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First Inaugural National NZ Irish Fest: Interview with Gerry Paul

10 Oct 2018 // An interview by butch181

In advance of the first ever National NZ Irish festival, Alex from muzic.net.nz had a chat with the Festival's Curator, Organiser and Musical Extraordinaire, Gerry Paul:

What made you decide to organise an Irish Festival in New Zealand?

I spent thirteen years living in Ireland playing with an Irish folk band called Gráda. We toured in over 30 countries around the world, and every country I went to had an Irish festival. NZ has over 600K people who claim Irish heritage, so it seemed about time to start one! And the Irish love to party – they say fun is an Irish invention – and there are so many fabulous Irish artists I want to get to NZ, this was the perfect way to do that!

You have already successfully organised festivals in the past?

I have been programming the music for CubaDupa for the past four years and also started Coastella Music Festival three years ago. They have been a real learning curve and it is such a different a different job than I might have thought it was as an artist. As well as Coastella and CubaDupa, I programme the music and entertainment for Beervana, Beers at the Basin, Wellington Wine and Food, Budburst and work as an agent for several bands.

A NZ Irish Festival composed of 60 events spanning 4 days, in 3 cities. This is quite a large undertaking for the inaugural event. Why go so large for the first event?

Haha well it starts as one thing and then you get on a roll and then your ambition and enthusiasm gets the better of you... It seems to be the story of my life! We started with the idea of touring the three international shows through Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, but then so many local acts and different venues wanted to be a part of the festival and host events and so many people had great ideas for meet ups and workshops and Ceilidhs etc that we expanded. I met an Irish Film buff and we decided to get some Irish films out too and now have six features and a shorts programme being screened at eight cinemas around NZ.

Most kiwis only really think about Irish Celebrations on St Patrick’s Day in March. Is there any particular reason why November 15-18 was selected for the festival?

Yes. Paddy’s day is a great party and a big piss up, but we wanted to have a focus period away from that where we could highlight and showcase the rich culture that Ireland boasts. It’s also an easier time to get artists down here as March is so busy for Irish artists in America, Europe and the UK. As it happened, two of our headline artists Damien Dempsey and Mick Flannery were touring in Oz just before this period, so that made it a lot easier having these two already in the neighbourhood to anchor things off. I am so excited about Kiwi musicians seeing these artists as they are phenomenal songwriters and musicians. This festival goes beyond providing international and local Irish musicians.

You are setting up film premieres, sporting events, as well as comedy and dance shows. Is it difficult to coordinate so many different aspects?

Yes it is a bit of a mission to be honest. As I said, it sort of grew very quickly and unexpectedly and I’m right in the middle of programming all the other festivals, so I have enlisted some amazing help and we’re all chipping in and getting it done. It is really interesting learning how film is promoted and also comedy is something I have never booked before, so it is definitely a learning curve!

The event has the full support of the Irish Embassy and Culture Ireland?

Yes, the new Resident Irish Ambassador Peter Ryan has been very supportive, and it is really exciting for the Irish community having a young Ambassador with Peter’s energy here in NZ. Culture Ireland were amazing by supporting all of the travel and accommodation for the international Irish artists.

What are you hoping to achieve with the festival?

We would like to create an annual event where we can continue to bring over the cream of Irish talent in music, film, comedy and celebrate this rich and culture that so many people enjoy and identify with.

Last question, and a little off-topic, but what is the deal with wrestling sharks?

Haha well a few years ago I did another random project which was an album of children’s music and the title track was Hank the Wrestling Shark. The song won the Grand Prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and I then had it illustrated and published it as a book and it led to a stint as a children’s TV presenter in Ireland. I am an enthusiastic spearfisherman and quite enjoy the odd encounter with a shark, so it has inspired a few songs and stories…


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