Other Voices, Ireland's 'secret' festival, expands to Derry and London

For a decade, Other Voices has been attracting big names to a tiny, 85-capacity church in Dingle. Now it is taking its magic to Derry and London

Philip King's house in west Kerry faces on to the Atlantic. "There's an old saying round here that on a quiet day you can hear the whisper of the traffic in New York," he says. So, when a bunch of American musicians, including the National's Aaron Dessner and Rufus and Martha Wainwright, invited King to take his Other Voices festival to Manhattan last year, it seemed like the right thing to do. Now, another pair of invites have been offered and accepted: Other Voices will arrive in Derry, next year's inaugural UK City of Culture, in February, and in east London in April.

"We're branching out," says King, "but the ethos of Other Voices stays the same: an intimate venue and a small audience, new and established musicians sharing the stage and, through new technology, the chance to stream the event live into other venues. The spirit of what we have achieved will underpin all we do in the future."

To date, the extraordinary success of Other Voices, which happens yearly in St James' church in the village of Dingle, west Kerry, has been down in no small measure to its smallness. For the past 10 years, the concerts, featuring the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley, the National, Spiritualized, the ubiquitous Wainwrights and the late Amy Winehouse, have been played before a live audience of just 85 people. Next weekend, the Unthanks, the Staves and Paul Buchanan are among the acts who will perform in Dingle. There will also be spoken-word events and debates under the heading "Banter".

"Musicians come here and they immediately fall in love with the place," says the loquacious King, a musician himself of the Irish traditional variety, as well as a television and radio broadcaster whose epic series Bringing It All Back Home won an Irish Emmy in 1991. "It's something to do with the landscape, and the language and with the welcome they receive from the locals, but it is also to do with the spirit of the event, which is essentially generous. Music is an intimate exchange and we honour that. I think it's one of the reasons Amy Winehouse felt so comfortable and relaxed here back in 2006. She wandered in and gave the performance of her life. I definitely think the spirit of the place had a lot to do with that."

The spirit of Dingle survived intact, King insists, in the Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street in New York last October, where actor Gabriel Byrne and Northern Irish poet Paul Muldoon performed alongside performers as diverse as Glen Hansard and Laurie Anderson. In February comes a journey across the border to Derry, where the Glassworks will host the three-day event with live streaming to various bars around the city. "There's something bubbling under about Derry at the moment," says King. "It's a singing city and there's a wild welcome for music there. It's on the edge of the Atlantic, too, like Dingle."

King grew up, he says, with "great rock music from across the border", citing Van Morrison as well as Derry's favourite sons, the Undertones. "Personally, I'm very excited about a young Derry singer called Bridie Monds-Watson who performs under the name Soak. Plus we're bringing the young band Django Django over, as well as Neil Hannon, who hails from the city." Is King confident that Other Voices will attract music fans from all over a city that still remains divided geographically by tribe and political allegiance? "Oh, I'm sure of that. There's a palpable spirit of reconciliation abroad in Northern Ireland and if anything can capture that, it's music. To me, Other Voices is a bigger journey that can connect Dingle, Derry and London though music."

The London Other Voices festival, organised in conjunction with the Barbican, will take place in Wilton's Music Hall in the East End, oldest surviving music hall in the capital, and a venue that brands itself "the city's hidden stage". Like New York, though, London is very much a city at the centre of things. By choosing these already buzzing music capitals, could King be in danger of diluting the very thing that made Other Voices in Dingle so special: its intimacy and its out-of-the-way-ness? "I've thought about that, but, in a way, the music, especially in a small venue, takes care of itself, creates its own atmosphere.

"With Other Voices, it's about the journey. And Irish music, for instance, has journeyed from Ireland to London and New York and beyond. It's all connected."


Sean O'Hagan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Other Voices festival comes to Derry

The 2013 City of Culture hosts Other Voices with a lineup including Beth Orton, Neil Hannon and Savages, before the festival moves to London in April

Caspar Llewellyn Smith

05, Feb, 2013 @5:28 PM

Article image
Other Voices – review

Superb sets from John Grant, Dexys and Matthew E White in beautiful Wilton's Music Hall gave Other Voices a London debut to cherish, says Kate Mossman

Kate Mossman

09, Apr, 2013 @4:59 PM

Article image
Other Voices festival in Dingle: watch the livestream
See John Grant, Mogwai, David Arnold, David Gray, Patty Griffin, Agnes Obel and others perform intimate sets from 6-8 December on Guardian music

Guardian music

05, Dec, 2013 @11:42 AM

Article image
Other Voices festival goes to Derry – day one in pictures

Day one of the music festival sees performances from Neil Hannon, Damien Dempsey and Savages among others

Antonio Olmos

09, Feb, 2013 @1:50 PM

Article image
Other Voices festival goes to Derry – day three in pictures

The last day of the Other Voices festival featured performances from Beth Orton and James Yorkston

11, Feb, 2013 @4:21 PM

Article image
Other Voices: the secret Irish festival where rock's finest mix with fishermen

Next Sunday, 4 December, Spiritualized and Wild Beasts play the Other Voices festival in Ireland - and you can watch the gig, live and for free, on the Guardian/music.

The festival is now 10 years old, and has a history of attracting the some of the biggest names in music. But what makes them want to play in a church in tiny Dingle?

Tony Clayton-Lea

27, Nov, 2011 @12:04 AM

Article image
Other Voices Dingle 2013: David Gray and Hozier at Ireland's most magical music festival - video

The first report from Other Voices in Dingle 2013

07, Dec, 2013 @6:06 PM

Article image
Other Voices festival, Derry 2014 – review

Public Service Broadcasting were dreamy and the Gloaming jigged and reeled effortlessly at the conclusion of a thrilling weekend, writes Michael Hann

Michael Hann

16, Feb, 2014 @12:05 AM

Article image
Other Voices Dingle 2013 - Mogwai and Josef Salvat

The second report from Other Voices in Dingle 2013

08, Dec, 2013 @3:43 PM

Article image
Other Voices to return to Derry in 2014

The Irish music festival – whose Dingle event will be streamed by the Guardian next month – announces a return to Northern Ireland

Guardian Music

20, Nov, 2013 @4:01 PM