Other Voices in Ballina review: 'Seamus Fogarty and his band - a whirlwind of energy - stole the show in a magical venue'
It was the first time ever that the now legendary Other Voices festival had moved from Dingle Co Kerry to another town in the Republic of Ireland. And the Mayo town of Ballina embraced it as its own.
The highlight for many were the concerts in St Michael’s Church – a magical venue stemming back to 1763 when the first part of the church, the nave, chancel and tower – was built in 1763.
The church includes a rare stained-glass window of Charity and Wisdom which was designed by the cartoonist George Parlby in 1899 and the intimate setting was in keeping with the traditionally small venue of the original church in Dingle.
Cork musician Mick Flannery opened the concert. His performance was raw but mellow with songs exploring the themes of love, loss and existentialism including “How High” and “Rosaleen” – a play on Roisin Dubh – fitting too as a song for Ireland ahead of our celebrations of the 1921 Foundation of the State alluded to by Other Voices co-founder Philip King in his opening address at the event.
Flannery’s voice allowed the venue to express its acoustical values. You could feel the vibrations of the bass through the floor. His performance was followed by Tennessee-based artist Julien Baker. Her performances have been described as “quiet and cool as a medieval cloister” – fitting again for the church venue but the description belies the power of her voice for such a petite person.
I could see, hear and feel tones of Kate Bush as well as Joni Mitchell as her voice ranged from more melodic and angelic to powerful and strong depending on the song.
Brussels-based Tamino added an Eastern influence to the proceedings. Watching and listening to him you could well be in a Moroccan bazaar as a church in Mayo as his Egyptian/Lebanese heritage rang through throughout his soulful performance covering many moods.
He is certainly one to watch with his first album “Amir” due out in October – it is understood he was discovered by Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood.
Little Green Cars closed the show in St Michael’s last night. The crowd loved them as they wowed the audience with classics like “John Wayne” and “My love took me down to the river”.
But what stole the show for me was the performance of Seamus Fogarty and his band. A whirlwind of energy, and maybe partly because they were the first band on stage, the crowd loved their unique blend of electronic folk and the group had them eating of their hands by the end of their slot.
It was a song called “Carlow Town” that solidified the growing relationship between band and audience though. The song is about a missed late night bus back to Dublin from Carlow by Seamus and a group of friends and they had no place to stay.
It was a cold and frosty Winter’s night and in the end a cleaner lets them stay in a church over-night. They wake up to the sound of Sunday Mass – the second one of the day, they had slept through the first one!
The song captures perfectly the Irish art of story-telling and the performance includes an hilarious Monty Python-esque silly dance that has to be seen to be understood!
In contrast, the haunting “Van Gogh’s Ear” tells the story of the loss of a friend and the wistful violin playing by band member Emma Smith stands out in many of the songs.
The festival continues over the weekend with Villagers performing tonight (Saturday). Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is also attending tonight.
Even if you are not one of the lucky ones to have a ticket for the church performances but are in the vicinity, it’s worth checking into Ballina to soak up the atmosphere of the festival which involves a host of cultural and creative activities around the town.
I suspect it's not the last time the event will reach Ballina, especially if Mayo County Council has its way - it has worked hard since 2015 with many other stakeholders to bring the event to my home county and deserves congratulations for coming up with the idea.
PS a special thanks to the brilliant staff at Ballina Manor Hotel, a central location on the banks of the majestic River Moy.