Marlbank interviews Brian Carson

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Brilliant Corners festival director BRIAN CARSON looks ahead to this year’s festival and selects his highlights from 20 years of promoting jazz in Belfast and beyond

When and why did Brilliant Corners begin?

Moving on Music started the festival in March 2013. Previous to this we had been promoting one-off jazz events on a regular basis and thought it was time to try a different approach to see if we could maximize existing audiences and potentially attract new ones. We of course realized that there was not an existing festival dedicated to jazz, improvised and associated contemporary musics in Belfast, and most importantly there was not a platform for local musicians and composers to present new work.

Why choose the Thelonious Monk album title as its title?

When we decided to try a jazz festival we felt it would be a good idea to give it a name that might identify it and stick in people’s minds, so one day we, the staff of MoM, sat with a whiteboard, flinging ideas at it and getting nowhere. Then someone mentioned the word Brilliant and Corners sort of jumped into my head. It’s a magic track by one of the 20th century’s great iconoclasts and it seems to span the traditional and modern eras. I’m a huge fan of the man and his work.

Did you feel that the festival had a particular purpose or specific need to address; and if so what were these?

We wanted to 1) provide performing opportunities for local players, established or upcoming, who wanted to present something new, both challenging themselves and the audience; 2) to build a bigger audience for the music by clustering events into a festival and provide an alternative offering; 3) cater for broad musical tastes while not shying away from difficult or challenging music and 4) challenge ideas and misconceptions about jazz and introduce new listeners to the genre.

What are the venues that you will be using this year and what special attributes of each lends itself to the wider festival vision and suits the artists chosen to play?

This year we will present shows in the Black Box, which has a club-type feel; the Crescent Arts Centre, which is flexible and can be cabaret or theatre style; and the MAC, a relaxed venue which lends itself more to a concert-type setting. They are all excellent, accessible and welcoming venues that can all really cater for any type of show.

Do you think jazz in Belfast is on the up at the moment; and if so why and how has this come about?

It appears to be, but I’m not sure that there’s enough opportunity for artists to present new work; however, I understand this is a commercial consideration for venues with residencies.

Moving on Music, your company, marks its 20th anniversary this year. What have been the highlights for you of the company’s work to date and how does your work connect most tangibly with the wider music scene in Belfast and beyond?

There have been numerous highlights including travelling the world with the Brian Irvine Ensemble; catching the great Han Bennink at various gigs; finally bringing Peter Brötzmann to Belfast; producing and presenting Beyond the March as part of the Derry City of Culture celebrations; working with some really fine dedicated people — current and past MoM staff, musicians and composers; continuing to enjoy live music for its own sake; managing to get to 20!

 

The Dublin City Jazz Orchestra making their first Belfast appearance open this year’s Brilliant Corners which takes place in Belfast from Wednesday 25-Saturday 28 March. On the second night, also playing the Crescent Arts Centre on University Road, it’s a double bill with the Meilana Gillard quartet and the Scott Flanigan trio playing in a stand-out Belfast scene gig. Tenorist Gillard played the first year of the festival two years ago returning this year with brand new music. Pianist/organist Flanigan regularly appears at top Belfast jazz club Berts. Also on the second night: crack prog-jazz outfit Troyka, touring their latest album Ornithophobia, play the festival over at Cathedral Quarter venue the Black Box. The third night features free-improv from Steve Davis’ Human at the Mac, with Sixes, an experimental electric guitar night, at the Black Box. The last night has Henry Cow ‘leg end’ Fred Frith playing solo at the Mac (support from Dave Stockard and Edward Lucas) and Get the Blessing are at the Black Box supported by local punk jazz outfit Robocobra Quartet.

As a promoter who would be your main inspiration in the live music field; and how did you begin in music promotion in the first place?

I got involved in music in Belfast over 30 years ago when I was a volunteer with the artist collective, Art & Research Exchange. I think my first promotion was the notorious PD Burwell and the Bow Gamelan Ensemble closely followed by a punk rock fundraiser at The Pound Club. Prior to that, at university hearing Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead and Captain Beefheart for the first time had a profound effect on me. To this day I personally get a lot from listening to music; it’s a great leveller.

Has the Northern Ireland music scene changed in specific ways since you began at Moving on Music? If so what might these be in general terms; and why do you think these changes have taken place?

The biggest change for me has been information technology and the Internet, not to mention the number of venues that are now available. I also think that people have become more open-minded about taking on new sounds, taking a risk with their ears.

How do you incorporate local talent into the festival; and how do you think new artists here will best get their message out to the international jazz community?

This year we’ve commissioned a new set of work from the saxophone player and composer Meilana Gillard. She’s also doing a series of workshops in schools along with the hardest working man in music, David Lyttle! We will also premiere Scott Flanigan’s new trio. Hopefully by programming local artists it will give them the confidence to share their music with promoters abroad and ideally get bookings outside of the country; artists like Brian Irvine, David Lyttle, Bourne/Davis/Kane, for example are proof that it can be done.

How do you think Brilliant Corners can expand in the future; and what is your main ambition for this year’s running?

In the future we hope to do a lot more outreach and education attached to the festival, also regional tours surrounding it. Achieving some national media attention would certainly help, as would attracting a sponsor! One or two bigger acts would be nice too… Our main aims this year are to build on past successes and hopefully give an even greater number of music lovers a wonderful time! (Interview: Stephen Graham)

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