Event Review: Culture Night

Reviewed by Angeline B Adams and Remco van Straten

Culture Night 2012 is an incredibly diverse night: skeletal Dia de los Muertos musicians, a sawbones from bygone days complete with trepaning drill, a punk band performing a stone’s throw from the cathedral choir, Sweeney Todd in a barber shop, a harpist on stilts, interactive printmaking and live wrestling. A city used to political murals saw less charged work by graffiti artists brightening the dilapidated walls of North Street.

There are over 70 events in the centre of Belfast and beyond. It is a showcase of cultural delights you didn’t know existed, and free at that! Even the weather gods gave their blessing to the night.

Culture Night officially kicked off early at 4 in the afternoon, but for Belfast folks a Culture Night isn’t a night if it ain’t dark. Punctual and with programme in hand, we mostly catch soundchecks and empty stalls. It stays relatively quiet until around 8, when it is suddenly heaving.

In the weeks coming up to Culture Night we had hotly debated our itinerary. Now that we were here, we quickly settle on just wandering around, letting ourselves be gripped and surprised.

There are some disappointments early on, though. The MAC is supposed to have multiple exhibitions, but when we venture in there are no directions. We quickly decide to move on, but fare no better at Haymarket Arcade. The Avalon Arts & Crafts Village is a late addition to the programme and, while there are some nice wares to peruse, it shows.

With other loyal fans we manage to find Wireless Mystery Theatre in the Avalon Village craft shop, banished from the more prominent corner of Royal Avenue and North Street. An undoubtedly fun performance is somewhat let down by technical complications. The bagpipes and lambegs outside the Arcade don’t help either. Yet, while the ghostly voices crackling through the ether may be been difficult to understand, the overal effect is oddly atmospheric.

More crafts are found at the University of Ulster. These days every good craft idea migrates across Pinterest in a blink of the eye to be copied by thousands. Northern Ireland’s crafting community, however, excels in brilliantly original goodies. Retro homewares, steampunk-inspired jewellery and objets-d’art created from old toys inspires some early Christmas shopping.

Writer’s Square plays host to a cardboard arcade – perhaps the product of more hope than wisdom in blustery NI. The wicker man towering over the drum workshop was not big enough for human sacrifice, luckily for the obnoxious MC who just won’t let the rhythm of the drums speak for themselves. Nevertheless, it forms an striking contrast with St Anne’s Cathedral across the road. The effect when set alight is spectacular.

Bypassing a jam-packed John Hewitt, we follow the sound of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ to find one man and his guitar in an otherwise empty car park. He was unseen but not unheard on Commercial Street, where landlords needn’t worry that their beer would go un-drunk.

From there we head to Hill Street, the creative artery of the Quarter and an example of what North Street could be. Musicians had squeezed into a caravan, then we ourselves squeezed into the Black Box for more music.

A short hop away, though a bit off the CNB trail, and we find another, non-flammable,Wicker Man in High Street. Outside this local arts and crafts shop, we are greeted by two dragons and a viking. Billed as a ‘local fiddler’, as Kevin McCullagh, we wouldn’t have planned this detour to see him. McCullagh, also known as Jan Jeffer, proves to be so much more than that. He combines traditional fiddle with percussion and electronics, stretching our sense of reality with the resulting hypnotic soundscapes.

Back to reality, of sorts, in Rosemary Street, where Pro Wrestling Ulster breaks out the leotards. We’re not natural wrestling fans, but it’s hard not to be won over by the sheer physicality of it. The kicks and punches may be for show, but the throws and body slams were most definitely real. One overeager member of the audience, in his cups perhaps, joined the fray but got swiftly and professionally removed.

Remember kids, don’t be that guy, and don’t try this at home.

Culture Night encourages us to re-imagine our cityscape. The effect can be whimsical, like the scavenger hunt for elaborate model cats, or more serious. Culture Night revellers were invited to enter the burnt out shell of the North Street Arcade. Someone completed the sentence ‘I wish this..’ on the giant chalk board with ‘…could be like this every day.’

Unfortunate placement, perhaps, but if they mean imaginative, surprising, fun and stimulating, then we would wholeheartedly add, ‘Yes, please!’.

Check out the Culture Night website to find out more.