People say Dingle has a micro-climate of its own, with the weather often going off on a different trajectory to the rest of the country. I wonder if that has been a major factor to Dingle having what I can best describe as a micro-atmosphere. It’s almost as if you leave your memory about half-way between Tralee and Dingle, so that when you get here you can’t quite remember the real world you’ve left behind. Maybe it’s the distance, the long drive from Dublin, but when you arrive in Dingle you have to get on Dingle-time and slow way down. It feels like the town wraps itself arounds you and tells you to chill out. It’s a special place.
And it most certainly contributes to Other Voices being a truly unique experience. In its tenth year, the filming of this TV programme has attracted musical pilgrims to Dingle, creating a type of mini musical happening around the gigs in the church. Of the 60 or so people who sit upon the pews of the chapel while four or five artists play their sets for the camera, there are 100 or so more blow-ins supping Guinness in the pubs about the town huddled around TV screens, where the sets are streamed live.
There’s a misconception that this is an exclusive music festival, and it’s often forgotten that this is, in fact, the filming of a TV programme. There’s a studio audience in the church, but unlike other TV programmes, there is a wider audience who make the trip down to Dingle to soak up the atmosphere that comes about when you bring a load of creative types to a small town at the edge of Ireland. Then there is the third audience who watch the programme at home in January or February on RTÉ Two.
I found myself in the church on Friday night of Other Voices, where Mick Flannery began the evening’s filming with a five song set of tunes from his forth-coming album. It has been noted before that Flannery is a shy performer, which may explain why he didn’t speak between songs to inform us of their titles or tell us a little joke. His voice worked well with that of his backing singer, and at times I got caught up in his Springsteen-esque lyrics of big wheels and poetry. But unfortunately Flannery is a mumbler and his words simply get lost, making it difficult to stay connected to him.
James Vincent McMorrow was a veritable chatterbox by comparison, as he explained his setlist choices. Rather than his own material, his set consisted of covers of some of the songs performed on Other Voices over its previous nine seasons. Starting with a rendition of ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ by Amy Winehouse. You have to admire him for tackling that song but should anyone do Winehouse? It’s just never going to be as good, is it? But it was a tribute to the singer who had appeared on Other Voices in 2006. His next cover was Ryan Adams’ ‘Two’, the performance of which McMorrow had found so memorable because of Adams’ on-stage banter, which included a mini-rant about Cher and her video for ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’. He wrapped up with his stunning cover of Steve Winwood’s ‘Higher Love’, which he has recorded for the Headstrong Charity, and finishing off with a rather dazzling cover of The National’s ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’.
After a twenty minute break and a glass of Guinness in Curran’s down the road from the St. James, we were back in our pews as Cold Specks took to the stage. These are the band of Al Spx who is originally from Canada but lives in London. She is a tiny little poppet of a lady, sitting upon an armchair in the middle of the stage with her band of five musicians gathered around her. Her shy manner makes the indie Tina Turner-esque bellow that comes out of her even more astonishing. She shared five songs with the church-goers, and although her band veered on the wrong side of cacophonous at times, when their extra harmonies and cello and saxophone and cymbals came together with Spx voice, Cold Specks appeared to be a real force to be reckoned with.
Concluding the evening was Lisa Hannigan. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that Hannigan is as exceptionally talented as she is. It’s as if her great gift is just a fact that ends up being taken for granted in a way. Her set in Dingle last night was a personal reminder of her skills, and also of her progression. I thought back to the shy girl I saw years ago performing with Damien Rice, and, without wanting to sound barf-induclingly cheesy here, was struck by the woman who was performing so confidently with her band on the stage of St James’ Church and loving every minute of it. Where Cold Specks were too busy and conflicting, you can see that Hannigan’s band have gotten to know each other extremely well by being on tour effectively since April of this year. They are so in tune with each other and reflect Hannigan’s own soft quality by always hitting the right level of intensity. The addition of John Smith to the band and the vocals he brings is a coup, as I would find it hard to think of a better pairing of voices. The highlight of Hannigan’s set (which included ‘Knots’, ‘Paper House’, ‘Little Bird’, and ‘A Sail’) was ‘Oh Sleep’ where it was almost too much for the ears to hear these two intertwine their voices together so beautifully.
Our evening in the church had come to a close, so we wrapped ourselves up and walked into the Dingle night. The town buzzed with residual excitement or happiness, even, from the gig, as we discussed the night’s performances with those who had seen them in the pub. A few more glasses of Guinness and a happy head hit a pillow, getting some sleep so that tomorrow night’s gig could be as equally enjoyed.