By Maria Rolston & Eoghan O’Sullivan
For a glimpse of the vibrant state of the Irish music scene as we enter a new decade, St James’ Church in the heart of Dingle on the first night of Other Voices would be a good place to start.
From humble beginnings in 2002, when festival lynchpin Phillip King says they used to have to practically beg people to come in and watch the music to fill out the pews for the cameras, Other Voices has grown from late-night music television to a multimedia event spreading from Kerry to Wales to Berlin.
Ye Vagabonds swept the boards at the respective BBC and RTÉ folk awards this year, following therelease of their second album The Hare’s Lament.
They’re irresistible as they showcase the record, the Mac Gloinn brothers delving into harmonies with ease. They’re utterly charming too, deadpanning between songs, while turning various parts of their instruments, that their album of tunings is yet to be released. It’s woosome, dreamy, and the culmination of a great year for the pair.
As Ye Vagabonds are exemplars of the resurgence of folk this decade, the Murder Capital crash the altar on the wave of a hyped ‘rock revival’. At the end of their set, singer James McGovern puts his jacket back on, winks to the crowd and exits stage left, a bass flying behind him, flung by the most excitedly gurning bassist of the year. Crash, bang, wallop — the Murder Capital look like they’ve stormed St James’.
Amid critical acclaim for debut album When I have Fears, they know how to put on a show. They pull all the right moves and poses, make all the right noise, yet bar three singles, the driving ‘Feeling Fades’ in particular, they still feel like a work in progress — one whose YouTube history is filled with Joy Division live videos.
They get the crowd on their feet as McGovern stomps and la-la-la’s his way down the aisle.
Hip hop feels like the most exciting music being made in Ireland at the moment, and Jafaris is the next star in waiting. He enters the stage wearing a huge red coat — all eyes are locked on the Dubliner. He soars through tracks from his Stride album, ‘Found My Feet’ the highlight.
‘Invisible’ showcases his machine-gun rapping skills, as he underlines his status as one of the brightest new talents in the country.
All the St James’ Church gigs are livestreamed to bars around town. Over the weekend we also see sets from the likes of up-and-coming acts Arlo and Angie McMahon while Editors provide a nostalgia hit.
On the music trail that’s open to everybody over the three days, local boy (well, Killarney) Junior Brother is irresistible, his folk-leanings providing the perfect hangover cure — the LOL-worthy ‘Hungover at Mass’ the standout.
Anna-Mieke, who follows him on the IMRO Other Room in Paul Geaney’s Yard, could woo the most passive of bystander. Her voice feels like it’s soaring around An Daingean. DJ Annie Mac plays the Hillsgrove on Saturday night — nobody wants it to end. She’s a superstar who revels with the ravers.
Other Voices has had its ups and downs over the years but in 2019 and hand in hand with a groundswell of Irish talent, it feels rejuvenated and matters more than ever. See you back in Dingle in 12 months.
- Eoghan O’Sullivan
You could say that, having just turned 18, the Other Voices music festival came of age this year. Yet its five-year-old offspring, the multidisciplinary ‘Ireland’s Edge’ creative event, displayed a rich maturity and diversity belying its youth.
Bringing together an impressive array of speakers and performers from a variety of sectors either within or connected to Ireland, the two-day event sought to explore some of the most pertinent issues around culture, politics, climate, sustainability and technology.
And where better to do so than on the edge of a peninsula on the edge of Ireland and Europe, no less, where the mind can be expanded, stimulated and provoked by discourse?
This year’s theme was ‘Endings + Edges, Bonds + Borderlands’ and leading the charge for endings was Mayo harpist and TG4 Gradam Ceoil Musician of the Year, Laoise Kelly, who called for the Government to “take the harp off the tax envelope” because it disrespects the instrument, our national emblem, and creates a negative association with music in general.
There was a unified call also among panelists to improve accessibility to high quality arts and cultural experiences within local communities.
Various people, including Cork dramatist Timmy Creed — creator of hurling play Spliced, to which we were treated to a powerful live excerpt — all spoke passionately about their work bringing art to unusual or culturally deprived locations.
Michael Keegan-Dolan, artistic director of Kerry-based dance/ theatre group Teac Damsa, also revealed an exciting aspiration to bring his current production, Mám, to a small community hall in the west of the county.
Drawing on technology, the inimitable Crash Ensemble presented the first ever audience viewing of ‘Accel’, an incredible virtual reality experience bringing the viewer into the musician’s performance world.
Ireland’s Edge 2019? An enriching cultural experience that brought us to the edge of our thinking space.
- Maria Rolston