Solstice sounds

Leona O'Neill

WALKING up a winding path towards the heavens, a bracing Donegal air battering at your face in the dead of night with a band of dreadlocked new-age travellers, well-heeled pensioners and some sleepy toddlers is one way to ring in the summer solstice. Four hundred people stood waiting for the sun atop the darkest, windiest hill in Donegal, around the ancient ringed fort at Grianan of Aileach to mark the beginning of Derry's Music City Day, 24 hours of music, song and dance. And as if ordered by on high, to the sound of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, the morning sun burst spectacularly over the hills of Donegal, drenching the lush green fields with golden light. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness joined the bleary-eyed congregation, tweeting pictures of everything from cute dogs wearing scarves to the first rays of sunlight over the lip of the fort and asking where the bacon butties where being served. A few hours later the canine population of Derry struck up their own dawn chorus, barking incessantly at the strange noise emanating from the skies as seven hot air balloons floated through the morning air pumping classical music through loud speakers. Many residents, woken by either their dog or the music, came to their gardens to wave - or maybe they were shaking their fists - at the Sky Orchestra as it passed overhead. Not a resident in Derry slept beyond 6.15am. Several thousand people gathered in the shadow of the Guildhall by mid-afternoon for the largest ever performance of Danny Boy. In a quieter corner of the city, Canadian composer Martin Messier conducted his orchestra of sewing machines, eight of them whirring away in harmony. There was music everywhere throughout the day. Scottish Highland dancers and musicians performed on one section of the walls while the beat from African drums thundered from another. Quartets played in supermarkets and a choir sang Bridge Over Troubled Waters in a shopping centre, just in case anyone was feeling down about the state of their bank account. Over in Ebrington a giant umbrella kept the rain from the crowds who gathered for the Sounds From This City vs Sounds from Cities on the Edge Festival which saw local bands perform alongside worldwide rockers.

Revellers were given a taste of the Fleadh in the Guildhall Square, where Derry's world famous stone arches came in useful as a shelter for the violent bursts of torrential rain. Later that night in the Glassworks, the BBC's Stephen McCauley rolled out some of the finest local talent for a special broadcast of Electric Mainland. At one stage an old vinyl player was wheeled out to the middle of the floor allowing people - many of them teenagers - to gawk at this wonder of antiquity while the older set relived their youth as vinyl crackles filled the air. And So I Watched You From Afar sang four songs with a grand total of one lyric and their guitar player - as if possessed by the very spirit of the God of music - played so passionately and danced so violently that his backstage passes flew off across the room. In stark contrast classical pianist Ruth McGinley brought everyone back down to Earth with a haunting Philip Glass score entitled Glassworks. The day ended again at dawn in Donegal as Grianan Fort came to life with a theatrical feast of aerial theatre, song and fire dancing, closing the curtain of Derry's stage.


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