All you need to know about exciting Cork music festival

The Great Beyond, in Ballinacurra House, in Kinsale, is a welcome first return to live performance in 18 months for its musicians and comedians. Read Ronan Leonard's report in Downtown
All you need to know about exciting Cork music festival

Bell X1 will headline on the Sunday night of The Great Beyond festival in Ballinacurra House, in Kinsale, on September 12.

The newly announced music festival The Great Beyond will be held in the gorgeous environs of Ballinacurra House, in Kinsale, on Saturday and Sunday, September 11 and 12.

Developed by the people at Coughlan’s Live, with support from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, as part of their Live Performance Support Scheme, it will feature Irish and local bands and comedians. They have spent 18 months waiting to perform again, with audiences in pods of four and six people.

We want this weekend to be special, for both the audience and the artists 

While putting on an event is one thing, creating a new festival that conforms to social-distancing and pandemic protocols is another, said Edel Curtin, of Coughlan’s Live. “The biggest challenge, for us, has been finding a way to organise this festival in a safe way due to Covid, but still make it fun and feel like a festival.

“We know how much people have missed live music and we want this weekend to be special, for both the audience and the artists performing,” Ms Curtin said.

“We’re so lucky to have such an amazing place to host this festival. Ballinacurra House is a stunning location and Orela and the team there have been a dream to work with.

Bernard Casey: Keep an eye out.
Bernard Casey: Keep an eye out.

“This is a new venture for us, so it’s a little daunting, but lots of people who we have worked with down through the years have really gotten behind us to help make this festival the best it can be.”

One of those musicians who backs the idea of playing at a new festival is Paul Noonan, who will be performing on the Sunday night, headlining with Bell X1.

“You get a sense of a new venue or space from the people that have asked you do it,” Noonan said. “We, as a band, and in my solo stuff, have had beautiful experiences of dealing with Coughlan’s. There definitely is a sense of them loving music and creating these immersive musical experiences — that’s the core of what they do — so I’ve every faith this will be no different.”

Playing to pods of people will be a new experience for the band, but Noonan is looking forward to the challenge.

“I don’t know how it’ll feel playing to groups of four people huddled together, but we’ll take it! There’s a tremendous appetite on all sides, from the performers, the organisers, and the audience, for things to happen.

We have five gigs in a row around the country, so it’s like a mini tour

“We have five gigs in a row around the country in September, with Ballinacurra House being one of them, so it’s like a mini tour,” Noonan said.

“A big part of it, for us, is that touring idea: When we are together as the full band and crew, there are 13 of us, and we haven’t all been together in this group in maybe two years; there’s a lovely familial thing to that.

“We’ve worked with each other for a long time, we’ve been a part of each other’s lives all that time, so we’ve grown up since our teens and we’re invested in each other’s lives; it’ll be great to reconnect from rehearsal on.”

Cork band Frank and Walters to perform.
Cork band Frank and Walters to perform.

For Noonan, the whole day will be special, not just the time he’s on stage. “I’ve really missed the rhythm of a show day, where you get on the bus in the morning and catch up with everyone on the two- or three-hour drive,” Noonan said.

We might stop for a sausage sandwich somewhere, get to the venue, have a sniff around the stage and see what it looks like from there, and then you shift in all the gear and start building all that up, which is also building up to the crescendo of the gig itself. You soundcheck and then have a meal watching the open act and then go on stage ourselves.

“And then enjoy the afterglow of the concert itself, unless it was a nightmare of a gig or something! Of course, then, there’s the embrace of the people we know from the venues and the audience members we might know there, too. I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with all that.”

Speaking of the audience, Noonan is aware there will be more demand than supply, “I know the reduced audience size means tickets will be difficult to get, and some people will be frustrated, which is really unfortunate, but this is better than not doing shows at all, and this is just a start.”

The festival experience will be different from a Bell X1 concert in so many ways, but what will be the same is that the band will get to catch up with friends. “We’re absolutely looking forward to seeing our friends from the bands, and crews, too. One of the joys of my playing festivals is seeing them play and getting to have a drink and chat after. There is also the chance to see new acts that you’ve not heard before”

There’s definitely some ‘ecca’ to be done, some homework ahead of performing again

As Bell X1 haven’t played in this line-up for nearly two years, they are doing plenty of preparation. “There’s definitely some ‘ecca’ to be done, some homework. We’ve a sort of set-list knocking around in a Whatsapp group and we’re digging up recordings to remember how we did what. We’ve a good live recording from Live At The Marquee, which is where we left it off with the full live band.

“But we are anxious to play new songs, too; we’ve some new material we’ve been sending around and we always like to create new things. We aren’t comfortable settling into the role of heritage act just yet; we’ll want to have new material every time we come back to a place.”

To produce new material, the band had to work together during lockdown, which they managed to do occasionally. “Dave (Geraghty, who plays guitar, keyboards, percussion, banjo, piano, harmonica, and sings) and I live outside of Dublin City centre and Dom (Phillips, who plays bass and also sings) lives in Meath, so when we could, Dave and I would get together in the studio in his house, sporadically over the last year and a half, and we’d try out new ideas. Music, for us, as it is for most people, can also just be the facilitator for other things; maintaining a connection between us was what that was all about,” Noonan said.

“We’d try to have Zoom band meetings, but they weren’t great. Dom has been doing up his house for the last while, so we’d go out there to have a gawk and end up doing work for him there! But on a more fundamental, human level, it was important to stay in touch with each other’s lives.

Las Salamandas to play Kinsale.
Las Salamandas to play Kinsale.

“The music we made were sketches that we sent around until we could sit down and work together. Some of those ideas did catch fire and people will get to see them in the live show.”

Zoom rooms didn’t particularly suit Bell X1 during lockdown and they also didn’t do too much online, for a good reason according to Noonan. “We’re somewhat reluctant social-media guys. We almost felt like we didn’t want to just be adding to the ‘noise’, we wanted it to be meaningful and to have some sort of appeal, as opposed to just content. Artists like Bowie wouldn’t have been posting pictures of his breakfast; the bands we fell in love with, as we fell for music, had levels of mystique and that would have influenced us.

“We started doing something on the days we were supposed to do shows that had been booked and were cancelled because of the lockdown. On each planned show day, we’d do something remotely and edit it together and post it, saying something like, ‘We were supposed to be in Kilkenny today. Sorry we’re not there’ and we’d give out a shout to that particular venue, etc.”

Most of the tour dates that had been booked for 18 months ago or so were a particular type of concert: Bell X1 with accompanists. “That tour was supposed to be the one we were working on with a string section, and it was all ready to go,” Noonan said.

“It was supposed to be held in March 2020. We’ve rescheduled it four times. Now, it is now planned for March and April 2022.

“We’d done a charity show with a string section and we took it as a chance to reinterpret old songs, and we got the illustrious Éna Brennan to score them and we loved it so much; it was a lovely way to work with those songs.

“Having played them that way, we decided to create some new songs that had the strings in mind from the outset. We’d written a lot of music to try out on a tour, see what works and what wouldn’t, and then make an album from that. So, we will do that tour as soon as possible, and then make that record.”

Who to see

The Saturday line up at The Great Beyond at Ballinacurra House in Kinsale will feature multiple Choice Music Award nominee Lisa Hannigan and Cork’s own The Frank & Walters as co-headliners.

 Another two acts whose live concerts never fail to lift an audience on the bill are Wallis Bird and acoustic rock’n’roll juggernaut that is The Scratch. 

The much loved comedy stylings and characters of Bernard Casey will be there to bring some levity to the proceedings. 

Also performing will be Rowan, who were recently featured in BBC’s highly influential ‘introducing’ slot following the launch of their new Everybody Talks EP; Les Salamandas, an Irish and French indie-folk duo based in Ballydehob; Robert John Ardiff, best known for his work as part of the Choice Music Prize nominees ‘Come On Live Long’ will be performing solo; Ultan Conlon, whose album There’s a Waltz was chosen by RTÉ Radio 1’s album of the week when it was released last year and bringing some good rhythm and vibes will be the Cork City Samba Band.

 Sunday will see Bell X1 take to the stage and a second appearance by Lisa Hannigan. 

Comedy will be supplied by Red FM Breakfast show co-host Laura O’Mahony, who recently celebrated hitting the 10K followers mark on Instagram with some hilarious stories.The Céilí All-Stars will be bringing the sounds of Sliabh Luachra to proceedings, and Clonakilty’s IMRO songwriting award winner Míde Houlihan will be playing, as will Paddy Dennehy who released his Little Light album to great acclaim in 2020 and appeared on The Late Late Show. Cry Monster Cry, Marc O”Reilly and Naked Animals complete that day’s line up.

 The Great Beyond will be held on Saturday and Sunday, September 11 and 12, and is supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. Tickets are available in pods of four or six and are on sale from coughlans.ie

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