‘Bringing it all back home’ was the tag on the Other Voices event at UCC on Thursday night, when Philip King brought his long-running series of gigs to his hometown for the first time. Spread across three venues on the campus, the event showcased an eclectic mix of acts on various rungs of the entertainment ladder.
Over at the Aula Maxima for the main concert, King spoke of his student days at the college and being inspired by likes of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and Seán Ó Ríordáin. The Glasheen native referred to the latter figure’s poem, Fill Arís (‘Return Again’), and its exhortation to make peace with one’s own tribe.
King has certainly done that with a spectacular evening of music at his alma mater, adding the Cork college to a range of host centres for the Other Voices since the event’s humble beginnings in Dingle back in 2001.
In fairness to King, as well as growing his multi-headed event, he’s long been banging a drum for the value of music and the arts to the wider society. Judging from the preliminary speeches on Thursday night, he’s found a kindred spirit in UCC president, Professor John O’Halloran.
The college recently launched an arts and culture plan to develop its creative assets, and Other Voices is likely one of the ‘new models of engagement’ the initiative refers to. Hopefully this rejuvenation will stand alongside other great eras in UCC’s cultural history, such as the concentration of literary figures teaching there in the 1970s, the championing of traditional music under Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, and the Downtown Kampus scene at the Arcadia in the early 1980s.
Thursday’s concerts were livestreamed around the world – they will be broadcast by RTÉ at a later date – and tapped into the Other Voices’ tradition of showing ‘what’s about happen’. Cian Ducrot – who’s already cracked the Top 30 in the UK – opened the show in the Aula Max with a set of emotion-drenched tunes. A bit like Bieber in ballad mode, albeit with a Cork accent. How bad, like.
He was followed by Derry artist Soak. Despite being 26, the singer-songwriter born as Bridie Monds-Watson already feels like a veteran in the Irish music world, having been nominated for a Mercury Prize in 2015 while still a teenager. They (Soak uses they/them pronouns) obviously hasn’t lost their youthful glow, and joked about going to the gym at their Cork hotel and being asked if they were definitely over the age of 16.
Flying the flag for Co Clare was Susan O’Neill, showing that her initial success last year alongside Mick Flannery was no fluke. A powerful set underlined how the Ennis singer has the voice, songs and stage presence to stride solo beyond that earlier acclaimed collaboration.
Revelation of the night was Biig Piig. Born in Cork and raised in Kerry, Jess Smyth’s Anglo-tinged twang and part-Spanish songs hint that plenty more places will probably claim her when her status as bona fide star is awarded. Murmured about by ‘those in the know’ over the past year or so, she already feels on the brink.
Her short set takes us on a journey through a gamut of club-influenced sounds, from louche funky grooves to frenetic drum’n’bass. An impressive pair of backing musicians, along with Piig’s own energetic performance, ensure this is electronica that works beyond the studio. (The multi-instrumentalist alone, expertly switching between guitar, bass, saxophone and keyboards would’ve been worth the admission fee. If there was an admission fee.) Expect to see Biig Piig on larger stages very soon.