate seated show at Queen’s Parade Methodist Church.  His songs have a strong Scottish twang. as he sings heartfelt songs about his homeland.  And Dickson will perform at Bangor Abbey with long-term accompanist, keyboard player Nick Holland.

There’s a comprehensive list of musicians, but aside from that you can attend: comedy, in the form of Patrick Kielty; theatre, including a one woman show called Bag for Life – in a one-off exclusive rehearsed reading before its premiere at The Playhouse, Derry, next year; various classic film screenings dotted around Bangor including: To Kill a Mocking Bird in Bangor court house and Quadrophenia’s showing at the Seafront; foodies will have their appetites satisfied by various events; there will be book clubs and a talk by author and former Labour MP Alan Johnson.

Free events are strewn throughout the festival month, to get a more in-depth guide visit here.