Notes from Other Voices Derry
What we learned from the Dingle festival’s journey north again.
I missed the Derry outpost of Other Voices last year, but it was back last weekend, bringing 60 acts to the city for the Music Trail, a bunch of gigs to the Glassworks for the main event, Banter sessions, and a mini instalment of the music festival myself and my mate Cillian run, OneTwoOneTwo.
Here are some things I learned from the weekend.
1. The merging of poetry and music is something that has come up for a couple of acts on the bill, namely Colm Mac Con Iomaire and The Gloaming. I previously wrote about The Gloaming’s musical adaptation of Saoirse, and poetry is central to a lot of their work. For Mac Con Iomaire too, being commissioned to put music to a Theo Dorgan poem, Sappho’s Daughter, created one of his most beautiful pieces of music. Also noteworthy is the filmmaker Conor Masterson’s jumping off point for creating ‘In The Deep Shade’, a beautiful documentary on The Frames. Masterson had filmed a man reciting poetry, and The Frames cited it as the vibe they’d like for the doc.
2. Rejecting the obvious is something to bear in mind, according to Masterson who spoke to Jim Carroll for a Banter session in The Cottage. In making a film about a band, Masterson utterly rejected the obvious, and ended up with a beautiful, artistic portrait of creative people. “It’s good to reject the obvious, it’s good to reject the simple,” he said, “Any creative thing tickles you and allows you to finish the sentence… it’s not [about] spelling it out.”
3. Snarl when you’re winning. I found myself rolling my eyes at The Amazing Snakeheads who stepped on the Glassworks stage all snarls and shirts and aggressive intensity. Some people loved it, with their set even causing sleep deprivation. It completely rubbed me up the wrong way. The Domino band have a nice marketable backstory; working-class Glasgow lads who make uncompromising noise.. Maybe they are totally authentic, but I couldn’t help but – perhaps unfairly – roll my eyes at such “menace”
4. By-numbers guitar music isn’t particularly inspiring. Of course, you don’t have to travel to Derry to realise that, but I found Foy Vance (who gave a great performance), Walking On Cars (who sometimes veer towards Matchbox 20 territory), Little Matador (who play well but just make too many QOTSA references for me) and The Bohicas all too formulaic. They don’t reject the obvious, they don’t reject the simple. Sometimes that can work to great effect. Sometimes it can just make you think you’ve seen it all before and yearn for something different.
5. An interview “that bad” actually becomes good, said Guardian music editor Michael Hann at Banter when recounting an awful post-screening Q&A he once did with Ginger Baker. The story was hilarious, and he’s right about crappy interviews, sometimes they’re so bad, you can actually get something far more entertaining out of them than you would have.
6. Other Voices is growing, from Dingle to Derry and will return to London in some form this year. They aren’t just hopping mindlessly from city to city though. There is some serious longterm planning going on. After a decade in Dingle with a sojourn in New York, Other Voices’ brand is getting bigger, more prestigious, and attracting an increasing amount of international interest. The physical heart still resides in west Kerry, though.
7. The simple idea is the good idea said Martin Hayes at Banter in the Nerve Centre before a screening of The Gloaming documentary ‘Moment To Moment’. He’s dead right. He’s also right about his view on artistic group work: “collaboration requires checking in your ego.” Hayes also touched on the doors to traditional music being opened again. The Gloaming’s performance on Sunday night (after a little bit of a rough start) was simply phenomenal. The Gloaming are not just opening doors, but hearts, minds, souls, to a treasure trove of traditional music and simply wonderful playing that many Irish music fans haven’t really been introduced to up until now. And as Philip King says, it’s ours. That makes it extra special.
8. East India Youth is amazing. His psychedelic kitchen sink performance at the Glassworks on Sunday challenged expectations, surprised, enlightened, intrigued, astounded and excited, hopping from sound to sound, phase to phrase with shear unbridled enthusiasm.
9. It’s about friendship, Martin Hayes said. The ability for musicians to work together and be honest with each other and not dance around issues is about friendship. This was echoed in The Frames documentary.
10. Female singer-songwriters were plentiful on the Music Trail, signifying a boom of sorts.