Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, Oh I do like to be beside the sea …
Bangor on the north Down coast has turned into Festival City, with something exciting happening nearly every weekend for the past month and arguably, the best of the bunch still to come thanks to the Open House Festival.
While nostalgia might lead you to think that Bangor was founded at the same time as the Pickie Pool, but the town has a hugely important Christian heritage going back a millennium and a half.
it was in Bangor Abbey that the Irish monks who went on to re-Christianise Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire were educated and that same missionary zeal is shown by husband and wife team, Kieran Gilmore and Alison Gordon who have brought some amazing music to the town.
Indeed many of the gigs are held in Bangor Abbey.
“I don’t know whether it was built for singing as well as worshipping – Church of Ireland – but the acoustics are amazing in it,” says Kieran.
“We don’t really need a PA but we do have one, just to lift it because, for example, we had Paul Brady there last year and the Staves – they were amazing.
“I guess for us it represents a very important part of Bangor’s history going back a long, long way, while Irish speaking monks would have been the inhabitants so we like that historical connection.”
The town of course has changed since the times of Saints Columbanus, Gall and Comgall, and has seen better times but Kieran and Alison want to show all that is positive about Bangor.
“We don’t want to gloss over any cracks but there are a lot of great things about the town,” says Kieran.
“People have been running it down for a long time, people from here. And the idea behind the festival is to start to try and get people talking it up again. Because of places like Bangor Abbey which is a class venue to have concerts, the Walled Garden, another absolutely beautiful venue – that I think lay dormant, underused, covered in weeds for 30-40 years until a couple of years ago the council took it over and spent a couple of years and quite a lot of money doing it up.”
With Bangor putting its best foot forward, Open House has stepped up to the mark with a great line-up of music coming up until the end of the month.
Top of the list is a kind of homecoming gig for the raw talent that is Foy Vance.
“Yea, we’re absolutely delighted to have Foy back in town,” enthuses Kieran. “Both nights, 25/26 August, are sold out, which is great and I think he’s going to have full band, a string quartet and backing vocalists for it because he himself is really chuffed about it.
“It’s a big thing to come to town, it’s 800 tickets, that’s a lot. The second one sold out six weeks before the show. We could have probably, on the night, could have done the four. He probably could have sold another two, because the last six weeks is when we sell most of the tickets.”
Another favourite of mine is Eddi Reader who apart from being a great singer, whether she’s paying tribute to Robbie Burns or singing other Scottish anthems or more contemporary stuff. She also has a great rapport with the audience too. Eddi will be in Bangor Abbey on Wednesday, 27 August.
What else do I recommend?
Bonny “Prince” Billy, is quite eclectic. He has bog-all online presence, no Facebook, no website and he’s very hard to track down, yet for all the hipsters (ahem!) they were more interested in that gig than anything.(Bangor Abbey, 28 August)
Altan – playing in Bangor Abbey it will be great, acoustically with everyone able to hear each of the hugely talented musicians as well as Mairéad’s wonderful voice. (Bangor Abbey, 30 August)
Lloyd Cole has just finished a six-week tour of New Zealand and is very busy. And he plays golf. Everywhere he goes, he tried to play a round a golf and he’s written reviews for the courses. I think his parents were golf teachers or something – who’da thunk it? (Bangor Abbey, Friday 29 August)
Another great idea Kieran, Alison and others have comy is Culture Day happening in the town next Saturday, 23 August.
“Culture Day is a snapshot of what’s happened in Bangor and what we hope will happen in Bangor in the future,” explains Kieran.
“There is a lot going on and a lot of it is bubbling away under the surface. There are a lot of visual artists here in Bangor and lots of people just quietly getting on doing their own things – look at the screen printers for example. A lot of musicians, I don’t know whether it’s the seaside or whatever. The first year we did five nights in the Goat’s Toe, and everyone thought we had moved the festival lock, stock and barrel to the Goat’s Toe, to Bangor. But it was just five Friday nights in August consecutively and three bands each night, and it was £5 in and it was brilliant — which led to last year being the proper pilot, I guess.
“The amount of people that approached us – flip me – we had no idea how many talented, really creative people – but they’re maybe not professional or they’re getting on doing their own things – I mean there’s an exhibition in Bangor nearly every week. “A slight exaggeration maybe, but there’s the kind of same principle – it feels like the start of the Cathedral Quarter 15 years ago, you know?
“There’s a movement there and there’s an energy and you can just detect it from people and just going forward they want Bangor to work, and people are just going “I’m fed up with it being run-down” and it’s not perfect and no place will ever be, and no art scene and no culture scene will ever be perfect, and yes we are only 15 minutes from Belfast, but people are definitely tapping into something.
“We’re trying to encourage people to come up with ideas for events and we’re saying to them we’ll put it in the programme, we’ll help you market it, we’ll help you sell tickets, we’ll help you run it if you’re not sure as long as the standard’s good, but we’re saying try and make it unique to Bangor.
“We really feel like we’re part of something.”
These are just some of the events coming up but you can get full tickers and order tickets from openhousefesival.com