The Best of Out To Lunch Festival 2019
Another Out To Lunch Festival has come and gone, once again bringing a host of musical talent to Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter to brighten up January and dispel the post-festive season blues.
Gigging NI writers and photographers covered 16 of this year’s musical offerings – so what were our highlights?
I love the Out To Lunch Festival and if I lived a bit closer to Belfast I’d have attended a few more of the events. The two I did make it to though, were world class. Chris Smither is one of the best and most important blues musicians around and of all the times that I’ve seen him play live, this year’s Black Box gig was his best. Teddy Thompson’s gig was great too – he never disappoints and his voice is just phenomenal. I know it’s only January but I’m gonna stick my neck out and say that I reckon both of these gigs will make my top ten of 2019.
I’d find it difficult to pick a favourite show from this year’s Out To Lunch, there were so many great gigs to choose from and all of them were thoroughly enjoyable. The Dodge Brothers, Kathryn Joseph and The Once were stand-out afternoon shows. Chris Smither was just amazing – I could have listened to him tell stories all night, as was the legendary Andy Irvine – who I will never tire of hearing live.
King Kong Company were wonderful as always and had the place jumping, even in the face of two quite lengthy power cuts. If you held a gun to my head, I’d say The Delines were my favourite show of this year’s festival – soulful, understated, and bittersweet. Just gorgeous.
The Out to Lunch Festival was fabulous for me and the rest of the Canadian contingent living in Belfast because it showcased so many incredible folk artists from my homeland. From the lively fiddle and flute of Ireland to the dulcet tones of Scottish pipes, hints of our shared heritage can be found in a whole range of genres in the Great Wild North.
Belfast got a glimpse of our folk scene this year from the West, with harmonious Vancouver duo Twin Bandit, to the East, with breath-taking Newfoundland ensemble The Once. The absolute highlight for me, though, was the incomparable Steph Cameron, who seems to inhabit a space all of her own, living life on her own terms and reflecting this in her audacious song-writing. Her set in the basement of McHugh’s was raucously fun and tirelessly emotive all rolled into one punchy lady. I haven’t stopped listening to her albums since!
Having worked quite a lot of shows this year, a few stood out for me. A lunchtime show with the wit of Frank Ormsby coupled with the music of Anthony Toner was off the wall and mellow. Doolittle Revisited was just awesome, with Rory Nellis, Hand Models and one of my favourite bands, Sister Ghost all putting their stamp on the music of The Pixies. King Kong Company had a few electronic mishaps at the start but that didn’t stop them blasting the stage. Oh – one more – the legend that is Don Letts!
Mine was Kathryn Joseph. Her music is visceral and she is someone that has to been seen live and experienced. In the small intimate setting of the Black Box her show was intense and cathartic. Also – afternoon gigs are great!
Out To Lunch really punches above it’s weight when it comes to providing world class entertainment, and the 2019 festival didn’t let up. My own personal favourites this year were gigs by the Canadian folk singer Steph Cameron and the English rockabilly sounds of The Dodge Brothers.
Both were acts I’d missed on their previous visits to Belfast and I’m pleased to say that both lived up to my expectations by being not only formidable musicians but also nice people.
Other highlights included an intimate blues gig by Martin Harley in the Sunflower Bar, Grainne Holland in Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church and Mull Historical Society with Bernard Butler closing the festival.
Surely only Waterford’s own King Kong Company could sell out the Black Box on the 5th of January – an audience ready for a rave, no less – and they kept said audience amused during two power cuts and provided a humour-filled chance to blow off the Christmas cobwebs. And if you don’t know the dance moves? Somebody dressed as a gorilla will teach you.
And mine… Michael Barbour
From a personal point of view, I loved the beautiful vocal harmonies of Twin Bandit in the basement of McHugh’s Bar and the complexity and diversity of Yorkston, Thorn and Khan always make them a worthwhile gig. Seeing Malojian opening for The Mull Historical Society was great, but hearing some new tracks from the upcoming album was even better.
However, the overall highlight for me was the magnificent Delines who played to a totally captivated Black Box and proved that a three-year gap between album releases is nothing if you’ve got talent, skill and vision. Amy Boone’s voice will stay with me for a long, long time.
In these times of austerity and impending Brexit, it is a credit to Sean Kelly and the entire team behind the Out To Lunch festival that they have continued to bring big names and quality performers to Belfast.
This year, as in previous years, there was an incredibly diverse array of talent, genres and styles on display. Who knows what next year holds?