As Other Voices returns to Dingle for the fifteenth year in a row, Lizzie Gore-Grimes meets up with the extraordinary set of women who make this unique festival happen.
This weekend, Friday, November 30 to Sunday, December 2, sees Other Voices return to Dingle for the fifteenth year in a row. What began life as an idea dreamt up by Philip King and Glen Hansard over a pint has since grown into a music experience like no other. Their dream to produce a unique music television series set in a beautiful part of the world, in an intimate venue has since grown into a full music festival weekend that has travelled across Ireland and the world.
While the Other Voices weekend now offers so much more than just the televised performances, those unique sessions in the church are still the absolute heart of the thing. Having been lucky enough to sit in the 225-year old St. Michael's Church at Other Voices Ballina in September and listen to Conor O’Brien (Villagers) sing A Trick of the Light just a few feet in front of me was a scalp-tingling sensory moment I’ll never forget. Walking into Dillon’s Bar after to find Conor and the band enjoying a pint only added to the extraordinary intimate magic that is Other Voices.
If you’re keen to go – and you should – just bear in mind tickets for church are nigh-on impossible to secure (you can’t buy them, they are distributed through competitions hosted on the website). But you can still watch the performances streamed live in various venues across the town and pick from oceans of other events, talks and happenings to try out.
Other Voices takes place in Dingle, Co.Kerry Nov 30 to Dec 2, featuring St. James’ Church concerts, the Hennessy Music Trail, Banter, Music Trail West, After Dark and much more. Registration is €30 from Eventbrite. For more information see www.othervoices.ie
Tina O'Reilly, Producer
Tina is the producer and basically runs the entire show. A Mayo native, Tina produces large-scale events such as Other Voices, as well as working as across a variety of film and TV projects. “Without Tina, there would be no Other Voices,” says her colleague Aileen.
“I started working with Nuala O'Connor and Philip King as soon as I left college. In the very beginning, Other Voices was solely a television series for RTÉ, filmed in St. James Church in Dingle. Over the years we have added various elements. But although the festival has developed and expanded, our main aim has never changed – to promote and nurture live music, to spark debate and discussion and to be thought-provoking.”
As the producer of the festival, Tina is involved all year round, working very closely with music producer Aoife Woodlock who books all the artists for the television show and Gareth Stewart the booker for the Music Trail. “My producer role is the more practical element,” Tina explains. “Ensuring delivery to all our funders and sponsors, drafting and managing budgets, organising the crew, overseeing each aspect of the festival, legal and contracts and all the minute detail related to each event.
“Working with such a great crew is a huge highlight of the festival for me. We've had lots of tough days but the laughter gets you through. I spend most of my time in the television truck during the Church recordings but I love when I get to pop into the acoustic recordings during the day just to listen to the music.”
As a Westport native Tina was delighted to take Other Voices to Ballina in September, which was a huge success. Will they be back again next year? “Most definitely we hope to return to Ballina, we are also looking into a return to Belfast and Berlin and we have a few other new location ideas we’re investigating.”
Aoife Woodlock, Music producer
Aoife programmes all the music for Other Voices, travelling to music conferences and showcases across the world to find new talent. She also manages composer and fiddle player Colm Mac Con Iomaire.
“I managed the Temple Bar Music Centre for ten years. When I left in 2005, I got a call from Philip King [the founder of Other Voices] and jumped at the chance to work with him and have been doing so for the last 14 years.”
Over the years, Aoife has programmed Amy Winehouse, Ryan Adams, The National, The XX, Damien Rice, Hozier and more music legends before they became household names. “Right from the start Other Voices set itself apart from other filming projects,” enthuses Aoife. “It was intimate, it took risks, and the passion it had 16 years ago is still there today. In 2003, there were less than one hundred people involved, today there are thousands. It’s amazing to see how much the festival has grown – it’s travelled to Texas, Berlin, London, Derry and New York. The challenge is to grow but stay the same – the key for Other Voices is the church, the live performances in that intimate space is still the heart of it.
“This December in Dingle Jade Bird will perform in the church and she is going to steal some hearts and ears. I booked her in Austin Texas standing on the street… that’s how it goes!”
“With a little girl at home the travel and late nights that come with the job can be tough going, but with support from my family and colleagues, it’s been doable. I brought my daughter to Other Voices at 6 weeks old – looking back it was mad but magical to have her there with the OV gang. Industries in general, not just the music industry need to be more family-orientated, and not just female- or mother-friendly. When you support the growing family, you are supporting the worker. I’ve always been supported within the OV community; they’ve facilitated my family to come with me. Little Voices we call it.”
Aileen Galvin, PR manager
Aileen moved to Dublin from Limerick 22 years ago. She worked for Disney and Sony Music, before setting up her own music PR company called Entertainment Architects, which she ran for ten years, looking after everyone from Noel Gallagher to Debbie Harry and countless great Irish acts.
“I have worked on Other Voices for ten years and consider them my second family. When I first started OV was much smaller. There were the TV recordings in St. James’ Church and recorded acoustic sessions around Dingle, but no Music Trail or additional events. As the interest in the event grew, the numbers coming to Dingle increased year-on-year but the Church can only hold a small audience, so the Music Trail was introduced to allow music fans to enjoy the Other Voices experience, even if they couldn’t access the Church.
Adding the live streaming was a real turning point in my opinion.
“The real Other Voices USP for me is the location and line up. Dingle is such a special place, as is Ballina where we went for the first time in September. They are towns on the periphery and as such have their own unique dynamic. Everyone mixes together – performers, crew, music fans, locals, passers-by, it feels like a family weekend gathering. I know that sounds kind of twee, but it’s true. The line-up is at the heart of it all. Legends, newbies, local, international, there’s always someone you’ve really yearned to see up close and personal and then a brand new sound will catch your ear. So it’s about enjoying the familiar and finding a new favourite.”
Aileen’s career has taken her all over the world and seen her work closely with some of the biggest names in the music industry so how does she stay grounded? “I started working in PR for the entertainment industry when I was just 22 years old and one of the main reasons that I didn’t lose my head was because I also had my daughter Bekah by my side. Being a young mum wasn’t always easy but I was determined to have a career, and I never felt I had to sacrifice career for motherhood or vice versa. It’s not easy but it’s doable. I had some great support and Bekah and I worked at it together. Now, she’s 23, living in New York, working hard, succeeding at life and is an all-around great human being, and I can see that her childhood experiences, whether it was coming to work with me because she simply had to, or spending time in the company of culturally and ideologically diverse groups of people, has helped her to develop personally and professionally.
“There’s no question that women and mothers have to fight harder and push further in all areas of business, but I thank the women who came before us, people like my amazing mother May who is 87 and still living a full and independent life. They broke through immense barriers, fought incredibly challenging social norms and threw themselves above the parapet to progress the rights of women. It is my mother who instilled in me that having a child at 22 was not a limitation, but simply a new, if unexpected path in my life adventure, and that it was absolutely up to me to define where that path should lead.”
Molly King, Head of Development
Molly King is the daughter of Other Voices founder Philip King.
“I was nine-years-old when Other Voices started, and I like to think I've been part of the crew since then. They take a crew photo every year and I’m in all bar the first one – it's a mortifying flip book of my awkward years!
“From the very start I found everything about it endlessly exciting – even if that entailed hanging around sound checks all day or loitering around the cameras. I am always thankful for the patience and kindness the crew showed me from such a young age. My first proper job was cable bashing for cameraman Joe O’Byrne, who has been with us for all of our 16 years. From there I moved to work on the stage lifting amps and that sort of thing, to being a production runner, to producing Banter with Jim Carroll, to my current full-time job as Head of Development.
“Working to develop the Other Voices brand, my role covers a variety of elements that could entail re-designing the OV logo and identity, launching merchandise, working with various sponsors and partners, launching our club night 'After Dark' (with the excellent This Greedy Pig), visiting different locations to see where Other Voices might go next, working across the bookings for the music trail, producing Banter with Jim Carroll, writing funding applications - all sorts. I live in London so I travel a lot at the moment. Everything we do at OV is a team effort. I love how varied my role is.”
May Kay, TV presenter
Musician May Kay is the frontwoman of Le Galaxie and former lead singer with Fight Like Apes and has toured all over the world. She is one of the presenters for the Other Voices TV show.
“My band Fight Like Apes played in Dingle in 2010 and had the most amazing time. We then played the OV stage at Latitude in 2015. After that, I met Philip and Aoife in Dublin and they asked me would I step in as presenter/host for the Other Voices TV series. I had zero experience doing anything like that so it was a bit mad but brilliant.
Although I studied Medicinal Chemistry and Philosophy in Trinity I actually hated both of those things! I loved chemistry in school and loved the idea of being the type of person that would pursue medicine, but it just wasn't where my heart was when it came down to it. During college, I started playing music with my friend Jamie and I knew if I was going to drop out of college to pursue music I had to make something of it, so in lots of ways, it made me work a harder for it.
“Working on Other Voices is such a special experience. You're working with the most passionate, professional, creative people you could imagine. The work and the fun come hand-in-hand. And you truly are part of a family. They've looked after me through difficult times and I hope I've looked after them too. I get to watch the best musicians in the world get on those stages and feel what I felt as a performer with OV. It's different. It's special. You want to rise to it and you do. I'm really very proud of it.”
As frontwoman of Le Galaxie and former lead singer with Fight Like Apes, May Kay has carved out an incredibly successful path for herself on the Irish music scene, but it hasn’t always been easy. “I think I've fallen into the trap of normalising a lot really crap behaviour from men in the business and I'm trying to work on that a lot for myself. All I would say to any men reading this is that if you're not a man making things more difficult for a woman that's cool but you could also make things better if you wanted to. You could speak up so she doesn't have to. It's very, very hard to call a man out on an uncomfortable comment or action when you're in a green room/van/venue full of men.”
“Watching my own mother [Irish Times journalist Kathy Sheridan] forge her career and witnessing the risks and leaps she has taken since I was a toddler has been a huge inspiration to me. I hit the parent jackpot to be fair as my Dad was a proud feminist too, even though I'm not sure he knew he was! He was often confused about creative routes I took but always proud and encouraging. I grew up with what I think was a healthy dose of curiosity and ambition and I couldn't have done all the things I've loved without their support and encouragement.”
Anna Job, Digital Manager
Digital Manager Anna manages all the digital and social media elements of Other Voices involves a wide range of tasks, from running the OV Instagram, Facebook Twitter accounts to working on digital albums, podcasts, creating Mailchimp campaigns and releasing video performances captured at Other Voices.
“I moved home to Dublin from Berlin in 2014 to work with Other Voices. I grew up watching the TV series and always considered it to be the best music show in the country. When the job offer landed in my inbox, I packed up my flat in Germany, hopped on a flight back to Dublin and havent looked back since! “If I had to describe the Other Voices experience in three words they would be: Magic. Warm. Friendly. Inclusive. Inspiring – there’s five. Other Voices Austin was the trip of a lifetime for me and a major highlight since I joined the team. Seeing artists such as Gregory Porter, Mumford Sons Cage the Elephant play in a tiny studio in Texas was magical. Im half German, so bringing Other Voices and five incredible Irish artists to Riverside Studios in Berlin last year was also a very special moment for me. “I always look forward to catching some new acts on the Music Trail or in the Other Room. Last year, r.kitt was a standout gig on the Trail, the venue was so packed you couldnt even get in the door and Maria Kellys gig in the Other Room was stunning. Its a joy to see people like Dermot Kennedy play in such small, intimate venues before they go on to fill much bigger rooms around the country and abroad. There really is nothing else like it.”
Featured image: Anna Job (digital manager), Tina O'Reilly (producer), May Kay (TV presenter), Suzie Shorten (production manager) and Aoife Woodlock (music producer)