The Kerry way

Now in its 17th year, Other Voices is one of the most beloved events on the cul­tural cal­en­dar, and while the event it is by no means fi­nan­cially se­cure, its ethos runs deep and those be­hind it are de­ter­mined the show will go on

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - WORDS BY UNA MULLALLY

Other Voices con­tin­ues its mu­si­cal mis­sion

For 16 years, Other Voices has ex­isted as an anom­aly on the Ir­ish cul­tural land­scape, which is why it works. The event some­times con­tracts, but has ex­panded beyond gigs recorded for RTÉ tele­vi­sion in St James’s Church in Din­gle into a mul­ti­fac­eted in­ter­na­tional event, which takes over Din­gle on the first week­end in De­cem­ber, lur­ing mu­sic fans and artists lo­cal and far-flung.

In the early years, as the quiet qual­ity of the tele­vi­sion pro­gramme took hold, Other Voices dou­bled as an in­for­mal mu­sic in­dus­try Christ­mas party. Record la­bel folk, band man­age­ment and oth­ers came to Din­gle with their acts, and mu­sic jour­nal­ists were there to cover the event and pick up in­ter­views. The event’s rep­u­ta­tion as a con­vivial gather­ing de­void of a back stage or green room acted as a mag­net for mu­sic fans who wanted in on the cu­ri­ous in­ti­macy of a fes­ti­val that wasn’t a fes­ti­val. The po­ten­tial for more bands fea­tur­ing in the tele­vi­sion se­ries, cou­pled with the lim­i­ta­tions of the church, saw the emer­gence of the IMRO Other Room as a way of in­clud­ing more acts on the bill. The crowds kept com­ing and to serve them The Mu­sic Trail was born; free gigs dur­ing the day and evening in the var­i­ous pubs and rooms-turned-into-venues around the town. A few years ago, the town creaked un­der the pres­sures of an in­creas­ing crowd, and a late night of­fer­ing in the form of After Dark, a party in the lo­cal night­club, fil­tered the crowds away from the pubs and onto a dance­floor.

Me­dia cov­er­age of the event be­gan to cre­ate a type of Other Voices bingo; the spon­ta­neous ses­sions at Ben­ners Ho­tel, the cu­rios­ity of Foxy John’s pub dou­bling as a hard­ware shop, the west Kerry win­ter light, the hot ports and stuffed church pews, the magic of the place and the event which went ahead through snow or gale with oc­ca­sion­ally mas­sive mu­si­cal stars play­ing to 80 peo­ple. Other Voices be­gan to stretch out from Din­gle, to New York, Derry, Belfast, Lon­don, Ber­lin, Austin, and this year to Bal­lina.

Now, the event in Din­gle in­cludes the tele­vi­sion record­ing in church, which this year fea­tures Gruff Rhys, Ma­halia, Nakhane and oth­ers, and the IMRO Other Room (Ko­jaque, Mango x Math­man, and more), the Mu­sic Trail with 35 artists per­form­ing across 12 venues, Jim Car­roll’s Ban­ter se­ries of ac­tual fire­side con­ver­sa­tions in Foxy John’s (this year’s guests in­clude An­nie Mac, Ca­role Cad­wal­ladr, Tony Con­nelly and Maeve O’Rourke), the After Dark club night, and the Ire­land’s Edge con­fer­ence at the Skel­lig Ho­tel. To at­tend is to ex­pe­ri­ence a flow of mu­sic and con­ver­sa­tion in a spec­tac­u­larly beau­ti­ful place. But how can an en­tity that is in many ways the an­tithe­sis of the com­mod­i­fied and com­mer­cialised live mu­sic space be sus­tained?

The del­i­cacy and warmth with which Other Voices prides it­self on treat­ing artists was wrenched from its hygge in Oc­to­ber, when the mu­si­cian Hi­lary Woods tweeted, “Dear @OtherVoic­esLive, I wld hav Loved to hav played ur fes­ti­val ths year. I hav al­ways been a fan from afar. How­evr the Only of­fer I re­ceived from u was one t play The Other Room w No fee & No ex­penses cov­ered. Un­der­stand­ably I de­clined & wasn’t keen to fol­low up, thanks any­way.”

Of course, artists be­ing asked to play for free or for ex­po­sure is a raw nerve is­sue in the in­dus­try and on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit, and many peo­ple jumped on Woods’s tweets both in sup­port and ou­trage. “Other Voices’ rai­son d’être is the artist,” the or­gan­i­sa­tion re­sponded, out­lin­ing the fact that artists per­form­ing the Mu­sic Trail are of­fered ac­com­mo­da­tion, cater­ing and a small fee, and those play­ing the IMRO Other Room are also of­fered a paid gig on the Mu­sic Trail. So while the IMRO Other Room slot it­self may not have a fee, bun­dled to­gether, a fee and ex­penses are paid. A band play­ing a gig that is recorded for broad­cast on tele­vi­sion is

viewed as pro­mo­tional, some­thing that gen­er­ally does not come with the same kind of fee that a “nor­mal” gig would - as in a gig that isn’t recorded for TV and where the au­di­ence buys tick­ets to see the act play.

While mu­si­cians and those in­volved in the live mu­sic in­dus­try, and in mu­sic tele­vi­sion are aware of the mon­u­men­tal fi­nan­cial con­straints in­de­pen­dent en­ti­ties find them­selves un­der, au­di­ences can be less aware of the in­ten­sity of such strug­gles. Run­ning some­thing like Other Voices makes no one rich. The goal is to make it sus­tain­able. Other Voices may be one of the most beloved events on the cul­tural cal­en­dar, but you can’t lodge vibe in the bank, and as an event it is by no means se­cure. Mak­ing it hap­pen is a scram­ble for fund­ing, with sup­port com­ing from the De­part­ment of Cul­ture, Her­itage and the Gaeltacht, RTÉ, and other sources in var­i­ous amounts. When Eir was taken over ear­lier this year, Other Voices lost its ti­tle spon­sor, a big blow. The re­al­ity of these fi­nan­cial con­straints is ev­i­dent this year, as there will be two, not three, nights of mu­sic in the Church, and a small reg­is­tra­tion fee (€30,€10a day) is be­ing asked of those at­tend­ing four Mu­sic Trail venues.

Work­ing to­gether

While the au­di­ence mem­bers are won­der­ing where to have a Guin­ness next, the team be­hind Other Voices is hold­ing the thing to­gether. Tina Mo­ran is the pro­ducer. “There’s a pas­sion about it. Ev­ery­one on the team be­lieves in it. If you didn’t, you might be will­ing to give up ear­lier, but we don’t,” she says, “I of­ten say we’re a com­mit­tee and a col­lec­tive. It’s not a hi­er­ar­chy. We all work to­gether. Some­times that mean things are slow, and there are lots of con­fer­ence calls. Molly [King, head of de­vel­op­ment] com­ing on board brings a fresh per­spec­tive and dif­fer­ent ideas such as de­vel­op­ing our mer­chan­dise. After Dark comes from Molly. Anna Job does all of our so­cial me­dia, it’s a busy role and has re­ally pro­gressed. Every­body on the team has their strengths. There are a huge amount of women on the team, in­clud­ing across pro­duc­tion man­agers we’ve worked with. Every­body is vi­tal, every­body is im­por­tant.”

The front of house is Philip King, a mu­si­cian, film­maker, broad­caster, and re­lent­lessly quotable and quot­ing lover of art. He is some­one who can say “We’re in the feel­ings area of things” when asked to de­scribe the event, and for that state­ment to be authen­tic and meant. “It’s a model that has de­vel­oped in a world that is be­com­ing a lit­tle more aug­mented, vir­tual, robotic,” King says, “the hu­man en­gage­ment that hap­pens at events like Other Voices in terms of dis­course, ex­change, plat­form­ing and en­cour­ag­ing tal­ent is hugely im­por­tant.” The tac­til­ity of ex­pe­ri­ence - or there be­ing “no met­ric for price­less”, as King puts it - has come full cir­cle in many ways. What could once be con­strued as old fash­ioned now car­ries a de­sir­able con­tem­po­rary value.

An­other facet to Other Voices is Ire­land’s Edge, a con­fer­ence run by Nuala O’Con­nor, who is also King’s part­ner. With the mu­si­cal as­pect of Other Voices, qual­ity is at its core, but also the en­ergy that col­lid­ing gen­res emits, risk, un­knowns about to be knowns, and es­tab­lished artists, are strung, Calder-mo­bile-like, cre­at­ing an equi­lib­rium of flow. Ire­land’s Edge draws from a sim­i­lar philo­soph­i­cal well, “Muire­ann likes to de­scribe it as a cul­tural con­ver­sa­tion that grew out of ac­tual con­ver­sa­tions when peo­ple came from Din­gle for Other Voices,” O’Con­nor says, of her co-or­gan­iser Muire­ann Kel­li­her, “So it’s Other Voices in an­other way. It’s the mix of peo­ple who are nor­mally not to­gether in one room; pro­fes­sional pro­file, age pro­file, class pro­file, sta­tus pro­file, what­ever, mix­ing to­gether. If I could break that con­fer­ence down, my feel­ing is that the peo­ple on the floor of that con­fer­ence, the peo­ple who come, could equally be on the stage… I would like to break down con­fer­ence fare as much as I can and get out of that par­a­digm of ‘talks from ex­perts about things’.”

The church, O’Con­nor says, “is like the Tardis at this stage. I don’t know how Tina - and she is the lo­gis­ti­cal queen - gets the loaves and fishes to spread ever more thinly.” Tina is Tina Mo­ran, Other Voices’ pro­ducer. “Part of what is never seen as part of the fes­ti­val - as well as nur­tur­ing the artists and giv­ing them a good ex­pe­ri­ence - is also on the crew­ing front, bring­ing in trainees, and do­ing the best to pro­vide an ex­pe­ri­ence for them,” Mo­ran says, “We’ve had quite a few peo­ple who have come to us on work ex­pe­ri­ence and ended up work­ing with us over the years.” Does she ever worry that one year will be the year it may not hap­pen? “Yeah, I do, of­ten. I sup­pose we ar­gue back and forth about it - can we press the ‘go’ but­ton on this and take the risk again? I don’t think we’re un­usual in that, ev­ery arts or­gan­i­sa­tion is in the same boat.”

King and O’Con­nor’s triplets, Molly, Juno, and Ellen, have at one stage all worked on the show. Molly King is head of de­vel­op­ment. The re­spon­sive na­ture of Other Voices is some­thing Molly King has lived with for a good deal of her life, “The peo­ple who have re­ally re­sponded to it and the peo­ple who have been af­fected by it have in­formed changes as much as any­thing else,” she says. “I do find it hard to be ob­jec­tive about it as a reg­u­lar au­di­ence mem­ber. I guess I per­ceive it on a num­ber of lev­els. In my in­cred­i­bly bi­ased opin­ion, peo­ple re­spond to OV be­cause we try to go about what we do in a gen­uine, em­pa­thetic way. There is a huge amount of emo­tional in­vest­ment in cre­at­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence that will sit with them. So whether that’s The Na­tional com­ing off a big tour and play­ing to 80 peo­ple, or whether it’s who­ever has come down from Dublin and wants to see some shows, we try to cre­ate an at­mos­phere where peo­ple can see all types of venues in in­ti­mate set­tings with very lit­tle red tape.”

Aoife Wood­lock, the mu­sic pro­ducer of Other Voices, is a woman who has and will fly any­where and lit­er­ally climb over walls and un­der fences at other fes­ti­vals to get to acts she wants in Din­gle. The block­buster acts that have come to Din­gle; The Na­tional, Amy Wine­house, The xx, and so on, are caught on the for­ward mo­tion of her will. “In to­tal­ity you have to look at how it’s grown and the ac­tiv­ity is amaz­ing that’s down there now. How do you ex­plain to some­body that a cou­ple of thou­sand peo­ple come and watch what’s go­ing on in the Church on a screen some­where else?” Wood­lock says, re­fer­ring to how the gigs in the Church are live-streamed on screens in pubs around the town. “Un­less you’re part of it, you can’t fathom why some­body would do that. Be­tween the con­fer­ence and Ban­ter and the Trail, the epi­cen­tre of how it all stated and while they’re all there does come back to the Church. It be­gan there, it’s grown there, the hype and the ex­cite­ment is ‘did you see Lit­tle Simz in the Church? I saw Hozier in the Church.’ The Church is the TV show. I have to keep my eye on the prize while ac­knowl­edg­ing there’s a much big­ger thing go­ing on out­side the Church door. The au­di­ence have grown that.” Now Wood­lock is see­ing the im­pact of Other Voices on a new gen­er­a­tion of artists. “The fact that they’re 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. Peo­ple say it’s a show for mu­si­cians - well, great!”

And so, the show goes on. “Some­one asked Nuala many years ago ‘what do you do?’,” Philip King says, “and she said ‘We cel­e­brate what’s about to hap­pen and we cap­ture what’s about to dis­ap­pear’. The sound­track of Ire­land from 2001 to 2018 - the crash in the mid­dle of it all, the changes in tech­nol­ogy, the two ref­er­enda - the emo­tional re­sponse to that is to be found in songs and tunes and ex­pres­sions of artists who are part and par­cel of that life… I go back to Moya Can­non’s poem, ‘Car­ry­ing the Songs’: ‘it was al­way those with lit­tle else to carry / who car­ried the songs.”

Other Voices Din­gle 2018 runs from Novem­ber 30th-De­cem­ber2nd.Seeother­voices.ie

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: JAMES GOULDEN; ERIC LUKE; CYRIL BYRNE

Far left: Anna Calvi on stage in St James’s Church in Din­gle. Left and be­low: Philip King. di­rec­tor Other Voices and co-founder of the Ire­land’s Edge con­fer­ence, and mu­sic pro­ducer Aoife Wood­lock.

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