Live Review: ‘Other Voices’ Friday @ St. James Church, Dingle

Posted: 14/12/2011 in Uncategorized

***As published on on Saturday December 3rd 2011***

It’s a rainy Friday evening in Dingle, and there’s no finer place to take shelter from the storm than the intimate confines of St. James’Church to once again worship at the altar of supreme musical talent. It’s the second night of the tenth outing of the incomparable Other Voices live performances, and once again there’s a delectable lineup for the congregation of lucky ticket-holders. Host Philip King speaks passionately about the remarkable voices of those who have graced that famous stage over the years – and tonight, we are to be in the presence of four truly remarkable voices.

First up is King’s fellow Corkonian Mick Flannery. The part-time stonemason turned musician has been hard at work crafting the follow-up to 2008’s hugely successful White Lies, and his appearance in the church tonight is an opportunity to showcase the fruits of his labour with a set comprised wholly of new material. Not renowned for his on-stage banter, it’s straight down to business for Flannery; there’s no time for pleasantries as he delves straight into a trio of songs played on acoustic guitar – ‘Good At Art’, ‘Ships in the Night’, and ‘Only Getting On’. It’s raw, it’s intense, it’s powerful – it’s everything you’d expect from Flannery in a live setting. His angst-laden ballads are performed with an endearing modesty, his gravelly tones working at perfect harmony with the backing vocals of Yvonne Daly. ‘Red to Blue’ups the pace, before Flannery lays down his guitar and switches to piano for beautiful closing song ‘Boston’. “Some Cork people talk more than others!” says King as Flannery departs the stage – he’s indeed a man of few words, but Flannery lets his music do the talking, and truth be told it speaks louder than anything he could ever say.

James Vincent McMorrow returns to Other Voices for a third year running, having previously performed a session in the Other Room in 2009 and a set in St. James’Church this time last year. McMorrow’s debut album Early in the Morning, a formidable collection of songs recorded over the course of five months in an isolated sea-side residence, has brought him widespread acclaim both at home and abroad – but tonight, he has left his own material behind to instead celebrate the tenth anniversary of the series with a collection of cover versions of some of its most memorable performances. He pays tribute to Amy Winehouse with a beautiful version of ‘Love Is A Losing Game’, a song which he remembers hearing for the first time and thinking “it must have been a hundred years old”. He recalls watching Ryan Adam’s appearance on television, laughing uncontrollably as he indulged in a rambling spiel about Cher before the laughter was turned to awed silence by a performance of ‘Two’, to which McMorrow plays homage to great effect tonight. The National’s performance of ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’in the church last year has too been a standout Other Voices moment for McMorrow – his own stripped-bare take on the song exposing the true power of its lyrics, and the juxtaposition of his trademark falsetto in comparison to Matt Berninger’s dulcet baritones on the original giving the song a totally new lease of life. A cover of one of his own personal favourite songs, Steve Winwood’s ‘Higher Love’, rounds off a fantastic set from McMorrow – a unique performance, from a truly unique performer.

Now for something completely different. Other Voices has a fine tradition of seeking out the ‘next big thing’to delight the revellers of St. James’Church – Anna Calvi’s performance in Dingle this time last year being the perfect example – and tonight it’s the turn of 23 year old Canadian singer songwriter Al Spx, better known as Cold Specks. A recent appearance on Later With Jools Holland created a serious buzz around this lady – but tonight, she exceeded even the highest of expectations with a set which dazzled beyond belief. Her live ensemble is hugely impressive, with an array of percussion, guitars, brass and strings – most notable on the performance of debut single ‘Holland’. But at the centre of it all is that incredible voice – the sheer power of ‘Peace in the Valley’sung acapella filling the room against the sound of the cascading rain outside a truly special moment. She gracefully expresses thanks to the Dingle community for her time spent there, recalling fondly an impromptu sing-song in Curran’s the night before which left her awe-struck. She came, she saw, she conquered the hearts of minds of anyone watching – most definitely one to watch for 2012.

The final performance of the evening comes from Lisa Hannigan, an Other Voices veteran who fist sang on that famous stage in St. James Church in year one and has returned to Dingle every year since, describing the event as a “musical summer-camp… well, winter-camp!” Tonight she treats the audience to a collection of songs from recently released Passenger – the album is one of the finest releases of 2011, and establishes her as one of the most interesting artists in contemporary Irish music. Looking impossibly radiant in a floating emerald green dress, her band too have dressed for the occasion, all clad in dapper-looking suits. Opening with the formidable ‘A Sail’, it’s clear from the offset that this set is going to be something special. The allure of Hannigan is impossible to resist – she is captivating to watch, the emotion she pours into the duo of ‘Little Bird’and ‘Paper House’truly moving, with the gradual build of the latter completely mesmerising. John Smith takes over Ray Lamontagne’s vocal duties on ‘O Sleep’to great effect, before the band take full flight for a thrilling performance of ‘Knots’. It’s always refreshing to see musicians having an absolute gala of a time doing what they do – the energy they display is fantastic, and at the centre of it all Hannigan and her ukulele. She takes the opportunity of an encore to give some “tips for life” with ‘Safe Travels, Don’t Die’– the song’s quirky lyrics bringing out chuckles all around the chapel. The band take a bow and depart to the sound of thundering applause – it’s often easy to get carried away by the presence of international acts at an event such as this, but as Lisa Hannigan proved tonight, our own home-grown wonders are perfectly capable of stealing the show.

(All photos by James Goulden)

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