08 Aug 2022

Jazz band sail from the Azores to Derry for Foyle Maritime Festival

The unmistakable sight and sound of an international jazz crew who have sailed from the Azores to perform at Ireland’s biggest maritime festival will literally be music to the ears of visitors attending the major summer event in Derry this month. Honky Tonk Sail, a 42ft catamaran hosting a full jazz band, will be one of the most unique musical attractions during the Foyle Maritime Festival when Derry is host port for the LegenDerry Finale Leg of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race from July 14th-22nd. The nautical jazz ensemble which is visiting Northern Ireland for the first time will be making rhythm and blues style waves during nine days of maritime magic organised by Derry City and Strabane District Council. Event co-ordinator Helena Hasson said: “We are thrilled to be welcoming the Honky Tonk Sail to Derry for the first time ever and when better than during our Foyle Maritime Festival! The music from the catamaran will really add to the atmosphere as the quay will be thronged with visitors and crews from the Clipper 2017-18 Race fleet.” Tom Beeckman, captain of the Honky Tonk Sail better known as Bots, is certainly excited about making his first visit to Derry and the opportunity to meet the Clipper 2017-2018 Race crews en route to the jazz band’s next big gig in France. A native of Belgium, he’s hoping to swap seafaring stories with Gaëtan Thomas who is making history as the first Belgian Skipper to lead a team in the world’s greatest ocean challenge, a record breaking 40,000 nautical miles in eleven months. Beeckham, who plays trumpet and tuba, has been to Ireland before to perform in Cork and Dublin but is really looking forward to sailing the whole west coast and finally getting the opportunity to visit the historic Walled City where the Wild Atlantic Way meets the Causeway Coastal Route. Odhran Dunne, General Manager of Visit Derry, said it was great to see the international jazz boat taking part in the Foyle Maritime Festival which is aptly themed “Voyages” this year focusing on Derry’s rich maritime history. He added: “International jazz has become synonymous with the city through the success of our annual City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival and we are expecting record numbers of visitors arriving from around the world to experience the sights, sounds and sails of our unique international maritime festival on the Foyle. “This is one of Ireland’s top festivals this summer; it has something for all the family, and added to this the LegenDerry welcome, it’s an event not to be missed.” Speaking from the port of Horta in The Azores during a two-week stopover in the Portuguese islands before beginning the next stage of their voyage across the Atlantic, Beeckham explained: “Honky Tonk is a project with an ever changing crew/band which will consist of about six musicians for our trip to Derry and we can’t wait to get there and meet everyone!” Beeckham is the only crew member who permanently lives on board the catamaran and he will be joined by musicians from the UK, France, Spain and Sweden. Other band members to date have also hailed from the USA, Germany and the Czech Republic. He recalled: “Thirteen years ago I started travelling with a street performance group called the Cyclown Circus. They were part of a big international network of travelling musicians playing trad jazz and swing, lots of them coming from New Orleans and Berlin. “In 2012 I bought my first boat with the dream of constantly having a band on board and sailing from port to port and festival to festival. We travelled all over the Mediterranean and the Atlantic stopping off in The Canaries, Madeira, Azores, Ireland, Belgium, France, Holland, Spain and Portugal. But the boat was quite small and more than three musicians on board quickly became uncomfortable. “Last October I was very fortunate to become the owner of a 42ft catamaran in Martinique which is now big enough to host a 6-7 piece band for longer periods. So far the first year of Honky Tonk Sail has kicked off with a strong start, we sailed and played many gigs in Martinique, Guadeloupe, St-Barthelemy, British Virgin Islands, New Orleans (we took an airplane) and we have just crossed the Atlantic Ocean to play several festivals in The Azores islands and then to Ireland for the Foyle Maritime Festival.” With gigs mainly outdoors, Beeckham is hoping for “blue skies and hot sunny days” during the Derry festival and he has no doubt the city known throughout the world as LegenDerry will create a lasting impression for its huge influx of international visitors including the jazz musicians. “There are lots of places we have been to that leave a great impression for different reasons, the Caribbean because boat life is so easy with the climate and you can still find remote and beautiful nature and The Azores, because people are so welcoming and the islands are a beautiful paradise. “Usually if people like our music and support our project, the place gains quite a high rating in our books and we really hope that Derry will enjoy our music too,” he added. Citing his main musical influences as King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Memphis Jug Band and Lead Belly, Beeckham gave a flavour of what festival-goers can expect on and off the water on the banks of the River Foyle. “We are an international band of buddies who will be playing century old music with fresh fire and energy. Our performances take place wherever there’s enough space for an audience (preferably bigger than the band, but not absolutely necessary)!” And in time-honoured Derry fashion, there will definitely be an opportunity for the public to join in the maritime melodies. “If there are musicians that share the same passion for this style of music, it will be very nice to meet them and for sure they can sit in on a song or two!” For the full Foyle Maritime Festival programme taking place from July 14th-22nd visit

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