WHILE West Cork is chockablock with events and festivals throughout the summer, perhaps the busiest weekend of music occurs at the end of September in the shape of Clonakilty International Guitar Festival which starts on Monday, September 16, and runs until Sunday, September 22. The free music trail, which is a crucial element of the festival, has nearly 100 events taking place throughout the town.
People who are travelling from other continents to perform include Hawksley Workman (De Barras, Saturday, 1pm, and Shanleys, Sunday, 6.30pm), a Canadian musician and songwriter who is one of the top five live performers I’ve ever seen; he has charisma by the bucketload and some of the most tuneful and crafted of songs you’ll ever hear.
Adam McGrath has been described as a ‘national treasure’ by Radio New Zealand, sharing his songs throughout the islands of his home and internationally; indeed, his love of performing live is shown by his three separate appearances on the gig trail (De Barras, Wednesday, 10pm; Shanleys, Friday, 9.30pm, and Faheys, Saturday, 8.30pm).
The South African duo Qadasi and Maqhinga (De Barras, Friday, 6pm) are playing on Culture Night, continuing their quest to share the best of South African roots music; alongside their work to preserve Zul
u culture, traditional music, and social cohesion, the duo have also been actively involved in rhino conservation.
West Cork has never been short of musical talent but it seems especially vibrant right now, with Clonakilty providing many of the acts on the trail, and one particular family is well represented: The Clague Brothers (The Whale’s Tail, Saturday, 1.30pm) perform as a duo, and then Sam Clague (The Brewery Bar, Sunday, 3.30pm) goes solo and later that evening his sister Eve Clague (Con & Mauras, Sunday, 7pm) takes over. Eve also performs in The Kates (The Courtyard, Saturday, 10.30pm) with Liz Clark, Mide Houlihan, Roisin Kilgannon, and Paula K O’Brien who are all musicians/songwriters in their own right but banded together to play songs performed or written by women.
The Big Lovin’ (The Courtyard, Friday, 10.30pm) have been making waves with their honed rock songs and energetic live shows; their pop guru and spiritual leader Levi Lovell returned to West Cork after “a six-year journey of self-discovery in the Far East” two years ago and formed the band.
From within Ireland, two of the stand-out acts are in fact the group from Dundalk: The Mary Wallopers are a folk trio who take on ballads and perform them with a cheeky raucous energy. They take that energy and mix with a modern style when they perform the next day as TPM (DeBarras, Sunday, 9pm), a hip-hop group that have equally strong but contrasting views on curry (positive) and RTÉ (negative). The core duo are brothers Charles and Andrew Hendy, and they espouse the values of working independently, DIY culture, and sharing ideas and resources. With that in mind they are also hosting a Hip-hop/Creativity Workshop for Teenagers (Twig Refill, Sunday, 2.30pm).
In the form of non-concerts, there is the always popular Ukulele-le-chéile (Astna Square, Saturday, 12pm), a part community group, part artistic movement which exists to get people of all ages and levels of musical ability playing the world’s easiest instrument: the ukulele. The festival encourages people (of all ages) to just bring a uke and join in; the songs and the tuition you need to get up and strumming are provided and taught in a very relaxed way.
For people who prefer to sing, the Sing Along Social (Mollys Wine Bar, Sunday, 3pm) is billed as “a zero-commitment choir” hosted by Aoife McElwain, designed for people who can’t really sing. You don’t even need to know the words, think of it like a live communal Karaoke.
An almost traditional event at the festival is Breakfast With The Ink Spots (Richys Restaurant, Sunday, 10am) where a gorgeous breakfast is provided by the restaurant and it’s soundtracked by records from the 1930s group The Ink Spots; it’s the earliest event on the whole trail and you spot many a musician refuelling for one last day on the trail.
The festival has two podcast elements. The Blindboy Podcast (Festival Hall, Wednesday, September 18, 7.30pm, €20) will be doing a live show. He has become a broadcasting phenomenon in the last year or so, with a weekly listenership that dwarves many of the national radio shows. Another podcaster who has been slowly building up quite a reputation is Clonakilty native Eoghan O’Sullivan who hosts The Point Of Everything (O’Donovans Hotel, Saturday, September 21, 1.30pm); among guests he will be interviewing will be TPM, who will have a lot to say.