Wednesday 25 April 2018

King's 'Other Voices' show a shift at heart of cultural life

'Other Voices' returns this week and founder Philip King believes Irish arts have never been so healthy, writes Barry Egan

OTHER VOICES: ‘We’re totally in tune with Creative Ireland’, says Philip King Picture: Collins
OTHER VOICES: ‘We’re totally in tune with Creative Ireland’, says Philip King Picture: Collins
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Philip King said not so long ago that the Irish government neither understands nor appreciates the arts in Ireland. The globally feted musician and producer has since softened that stance.

"All that has changed," says King, who originated and nurtured Other Voices, which returns this week to RTE2. King adds that with Creative Ireland - the Government initiative which aims to "place culture at the heart of Irish life", in the words of Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys - "we're seeing a fundamental shift in Government thinking."

"It's clear that Government now recognises and embraces the power of Irish creativity and culture, whether in the arts and humanities or in innovation and invention in the sciences and technology," says King.

"This is a smart strategic shift. Putting arts and creativity at the centre makes sense because one of our strongest assets is our ability to produce talent."

King believes that Other Voices - a celebration and an affirmation of Irish music and its connection to the world - is "totally in tune with Creative Ireland.

And we're ready to play our part. We exist in a small highly globalised country and we're competing against many more powerful economies for investment, employment and reputation."

He feels Ireland and its people have a rich artistic side for historic reasons. "You have to take account of our Irish language and our unbroken literary tradition; we've absorbed and re-framed the English language in a way that has enriched world literature; we're an island people but we've always been on the move and history shows that we've really made our mark around the world

"Just look at the story of how Irish music shaped the formation of the music industry in America and how, in turn, our music was shaped by what came back across the Atlantic; we have a way of looking at things and seeing things differently - we're creative, resilient, adaptable, exactly the things artists need to negotiate the world.

"We're telling that story through things like River of Sound, Ceiliuradh and Other Voices, Bringing It All Back Home." The latter was an internationally acclaimed 1991 series that King put together with artists like U2, Elvis Costello, The Pogues, The Waterboys, Emmylou Harris, Hothouse Flowers, The Everly Brothers and Christy Moore.

With the equally acclaimed Other Voices - the new episodes of which were filmed in Austin, Texas, and Philip's home town of Dingle - the list of stars is just as impressive: Willie Nelson, Imelda May, Lisa Hannigan, Gregory Porter, and Mumford & Sons.

"Other Voices is in perpetual motion," he says. "We create a warm, safe place for artists and audiences, and we are in the business of sharing that as widely as possible - in one way we are intensely local, in other ways we are intensely global. We build memory. We tap into the magic of Dingle, the west Kerry Gaeltacht where things feel and sound different."

Could he define where Ireland is culturally in 2017 and what excites him most about the arts in Ireland?

"Culturally, I think we're in an exciting place. We're socially, culturally, linguistically diverse, we're producing artists, bands, writers, directors, poets, designers who are setting new standards. We're hearing younger voices tell their stories and hold their mirror up to Irish society - just look at the impact of Emmet Kirwan's Heartbreak in the last two weeks. And with Other Voices, we thrive off the energy that our artists, our audiences and our followers create.

"The power of music to transform time and place and people is at the core of what we do, and we are always tuned into what's coming next, what's about to appear."

Other Voices, Thursday, on RTE2

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