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Poets, playwrights and post-punk heroes in the City of Culture

On the banks of the River Foyle, in what was once an old army barracks, Glenn Rosborough is singing.

Just a voice and a guitar. It's early evening, dark and cold, and we're in a huge silver tent. The 27-year-old singer with local band Intermission is the first to play here. In the next 12 months many, many more will be following in his songlines in an attempt to build connections in a country where divisions have once again come to the fore in recent weeks.

But this is not Belfast. This is Derry-Londonderry (delete as you feel appropriate). A different city and one that in 2013 is not looking backwards but forwards. For this year the city is the UK City of Culture and so will play host to musicians, artists, film-makers, writers and dancers. And maybe the odd local band too.

"Whenever I was 14, 15 there wasn't much music-wise for us," Rosborough tells me after he's christened the venue that when we visit has yet to be named.

"Then come around 18, 19, it started to get a live band feel and once the town got a lot safer, once people's mindset changed, it really opened the door for a lot of artistic things to shine through and most of all to get the people to see the artistic things that are happening. And I think the city of culture reflects the progress we've made every year since. More and more you find people coming to Derry from bigger towns. A lot of people are coming from Belfast just because the music scene and the culture as a whole is starting to really pick up here."

If ever there's a time for the rest of the world to discover that culture, this is it. And there is a lot to discover. Not least the city's rich cultural heritage. Derry has given the world poets, playwrights and post-punk heroes. All feature in one way or another over the next year. The hugely lauded theatre company Field Day, founded by playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea, returns with a world premiere of Oedipus, a new play by Sam Shepard. Friel, who was educated in the city, will also be the subject of a major retrospective through the year. Another local boy Seamus Heaney will open a poetry festival in September and the Undertones are the subject of a new musical drama called, inevitably, Teenage Kicks in November. Northern Ireland writer Colin Bateman has written the play. The music comes readymade, of course.

Another local talent, the artist Willie Doherty, is the subject of a major retrospective in the city in October, but it's the arrival of the Turner Prize in the same month that's likely to catch the eye. In 2015 it will be coming to Glasgow but this year it will be found on the banks of the Foyle in one of the many venues that have replaced the army barracks.

Derry can look forward to many notable visitors this year; from the Royal Ballet at the end of March and the RSC in July, to the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy in October. Primal Scream play in the city on March 19, accompanied by a DJ set from David Holmes. And even Chester teen soap Hollyoaks will be making a visit to the city in 2013.

The City of Culture programme is an avenue for the city to talk to itself and embrace both its Catholic majority and Protestant minority. And so it seeks to embrace the 12th of July parades and the Feis Dhoire Cholmcille in April, which sees children and teenagers competing in a range of traditional events including Irish dancing and poetry recitals. But it's also an attempt to reach out to the world and bring it to Northern Ireland. The Conquest of Happiness in May sees artists from Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia explore the idea of happiness through dance, drama and music under the tutelage of director Haris Pasovic, while on March 9 the Hofesh Shechter dance company presents Political Mother: Derry-Londonderry Uncut.

If you were to single out one event then it might possibly be The Return of Comcille between June 7 and June 9, a spectacle in the city which is the result of a collaboration between Walk the Plank and a certain Frank Cottrell Boyce, the man who wrote the Olympic opening ceremony for Danny Boyle.

And who knows. If you visit maybe you'll catch one of the local bands who are carrying on the city's long musical tradition. There's a lot of good young bands coming through," says Rosborough back at Ebrington. "There are three or four good venues that have their own vibe and you can pick and choose what kind of gig you want. And they still have that small sweaty rock feel about them. Once people start realising you can play in your hometown and someone not from here can hear you I think that makes people step up their game a wee bit."

That sounds like an invitation. See you there?

Sons & Daughters, The Opening Concert featuring The Undertones, Nadine Coyle, Gary Lightbody and Johnny McDaid of Snow Patrol, Neil Hannon, Paul Brady and many others is on January 20 at Ebrington Pavilion. Visit www.cityofculture2013.com/ for more details.

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