Priests set to headline 100th festival concert

The Priests - in concert
The Priests - in concert

Ballymena Festival of Music, Speech and Dance will celebrate its first hundred years with a grand Centenary Concert on 13 February 2016.

To mark the Centenary there will be an exhibition on the history of the Festival, as well as a commemorative book funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The highlight of the celebrations, however, will be the concert featuring past performers from across the decades. The MC for the evening will be the renowned adjudicator, Marilynne Davies, who has been a good friend of the Festival for many years.

The Committee is delighted to welcome back a trio of singers who, as pupils at Garron Tower, performed many times at Ballymena Festival. Now enjoying a world-wide reputation, they need very little introduction: they are better known as The Priests.

For music, the young flautist Stephen Rankin will display his exceptional skills. He is currently studying flute at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire in Glasgow. Stephen was N. Ireland Young Musician of the Year in 2011. Also performing will be the gifted cellist Eva Richards who was a member of the National Youth Orchestras in Great Britain and Ireland. Eva now studies cello at the RNCM in Manchester. She too was N. Ireland Young Musician of the Year, in 2013.

Alison Ford, now better known by her stage name Alexandra Ford and even better known as Dympna in ‘Give my Head Peace’, was another successful stalwart of the Festival in her childhood and teenage years. She went on to study at drama college, and is now a successful actress on stage and screen. ‘Dympna’ has fond memories of the Festival and appreciates the experience and encouragement she received in Ballymena.

The vocal section will be ably represented by Rachel Thompson (née Mol) who started performing at the Festival when she was four years old. She now works as a singer with the world-famous group Anúna, and as a teacher who has entered many of her own pupils in Festival events.

Irish Dancing will be represented by the Nine Glens School of Irish Dancing from Martinstown. They will perform the history of Irish dance through their own imaginative choreographed routine. Think Riverdance!

Modern Dance at the Festival was introduced in 2014. At the Concert, the Ballymena Dance Academy will perform Lyrical Ballet, Contemporary Dance and Synchronised Tap Dances. The dancers range in age from ten to eighteen. They regularly form highly skilled teams which compete all over the British Isles.

Traditional music will be represented by the highly talented and versatile McCloskey family from Portglenone. Generations of the McCloskeys have participated in the Festival; indeed, Anne Marie is currently secretary of the Traditional section. Members of the family play a wide range of instruments and have won many All-Ireland titles.

Tickets for the Centenary Concert are available to buy on-line from ballymenafestival.org.uk and from The Braid Arts Centre box office, tel. 02825635077.