Lest we forget, Glen Hansard presented the inaugural series of Other Voices during the great Irish singer-songwriter boom of 2003. An Oscar statuette and a lot of water under the bridge later, Hansard is back in the cosy confines of St John's Church. It nearly didn't happen; it took the Frames front man and solo artist nine and half hours to reach Dingle, courtesy of the inclement weather and a breakdown in Portlaoise.
Hansard culls his set primarily from this year's second solo album, Didn't He Ramble. The title could equally apply to Hansard's rambling introductions, as a piano-based composition called McCormack's Wall is prefaced by a classic yarn about an endless night out with Cavan songstress Lisa O'Neill. Seemingly, our hero and heroine ended up singing to the wall of Count John McCormack's birthplace deep in the heart of rural nowhere.
Hansard rounds off a short but extremely sweet set with Her Mercy from his current album; a stirring song inspired by I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons. When it comes to nailing the unique spirit of Other Voices, its original presenter shows exactly how it's done. Eamon Sweeney
Glen Hansard’s rambling introductions seem monosyllabic compared to Richard Hawley’s between-song diversions, which eat into his two-hander set. Hawley is at the end of a long tour, and has certainly enjoyed his time in Dingle, but when he locks it in, his full, sonorous voice and rich guitar playing hum and crackle with charm and energy.
A brilliant introductory story about Banksy ringing his house to ask to use his song – he thought the artist was a local pub drummer and told him where to go – leads into a gorgeous Tonight the Streets are Ours. Similarly The Sea Calls is haunting and eerie in a church being hounded by the last big bluster of Storm Desmond.
Any energy though is dissipated by lengthy tunings. "I once saw Martin Carthy tune up for an hour. He said it was because he cared," says Hawley. It's a great quip but it's a set that needs music more than humour. Laurence Mackin
Bleeding Heart Pigeons
The three-piece from Limerick show their nerves with a banter-free and slightly shy set, but the music does most of the chatter. There's something deeply compelling about their avant-garde, proggy approach, with woozy synths underpinning dexterous guitar playing. Lyrically, Bleeding Heart Pigeons tend to veer into a darkly emotional space, sometimes almost nihilistic, which works well when their collective sound gathers towards something resembling a wall. Playing songs from a debut album out early next year, it's interesting to imagine where these guys fit in; there's a captivating uniqueness to them, and on stage they neglect to fall into any of the obvious contemporary indie or rocky traps. This is a band that offers a refreshing distinctive sound, with a special shout out going to some beautifully considered drumming. Their slightly rabbit-in-the-headlights approach is unwarranted, given that they're creating something far more advanced than most of their peers. Una Mullally
Star alert. It’s a few songs in before the audience takes an audible WTF gasp after this young woman from Leicester makes the casual announcement that she turned 17 this year. 17. Mahalia is playing with her new three-piece band for the first time, but this gig is all her.
Silly Girl riffs on cyber bulling and peer pressure, 17 riffs on, well you know that already. One imagines there is a gleeful young audience waiting to be tapped by this performer, who speaks from the heart about crushes and youthful tangles. This is sweet stuff that doesn't enter saccharine territory. And it is so wonderfully, brilliantly delivered. As the final note wraps and the Church erupts, this is a town in love with Mahalia. Her mother enthusiastically applauds from the balcony, and our hearts swell in unison. UM
A band that has been on the go for several decades know how to play together, but what is more impressive about Low is how they manage invention within the constraints they construct. There are no instrument changes or stacks of guitars in the wings; this is expert minimalism at work. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker's exchange of vocal harmonies cuts a brilliant line through the storm still raging outside, giving up the last of its strength before it blows over. You'd be hard pressed to find a drummer who can evoke so much with so little. And it's that moodiness that works in the Church, a straight to the point set that demonstrates craft and musical integrity. When Sparkhawk thanks Other Voices for the invitation to "this city", there's a ripple of giggles. But like Dingle during Other Voices, Low's music can feel very grand when it's fashioned from something so neat.UM