Carols, poetry, story-telling and festive wishes for peace on earth

Online arts programme Under A Christmas Sky will allow audiences at home to experience top entertainment in the run up to Christmas

By Joanne Savage
Friday, 18th December 2020, 8:00 am
Brand New Friend will perform
Brand New Friend will perform

To spread that all important Christmas spirit (apparently Santa cannot set off from the North Pole with Rudolph and co until it reaches peak levels) festival organisers Snow Water (creators and curators of Distant Sky and Atlantic Sessions) have come up with a programme of song, poetry, music and story-telling that you will be able to enjoy online, with programmes being uploaded to the web each day until December 23.

“We have collected some of the finest musicians and actors and had them perform at the Ulster American Folk Park,” explains director Carolyn Mathers.

“Wanting to bring people some festive joy, we filmed each performance in different locations around the park two weeks ago and since December 17 we have been releasing a dose of Christmas entertainment online each day with the opportunity for people to watch the full medley of artists online on Christmas Eve.

“We have actors reading poetry like Derry Girls’ Ian McElhinney, rock from Katie Richardson and her band Hex Hue and carols from family group Brand New Friend as well as a beautiful rendition of O Holy Night performed by NI Opera - and lots more.

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    “Presenter Joe Lindsay will be alternately dressed as Ebeneezer Scrooge and Santa and we used lots of snow machines to get the festive backdrop just right.

    “We have tried to cover as many genres as possible so that we have rock, traditional music, indie and carol singers.”

    As Carolyn explains, the vaudeville mix of festive performances will culminate with Ian McElhinney reading a poem by William Makepeace Thackeray, ‘The End of the Play’, which speaks of joyful angels, glory on high, peace on earth to men of gentle will, and apt wishes of health, love and mirth this Christmas-tide in spite of the pandemic looming gloomily over us all.

    Versatile and well-known actor Charlotte McCurry, who has performed leads on the stages of the Lyric Theatre, Grand Opera House and BBC NI in productions of works from Rudyard Kipling to Shakespeare, will read Christmas Wayfarers by Cathal O’Byrne, while composer and musician Neil Martin, long an undeniable force in music both locally and internationally, will perform A Wexford Carol, a stunningly beautiful and evocative piece.

    It isn’t Christmas without a Grimes and McKee show, and Snow Water are delighted to present Alan reading George Bernard Shaw’s No Music at Christmas - in a Scrooge-like moment for those not feeling the festive glow amid the darkness of Covid; all tastes are being catered for here.

    Indie singer/songwriter ROE, 21, who has already wowed at Glastonbury and is tipped for big things in the music industry, is set to bring us her unique and heartfelt new interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s River, while rock-chick multi-instrumentalist and singer Katie Richardson and her band Hex Hue will deliver a belter cover of Darlene Love’s Christmas, Baby Please Come Home.

    Actor Chris Grant, seen most recently in TV series Krypton, performs the great Belfast poet Michael Longley’s piece The Goose, while sibling fronted indie-pop act Brand New Friend, who have supported big names such as Snow Patrol, the inimitable Lewis Capaldi and Feeder, helping fire up stages from Reading to Leeds and Radio 1’s Big Weekend, appear as carol singers with their very own version of Silent Night.

    Bangor duo The Darkling Air, whose album Ancestor has been nominated for numerous accolades, instantly bring sublime melodies and harmonies to life.

    They truly have a special aura to their music and will envelope and reinterpret Bing Crosby’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas.

    Award winning actress Abigail McGibbon will read In Lieu Of Carols, a poem written by one of our most acclaimed local writers and current Ireland Professor of Poetry, Frank Ormsby.

    And you are challenged not to become teary-eyed with festive joy at singer/songwriter and guitarist Matt McGinn’s performance of that complete classic, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. The latter artist was recently hailed by Hot Press Magazine as ‘One to Watch’ in 2020.

    A song so traditional yet timeless it has been covered by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Sufjan Stevens and Mariah Carey, O Holy Night is as festive as mince pies, and it will be performed for this bespoke online festival by none other than NI Opera.

    Presenter Joe Lindsay commented; “Snow Water hopes to bring a little joy, a little beauty, a little magic to the days leading up to this rather unique, strange and unexpected Christmas. Day by day, then as a full piece on Christmas Eve, we are bringing together some of the finest pieces of music and poetry with some of the finest talent in the country. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and to all a good night. Until we return to good nights out.”

    Carolyn Mathers, added: “This project would not be happening without the support of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and we are thrilled that, thanks to their support, we were able to work with 18 artists and six freelancers at the beautiful Ulster Folk Museum. We are home to some of the finest artists in the world and, after such a difficult year for the cultural industries and with four of our own live festivals cancelled, we are able to celebrate NI’s artistic excellence and to end the year with some light. The full programme can also be enjoyed every Christmas for years to come. Thanks to Tourism Ireland, Under a Christmas Sky will be showcased internationally and watched by digital audiences across Europe and North America.”

    Noirin McKinney, director of arts development, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, also added: “The Arts Council is proud to support this magical and imaginative project from Snow Water who once again have gathered together some of the finest names from theatre, literature, poetry and music, to lift our spirits and inspire us all this Christmas. The project is supported through our Organisations Emergency Programme (OEP), a fund which has supported 212 organisations to date and will help them buy creative time to produce new ideas for programming, plan for recovery and withstand the shock to their organisation of the substantial loss of income during lockdown. Congratulations to Snow Water on creating Under a Christmas Sky, a beautiful initiative which will bring joy to all this Christmas.”

    Snow Water (the title taken from a poetry anthology by Michael Longley) was set up five years ago to celebrate the finest artistic talent Northern Ireland has to offer, to explore our rich cultural heritage, to provide a space for artists to collaborate, and to showcase artistic excellence internationally. Most recently the team delivered its fifth Atlantic Sessions Music Festival, Folk Park Live, a musical journey of over 300 years, delivered over 120 music events during The Open Portrush, the 50th Anniversary of the Lyric, NI Opera’s Opera House programme, and a series of coastal festivals and films entitled Distant Sky. Snow Water has received awards and international acclaim for its support and promotion of artistic excellence and has received five Tourism Innovation Awards for new cultural development. Visit Facebook/snowwaterni.

    Under A Christmas Sky can be viewed daily until December 23 with a full recap of the entire film of performances available to audiences on Christmas Eve.

    Watch on YouTube at Under a Christmas Sky.