This year five music acts performed at Paul Geaney’s Yard, as part of the IMRO Other Room at Other Voices. Tony Clayton-Lea reports and reviews.
Over the past two years, Ronan Kealy, aka Junior Brother, has created a justifiable stir in the Irish music scene by virtue of a genuine sense of expression, humour, humility and an individuality that is second to none. If you’re familiar with his songs, then you’ll know he doesn’t choose the path well-trodden but rather a deeply singular one that isn’t the easiest to put your finger on. If you’re not familiar with the songs, then you might think (initially, anyway) that there’s something amiss. You would be wrong to think this, however, as Kealy fashions songs – in essence, folk tunes – in a way that makes perfect sense, especially when it comes to touchstones of the form.
He mixes tracks (including The Back Of Her) from his debut album, Pull The Right Rope, old favourites (Hungover At Mass), with new songs (such as No Country For Young Men, a potent socio-political protest tune) in a measured way. Everything meshes perfectly for a songwriter that needs to be heard with, perhaps, a recalibrated set of ears. Once you lock into his music, however, there’s no going back.
A Wicklow-born folk singer-songwriter with a background in pharmacology and physiology (and with a degree in Ethnomusicology, no less, Anne Mieke isn’t your usual sort of performer. Accompanied by musicians (including a drummer/percussionist and a guitarist/backing vocalist), Mieke cuts an impressive if subtle figure, performing songs from Idle Mind (her debut album of this year) that are of the durable kind, the ones that catch up on you, and the ones you’ll be humming along to when you least expect it. Unlike, say, Junior Brother, Mieke chooses to stick with form and tradition – be it contemporary folk or Old Time Appalachian – but it’s important to emphasise that she adds individuality, a steeliness, to the results.
And so it comes to pass that some people write real, actual songs. You know the kind: a beginning, a middle, an end, with lyrics that make sense, and a chorus that makes regular deposits to the memory bank. A .Smyth has been tipping away at the edges for some time now; he has been in a band or two, been around the houses, mown the lawn, painted the front door, and so on – the usual odd-job journey for a musician who wants to make a mark. Playing a batch of mostly new songs that will form the basis for a debut album (to be released next year), what is very noticeable about this guy is not just how he constructs songs but how he delivers them. There are neat Springsteen hints here and there – the wide-open spaces and the wise insights, the rock-Americana stylings – and there’s an accompanying understatement to the performing of them. The end result is a gig that brings much needed warmth to a bitterly cold afternoon. Good on him.
It isn’t very often that drummers are also vocalists. Backing singers, maybe, but not singing out front as they keep and make the beats that drive the songs. Welcome, then, to Waterford’s Alex Gough, a much-acclaimed producer/hip-hop musician who is claiming 2020 as the year wherein he breaks loose and fast. Judging by his show here, there is more than a reasonable chance of this happening: the man effortlessly blends quick fire, insightful hip-hop with adroitly executed samples and music that wouldn’t be out of place if your record collection included albums by Steely Dan, Weather Report, Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and of course contemporary hip-hop acts that have freely adapted music from these (and more) acts. Add to such influences is a lyrical talent for highlighting, among other things, the downsides of various social media platforms. Yep, we’ll be seeing and hearing much more from this guy next year, alright.
We have seen Thumper before and have no regrets. We have sweated our way through their songs and have experienced no long-term side effects. We have lived vicariously through their maelstrom of noise and still lead a fulfilling life in a suburban town with a wife, two kids, and a cat called Penny. This being said, Thumper are surely Ireland’s most vicious and dirty band. Audacious, too: a pair of drummers and a bona fide phalanx of guitarist/vocalist warriors. There is a marked degree of courage in the songs and performance, a willingness to throw caution to the four corners of the tent and not care where (or on whom) it lands and hurts. And there is also fun here, as evidenced by as neat a slice of audience manipulation as I’ve ever seen. In other words, we love the little tykes. Given half a chance, we reckon you will, too.
Is it really 18 years? As each year passes, we ask ourselves the same question, but seriously, where does the time go and why does it go so quickly? We’ll leave the answers to those existential questions to the thinkers and philosophers. We, as mere mortals, will just have to slap our foreheads, scratch our heads, and carry on as if the passing of time is the most natural thing in the world not to be concerned about.
But, yes, Other Voices is back for its 18th run, and while we dare not think about its 20th birthday just yet (that will make us feel way too old, of course) let’s doff the cap to the little festival that has not only lasted the course and looks set to continue into its dotage, but also to have grown from an exclusively Irish-based event into an internationally acclaimed piece of collaborative work. And all of this without losing its innate sense of purpose. A long-lasting festival, however, doesn’t stand still, and as each year has passed, so has Other Voices (“this little thing”, said head honcho, Philip King, on Friday night, in his introduction to the event at St James Church) subtly altered, shifted, added and enhanced. “It holds onto its heart and soul,” King continued, getting to the core of what makes Other Voices so different and so good.
This year is no different. Alongside the usual blessings of the acts performing in St James Church, the Music Trail (sponsored this year by Dingle Gin), Banter, Ireland’s Edge, and Music Trail West are very welcome additions. These are in non-music areas, and cover visual art, installations, animation, light shows, exhibitions, and writing. All of these events are Irish language-based and are funded by Ealaín na Gaeltachta, and point in various directions the way in which Other Voices can create a cultural awareness outside its usual frames of reference. Another excellent initiative is Our Coasts Our Voices, which celebrates Dingle Peninsula’s much acclaimed marine environment. With a mix of spoken word, hip-hop, workshops, and discussions, it also is a valuable strand to the innate cultural aesthetic of the festival. One can only guess at what other tricks Other Voices has up its voluminous sleeves for future events, both at home and outside Ireland.
As Philip King also noted in his intro, however, Other Voices would not exist if it wasn’t for the music, and so for the umpteenth time we are yet again in Dingle. And let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for the music, we probably wouldn’t be here, either, so it’s a mutually satisfactory situation. It is also an opportunity to just kick off our boots (metaphorically, that is – it’s freezing down here) and say hello to people we haven’t seen since the last time we were here. Music, relax. Relax, music. Repeat.
Today (Saturday) is when IMRO stakes its claim. Just in case you have been living in a monastery that has no access to broadband, IMRO has been a proud supporter of Other Voices for many years, with IMRO’s Other Room playing a pivotal role in the recognition of the worth of rising Irish songwriters and musicians. In a further blog post, which will be available to read on the IMRO website from tomorrow, I’ll be reviewing all of the IMRO Other Room acts that are performing at Paul Geaney’s Yard from 1pm: Junior Brother, Anna Mieke, A. Smyth, Alex Gough, and Thumper.
That’s a fine line-up and no mistake – from alt.folk and hip-hop to crafted songs and earplug rock, as well as quite a few points in-between. As they say in all the best blog posts – watch this space.
This week Other Voices are bringing you a jam packed show with music from the IMRO Other Room: I Have a Tribe, Kitt Philippa, Mango x Mathman, Columbia Mills and winner of the 2018 Open Call, Powpig.
The IMRO Other Room was set up as part of Other Voices, to provide a platform to rising musicians. In recent years they have moved from a closed set, to one filmed in front of a live audience. This show is presented by May Kay and filmed in An Chonair, Spa Road, Dingle.
The Open Call offers musicians from all over the country an opportunity to play at Other Voices and record their performance for inclusion in the TV show. Hundreds of applications are received every year. The Top 5 are put forward to a public vote in association with RTE 2FM. The artists voted ‘Listener’s Choice’ is invited to perform in front of a live audience in Dingle.
Previous artists who played the IMRO Other Room include Saint Sister, Villagers, James Vincent McMorrow, Spies, Talos and many more.
Last week’s episode with Villagers, Sam Fender and Maria Kelly is on the RTE Player here.
Photos: Tara Thomas
Has it really been 17 years since Other Voices first started its mission to take a stance on giving those on the periphery a piece of the action? Indeed, it is, and that provides (we’re shrewdly guessing) a number of the younger acts performing in Dingle across the weekend no small amount of serious thought. Some of them (and yes, we’re looking at you, PowPig) were barely out of Pampers when Other Voices first pitched its tent in the centre of Dingle. Many other acts and musicians were probably still in primary or secondary school. The former, it is fair to say, knew little of the transformative power of music. The latter crowd quite likely had some idea of what music could do – how it could change you as a person, how it could shape your thoughts about certain things, how it could make you feel.
It isn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination that to say that these musicians grew up with Other Voices; it was part of their cultural landscape in the same way that the Internet has been part of their lives since they were born or from a very young age. For them, there was no ‘before’ Other Voices – it has always been there. This was referenced in a recent article in the Irish Times’ Ticket magazine, when Other Voices Music Producer, Aoife Woodlock, told Una Mullally that young musicians are “citing Other Voices as an influence on them when they’re 13, 14, and they’re on the show in their 20s. It’s a nice nod, that you’re doing something right.”
Things change as years pass, however, and Other Voices is no different to the many other events that have gone through transformations of varying kinds. And yet, despite (or because of) such alterations, Other Voices has kept itself on its toes. Only the die-hards remember its early years, when it was virtually a secret, known only to those working in the media and the music industry. It had, as Una Mullally pointed out in her Irish Times article, “the curious intimacy of a festival that wasn’t a festival.”
Over the past five years, however, the notion that Other Voices is a secret shared only amongst clued-in media and music industry people is now nonsense. The extension of music acts performing only in the calm surroundings of St. James Church proved to be the first game-changer. For starters, the arrival of the IMRO Other Room provided a crucial impetus for more bands and musicians to head down to Dingle to tender their wares. After this, the gates were opened a bit more with the emergence of the Music Trail, the first year of which had just over a couple of handfuls of emerging music acts playing across the weekend. Now, the Music Trail is (controversial view alert) arguably more of a music fan magnet than the gigs in St James Church. If it isn’t (controversial view balanced with measured comment), then it is certainly a considerable contributing factor to the reason why more and more people have been travelling to Dingle each year.
But sure, lookit – here we are! Another year, another reason to have a blast of a weekend, catch up with your mates, have a meander around the town’s pubs and bump into people you haven’t seen in ages.
Today (Saturday) is when IMRO plays its part, of course. As you know by now, IMRO has been a supporter of Other Voices for many years, with IMRO’s Other Room an integral part of Other Voices that recognizes the talents of emerging Irish musicians and songwriters. In a second blog post, which will be online via the IMRO website from tomorrow, I’ll be reviewing all of the IMRO Other Room acts that are performing at An Chonair Bar from 1pm: I Have A Tribe, Mango & Mathman, Kitt Phillippa, Columbia Mills, and PowPig (who were definitely in playschool when Other Voices started!)
This year five music acts performed at An Chonair Bar, as part of the IMRO Other Room at Other Voices. Tony Clayton-Lea was there to review all of them.
I HAVE A TRIBE
Patrick O’Laoghaire has a knack – a very quiet knack, it must be said, but a knack nonetheless – to mine emotions from the most basic of instruments, notably his tranquil voice and minimalist keyboards. Under the umbrella title of I Have A Tribe he released his debut album, Beneath A Yellow Moon, two years ago, and has since aimed to maintain awareness in his music without any serious level of radio play. As any musician knows, life isn’t a bowl of cherries, but people like O’Laoghaire soldier on because he knows full well that what he does has worth. This is proven song after song during his set – there is a gentleness to his music that belies its strengths. Even a fragile version of Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black manages to pinpoint what is really special about this guy: his vulnerability is his armour, and it fits him, protects him, like a glove.
The winners of the 2FM Listeners Choice for the IMRO Other Room may have yet to master the art of working a room as they stand around after a soundcheck, waiting for certain things to happen, but that Oscar Wilde maxim of youth being wasted on the young is nonsense when it comes to PowPig. The Limerick group (whose Twitter bio amusingly states that they are ‘a 14-piece boy band from Sligo’) haven’t been around too long either in years (they heard the news of their slot on the Other Room line-up when they were at school) or as a music unit. Not to worry – as is the case these days with pesky kids they display a maturity and skill set far beyond their age. You could argue that for a group of their experience they are still a work in progress (aren’t we all?), but what seems indisputable here is the potential.
Recent winner of the NI Music Prize for Best Single (for Human), Belfast’s Kitt Philippa is the kind of singer-songwriter that casts an observational eye over all she sees. Over the past few years, she has developed in such a way that she has deservedly taken those several important steps up the ladder. Judging by her elegant performance in the IMRO Room it seems obvious that the way forward is just to keep on doing what she has done for the past while. Performing with just drums and piano – the latter played with virtuosic levels of skill, which is not surprising as she is classically trained, the former astutely understated – Philippa delivers a sequence of softly-softly tunes that perfectly complement the mid-afternoon vibe. She also looks the part, dressed down in black and white, and with her hair slicked back. It is an overall smart and sharp demeanour that is as compelling as the music is complete and calming.
Sometimes all your simple needs are taken care of by a band that knows how to solve complex problems. Columbia Mills are one such. They released their debut album, A Safe Distance To Watch, last year (“layered tunes that leave an indelible imprint”, noted the Irish Times review), and it hit the spots that so many other album didn’t by virtue of music that was influenced by classic post-punk greats as well as more contemporary acts. Influence, of course, is one thing, but they’re not worth a damn if you don’t know how to make something different out of them. This is where Columbia Mills come up with the goods. Despite a sound problem that is more apparent onstage than for those in the audience, the music sounds just fine. It is urgent, it is forceful, it is often eyes-closed beautiful.
MANGO & MATHMAN
‘Eyes-closed beautiful’ might not be the right way to describe Dublin hip hop duo Mango & Mathman, but if you’re looking for the kind of rhythms that shake the bones from tip to toe and back again, then you won’t go wrong with Karl Mangan and Adam Fogarty. The previous night in the same venue, the pair almost blew the roof off with a frantic performance that perfectly caught the mood of Dingle’s merry midnight ramblers. A Mango & Mathman late afternoon performance the next day may not have had the same effect, but there was still enough bouncy energy on display to make people forget the time and vibe them up for the evening ahead.
And then it was over. Another year of the IMRO Room at Other Voices comes to an end. It was exciting, original, emotional, heart warming, and enlightening. Next stop? 2019…
This year eight music acts performed at An Chonair Bar, as part of the IMRO Other Room at Other Voices. Tony Clayton-Lea reviewed all of them – here is the second segment of them.
If a stuffed room at 3.30 in the afternoon is anything to go by, then Le Boom had better get ready for a name change to Le Bang sometime very soon. Doctors might say that cold weather kills infections stone dead, but this Dublin electro-pop duo (Chris and Aimie) invest so much heat into An Chonair Bar that you feel a trip to the doctor’s surgery is on the cards. From the first bounce of the beat, Le Boom instil confidence – the duo may be newish tykes on the block (the pair started writing music together about 15 months ago), but they have the self-assurance of musicians much more experienced. Added to this is the sheer exhuberance of the music, which seems not only match fit and fit for purpose but also tailored for easy of physical access. The reception Le Boom receives is a huge, deserved result, but a thought lingers: if they can create such a ludicrously crowd-surging, floor-bouncing reaction mid-afternoon, then what on earth will late night gigs produce. Boom? Bang? Whatever way it goes down, the Chris & Aimie explosion starts here.
The difference between the music styles of Katies Laffan and Kim is so immense there’s no point doing anything as dumb as a cross reference check. As host/MC MayKay says in her introduction to this artist, “people have spent years trying to define her.” This is as good a pointer to Kim’s singular music as anything you care to dream up, and it’s fair to say that those people who have tried to come up with anything remotely close to a classification have failed miserably. It isn’t difficult to understand why. Kim, who occasionally supplements her chosen art by being a support musician in The Waterboys, walks a fine line between experimentations and arty excess, but whereas many attempting similar styles would stumble she instead walks as sure-footed as a mountain goat patrolling the Conor Pass. There is something beguiling as well as beautiful about her music – it starts slowly, and stays at a certain level throughout her short set. It may not have the crossover appeal of Le Boom or Katie Laffan, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that Kim is filtering her art through a system that accepts her difference and diversity.
Like Touts, the punk band that tore up An Chonair Bar during the Other Voices Music Trail, Glenn Rosborough is from Derry, yet the differences in their music is remarkable. With just a guitar and a handful of songs, he snagged the attention of a crowd who had just about come down from the high of Le Boom. Insightful songs (including Burn Blue, In The Moment) are performed with integrity and passion, his strong, wide-ranging voice as firm a calling card as you could hope for. The songs performed will be featured on his debut album, which is due for release next year, and for which we advise you to keep an ear out for.
Northern Ireland’s Joshua Burnside has been around for several years, but it was with this year’s Ephrata album that he crossed over from cult to well known. The album won him the Northern Ireland Music Prize 2017, an accolade that Burnside will surely place beside a few others before the end of 2018. Although he played a short set, there was much to admire in a batch of songs that had real emotional depth and weight. By the end, the feeling that you really wanted to hear more lingered for quite a while. For many music fans, this is as close to a good result as they could have wished for.
This year eight music acts performed at An Chonair Bar, as part of the IMRO Other Room at Other Voices. Tony Clayton-Lea reviewed all of them. It’s a tough job, but someone had to do it, etc.
Dublin’s Pillow Queens (Sarah, Pam, Cathy, and Rach) kickstarted the IMRO Other Room at Other Voices, and instantly captured if not conveyed the spirit of what it must have felt like when all-female bands such as The Raincoats, The Modettes, and The Slits blazed a trail back in the late ’70s. If that spirit encompassed pioneering sensibilities then it also ensured that women’s voices were heard. While Pillow Queens reference music that anyone with an avid interest in punk(ish) rock would be aware of (and while they have all the right influences and have read all the right books) they bring a solid sense of the times they are living in with captivating, brisk songs such as Rats, Wonderboys, and Olive.
It says something about the burgeoning popularity of Mayo singer-songwriter Maria Kelly that out of over 1,000 entries for this year’s Other Voices IMRO Open Call, she won the public vote. Clearly, the people have spoken. Positioning herself centre stage, Kelly may look the part of the archetypal female singer-songwriter, but there’s a steeliness to her performance that marks her out from so many others. Songs such as Far Below, Torn Into Two, and Dark Places showcase Kelly’s songwriting in a particularly bright light. Factor in a band that is as empathetic as it is able to create accomplished and delicate soundscapes, and you have a class act that seems well able to deliver not only on the faith of those who voted her in but also on the promise of her talent. We may too often fall into the trap of saying things like ‘one to keep an eye out for’, and so on, but seriously, Maria Kelly is precisely that.
Limerick’s Slow Riot (Niall Clancy, bass/vocals; Aaron Duff, guitar; Liam O’Connor, guitar; Paul Cosgrave, drums) has been dipping in and out of focus for the past few years. Taking post-punk bits of Interpol, pieces of The Editors and slivers of New Order, Slow Riot make a helluva noise – songs such as Lighthouse, Pink December, Trophy Wife, and Absent Dreams pack not only a singular punch but highlight a firm grasp on how good internal song dynamics can sound when they’re married to smart lyrical ideas, forceful stage presentation, cleverly deployed riffage and a specific sense of musicians that know their way around – as well as in and out of – a tune. Spoiler alert: we really like this band.
Katie Laffan has the type of natural instincts and inclinations for putting the fun into funky. Such an approach makes her stand out from everyone else on the IMRO Other Voices Room line-up (which is, not so incidentally, a microcosm of the diversity of creative musical talents in Ireland right now). Not for her the classic fragility of Maria Kelly, the post-punk intensity of Slow Riot, the folk aesthetics of Rosborough and Joshua Burnside, the electro-pop brilliance of Le Boom, or the punk/pop classicism of Pillow Queens. Rather, Laffan chooses to go a completely different route, taking stops along the way to namecheck the likes of Erykah Badu, Frank Sinatra and Britney, while her band agilely negotiate their way around the intricacies of funk, ska, hip-hop as well as a concise blend of R&B and jazz. It’s a mixture that settles into the system like warmth from a fire on a cold day, and frankly we are all the better for it.
This time last year, we noted that more and more people were somehow getting into the idea of driving down to Dingle for a weekend of music, cultural encounters, discussion, food, and checking out the unique character of the local bars. What we couldn’t have predicted was how much word has spread in the interim period. As I was taking stock of the world we live in, sitting beside the fire at Kennedy’s Bar, with a beverage in front of me, I overheard a few people talking close by. They had never been to Other Voices before, they said to each other; two of them said they had never even heard of it until earlier this year when acquaintances had told them about it. Even now, it seems, 16 years after it first started as a twinkle of an idea in the minds of Philip King, Tina O’Reilly, Nuala O’Connor and a few more, there is still work to be done in getting news of Other Voices – as well as its importance within the cultural fabric of the country – out to the population at large.
There’s no doubt that Other Voices has increased its public profile over the past four years, let alone 14. There was a time, said Molly King (daughter of Philip and Nuala), and now one of Other Voices’ highly effective development team, when she had to beg (or borrow) people passing by on Main Street to come into St James Church to fill the pews. Now? People would almost bite your hand off for a ticket.
Speaking of the church, here’s a question for you: has anyone witnessed a better and more powerful performance than that given by Seattle artist Perfume Genius on Friday night? We’ll answer that in a minute. Firstly, it takes some guts to stand out on a small stage and perform in front of strangers and a film crew, but UK singer Isaac Gracie and Irish singers Dermot Kennedy and Aine Cahill did just that. Short sets of around 25-30 minutes each focused on their respective good points, and if sometimes these young artists felt ever so slightly burdened by their influences they didn’t seem any the worse for it.
But, Holy Mother of God – Perfume Genius? Here was an artist who corralled his tortured soul into a space that fully enabled him to provide one of the best Other Voices performances I’ve seen since The National almost ripped the rivets off the church roof several years ago. Enacting some kind of kinetic, sinewy dance that no one would even want to match, Mike Hadreas drew delicate lines around an imperious collection of alternative pop songs that engaged with societal norms while ferociously challenging them. The cherry on top of this was the man’s voice, which connects any discernible gaps between Jonsi (of Sigur Ros), Anohni, and our own James Vincent McMorrow. The end result is, genuinely, like I’ve ever seen before.
Before and after the church were many Music Trail gigs, of which there are far too much of to list here, but which we fully recommend should be checked out for their diversity, range, and styles.
Today (Saturday) is when IMRO takes over. IMRO has been a supporter of Other Voices for many years, and IMRO’s Other Room is the section of Other Voices that acknowledges the talents of Irish musicians and songwriters. In blog posts for Sunday and Monday, I’ll be reviewing all of the IMRO Other Room acts – Pillow Queens, Maria Kelly, Slow Riot, Katie Laffan, Le Boom, Katie Kim, Rosborough, and Joshua Burnside – performing at An Chonair Bar.
Until then, relax into the weekend: pace yourself, have some lovely food, enjoy a drink (or two – it’s allowed!) and see you in front of the stage.
The end of the final day of Other Voices is always one of reflection and consideration: how did the weekend go? Was it any good, did you see and hear new things, or was it too familiar for you? What were the good points, the bad points, the in-between points, the need-to-fix-it points, the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it points?
Whatever you feel about the aforementioned queries, there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that once again Other Voices pulled the rabbits out of the hat. There were two most obvious reasons why. The first was the virtually all-Irish line-up in St. James Church. Not since the early years of the annual music festival has Other Voices so steered its course towards home. There are likely reasons for this, and we’re guessing it’s because of the event’s recent visit to Austin, Texas, where they staged an OV shindig that focused on US artists. A strategy evolved out of that meeting of musicians, and so instead of having – as per usual – an international line-up at the church interspersed with Irish acts, the opposite happened. No doubt we will see the two worlds combine in 2017, when the televised results of the two events on each side of the Atlantic will be broadcast. The second most obvious reason was the emergence of the Music Trail as a standalone reason to visit Dingle.
Now in its fourth year, the Music Trail started off as an adjunct to the church performances – a small series of gigs benefitting those people that couldn’t get into St James for love or money. And yet within a very short space of time, the Music Trail took on a life of its own – first doubling and then trebling the band count. This year, over 70 music acts performed all across Dingle (and even beyond, due to the inaugural Music Trail West, which took bus loads of music fans out beyond the town’s boundaries to venues in the likes of Ventry, Ballyferriter, and the Blasket Islands Centre), and there was hardly one pub or bar that wasn’t utilised in some way to provide a stage or a pulpit. This year, also, the gigs along the Music Trail were rammed to the rafters, which indicated one and one thing only: what was once the best kept secret in Ireland is a best kept secret no longer.
What happens next is anyone’s guess, but we can be reasonably sure of one thing, and that is – as far as we’re familiar with the laws of physics – Dingle can’t get any bigger. In other words, any fears we might have of the event – by virtue of its success – biting off more than it can chew is contained by the town’s literal size and infrastructure. There are only so many hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs with only so many rooms. It is important to remember that unlike, say, Sea Sessions in Bundoran in June, no one in their right mind is going to camp on Inch or Ventry beaches in December just because they want to be Other Voices. In other words, the numbers can’t rise too much because the town in the depths of winter can only receive so many visitors.
Of course, this is semi conjecture based on loose theory. The fact remains that Other Voices is still the best small music festival most of us have ever been to. It has aspects to it that we just don’t experience elsewhere: great contemporary restaurants, fantastic authentic pubs, an increasing number of cool coffee places, very welcoming people, a real sense of well known people walking its streets and frequenting its hostelries without fear of being shoehorned into a corner for a selfie – and the best concentrated level of music in the calendar year. Yes, it is a music fans paradise, but it is also a musician’s retreat. On the three nights I had dinner in three different restaurants, you had the likes of Imelda May, Glen Hansard, Rusangano Family, Kojey Radical, Lisa Hannigan, Annie Mac, and All Tvvins happily sitting down eating their meals without worrying about being bothered. That says a lot about the convivial nature of Dingle, and it says even more about the casual overseeing demeanour of Other Voices. Everyone is here to enjoy themselves as themselves, not to get caught up in the often silly intricacies of the fame game.
Any more thoughts? Just this one: thanks to Other Voices’ partners such as IMRO, we are able to enjoy the best small music festival in Ireland, and one of the best of its level in the world. That’s a fact, and I’ll arm wrestle anyone who disagrees with me. Oh, and one more thing – we’re already looking forward to next year’s IMRO Other Room. Prepare to be impressed – again.
Day Two at Eir Other Voices means a full afternoon at An Chonair Bar, where the IMRO Other Room plays host to six Irish music acts that are way past the Battle Of The Bands stages in their career, and where even the most casual of music lover can determine that what they’re listening to is of a definite quality.
Starting proceedings is Dublin indie/folk singer-songwriter Ailbhe Reddy, who was the winner of this year’s public vote for inclusion at IMRO Other Room. Reddy has been mooching around the fringes of something bigger than the usual level of acceptance for some time, and judging by her performance here she is clearly on the right path to gaining a wider audience. Songs such as Jackie, Distrust, Enough, and Disconnect highlight a knack for well-constructed tunes that are given weight by lyrics that seem much more personal than usual. Reddy’s stage presence is also firm and assured, and the overall impression is of an up-and-coming talent ready to run away with the prize.
Reddy was followed by Fangclub, and you really couldn’t get two more diverse and polar opposite acts (this is a good thing, by the way – variety being the spice of life, etc). Fangclub? Frankly, there are few enough really good rock bands around. By good, I mean the kind of bands that are well versed in song construction and dynamics. Too many musicians in too many bands make the mistake of hurriedly filling in the spaces between the notes, but not Fangclub. From North County Dublin, this three-piece avoids clutter like the plague. All of their songs might reference bands we have heard before (Foo Fighters and Nirvana spring to mind), but there’s something particularly brilliant and different going on here. Whether it’s the perfectly placed wiry guitar lick (so good it makes you smile each time you hear it) or the strategically situated monster-riff, Fangclub’s songs are terrific.
After a batch of rock music so hard hitting, you’re wondering what comes next. A new band? A new name? Moon Looks On is exactly these. Less than a year ago, they played their first gig as a band, and while for some they may have been unknown quantities, they won’t be for long – simply put, this was a revelatory performance. The easy outline for Moon Looks On is a bit of Van Morrison mixed with a bit of The Waterboys, stir, bring to boil, simmer, and serve. In other words, there’s a swagger to the way they walk, and there’s a structural looseness to the songs that’s always on the right side of looseness. Songs such as Gypsy Fires, Bobbing On A Wave and Come Lay With Me are underpinned by chiming keyboards, wayfaring fiddle runs, and the highly engaging front-of-house vocalist, Stephen Gormley.
Next on the line-up is Cry Monster Cry, a sibling band (Richie and Jamie Martin, take a bow) that know how to engage an audience – “come up closer to the stage, and make room for people in the back,” advised the singer, communicating effortlessly in a way that makes you think he was born to be a performer. Cry Monster Cry’s songs are the epitome of really good and likeable pop/folk (of which I’ll Be Here When The Morning Comes is a fine example) that rolls along like a well-oiled truck. What’s more than worthy about a band like this, however, is that there isn’t a pretentious bone to be found (believe me, I looked). We need bands like Cry Monster Cry, frankly, because they focus on the here and now, and of what matters, in a way that’s readily understandable. And besides, what’s not to like about a band that covers a Beach Boys song in December?
What’s also not to like about a band that has taken its name from a Pink Floyd song (in this case Echoes, from PF’s 1971 album, Meddle – although the lyric itself is associated with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner). One of the few bands around that add something to the intricate matrix that is post-rock, Overhead, The Albatross play to a totally stuffed IMRO Other Room. The extent of their popularity is such that the demographic is much broader than you might think, and so we have music fans of all ages shaking a limb to the band’s amazing fusion of multi-layered music that interlaces developing streams of electronics, fluid guitar and a skintight rhythm section. The result is widescreen, soaring melodies that make your head float. Truly remarkable.
Bringing it down a notch, and also bringing the six music act afternoon to close was Roisin O, a singer and songwriter that, possibly, has the highest profile of today’s batch. Sometimes, it’s better to take the softly-softly approach rather than by the get-’em-quickly method. A case in point is Roisin, who has balanced ambition with patience in a way that others should take notice of. That she has also more than successfully shrugged off her family connection (unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, you’ll know that her mother is acclaimed singer Mary Black, and her brother is Danny O’Reilly, of the equally praised Irish rock band, The Coronas) is more than admirable. The music, then, is as you would expect: really well formed pop/rock delivered with a sure touch and with suitably professional composure.