The Other Voices Digest
What went down in Dingle town.
I’ve been heading to Dingle in December for Other Voices for ten years. A decade ago, Other Voices for me was a relatively quiet and chilled winter break that acted as a chance to take some music in, and catch up with colleagues in the music industry and journalism who were also down there for work. The Benners afterparties were still occasionally riotous, but there was a sense of smallness and isolation about the whole thing. Other Voices is a different beast now, expanding throughout the town, but it still retains the most repeated word when it comes to O.V.: “magical”.
So, here are some things that we learned in 2015.
As Other Voices has expanded elsewhere – Derry, London, New York, Electric Picnic and Latitude – its basecamp of Dingle has grown. The number of newbies heading to Dingle is large. Other Voices now seems to also be a touchstone for gangs of pals having a festive get together, a mark in the diary of a festival season that is no longer confined to the summer months. The key word here is ‘festival’. Since the Music Trail – a series of free gigs around the town – started, Other Voices moved from being the recording of a music television programme to something with far bigger scope. For most people heading down, getting into St. James’ Church isn’t a goer given how precious tickets are – a small number, all free, and divvied up through competitions. Instead, the purpose is to catch gigs on the Music Trail in town, maybe check out some of the Church gigs streamed on TVs in pubs, go on a spin around Slea Head, and give the Guinness taps a good workout in some of the best pubs in the country. With universally excellent reviews, it’s obvious that many more people want to experience the magic in Dingle in December.
The festival feeling has increased from last year too. This year, there was a building beside Adams pub where you checked in and entered a ticket competition and got a free Other Voices tote bag and programme. Gigs on the Music Trail were packed. The Other Room recordings were accessible to the public, in a marquee at the back of An Chonair. An Ireland’s Edge conference happened in the Skellig Hotel on Friday. A redesign brought Other Voices visually up to date too.
The capacity in Dingle is always going to be limited. There’s only so much accommodation available for people who aren’t locals to be there. Other Voices isn’t like any other festival. The setting, the curation, the venues, the vibe, the fact that it’s free – all of these things are enticing more curious music fans to the place.
Benners Hotel, the informal HQ of the festival, was always the place people headed to after the shows in the Church wrapped. Last year, and even more so this year, it was uncomfortably jammed with everyone having the same idea. Instead of squeezing myself in there, I was happier to head to a quieter venue. Dingle has plenty of pubs, but they’re also small places, and in the evening and during the Music Trail gigs, many were overflowing.
I don’t know if a sense of pilgrimage is a “metric” that you can measure amongst music fans, but it’s one that arises again and again. When you go to Glastonbury, one of the great things about the festival is everyone wants to be there. The vast majority of people who try to get tickets don’t, so that feeling of people making it to the festival from around the world is a really special one. At Airwaves in November, the airport queues in Dublin reminded me of the Glasto queue, but with more woolen clothing. Similarly, Other Voices is a pilgrimage if you’re not local. Storm Desmond added to this feeling, and all weekend people swapped stories about aborted plane landings and car journeys through torrential rain and frightening wind. When somewhere is hard to get to, it makes it that bit more special.
Seeking out new experiences
Other Voices is a unique festival, and at a time when so many festivals-in-a-field have a cookie-cutter vibe, people are always going to want to seek out new experiences. Other Voices is for the seasoned music fan, who knows the map of Electric Picnic and Body & Soul like the back of their hand, and wants to check out something difference. The time of year it falls on also adds to that experience. It simply isn’t like any other music event anywhere else. And that’s worth checking out.
What it all boils down to is a love for quality music. I was bowled over by Little Simz in the Church on Friday. Her poise, strength, vulnerability, flow, and personality were all amazing. And it meant something to her, as her tears on stage could attest. As for other acts…
Richard Hawley did himself no favours by propping up a seat in the Church seemingly worse for wear. While between-song banter can be lovely, his rambling was awkward, and more than a few audience members came out of the gig rolling their eyes.
Mahalia was a revelation. She is a star in the making, and you can already imagine the huge number of young teens who will line up to see her. At 17, she’s incredibly together and accomplished.
Bleeding Heart Pigeons looked nervous, but their dark and proggy tunes were captivating.
Hare Squead are known for their energy, and even in a stripped down format on Friday night at An Chonair, they still managed to fizzle and pop.
Low were just brilliant. A lesson in doing so much with so little.
Lapsley will be a big balladeer next year. The tone and control of her voice is stunning, and she’s got the songs behind her as well.
Ailbhe Reddy was a great low-key discovery for me this year. Check out here tunes here.
Jim Carroll’s Banter has been a highlight of Other Voices for me since Jim set up shop in Foxy John’s. This year was no exception. I was delighted to have a Banter chat with Jim, but I really enjoyed Nadine O’Regan’s arts review conversation, and Katie Holly and Conor Horgan talking about The Queen of Ireland, not to mention Philip King singing with Donal Lunny. Brilliant stuff. An essential element of the festival, in fact.
The quiet time
What’s obviously beautiful about this festival is where it’s set. I never get tired of Dingle. I never get bored of the ridiculously beautiful scenery around Slea Head. I never get apathetic about the stillness of sitting in Dick Macks alone with the crossword on Thursday afternoon. The friendliness and courtesy shown by locals is fantastic. The food in Doyles is excellent. The afternoon chowders and chats in Benners is just lovely. For me O.V. has always been a place of contemplation and reflection. It might be a little harder to get those quiet moments with a bigger crowd and loads more going on, but it’s still has that serenity to it.
On Friday at the Ireland’s Edge conference, there was an announcement that Other Voices’ latest expansion will be to Austin. No better town to accommodate a festival that loves music, and places music at its core. I’m really excited to see what happens with Other Voices in Austin next summer. There have always been concerns about whether O.V. can replicate the magic it creates in Dingle elsewhere. It’s proven that it can. I’ve been at O.V. in Derry and Electric Picnic, and there’s still that twinkly magic going on, a little bit secret, a lot of friendliness, accessible to everyone as long as you love music. We’re lucky to have it.
We also recorded The Women’s Podcast on a windy Saturday morning in Benners Hotel with some great guests and a mother-daughter-music theme. You can check that out on Monday here and on iTunes.