Derry in tune for new music festival

Cara Dillon.
Cara Dillon.

Excitement is building for the first Derry International Irish Music Festival which will take place next week. The festival will include 60 events with performances by over 250 musicians arriving from across Ireland, Scotland, and as far away as Los Angeles and Cape Breton Island in Canada.

Transatlantic Sessions, an ensemble of internationally revered folk and Americana musicians, will be the festival’s headline event, on Friday, February 5 in the Millennium Forum. From the award-winning Pelicula/BBC TV series, the Transatlantic Sessions continue to revisit shared roots and forge new common ground between today’s finest Celtic and Americana musicians.

Under the musical directorship of fiddle legend Aly Bain and dobro maestro Jerry Douglas, the house band will feature luminaries of the traditional music scene such as Michael McGoldrick, John Doyle, Donald Shaw and John McCusker. The featured vocalists this year are Derry’s own Cara Dillon, Karen Matheson - front woman of Scotland’s most recognized folk outfit, Capercaillie, alongside blues singer Rhiannon Giddens (of Carolina Chocolate Drops) and LA-based Grammy-nominees Milk Carton Kids.

In what will be one of the first 1916 commemorations of the 100th anniversary year, sean-nós composer Lorcán Mac Mathúna will present a specially commissioned show entitled ‘1916: Visionaries and their Words’ on Tuesday, February 2. Inspired by the words and spirit of the proclamation, this Creative Centenaries event will be an audiovisual experience of music, song, and archive imagery as an artistic response to the vision of The Rising’s leaders.

Returning from collecting a string of international awards for his travel cookbook Feast or Famine, local chef Emmett McCourt will present ‘Food & Folksong: A Worldwide Irish Legacy’ on Thursday, February 4, exploring how Irish dishes, like our folk songs, have travelled with our ancestors across the globe. The evening will include specially chosen musical performances ‘in the round’ by esteemed folk singers The Henry Girls, Mary Dillon, Kathleen Mac Innes, Alan Burke, Daoirí Farrell and Kate Crossan; interspersed with themed gourmet canapés.

Winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Group, Flook return to The Glassworks on Saturday, February 6 with their unmistakable folk-fusion sound for the first time since their sold-out performance at Fleadh Cheoil 2013. Adam Holmes & the Embers, one of Scotland’s most hotly tipped singer-songwriters, will join the band for the concert, which is presented in association with An Droichead and the Ulster University TradSoc.

Over the course of the festival, Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin will bring to life its newly completed music academy building, Acadamh Ceoil Chaoimhín Uí Dhochartaigh. Alongside hosting string of high quality singing, dancing and instrument workshops delivered by visiting performers, the building will be opened officially with a gala concert on Sunday, February 7, which will include a performance of the Neil Martin composition, 100 Fiddles at 55° North.

The festival is sure to be a truly ‘citywide’ event, with numerous bars, cafés and hotels coming on board for a top class Trad Trail between February 4-7. Included in the line-up for the trail are exciting young bands at the forefront of the music scene, including Derry/Armagh band Connla, Scottish BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners Talisk, Dublin-based Four Winds, and Belfast trad-fusion band Athrú.

The festival is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Derry City & Strabane District Council through the Derry Legacy Fund, with elements of the programme also being funded by Foras na Gaeilge and the Community Relations Council.

Across the week there will also be a range of free events, as well as festival artist residencies in the local schools, and the premiere performance of ‘Sasquatch’, a musical theatre show based on Irish poet Gabriel Rosenstock’s book of the same name.

Cara Dillon, Festival Patron, said: “It would be impossible for me to overstate how proud I am to be Patron of the festival. My concert here with the Orchestra of Ireland during Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2013 was probably one of my all time highlights, and the prospect of performing as part of the incredible Transatlantic Sessions is equally thrilling. A festival of this kind has been long over due in our corner of the world and I look forward to promoting it far and wide for years to come.”

Alisha McCallion, Mayor of Derry & Strabane District Council, said: “The line-up for the festival is amazing, with something for everyone. I am particularly delighted that the Transatlantic Sessions are among the many acts performing in the city. The Council is delighted to support festivals that build on the city and district’s musical talent and cultural offering. Well done to everyone involved in organising this fantastic event and I look forward to being part of it next year. ”

Full details of the festival programme are now available online at and tickets can be purchased online or through Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin’s box office (02871 264 132). Tickets for Transatlantic Sessions can be purchased directly through the Millennium Forum.