For eleven years now the 200-year-old Church of St. James in Dingle has hosted Other Voices. The church, which holds around 80 lucky souls, has seen some great performances over the years. From the time a twenty-two year-old Amy Winehouse unleashed that voice of hers on a room full of unsuspecting onlookers, to The National’s breath-taking performance in 2010, the show has become an institution in Irish music circles. The brainchild of Philip King, Other Voices will expand beyond the rolling hills of Dingle towards Derry early next year before making its final stop in London, completing a triumvirate of shows. But this weekend it’s all about Other Voices’ spiritual home right here in Dingle.
Dublin band Kodaline were the first act to play on Saturday night. They have just been named by MTV as one of ten bands who they think will make a big impact on music in 2013 and, judging by their beautiful harmonies, MTV aren’t wrong in their prediction. The band’s set was dampened slightly by a few technical errors, but the lovely James McMorrow-esque ‘All I Want’ deftly exhibited their promise before closing with a cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home’.
There’s little doubt that Cavan youngsters The Strypes have made one of the biggest impacts of any new Irish bands in 2012 and their appearance on the Other Voices stage is just another bullet point on their list of achievements this year. Heralded by Paul Weller, NME, The Guardian, Mojo (as well as entertainment.ie of course), the foursome began their set with two original compositions before closing with three covers but it was the first two – ‘Blue Collar Jane’ and ‘She’s So Fine’ – which left the biggest impression. The musicianship displayed by the rhythm & blues-loving teenagers is, quite frankly, frightening and makes you ponder if these lads visited the same crossroads that Robert Johnson did all those years ago when, as legend has it, he sold his soul in exchange for the gift of music.
The Strypes' Josh McClory
After a twenty minute interlude it was time for 16-year-old northerner Bridie Monds-Watson, who performs under the moniker SOAK. Cutting an awkward charm on stage, SOAK was as impressed at the set up in St. James’ Church as the rest of us; her teenage excitement shining through. “Let’s be honest, this is pretty cool”, she said in one of her myriad musings on stage.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect from Owen Pallet. The Canadian violinist hasn’t released a record since 2010’s excellent Heartland (his next release, In Conflict, is due out early next year) so he performed a set full of new material – and it blew us away. Pallet has performed for years a solo musician, with his violin and loop pedal (and other electronic wizardry) more than enough of a complete sonic experience for anyone to witness but in the last year he has added a drummer and a guitarist/keyboardist to the mix and it has certainly increased the verve of his music. Because of the fact that Pallet’s music is so unusual – “rhythmically a nightmare”, was how he put it – it was important to achieve the right balance with the on-stage additions and doubly important that they have the right musical frames of reference to accompany him. They do. And now we’re incredibly excited to hear Pallet’s next album.
Villagers are no strangers to Dingle. Frontman Conor O’Brien has been performed at Other Voices on numerous occasions, and in various different guises, but this time Villagers have come back at the absolute height of their powers. Their setlist was comprised entirely of songs from upcoming second album Awayland (save for a beautiful duet with Pallet) and all indications suggest that it is going to be even better than their breakthrough first album Becoming A Jackal. ‘My Lighthouse’, ‘Judgement Call’, ‘Nothing Arrived’, ‘The Waves’, ‘The Bell’ are all songs worthy of intricate examination but perhaps that’s best saved until their album comes out. Until then you’ll just have to take our word for it – they’ve put together something very special indeed.
Tonight’s Other Voices will be broadcast live on RTE Two from 7pm tonight and is curated by The National’s Aaron Dessner. We’ll have a full report on that on these pages tomorrow.