The lights are beginning to twinkle, the pubs are brimming with people and noise; there are even Christmas songs coming from the village’s PA systems – Other Voices is in full swing. It’s 4pm and a great deal of Saturday’s Music Trail has been tread before State has even arrived in Dingle, but there’s still plenty to see.
An Díseart Centre proves more difficult to find than first thought, tucked in behind a wall and a long path, but it makes for an impressive musical theatre. Packing plentiful Catholic excess into its small quarters, stained-glass windows, fine stonemasonry and rich mahogany makes St James’ look like a bare room with uncomfortable seating. Fortunately, there’s enough time to catch Silences finish his first set of the weekend. Conchur White’s voice is appropriately celestial, lacking on the consonants but landing richly on the vowels for a touching result. Considering the venue and with a voice like his, it would easy to speculate that he may have been a choirboy in early life. Fully-grown, he remains a slight figure but his delicate timbre is aided by An Díseart’s acoustics; he is rewarded with a warm reception as he wraps up.
There’s a lot going on before tonight’s main even. Bouts are playing an acoustic show in a pizzeria. It’d be interesting to hear what they sound like stripped of their amplifiers but the winter cold and a locked door are more than enough to discourage further listening. Toy Soldier, meanwhile, battle technical difficulties and their own tardiness in their quest to bore the Marina Inn senseless. Their rock star posing, hackneyed military dress and forgettable indie/electro piffle combine to their endless detriment.
Last year’s breakout artist SOAK is given a boastful mention by Philip King in his introduction of 16-year-old Rosie Carney, and shocked whispers circulate St James when her age is revealed. So awestruck by her youth is this crowd that Carney could cling to mediocrity and still be touted as prodigious talent, but the Donegal girl impresses with her taken on Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. The gliding falsetto on the chorus makes for a moment of undeniable beauty, while her two original songs are both pretty strong in their own right. Of her contemporaries, Carney probably falls closest to Laura Marling – she even has a song called ‘Ghosts’. While lacking Marling’s assuredness she is capable of writing vulnerable, heartfelt folk music.
Lulu James is a rather more boisterous and theatrical performer, lying in stark contrast to nervous sparrow Carney. As she strides onto stage, clad in a massive black hood and cloak, one begins to wonder if James has missed the point of Other Voices slightly, but her shout out to “All the Dingle ladies” endears her to St James’. It helps that she has a destructive voice that rings in the ears, standing out against a fairly uniform backdrop of nuanced electro-pop that wisely stays out of her way. As the set wears on, the songs become a bit looser, a bit funkier, and James eases up on the aural assault to thank the “mint” audience – her thick Geordie accent doesn’t intrude on her singing voice. Less of an outlier than first suspected, James has both awed and charmed many here tonight.
Another that has dressed up for the occasion is Willis Earl Beal. His make-shift cape bearing the face of Nobody knows. and his Christopher Nolan-does-Zorro mask tops James for pure strangeness. He remains aloof between songs, claiming partial blindness and making jokes to no reception, but he is as intriguing as he is confusing in the early stages, committed to his Church of Nobody persona. Before long he is contorting and stretching his former soldier’s body, rolling on the floor and clambering atop his stool, barking his words like a demonic hound. His band, all in denim, remain stationary; they sound rough and clumsy at times, which makes the crystalising moments when their eerie, shabby blues becomes cathartic feel earnestly stumbled-upon.
Beal only takes off the mask to salute his underappreciated grandmother before ‘The Flow’ in a disarming moment of directness and honesty that comes out of nowhere, just one of his many contradictions. Manic and forceful for the most part, but in that moment greatly poignant; at best bewitching and soulful, but never less than a rough curiosity.
By comparison to what precedes them, Mogwai are almost defiant in the stoicism and humility. No more than a couple of sentences and spoken and hardly any more sung; the Glaswegian post-rockers remain a band very much intent on letting their music do the talking. Tonight is about airing new material, with all but one of the tracks coming from new album Rave Tapes. It’s really only new in the sense that is as yet unreleased as Mogwai remain largely unchanged from the band that brought us Young Team or Zidane.
The manipulated vocals on ‘The Lord Is Out of Control’ and ‘Remurdered’s rigid proto-techno touches point to some experimentation, but it remains loud and proudly so. The earplugs handed out may only be precautionary, but the noise emanating from Stuart Braithwaite is formidable, and yet such sonic dissonance remains perfectly harmonious and almost soothing as it swells in the ears. Of the new stuff the highlight is ‘Heard About You Last Night’, which is almost like a lullaby in its gentility but ends with a Braithwaite riff so pure that it could probably transmit images and data as well as sound. Still, they’re almost in a rush to avoid a rapturous ovation that even the inexplicable Leo Varadkar joins in on.
When Josef Salvat appears the church is noticeably emptier and the feeling that we have already peaked is fairly unavoidable. Australian Salvat looks excited and quite a home, however. Modeled like a Topman model, Salvat resides in the same power pop as the equally sharply dressed Hurts. His dancing is a bit gentrified Ian Curtis complete with ‘spontaneous’ spasms and robotic jerks. Sadly the music is also lacking: atmospheric, maudlin and emotionally stale, but he could go far.
State spends the last couple of songs in McCarthy’s awaiting the Derry showcase at midnight, featuring Little Bear and the Clameens, but persistent technical difficulties, fatigue and not enough alcohol recommend a good night’s sleep instead. It’s time to go.
Photo: Rich Gilligan