Ards and North Down Borough Council is delighted to announce its 2023 Ards International Guitar Festival programme. The much-loved festival will take place from 19 – 23 April at various venues around Newtownards.
The festival is now in its 27th year and continues to celebrate the world’s most popular instrument in a town steeped in guitar tradition. Bringing together some of the best guitarists from Ireland and the UK, along with visiting guitarists from around the world, the festival is sure to be a melting pot of musical talent and genres.
This year’s line-up features home-grown talent as well as performers from Germany, the Netherlands, and Iran, all assembled with the help of guest programmer Anthony Toner. From live gigs to Guitar Clinics and interviews, guitar fans will be spoiled for choice.
Opening the festival on Wednesday 19 April at The Web Theatre, Newtownards, Neil Ó Briain and Paul McMordie will perform live, original and new scores to silent movie favourites at the ‘Comedy Classic Soundtracks’ event. A must for fans of Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton!
The Aquarelle Guitar Quartet presents Cinema Paradiso at The Web Theatre on Thursday 20 April. A night not to be missed – a sweeping celebration of the silver screen with music from films such as Chocolat, The Piano and Schindler’s List.  As one of the world’s leading guitar quartets, The AGQ is known for its extraordinary performances and expansive repertoire. Formed at the Royal Northern College of Music in 1999, the quartet studied with renowned guitarists Sérgio Assad, Oscar Ghiglia and Scott Tennant and has performed in major concert halls throughout the UK and Europe. 
The festival is also pleased to welcome Dom Martin and Band to play The Queen’s Hall on Saturday 22 April. Martin is a Belfast-born, multi-award-winning artist, inspired but not constrained by the blues. In 2019 he burst onto the music scene with a unique guitar style and voice, captivating audiences everywhere. His jaw dropping, entirely natural sounding and unforced/unschooled skill on acoustic guitar, matched with an authentic ‘Belfast Blues’ voice, brings to mind comparisons with many from John Martyn to Rory Gallagher.
An exciting all-female line-up will take to the stage in The Queen’s Hall on Friday 21 April; Karlijn Langendijk, Judith Beckedorf and Sophie Chasée. As three of Europe’s most talented female guitarists, hailing from The Netherlands and Germany, this concert will be a superb one-off evening of extraordinary playing.
Other highlights of this year’s programme include; Jim Mullen Trio in Concert, one of the UK’s finest jazz guitar talents, who has collaborated over several decades with top musicians in Europe and the US. Jim will appear in Ards Arts Centre on Friday 21 April. This year’s Classic Brunch sees broadcaster Ralph McLean bring his attention to one of the greatest rock albums of all time – Fleetwood Mac’s Rumour’s in Ards Arts Centre on Sunday 23 April. Ralph will also be in conversation with guitar manufacturing legend George Lowden and his son Aaron on Saturday 22 April, taking a look back over George’s extensive career and hearing about the next generation of Lowden guitars.
This year’s Weekend Wind Down, on Sunday 23 April, will take place in Falls’ Bar with Rodney Branigan. Rodney learned how to play in Austin, how to craft songs in Nashville and how to put it all together in London, playing all types of music to all types of venues in his storied career. At the Weekend Wind Down, Rodney will be supported by Ben Cutler, a 19- year-old musician from Belfast. Expect soulful acoustic singer-songwriter material, with an eclectic range of folk-oriented blues and stripped-back Alternative rock. 
Speaking about the festival, Councillor Karen Douglas, The Mayor of Ards and North Down said: “The Ards Guitar Festival has always been renowned for bringing guitar talent from all around the world to Newtownards and this year is no different. I am delighted to welcome the festival back for its 27th year. The programme looks fantastic, and I would encourage everyone to get their tickets and come along and support the events.”
Ards Guitar Festival Director, Emily Crawford commented: “We have a great line up in store for you this year at venues across Newtownards with Jazz, blues, bluegrass, classical and world music to be experienced. We are particularly excited to welcome back the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet and to introduce the legendary Dom Martin to the stage for the first time, we’ve been patiently waiting for this one since 2020!”
Ards International Guitar Festival runs from 19 – 23 April. For ticket details or to view the full programme please visit the website  or call Ards Arts Centre on 028 9181 0803