Interview With Joe O’Leary, Ballydehob Jazz Festival

tweety stuff @ronanfromcork

first published in @The Evening Echo 2014-5-1

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It’s not just the alliteration that makes the following phrase catch the eye, “the Boutique Jazz Festival in the Back of Beyond that packs a Bombastic Artistic Punch”, it is also the energy and imagery that comes with it that gives you an insight to the Ballydehob Jazz Festival. A recent addition to the committee that organises the event every May Bank Holiday is Joe O’Leary, the former lead singer of FRED, who spoke with Ronan Leonard ahead of this year’s instalment. First of all he explained how he became connected to the festival, “a year ago my girlfriend and I moved down to West Cork to help run my grandaunts’ pub Levis Corner Bar in Ballydehob. It’s been in the family for over 125 years, it’s a real old school spot with a vintage shop counter on one side and the bar on the other. As a rural pub is somewhat like a community club house, we got to know the locals fairly lively and it wasn’t too long before we were asked to help out with some of the festivals that are held in Ballydehob.”

As Joe puts it “Ballydehob has over the last few years developed a name as a Place of Festivals”, but he got involved with the Jazz festival in particular for a very practical immediate reason, “I heard there was a chance it wasn’t going to happen this year due to lack of volunteers. The festival was started eight years ago by John Fagan, and it just wouldn’t be right to see it stop, it is totally volunteer run and wouldn’t exist without that support and the support of the greater community.”

The foundation of volunteerism and accessibility is carried into how the festival itself is programmed, as Joe continued, “the whole thing with the Ballydehob Jazz Festival is that 95% of the music is free to all comers so its a very accessible festival that way. The two main gigs are in the Festival Hall, they are the only ones you pay into and they are only €10, it will be headlined by Soul Driven on the Saturday night which will be funky, soulful upbeat fun with swing dancers, followed by DJ Gary Baus playing some great swingtime jazz into the early hours of the morning. On Sunday we have the Nigel Mooney Quartet, whose album last year was voted best international jazz album of 2013 by the Irish Times.”

However it is not just the formal concerts that will give people a reason to attend the festival, “throughout the village there will be bands playing in every conceivable corner from shop counters to restaurants to gourmet stores. This trail will feature lots of up and coming acts who are breaking through in the Irish scene such as Marlene Enright and Hugh Dillon, who are both members of The Hard Ground who are due to release their new EP later this month; The Art Crimes Band who perform along with bellydancers; and Kammerpop, a Dublin based ensemble who are starting to make serious waves in the Irish music scene. Aside from the music there will be boutique craft and food stalls on the street; swing dancing classes and displays; as well as busking competitions and street performances during the day on Saturday and Sunday when we close off the main street of Ballydehob to bring a little of the New Orleans vibe to West Cork.”

Joe pointed out that whilst the idea of closing the main street of a town for the weekend mightn’t get much traction in most parts of Ireland, Ballydehob embraced it wholeheartedly, “West Cork has always attracted and accepted a diverse and alternative group of people, there’s a lot of folk here that love a bit of music, craic and revelry. With that comes many tastes in music so amongst that there is a big jazz community down here, which is reflected in the high level of acts that have been attracted toBallydehob over the years for the festival.”

This spirit of inventiveness and community also feeds into how visitors will be accommodated, Joe “visit our website and you can find links to all the accommodation on offer be it airbnb, whole house lets, couchsurfing, B&Bs or hotels in the near vicinity. Of course there are also plenty of local taxi drivers who service the area.”

Joe’s final thoughts about the festival, “for a festival that nearly didn’t happen this year I’d like to say a great thanks to those that are pulling out all the stops to make this happen and to the greater community in showing immense support for the Ballydehob Jazz festival. Come on down and make your own mind up on what magic there is along the wild Atlantic way.”

The Ballydehob Jazz Festival runs from Friday 2 to Monday 5 May, the full schedule and accommodation details can be found at www.ballydehobjazzfestival.org

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