Other Voices Derry: Day One - We Lift Our Hearts To Sing

We're back. After our December festivities in Dingle, the Derry/Londonderry leg of Other Voices has begun with performances in the Glassworks and on the music trail around town. 

Last year Other Voices made its first foray beyond the wilds of Kerry and were taken in with open arms by the people of Derry, so much so that we're back for three more days of filming and events.

Before the performances in the Glassworks on the first night, we've already had Annie Mac in conversation with Jim Carroll at Banter and a screening of the touching film Mistaken For Strangers, a film about brotherly love and our previous Dingle guests, The National.

Back to the Glassworks for the main event though and while the floor manager Janine is pacing the front with a headset and presenter and OV executive producer Philip King relaxes the crowd in their seats we notice the stage is adorned with Other Voices' trademark hearts, this time cut out stencil-style. Phones are turned off, coats are removed, sweets are passed and we're ready for showtime, and the first of four bands.

Public Service Broadcasting’s remit is to Inform-Educate-Entertain,  if you go by the title of the London group’s debut album,  a remit they’ve borrowed from the BBC’s John Reith (who himself borrowed it from David Sarnoff). PBS are less a band more a thematic idea - what would happen if you trawled through the sound archives of the BBC and made music that  recontextualises the speeches culled from news broadcasts and films?

Dressed in stiff shirts,  all three members wear glasses, and have a studious air,  with J Willgoose Esq the assumed name of the most visible member. The overall impression is of three professorial lab boffins let out for the night to perform what they’ve learned from being locked away in the archives.

What that is can transcend the idea of soundtracking old voice samples by using an instrumental slant to provide a different context to the source material. Whether it’s post-rock, sample-heavy electronica or even, tropical banjo music, as a song sounds like tonight, Public Service Broadcasting are crate diggers of the past's voices and use the language of the present. Everything about them us a mix of old and new: the fashion on stage, the modern technology, the inventive visuals across eight standard convex tube television-style vintage screens, which at one point is live-streamed into the stage screens from a camcorder (does anyone use that phrase anymore?) with a vintage filter. Even the between song banter, triggered by technology, is a treated version of old-school-announcer mimicry leaving a gap in the air for the city to be announced (“Derry!”) to provide some light relief. 

While Foy Vance, with his curled mustache, his angled cap, brown tweed jacket and white slacks, looks like he just walked off a film set recreating the past.  In many ways, Vance’s music is a contemporary version of what has gone before. The Belfast man’s voice reminds us of David Gray's soaring timbre and has some of that Van Morrison Irish soul-boy twang.  His music veers on the poppier side of country and the folkier side of pop like the yearning title track of his recent Northern Ireland Music Prize Album Of The Year-winning release The Joy Of Nothing

Vance understands the power of a voice, while he is flanked by an able band fleshing out his songs into full-bodied numbers, it is his encouragement of the crowd on his last song ‘Guiding Light’ that will endure. "When I need to get home you're my guiding light,” he sings, gesturing to us, the assembled.  Vance stamps his foot and does a soulful warble that leaves the audience lifting their hearts to sing as he leaves the stage.  

While he’s perhaps better known as the violinist in The Frames (or a founding member of Kila), tonight Colm Mac Con Iomaire steps, with his violin, into the spotlight, to showcase his own tradition, transmissions and translations. Some songs on the setlist were from his 2008 solo album The Hares Corner so Colm was joined by a host of live players on keys, cello and bouzouki to flesh out the tunes. When he is alone on stage (and sometimes when he’s not) he uses loop pedal to build his songs into a flourish of orchestrated beauty. 

There is a slow air from the 1700s that mourns a groom who drowned after his wedding while bringing the priest back to the mainland from an island. There’s 'The Finnish Line', a song written in a jet lagged haze in Helsinki,  'A Study in Scarlet', a Sherlock Holmes-inspired composition, the effective expressive distortion of 'Thou Shalt Not Carry’, and 'Fainne Gael an Lae' / ‘The Dawning Of The Day’, a song later worked into ‘Raglan Road’ “once Paddy Kavanagh got his hands on it.” 

It’s music of such cinematic beauty that it’s hard not to be swayed by it. Emotional, moving and human, Mac Con Iomaire might be have been playing violin since he was six years old but he’s really coming into his own as a solo composer and musician now, many years later.

 The chip shops in Derry may be getting busier but it’s all about Chop Chop in the Glassworks. Bell X1’s considered new album makes for the bulk of the revered band's set. The tumbling piano rhythm of 'Starlings over Brighton Pier' sets out their stall. “The vacant lot says excellent retail opportunity, but I can’t help thinking of those broken dreams,” sings Noonan  on 'A Thousand Little Downers', made less of a downer by an expressive horn. 

David Geraghty takes the lead vocal for 'Diorama', a mournful piano ballad. They do have fun with a “bit of faffing about” when some stage prep needed, Geraghty suggests they all freeze so the people watching the live stream think it’s buffering.  

'The End Is Night' is a melodramatic song about the end of the world that makes that sound like a  positive stadium-rock event. “Everyone pointing at the sky screaming the end is nigh, it’s coming,” sings Noonan.  

 After the show, those hungry for more can seek out many bands playing in the pubs and venues of the city, Leanne Harte played upstairs in the Grand Central, Grim was in Masons, The Annulments were in Jacks Bar, The Clameens drew a crowd to Sandinos and Gangs kicked out the jams in The Gweedore. We're just getting started.

If you're around Derry today, there is Banter talks, Music trail from 1pm and a screening of The Frames documentary in the Nerve Centre.