Magical year for Mary

It’s been a busy and exciting year for Mary Hickson... and it’s not over yet. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to the Cork woman about the highlights of 2017 and her latest offering in her home city
Magical year for Mary
Mary Hickson, Picture. John Allen

CONCEIVED over a cup of tea at the Hayfield Manor by dynamic music and arts director/curator, Mary Hickson, and Bryce Dessner of ‘The National’ back in 2013, ‘Sounds from a Safe Harbour’ (SFSH) is well and truly here.

The eclectic music festival that wowed audiences in 2015 is taking place again for the second time, from tomorrow, September 14 to 17.

While the emphasis is on music, there will also be dance, visual art and conversation — with some 70 performances taking place.

Curated by Bryce and Aaron Dessner, Mary Hickson and Cork-born Hollywood star, Cillian Murphy, and internationally acclaimed playwright, Enda Walsh, the festival will be good for Cork — both artistically and economically.

Festival headliners include Lisa Hannigan with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra and Aaron Dessner, Bon Iver, The National, Crash Ensemble, Iarla Ó Lionaird and Steve Cooney, Fionn Regan, This Is How We Fly and Ye Vagabonds. Also, music blogger Nialler9 will be on board to help curate the Heineken Free Music Trail.

Unfazed by the logistics of staging this exciting festival, Mary, a former CEO of the Cork Opera House, says she is “a solutions person, for sure.”

“To be playing this festival under the conditions we’re working in is kind of amazing. We’ve been working on it for two years. It has been challenging funding-wise. We got little bits of funding from Cork City Council and Cork County Council, Creative Ireland and Heineken Ireland. We got nothing directly from the Arts Council but the events in the Opera House are supported through their Arts Council grant.

“The reason the festival is happening this time is because we’ve taken on a very co-operative approach with the venues. Without their support and their buy-in, it wouldn’t be happening.

“All the venues are taking on the shows as their own, bar a couple here and there that the festival is directly producing. It’s an interesting model and a great sign for the arts scene in Cork. The venues are taking on the risk under the umbrella of SFSH whereas in 2015, we took on most of that risk and broke even.”

Mary says her fellow curators have been amazing as a springboard for bouncing ideas and bringing ideas to the table.

“Both Cillian and Enda are involved in music (as well as acting and writing.) Enda has provided the text for a new commission for the festival with UK composer, Emily Hall. It’s great. It’s called Out Into. It’s the story of a woman just walking out of her house.”

And there’s a piece of text that Enda originally wrote for Cillian for the Late Night Tales compilation series with Nils Frahm, the German piano player. “Enda’s text is called In the Morning. Obviously, being Enda, it has dark undertones. It’s basically the story of a man (played by Cillian) who I think has killed everyone in the apartment he’s in. We decided to do it for the festival with Bryce and Aaron underscoring it at the Everyman. It will open the Crash Ensemble programme on the Friday night.”

Mary says it is “a huge privilege” that ‘The National’ will be playing numbers from their new album, Sleep Well Beast at the festival.

Cillian will be interviewing some of the festival artists at Triskel Christchurch including Bryce and Aaron about the process of making their latest album.

Writer Kevin Barry will be talking to DJ Donal Dineen about the highs and lows of deejaying in Ireland. Kevin will also read some of his own short stories.

It has been a busy year for Mary, who also curated the Clonmel Junction Festival in July. She worked on a new festival, the Haven Festival in Denmark, created by the Dessner brothers. This two-day festival took place in August and was attended by 20,000 people. It involved Mary spending a week per month in Denmark since last Christmas.

She is currently producing the Crashlands event for the Crash Ensemble which will have its final performance on Spike Island as part of SFSH.

Despite her heavy workload, Mary, a busy freelancer, makes sure to include her children in her work whenever she can. Eleven-year-old Samuel and ten-year-old Molly get to experience a lot.

“They came to Copenhagen with me and they still talk about seeing Iggy Pop there. Because of what I do, it’s really important for the children to feel the excitement of it all. There are certain late night events they’re not obviously at... They know the new album by ‘The Nationals’ inside out. It’s important to give them first hand experiences. They’ll be all over the place at the festival and they want to explode party cannons, which are like confetti, at the gigs.”

Mary, who studied music at UCC and completed an MA in ethnomusicology at the University of Limerick, is no longer in a band.

“I miss playing music. I might start dabbling a bit, not just for performance but maybe some composition. It would be good for my head,” says this energetic Cork woman.

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