By David Hennessy
Imelda May and Jessie Buckley will lead the Bloomsday celebrations at Embassy Gardens this Saturday 17 June.
They will be joined on the bill by Niall McNamee, Jelani Blackman, Gnarli X Nikita Gill, Aislinn Logan, Cathal Broderick, Chimera, Damian Molony, Hugh Cooney, Michele Moran, Niamh Mulvey and more.
The festivities will be hosted by the BBC’s Tara Kumar.
Described as a celebration of Irish food, music, literature and spoken word, it has all been brought together by restauranteur Robin Gill and music producer Arveene Juthan.
Gill is the well known chef behind restaurants such as Sorella, Bermondsey Larder and Darbys which is in Embassy Gardens where the event will take place.
Arveene works with well known acts such as Kneecap and Saint Sister and has been based in London for ten years now.
Bloomsday is an annual and growing celebration of the life of James Joyce.
It takes place on 16 June, the day his 1922 novel Ulysses takes place in 1904 and takes its name from protagonist Leopold Bloom.
Robin told The Irish World: “I’m from Glasthule in South Dublin and I was brought up right around the corner from Cavistons.
“It’s fairly well known in Dublin, it’s like a fishmongers and delicatessen.
“Peter Caviston is a larger than life character and I think between him and a couple of publicans like Tom Fitzgerald, they kind of owned Bloomsday as a big day and a festival where everybody gets dressed up and Peter kind of had all these different activations going on throughout the day whether it’s people reading extracts from the book or musicians coming in.
“It’s just grown and grown and grown in Dublin, and I guess there’s a bit of a nod to that.
“At Darbys we use a lot of Irish produce, shellfish, and Irish beef and lots of other things like that.
“But also we’re in the same square as the publishers who publish Ulysses, Penguin.
“And also the square lends itself as a natural atrium for performances, events, musical acts and all that kind of stuff.
“I’ve really been inspired by what Peter Caviston has done and wanted to bring it to London.
“Also, I’ve been let down so many times trying to plan outdoor events around St. Patrick’s Day that I thought 16 June is a slightly more friendlier time of the year for something outside.
“Bloomsday and James Joyce is the real sort of inspiration and the kind of initiator for the event, but I just kind of thought it’s a bit of a celebration of Irish culture in the creative world which I think we could use that date to shine a bit of a light on people in the Irish art world across the board.”
Arveene adds: “Darbys is a great location. The viaduct is gorgeous down there and there’s a slew of Irish talent in London right now.
“There are a lot of Irish creatives between the age of 18 and 30 which is kind of mind blowing.
“We have Imelda obviously. I think she’s probably one of the greatest Irish musicians of this generation right now.
“She kind of epitomizes everything about Bloomsday in a lot of respects.
“She’s one of the most important modern figures who kind of represent that culture.
“It’s amazing to have her on board and she’s just a wealth of knowledge and talent when it comes to literature and music.
“She is one of our greatest exports as a performer.
“To have her in there but also have people like Jelani Blackman who’s half-Irish and then having people like Theo who’s a really upcoming star who’s writing amazing music.
“Jessie Buckley, I could go into it…
“What’s interesting about the day for me really, and one of the things I liked about the guys kind of handing me the keys for it was just in terms of like building what creative modern Irish London looks like. It’s a take on the state of play for Irish creators: Musicians, theatre actors, writers in the UK right now, especially around London, most of them are all centred around London.
“It’s just quite a really unique time to be Irish.”
With a father who was a touring musician and a dancer for a mother, Robin was raised with music all around.
“I’ve been surrounded by the arts and that was my upbringing really.
“I kind of fell into cooking and it’s a way of me trying to kind of bring it all together, I guess.”
Of the impressive line-up, Robin says: “I think that just kind of shows Irish community.
“I think the Irish come together even more as a community when they’re abroad.
“I think this is a shining example of a community coming together.
“It was a lot of people pulling in favours
“That’s what it was, it was me reaching out to everyone I knew going, ‘This is what I want to do. Help me do it’.”
Robin first came to London in 1999. Arveene has been here for ten years and both have seen a change in the perception and an evolution that has seen Irish people take their place in the arts and the community.
Robin says: “We’re celebrated now but I remember getting some sort of funny looks at my accent back in ‘99, and the whole perception has changed.”
Arveene adds: “I did a podcast for Mind yourself, which is a mental health charity for Irish men who are isolated in London.
“The podcast was based around tracking the experience of Irishmen who could be coming from the 50s to the present day and just the evolution of the stories in the different decades, so 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s.
“It starts changing in the 90s post Good Friday Agreement and it’s almost when a different form of terrorist gets pinpointed that the Irish kind of get off the hook.
“That’s quite a blunt way of putting it but then we started excelling.
“We’ve always had representatives in the community, but I think it’s almost like we blended in a lot more with London life.
“We’re accepted a lot more, and really now we’re a pillar of the community.
“I’m involved with the Mayor’s Office for the St. Patrick’s Festival and that’s one of five festivals they invest in a year and it’s quite respected and attended by a lot of London community from various backgrounds.
“I think it’s quite an exciting time actually to be Irish in London right now.
“We’re very much part of the core of community.
“We always have been: We built the streets and our trees line the floors of their big houses and their cathedrals but now we can be the heads of industry and headlining stages.
“I think we’ve always been there.
“We’re definitely leading the way.
“I mean, our charm and humour and wit is second to none.
“It definitely feels like we’re in a sweet spot, or maybe we’re in the place we need to be.
“Joyce is such an internationally celebrated and respected writer and has influenced so many people.
“The use of words and the way he describes things, it gives you a sense of home and a sense of comfort as well actually reading about the stories in Ulysses and the streets that you grew up on.
“He’s had such an influence on literature worldwide that even if you were never aware of the deep meanings of his work, you can’t help but be influenced by it when you come across it
“He’s an icon really.
“I know he’s influenced a lot of rap people that I’ve worked with who’ve read his works and taken inspiration from it.
“I like the style of it (Bloomsday) as well.
“It’s like Halloween in essence.
“It’s a costume party too for people who get dressed up in the period and go for it and I respect that.
“I love the kind of aesthetic that people go for and the combination of food, music and art that’s involved in Bloomsday, it’s almost like an alternative reality St. Patrick’s Day.”
Robin has referred to it being a safer bet than March for an outdoor event while Arveene calls it an alternative St Patrick’s Day.
But then it shouldn’t just once a year we celebrate being Irish, should it? “100%,” Arveene agrees.
“Irish people we’ll celebrate anything at the drop of a hat, we love a party.
“I think it’s an interesting one because a lot of people globally look at St. Patrick’s Day for certain elements of it and think it’s about pints and party and whatever but there’s more to Ireland than that as well.
“I think this is a way to almost not shock people but really show people the levels of the depth of our creativity as Irish people and how important we are towards literature, theatre, art, creativity and performance.
“I think the more that we can do that, the better.”
Robin continues: “It’s celebrating Irish culture.
“We’re kicking things off on Friday where we’re doing a large breakfast, emulating some of the themes from Ulysses.
“I’ve done a special menu throughout the day, there will be loads of trad music as well.
“Everything will be in house in Darbys on the 16th where we do special menu, we’ll have some music and there’ll be some spoken word.
“Then on the Saturday, there’s a whole host of stuff.
“We’ve got Hugh Cooney of YouTube fame before YouTube was even big for making waves.
“There’s a whole heap of musicians.
“Obviously, there’s Imelda May but there’s a whole heap of musicians all throughout the day.
“We’re also doing a whole Irish artisan food village really.
“We’ve got the guys coming over from Carlingford Oysters, Richard Corrigan and Nicholas Fitzgerald from Tacos Padre and Patrick Powell.
“I’m going to fire up a barbecue just cooking a load of amazing cuts of Irish beef and other products.
“And we’re bringing over lots of small distilleries from Ireland as well.
“We’ve got Jameson coming in but we’ve got some people from some gin distilleries, we’ve got not just the obvious. We’re not going to just have Clonakilty and some of the big names, we’ve got some of the sort of smaller, unknown produce.
“It’s kind of hard to get all that in a sentence. I tried to do a video the other day advertising it and I was muddling it up because there’s so much going on, and there’s more being added to it as we go.
“What I’m hoping is that this is the first of an annual event that will just keep going and keep gaining traction.
“This is open to everybody.
“It’s going to be a family event.
“There’ll be something for the adults obviously.
“There’s going to be something great for the kids.
“I want this to be an annual thing so we’re completely open to people who want to contribute and get involved in coming years
and get involved in celebrating Irish culture in the UK. That’s what it’s all about.”
Arveene adds: “The event is a free event that’s open to all.
“We want to invite everyone from all different walks of life and backgrounds.
“It’s for everyone. It’s for everyone.
“And having people like Robin and Richard Corrigan and Patrick Powell and Imelda there, we have the cream of the crop.
“And then we have also the new young bloods coming through, like Theo and Cathal Broderick, Aislinn Logan, she’s been on tour with CMAT.
“We’ve got a really beautiful selection of the next wave and the leaders.”
Bloomsday Festival takes place Saturday 17 June at Darbys/ Embassy Gardens.
For more information, click here.