BY Dylan Haskins at Lismore Castle
In 1811, after inheriting his father’s title, the 6th Duke of Devonshire came to survey the family’s Irish castle at Lismore for the first time with the intention of selling it. Instead, he spent the next 50 years devoted to its restoration and transformation into one of Ireland’s most romantic castles. Clearly the place had an effect on him. Perched eighty feet above a steep valley, overlooking the River Blackwater, and surrounded by seven acres of gardens, Lismore Castle is still working its charms on those who visit. It’s a Thursday afternoon in September. Logs are smoldering in the fireplace and the timeless smell of smoke hangs in the air of the drawing room. Members of Dublin’s Crash Ensemble have just met Canadian violinist Yuki Numata Resnick and Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire for the first time. Parry dispenses stethoscopes to each musician and explains how his ‘Music for the Heart and Breath’ composition works. In a few days time they will all perform the piece together in the festival showcase at the Everyman Theatre in Cork. They pick up instruments and make the first tentative steps towards that performance. Watching attentively is Dr. Ken O’ Halloran, Professor of Physiology at University College Cork, whose work focuses on heart and breath. A confluence of art and science.
Lord William Burlington, current custodian of the castle and descendent of the 6th Duke arrives into the courtyard as voices waft from opposite corners and coalesce in a haunting polyphony. One of the voices is that of Laurel Sprengelmeyer of Quiet River of Dust. She’s rehearsing with band mate Stefan Schneider in what is normally the castle study. Quiet River of Dust formed when Richard Reed Parry was invited to perform at the 2012 edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, curated by The National. The festival accommodates an “intimate” audience of 5,500. After dinner on Friday evening, they perform an impromptu concert in the castle study to an audience of twenty-seven.
The other voice drifting through the courtyard is Lisa Hannigan’s. Her makeshift rehearsal space is the magnificent banquet hall, adorned in heraldry depicting stag heads and coiled serpents. One wall bears the ‘Cavendo Tutus’ latin motto of the Cavendish family – ‘Safe through caution’ – while the fireplace nods to the native with its prominent ‘Cead Mille Failte’ carving. A W N Pugin, the illustrious designer of the fireplace, mistook the Gaelic spelling ‘mile’ for the Italian ‘mille’. Nevertheless, the drum kit, keyboards and guitar amps scattered across the room imply the temporary residents have taken the welcoming carving to heart. Lisa is working with Aaron Dessner of The National on new material, ultimately for her next album, but more immediately for the sold-out Lismore Suite performance in this same room on Saturday night. Irish musicians Ross Turner (I Am The Cosmos) and Cormac Curran (Villagers) are also collaborating with the pair.
At two o’ clock, lunch is served and the guests converge in the dining room, exchanging progress updates. Many of the musicians and artists have never met each other before and some have yet to arrive. One notable absence, who arrives direct from LA at dinner time, is Bryce Dessner, the curator of this festival and in some ways the common denominator between this gathering of musicians.
After lunch, a group of us make our way downstairs to the kitchen where an exchange has been agreed. Blown-away by the Lismore take on Irish brown soda bread, Quiet River of Dust have offered to play a song if the chefs will divulge the recipe. Richard Reed Parry takes the bowl and wooden spoon in hand while the others gather around the table. It all feels like some kind of cookery show. Ken Madden, the exacting master baker, has left nothing to chance and provides pre measured bowls of ingredients. After Parry has mixed the staple brown bread ingredients of molasses, treacle and Guinness, Ken produces a jug from underneath the table with showmanship and the standard “Here’s one I made earlier”.
Unlike the bread-making, the process of music-making evident at Lismore has been anything but controlled and pre-measured. An authentic spirit of curiosity, collaboration and experimentation runs through every encounter. People may have arrived with seeds of ideas, but by the time guests approach the walled avenue leading to the castle and assemble in the banquet hall on Saturday night. Those seeds will have germinated into something exuberant and unknown.
Many of the artists who featured in the Lismore Suite will celebrate the collaborative ethos of the Festival at the #SFSH Festival Showcase in the Everyman Theatre on Sunday 20th of September at 8pm.
Date: Sunday 20 September
Location: Everyman Theatre
Artist: Crash Ensemble, So Percussion, Shara Worden, Bryce Dessner, Aaron Dessner, Richard Reed Parry, Yuki Numata Resnick and Nadia Sirota
Title: Sounds from a Safe Harbour – Festival Showcase presented by Bryce Dessner
Tickets: Single ticket €25* available here
*Included in festival ticket €175
As the festival tide rolls out of Cork, we take some time to celebrate the wave it has created with this intimate evening presented by Bryce Dessner (The National). The evening will showcase Crash Ensemble, So Percusson and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) with special appearances by Bryce himself, Aaron Dessner (The National), Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire), Yuki Numata Resnick and Nadia Sirota.