Monday 16 September 2019

Other Voices hits Dingle's 200-year-old church 16 years on - can the funding model continue to perform?

Other Voices presenters May Kay, Huw Stephens, Annie Mac
Philip King
Other Voices crew shot
Django Django
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

What began as a chat between Philip King and Glen Hansard has now evolved into an annual three-day festival and a brand that resonates on the international stage.

The music heard at Other Voices has evolved since 2002, in the early days, when the shows on RTÉ were still a novelty and the gigs largely involved the singer-songwriter clique emerging from Ireland.

Producer of Other Voices and director of South Wind Blows, Tina O'Reilly (with partners King [musician, producer and broadcaster] and Nuala O'Connor) has been with the project since the beginning, the woman who manages the purse strings.

"In those days, RTÉ had a bit of money left at the end of the year. That first year, they liked the idea but said we had to do it and deliver it before Christmas that year. It was November. And we were in the middle of another project at the time," she told

Tina O'Reilly
Tina O'Reilly
Dermot Kennedy

"But we pulled it together and Glen took out his phonebook...there were names like Mundy, Damien Rice, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Nina was incredible.

"It's funny, though, then and even a few years later, we were still trying to pull audiences in to the Church [St James's], which is a complete turnabout as we can't fit everyone that wants to be in the venue now."

Sixteen years on, with music producer Aoife Woodlock, and her eye for choosing rising stars, at the selection helm, the original ethos of capturing a sound snapshot in time has been retained.

Acts lined up for this year's showcase in Dingle include English singer songwriter Mahalia, South Africa musician Nakhane and Dublin-based noise-pop quintet Thumper.

So it's a different snapshot in time but the contemporary artists, either emerging or established, continue to flock to sample a bit of the magic that happens in the 210-year-old church at the edge of Ireland.

Retaining that special something has been crucial for the team behind the scenes, and O'Reilly believes their ambitions have been a success, not least due to the knowledge of what the musicians can expect.

Amy Winehouse

"There's no backstage, there's no riders, no dressing room, no VIP passes - regardless of ego or fame. But one of the things we fiercely protect is our artists, how we look after them and the production values we put on everything. 

"Some of the more well known artists embrace the fact that they may never get to do a gig as intimate again."

But, over the years, what punters can expect has changed significantly.

With the Church bursting at the seams,  the Other Room was added to facilitate the evening acts - with live streaming for anyone not able to get through the doors.

And with so much footfall in the Kerry town, the team decided to organise music for during the day - and so the Hennessy Music Trail was born. Taking the snapshot theme and applying it to the current affairs arena, and the two-day Ireland's Edge conference was added to the mix.

"It was hard to get the message across at first that it wasn't just a tv recording anymore," said O'Reilly.

"But I think we have successfully done that now and people are more interested in just coming down and spending the weekend in Dingle."

And, a few years ago, Other Voices decided to share that magic across the country and beyond: to Derry, to New York, to Berlin. Earlier this year, Mayo-born O'Reilly was instrumental in bringing the music event to Ballina which "was a huge success".

"We have a crew that has worked with us for years, we really get along and it's more of a collaboration, we discuss things a lot. It's refreshing when you've been doing something for 17 years, it gives everyone new challenges to do the same thing, but all somewhere else."

But it hasn't been a seamless journey, especially for the lady tasked with making the money stretch. While Other Voices organically grew over the first seven years, RTE's finances - like most companies - dried up in 2008 and the net needed to be cast a little wider.

"I don't think it's ever gotten easier (in terms of funding) for us but I think that's because we keep adding to it," said O'Reilly.

"We've had various different funding mechanisms throughout the years - the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Kerry County Council, Hennessy, IMRO, Department of Foreign Affairs and Failte Ireland; RTÉ came back on board albeit at a lower level but they have been with us since".

A crew of about 120 people work across the weekend at the flagship end of November event [not including volunteers] with the production team - production manager, transport co-ordinator, accommodation co-ordinator and a production assistant - heading down eight weeks in advance.

Weather has threatened parts of the festival in recent times, and Storm Diana is going to test the waters again this weekend, but O'Reilly manages to turn even this negative into something positive.

"Every year, especially since it's become a festival, it's kind of nerve wracking and exciting at the same time. Because we don't sell tickets, it's always a case of wondering if anybody will come.

"But then you see people running around the town with their schedules and we can say 'great, we pulled it off again this year'."

Online Editors

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