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Other Voices 2011: The Dingle effect

Richard Hawley, who curated a night last year featuring Jarvis Cocker and Lisa Hannigan, touchingly calls Dingle "a little hospital for the soul". It has offered solace and inspiration for numerous artists, including the late and obviously very troubled Amy Winehouse, who sang her heart out in 2006 before tottering across the road in her high heels to devour a plate of oysters in Lord Baker's seafood restaurant.

Dingle has a fascinating effect on every musician who gets charmed and seduced by the postcard-pretty fishing town. Jason Pierce of Spiritualized is pleasantly surprised that, unlike most of the globalised world, An Daingean does not have an outlet of either Tescos or McDonald's.

"This place reminds me of when we played above the Arctic circle in Norway and drove for 22 hours to suddenly arrive in this town in the middle of nowhere in a place by the sea a bit like this," reflects the Spiritualized singer, who has played gigs in both the World Trade Center and the CN Tower.

"I always like to get a pleasant shock when touring and I've always maintained that it's as easy for us to play somewhere as it is for people to travel to a city to see us. I've always enjoyed playing places like Limerick, Galway and Liss Ard in West Cork, so it makes complete sense for us to do this too."

It sure can be a rocky road to Dingle. Last year, The National braved the wintry elements and, back in 2006, Amy Winehouse's drummer failed to make the gig due to inclement weather. Scullion singer and Other Voices founder and supremo Philip King appreciates that the event throws up its own unpredictable set of obstacles. "You make an effort to get here," he says. "It's peripheral and on the edge of Europe. Indeed, it was the edge of the known world at one time."

Originally from Cork, but now a Dingle native who grew up with "Seán Ó Riada in one ear and Rory Gallagher in the other", King maintains that the area's remoteness is perfect for fostering a creative and musical mindset.

"Whether you like it or not, the power of nature here is extraordinary," he says. "Obviously, there is the sheer physical beauty of the place. It's never the same with the weather and the light. It can be soft or beautiful or harsh. It's inspirational, empowering and challenging. There's something in the wind, sea and sheer physical beauty of the place. When they all work together, it's very, very powerful and elemental. Musicians respond to that because there is a sonic quality to the weather here."

Last year, Irish technology company Intune Networks broadcast a live stream of all the shows in several pubs around the town. The initiative really took off this year as Dingle was thronged with record crowds for Other Voices, and the Guardian also streamed Spiritualized and Wild Beasts worldwide. Dublin guitar duo We Cut Corners also completely stuffed Dick Mack's legendary bar to the gills on the back of the reception to their brilliant, just-released debut album Today I Realised I Could Go Home Backwards, a definite highlight of the Other Voices live trail that took place in bars and venues outside the church and was open to all comers.

While Other Voices upped the ante to mark its 10th series with actor Aidan Gillen following in the footsteps of Glen Hansard, Jerry Fish, John Kelly, Jenny Huston and Annie Mac to present, it does not intend to leave its roots behind and emulate conventional music festivals. "I think the air that we breathe has a certain level of purity that you won't find at Oxegen, and you can quote that," King jokes.

Star of Love/Hate, The Wire and Queer as Folk, Aidan Gillen relished the opportunity of presenting Other Voices 10. "If it's not what you do, it's full-on interviewing 18 bands or artists over four days. But y'know, who am I to complain?" Gillen muses.

"There's a great crew who work on the show. No one's getting big bucks or any bucks at all necessarily, everyone's there because of the music. There's a real sense of unity, not only among the crew, but between the audience, the bands, everyone. I'm still knocked out by this area 30 years after first visiting it, so it must feel amazing for someone like say, Al Spx from Cold Specks (hotly tipped new Canadian singer) who may not have even been to Ireland before. She told us exactly how good she felt about it and you could clearly see her surfing the wave in an old armchair."

Spiritualized, in particular, struck a chord with Gillen. "I was standing on the balcony freaking out about how the last live link for the Guardian stream was going to go," Gillen says. "I looked down at Spiritualized on stage 20 feet away and thought to myself, I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing right now than this. As Jason Pierce and company brought their set to a grinding, screaming climax, I looked over at my 13-year-old daughter who nodded in approval."

It's worth noting that both Jason Pierce and Edwyn Collins are lucky to be alive. In 2005, Pierce fell seriously ill with double pneumonia. Both his lungs filled up, his weight sunk to seven stone and he technically died twice. His girlfriend received bereavement counselling, his own children and Pierce's close friends Samantha Morton and Bobby Gillespie visited him on what was thought to be his deathbed. He said shortly afterwards: "It's amazing how much your body will hang on to life."

Thankfully, Pierce informs me that his health is now fine. Also, in 2005, Collins suffered a major cerebral haemorrhage. His inspiring story of recovery is told on a wonderful BBC Scotland documentary, Edwyn Collins -- Home Again.

Both these men have stared death coldly in the face, but last weekend they were onstage in St James pouring out their souls and playing out their hearts. Pierce premiered new songs Hey Jane, Mary and So Long You Pretty Things alongside a blisteringly loud rendition of Cheapster from Amazing Grace. At moments, I certainly was quite close to tears. They didn't play their epic orchestral pop song Out of Sight, but I played it at full volume repeatedly driving over the majestically beautiful Conor Pass and pondered its pertinent lyrics in between soaking up the sad, posthumous brilliance of Amy's Back to Black: "If I am good, I could add years to my life. I would rather add some life to my years. Life is really what you make it they say. I can't even make my mind up today."

"The very heart of the matter is when you close your eyes and recall moments like Edwyn Collins singing Rip it Up last night," Philip King agrees. "This man has gone through a brain haemorrhage and re-emerged. He had to reboot his whole system and re-encode the circuit board of his head. To see him onstage singing that was mind blowing. I cried watching him. It shows what music can do when we are broken, depressed, rejected and disengaged. It can help us bind up those wounds individually and collectively. When we raise our voices to sing, it is possible for us to be free."

Now, more than ever, we need to nurture and treasure our rich musical resources and the value of homegrown success stories such as Other Voices. "As we begin to think about what we might be as a people and what might be possible in the next decade, let's forget about looking back for a second," King concludes.

"Someone said to me the other day, there's no point hoping for a better past. It's over. We need to look at what might be possible in terms of identity, self-worth and self-esteem as we emerge with toxic debt and impaired financial sovereignty out of a very bruising encounter with what we thought was success. We find ourselves compromised, anxious. All the advertising copy told us we were worth it. Were we really worth it? The things that are worth it and enduring are some of the things that go on in this place. We have premier division art, culture, music and drama, whether it's Druid or producing an artist like James Vincent McMorrow. We play great music at a very sophisticated level and make a great contribution to the sound of the world."

Even though we're all going through some tough times and this week brought its own heap of even more financial woe, take a moment out from the sometimes sanctimonious sound and fury that means nothing and just look at the inspirational stories of Edwyn Collins and Jason Pierce -- true blue survivors, great artists and keepers of a spirit that was even stronger than death itself.

Forgive the pun, but if that doesn't get you Spiritualized, I don't know what will. Poor Amy Winehouse astutely pointed out that love can indeed be a losing game, but these guys prove that life can be a winning one.

To paraphrase the lyrics of the absolutely inspirational Edwyn Collins, who warmed the cockles of every single heart in Dingle last weekend, now is the time to rip it up and start again.

Day & Night