A rake of gigs, events and more awaits at Mallow Arts Festival

The fifth annual Mallow Arts Festival sees the week-long event return to its usual July spot, with music, visual art, book signings, workshops and more. Hometown music hack Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with committee member Tadhg Curtis and musical guest Johnny Duhan.
A rake of gigs, events and more awaits at Mallow Arts Festival

Johnny Duhan: Performing at Mallow Arts Festival.

After the setbacks of the two years of the pandemic, festivals around the country have resumed this summer, from city spectacles like Cork Midsummer, to regional arts festivals, many of them shut down by Covid-19 as they had been establishing themselves.

One such is Mallow Arts Festival, now entering its fifth instalment and returning to its July summer slot after a Covid-19-necessitated October edition in 2021. As is now the usual, the town’s venues, outdoor spaces, and streets will be overrun with art, entertainment, and fun of all sorts. Committee member and arts administration veteran, Tadhg Curtis, said that getting the festival back up and running was a team effort.

“We’re lucky, in that we have an exceptionally good committee, very diligent, who came back here, practically to a person, and we actually increased the numbers,” Mr Curtis said. “It’s a large committee, and it’s simply a matter of deciding, ‘yeah, we’re going to go back to our original dates’, around the third week in July, and just sitting down with a blank canvas, putting it on the board, ‘any ideas there?’, and starting off with a clean sheet.

“It’s largely the same community-oriented format, looking at the different areas that we would hope to cater for. Bit of brainstorming [between members of the group] and all the different ideas going on, probably 80% of them made their way into the programme.”

After the festival’s first few years gave way to the pandemic, there was time for the committee to consider the next step: Setting down roots for a festival to serve the community’s needs for culture, be they events and performances, or opportunities for learning and participation. The festival has undergone a process of outreach to that end, from the schools to the nursing homes, said Mr Curtis.

We want to get everybody in the community involved in celebrating what goes on within the town of Mallow

“We’ve always said we’re a community festival, that’s what we are, number one. We want to get everybody in the community involved in celebrating what goes on within the town, and then celebrating what we can bring in for the five days. And, yeah, we’ve always involved, since the very first festival, an outreach element in that we said, ‘Look, most people will have an opportunity to come to the gigs and then if they want to attend exhibitions, go to workshops, and such, but some people won’t’, so we’ve had an outreach from the day one, in which some well-known musicians here, under the name of Top Hat and Tails, visit nursing homes, for example. That would be going on again this year.

“We looked at what else was going on that we could identify within the community,” Mr Curtis said.

“So, again, through our contacts with the Irish Wheelchair Association, and with St Joseph’s Foundation, both of them are part and parcel of the programme, where they’re going to showcase and they’re going to showcase what’s going on within those organisations through a variety of media, through film, through theatre.

“Equally, then, we were delighted to make contact with the Ukrainian community here in Mallow, and we have what promises to be a very interesting concert, 12 o’clock on Sunday morning at Insomnia coffee shop, from Natalya, a Ukrainian music teacher and vocalist.”

 Song of the Sea: Showing at Mallow Arts Festival.
Song of the Sea: Showing at Mallow Arts Festival.

The programme is a mix of broad appeal and local interest: After last night’s opening concert by Eleanor McEvoy, performances throughout the week come from John Spillane, leading a walk around Mallow; Annmarie O’Riordan, Hank Wedel and Declan Sinnott, and the Dagenham Yanks, among others; Ballyclough artist Edith O’Mahony oversees a mural painted by local secondary-school students; writer Tadhg Coakley comes home for conversation and signed books; while attractions like The Last Prince further knowledge and understanding of local history, and a screening of Song of the Sea joins a local fancy-dress parade to head up the family-friendly fare.

“Hopefully, we’ve got the right blend, and the right mix again. [We’ve got great feedback from the town’s established businesses], no-one who came on board on year one has come back to us and said they don’t want to be involved any more,” Mr Curtis said.

“They’re all there, and each year they respond, they take the brochures from us, they make the donation, and each year they compliment us on it. I think there is the realisation, particularly within the heart of Mallow, that something needs to be happening, that we do need something on behalf of the town.

“There’s a lot of other activities that run around the town: Mallow Castle is a great benefit to the area, but I think some Mallow traders particularly like something going on in the streets.”

Among the musicians performing throughout the weekend will be festival-closing singer and songwriter Johnny Duhan, whose imprint and presence runs through the DNA of modern Irish music, from his part in pioneering beat group Granny’s Intentions — rubbing shoulders with Phil Lynott and Rory Gallagher, as well as playing to London crowds that included rock icon Jimi Hendrix — to penning ‘The Voyage’, a song made famous worldwide by folk legend Christy Moore.

Ahead of performing Sunday evening at the Hibernian Hotel, he discusses getting back on the road to share from his songbook, and telling stories on stage.

“Well, I’ve never really put the emphasis on gigging throughout my career as a solo artist — it’s mainly been writing — but I’ve always gone out and done tours almost every year, so not being able to do that has really been... I didn’t realise how much I missed the live setting,” Duhan said.

“I’m really looking forward to it: I’ve been going over the song that I’m going to be doing for the last few days.

“It’s always great to hear the story of the song, where they come from. It deepens the listener experience, if they get a new angle on where it’s coming from.

“I’ve been writing songs since I was about 17, and I’m now in my early 70s, so you can imagine how many duds I’ve written [laughs]. But I must have about 50 or 60 songs I can sing without blushing, I’ve plenty of songs to choose from.”

As this piece goes online, Mallow Arts Festival will enter its second day, and with a huge lineup and the wider community onboard, from volunteering and support to a wide range of sponsors, things are looking good heading into the weekend. Mr Curtis collects his thoughts on braving a busy few days, and the importance of supporting regional arts events of the festival’s ilk.

“There’s always a bit of trepidation, there’s always the last-minute thoughts: Have we covered everything, will everything work out the way we hope it will work out? And that’s natural. I am looking forward to the festival. It will be busy. For me, personally, it will be busy, for the other members of the committee; we’ve all assigned ourselves duties in relation to each and every act, and in relation to manning the festival office, which is open now at 49 Bank Place.

“There’s been a huge run on our brochures, we’re doing more through social media, and our website is up and running. Papers such as [this parish], the Mallow Star, and programmes like The Arts House on 96FM [have been supportive].

Just come along to one of the events, that’s what we want

“If you think the festival is a good idea, or you’re supportive of it, just come along to one of the events, that’s what we want: Participation from people, an acknowledgement that, you know, things are happening within the community and [the knowledge that] the arts are there for everyone.

“It’s whatever you want to make it, and [if you feel something’s missing from the lineup], please come let us know. It’s important for us all to get together as a community; it allows us that opportunity to celebrate, post-Covid. It allows the opportunity to celebrate together as a community, and to grow into the future, and enhance the life of the town.”

  • Mallow Arts Festival is under way, and runs until Sunday, July 24. For more information, a programme of events and tickets, head for mallowartsfestival.com, or find Mallow Arts Festival across social media.

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