Arts Q&A: The Arts Council's Joanne Wright on Ryan Vail, Joshua Burnside and Whiplash memories

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, musician and music development officer Joanne Wright

Joanne Wright, music development officer at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland

1. When did you think about a career in the arts and what were your first steps into it?

When I was at school I played in bands and I arranged my work experience at a local recording studio. I loved it so much that I went on to study Music Technology at university and never looked back.

2. Best gigs you’ve been to?

The Wood Burning Savages performing at The Springhill Bar, Portrush, at The Atlantic Session the night after they won the Northern Ireland Music Prize for best album and best live act. The band was on such a high. It was such an intimate rock gig and the atmosphere was electric.

The Once, performing in The Black Box, during Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, supported by the wonderful Ciara O’Neill. I love a gig in The Black Box especially an afternoon gig where you go and forget about what’s happening in the world outside. It was a fantastic afternoon of harmony-driven storytelling straight from the heart.

Borders by Elma Orkestra and Ryan Vail at The MAC featuring Moya Brennan (Clannad) and spoken-word poet Stephen James Smith. It was an immersive experience combining spectacular visuals with some of the most captivating music to come out of Northern Ireland in recent times.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

It would have to be Cherym performing with Ciaran Lavery accompanied by the Robocobra Quartet. With maybe a DJ set after from Holly Lester.

4. The record you’d take to a desert island?

This is tough, so I am going to sneak two albums with me. Borders by Ryan Vail and Elma Orkestra – one of the most beautiful and thought provoking albums of our time. It is an album for every mood and on every listen it transports you while managing to make you feel like you belong, like it was written just for you.

And Depths of Hell by Joshua Burnside. He is an extraordinary songwriter; he writes deeply emotive songs that are dark, witty yet strangely uplifting. I have been listening to this album non-stop and I never fail to discover something new on every listen.

5. And the book you’d take?

Slacker Guide to the Music Industry from Northern Ireland’s own Phily Taggart, as I suspect I would still be working while I’m on this desert island. It’s a fantastic book for anyone interested in music and a look behind the scenes at how the industry works.

6. Top three films?

Whiplash (it reminds me of my own experience of learning music), The Room, and The Departed – not only is the acting great, but the soundtrack is amazing.

7. Worst film you’ve seen?

Mamma Mia – I think this is self-explanatory.

8. Favourite authors?

Chris Wright, Jan Carson and Louise Kennedy

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team?

Golf. Team Rory.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

New York (pre-Covid).

11. Pet hates?

Onions and people talking at gigs.

12. What’s your favourite:

Dinner? Pizza.

Dessert? Roulade.

Drink? Jameson Irish Whiskey.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

My best friend is Claire Linton and over the years we worked together in three different jobs and bonded over our love of watching Ken Haddock and his band’s Sunday sessions at The Empire.

14. Is there a God?

I’m not sure, but if there is, I hope to meet her one day.

Joanne Wright is music development officer at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. She has worked in the music industry as a musician, recording engineer and manager for the past 18 years. She is also the founder of Safe in Sound, an initiative set up during the pandemic to provide a safe space for under-represented, minority voices working in the music sector (

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