Other Voices: The Lowdown On Ireland's Tiny-But-Perfect Winter Music Festival

Dingle | © Christian Birkholz/Pixabay
Dingle | © Christian Birkholz/Pixabay
Photo of James Hendicott
20 September 2017

Ireland and music are natural bedfellows. From chunky yet magical summer festivals like Electric Picnic, via Thin Lizzy, The Pogues and U2, with a stop-off at fireside winter trad sessions and messy sing-alongs, melody is everywhere. A tiny, rural ‘made for TV’ festival, though, has become the ‘in the know’ king of the Irish music calendar.

Other Voices was founded in 2003 as an alternative music TV show for Irish national broadcaster RTE, producing beautiful footage of largely less-than-mainstream, curated musical stars from inside the tiny central St James’ Church in the Atlantic coastal town of Dingle. Performing to around 80 people a night, plenty of the acts the show attracted to rural Kerry were – or have gone on to become – internationally acclaimed stars.

Amy Winehouse is perhaps the biggest, but alongside the late-superstar, Snow Patrol, Glen Hansard (of Once and The Frames), Spiritualized, Hozier, Damien Rice, Jose Gonzales and The National are among those who have graced the church. Other Voices has also become a real heartland for the promotion of local Irish acts, too, who invariable dominate the annual bills, and more than match their international counterparts.

The entire concept came out of a conversation between organiser Phillip King and Irish star Hansard, the result now one of the country’s most delicately beautiful annual offerings.

Dingle, by the way, is the perfect host. With the gigs spilling out into the local pub scene and the more accessible, ticketless music trail, the town comes to life. There’s Dick Mack’s, where the labyrinth of rooms sometimes hide two acts at once, and the clutter around the bar looks like it’s been in place for a generation. It comes with slightly grumpy service and a sense that you’ve slid back in time. Other pubs double as hardware stores or bicycle rental outlets. Benner’s Hotel on Dingle Main Street becomes something of a hub for the madness, the crowded place to win tickets on site, as well as the place to catch a live stream of what’s going on in the church that’s kept from the general public for another few months.

There’s plenty for during the day, too. Fungie the dolphin resides in the town harbour, with those brave enough to give it a go even able to swim with the friendly resident. The peninsula’s views are epic, while the town’s shops have become legendary, too, from Murphy’s Ice Cream (where you can dabble in lush offerings made of lavender, or local sea salt) to the boutique cheese store.

Occasionally, careers are even launched, like for local Dingle act Walking On Cars, a five-piece that caught the attention of the Irish music press appearing in pubs during Other Voices, and went on to score an Irish number one with their 2016 debut album, tour across the world, and sign with Virgin Records.

Perhaps the most famous ever performance came from Winehouse. The talented vocalist dropped in on Dingle for the 2006 festival, wowing the church in a moment of divine clarity in what had become a messy life. Winehouse played alongside only her two guitarists (the drummer was held up by Kerry weather), and the show and her experience later became a short film The Day She Came To Dingle, later named the 17th best concert of all time by the UK’s Times newspaper.

So how do you get tickets? You don’t need to for the music trail: you can just rock up, though you’ll be hard-pressed to get accommodation anywhere near the town for Other Voices weekend. For the church, once bands, media and those involved in the production are taken care of, there are typically less than 50 golden tickets to go around for each night of the festival, and they’re not for sale.

Other Voices start giving them out a couple of months in advance of the event, through various competitions, typically keeping the last few for a local draw in Dingle early in the nights the festival actually takes place. What’s it like to get through those doors? The videos in this post say all you need to know…

Other Voices takes place in Dingle around the turn of November/ December and has also spread to other venues (though naturally, the original is the best!). Get the latest via their website – and get stuck into heaps more Dingle music videos – here.

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