Quiet Lights and sounds that will stir the spirit in Cork

Ronan Leonard looks forward to the fifth edition of the Quiet Lights music festival that has always been unafraid to experiment
Quiet Lights and sounds that will stir the spirit in Cork

Martin Hayes will perform in a solo setting.

Now in its fifth year, Quiet Lights festival has already carved its own spot in the Irish festival calendar; Festival Director, and founder of Islander Music, Jonathan Pearson has kept the festival steered towards its original direction despite recent restrictions, “although Covid absolutely changed how the festival functioned in 2020 & 2021, I don't think it affected the programming, it’s always been a mix of traditional folk mixed with some left-of-centre stuff and a contemporary classical thread. I’ve always wanted to include an element of ambient into the festival, we have one concert this year and I’ll expand on that significantly over time.”

While the festival has 12 concerts, the headline shows held in Live At Saint Lukes are good bookends of Quiet Lights, Jonathan explained, “on Friday we have John Francis Flynn, one of the most exciting folk artists to come out of Ireland in a generation. He incorporates electronics and experimentalism; it's almost a free jazz approach. Combining that with an incredible voice, imaginative song writing and a huge respect for the tradition, he’s a singular artist, someone who could become one of the biggest stars in Irish music over the decades. We had him as a support act to Junior Brother a few years ago in the Kino and to see him rise to headlining our main venue is incredible.”

Jonathan continued, “the following day we host Martin Hayes, one of the most well-known traditional musicians in Ireland performing in a solo setting. There will be something magic about Martin on his own in a room - just him sitting down and 400 people watching him - it will be a unique show. He plays with so many groups, ensembles and collaboration - but him stripped back completely… it will be pretty much as pure a drop as you can get!”

Martin Hayes himself is very much looking forward to the concert, “people might imagine that solo is less, but it's not necessarily, it's just different. There are some spaces where I might not enjoy doing it, one of the main things for me doing this at Quiet Lights is playing Live At Saint Lukes itself. Anytime I've been there I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the space; the sound of it, the atmosphere, the lighting, just to be on that stage. Playing solo allows you access to a different layer of subtlety, nuance and expression. I've been practicing away at this solo performance for a while. I did a solo tour in America last year and a few other smaller performances since then. When you play in ensembles or even just duos, you always have to tailor what you're doing with the people you're working with; figure all kinds of things out. I wouldn't call it a compromise but we have to adjust ourselves into making a communal sound. On a smaller thing like this I’m completely free to respond and react; to create in a very, very spontaneous kind of way.”

Myles O’Reilly will perform at the Quiet Lights festival.
Myles O’Reilly will perform at the Quiet Lights festival.

When it comes to the material he will play, Martin doesn't know himself, “I could draw upon anything, I tried this concept when I played in the church in Bantry earlier this year. I just made a kind of a conscious decision that I would have no programme, no plan. I would not choose any melody until I made the first sound of the fiddle on the stage and we just see where we go from there.”While his concert will be solo, Hayes credits weekends like this for informing and furthering the music he makes, “festivals and occasions like that, where lots of musicians are gathering, is a great opportunity for hearing other people, meeting other people. Hearing things that are going on in different areas and maybe developing a connection, maybe inviting them to perform on something that you're doing some time. Things just evolve from festivals like Quiet Lights”.That is a crucial element of the festival for Jonathan, “Quiet Lights has always had collaboration at its core, at the first festival we had Katie Kim and Radie Peat premiere work as the headline concert. Since then we’ve commissioned Cormac McCarthy to write a piece with the sean-nós singer Nell Ní Chróinín, that was a big collaborative commission of ours. We have another commission in the pipeline between Cormac Begley and two members of The Crash Ensemble, Kate Ellis and Caimin Gilmore. Collaboration is a big part of our ethos.”

Elaine Malone, the opening act on Friday night in Live At Saint Lukes also highlighted the attitude of the performers learning from the festival, “the programming this year is so gorgeous and well put together. Marjie Kaley (also of Islander) and Jonathan always bring exciting artists over and I’m very glad to be playing with John Francis Flynn this year. You always end up seeing things you normally wouldn’t, and it’s enriching to be surrounded by so much talent. We’re very spoiled in Ireland right now.” Interestingly Elaine credits the new post lockdown mindset for “taking the pressure off artists burning themselves out. People value their own time a bit better too. The compulsion to go and experience live music is back. It’s an honour to be allowed to play gigs at all.”

While keeping any festival going these days warrants praise, Jonathan has a focus on developing the festival more - and not just in terms of music - “Quiet Lights has always and will always work towards equality of artists, all in all we’ve had more female artists than male artists to a slight degree. One thing I’m not happy with is the diversity of the festival, a lot of it is down to practicalities of not having access to a lot of musicians of different ethnicities, but that isn’t a valid excuse. I am currently undergoing a development process with my friend and colleague Rob Farhat who will be a consultant on how we can hit our own diversity targets.”

Label of love

Quiet Lights festival director Jonathan Pearson wanted to spotlight a record label he rates highly, “in collaboration with the Fuaim concerts held in UCC we have programmed a lunchtime concert celebrating Raelach Records, and it’s significant impact on Irish Traditional Music.

“It is one of the most vital and interesting labels that releases Irish Traditional music out to the wider world. Everything is curated by Jack Talty and is of the utmost quality. I love most of it, some of it mightn’t be my bag personally but anyone can hear the high quality of what he puts out. I’m delighted we can put some focus on the label, because running a label of any genre is a very difficult endeavor. You need to be in for the long haul, knowing you’ll be putting in hours of work for little to no financial return — if it doesn’t lose money as a project. Realach is a crucial part of the Irish Traditional music infrastructure, and it’s great that Quiet Lights can put on a concert in UCC to spotlight it.”

In turn, Jack was delighted to find a connection between his label and the festival. “I really like the idea of Quiet Lights connecting audiences with many forms of music-making, and presenting Irish traditional music as a prominent part of the diverse musical kaleidoscope that we are fortunate to have in Ireland right now. I’ve been a fan of Quiet Lights for some time and I was delighted to be asked by Jon to curate a programme of some Raelach Records’ artists, and to offer a snapshot of the releases we are currently working on. We are lucky to have developed a sizeable international community of listeners who support what we do, but as a label, it’s also very special to directly connect with live audiences at festivals such as Quiet Lights.”

The free concert on Friday at 1pm in the Aula Maxima at UCC is curated by Jack, as he continued, “it will feature three traditional artists who will each release music on the Raelach Records label in the coming year. Cork accordion and melodeon player Diarmuid Ó Meachair releases his excellent debut solo album in December.

Traditional fiddler and classical violinist Aoife Ní Bhriainis working on an incredibly exciting album that negotiates her many musical identities while harpist Niamh O’Brien has just recorded an album with her trio, Hoodman Blind, with Finn Harper and Seán Ó Dálaigh.”

Quiet Lights runs from Thursday, November 24, to Sunday, November 27. Full event and ticket information can be found at www.quietlights.net

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