Posted on 14 February 2011.
‘Other Voices’, the gathering that put Dingle on the rock ‘n’ roll map, is back on RTÉ Two for its ninth series, the third with Dublin-born BBC Radio 1 presenter Annie Mac as host. She tells Harry Guerin why it’s more than just a job for her – and more than just another TV music show for viewers.
Annie Mac – “I don’t think it’s ever going to be something that I don’t want to do”
Harry Guerin: This is your third year of stocking up on thermals and heading down to Dingle in the middle of winter – you’re an honorary citizen now.
Annie Mac: I absolutely love doing ‘Other Voices’. I don’t think it’s ever going to be something that I don’t want to do, for various reasons: it being Irish, me being Irish – and being Irish means a lot to me. Living in England and not actually getting to do a lot of work in Ireland and with Irish people means that when the opportunity initially came up I was like: ‘I really want to do this’. And then when I went [to Dingle], saw the calibre of the show, the calibre of the music, the line-up… It’s kind of hard to describe why it’s special, and I think the reason is because of the people who run it and are behind it are just really special people that you just don’t want to let down. It means everything to them.
HG: Not just to the makers of the show, but to the residents of Dingle as well.
AM: Dingle stops for ‘Other Voices’; it feels like a festival in the town. Everybody talks about it. The really wonderful thing is how Philip [King, series producer] has done it and how he’s made it part of Dingle – the way they stream every gig on high quality HD screens in about five of the key pubs. So the atmosphere you get in St James’ Church is kind of paralleled in each of these pubs. They’re packed, and everybody goes in and everybody acts like they’re in the church! They don’t say a word between the songs; they clap after every song like you would in a gig. You could hear a pin drop in these pubs; it’s absolutely amazing. The whole town feels really, really involved with the show, which is a really lovely thing.
HG: I think the atmosphere in St James’ Church is one of the big reasons why the show has such dedicated fans.
AM: I’ve worked in music TV before, and with a lot of music TV the problem is that it’s all about the cameras and the TV show and not about the actual atmosphere in the room. The amazing thing about ‘Other Voices’ is that you kind of forget about the cameras. It’s about being in this amazing church, it’s about the kind of electric atmosphere [there]. The people who go to that church are genuinely excited for every act equally. It’s not like ‘Oh my God, it’s all about this one big band’. Everyone is given the same welcome, the same treatment and the same kind of enthusiasm and anticipation when they play that church. You can really feel that when you watch it; it feels like you’re part of that atmosphere. It always feels like a gig rather than a TV show.
HG: And no matter how successful an act is, or how many gigs they’ve played, Dingle is one they don’t forget.
AM: It’s such a long way [to travel]. You really have to make the effort to go. It’s a mission, but at the end of the mission it’s so much fun and you’re so warmly welcomed and received. And the gig, from a band’s perspective, you can be so indulgent on the show. ‘Other Voices’ just gives you complete free rein. Usually on a TV show you get to do one song and have to do it four times so you can get all the different angles and you’re done. This year each band got to do at the very least three or four songs; some bands did about five. So it’s like a full gig; it really feels worthwhile for them.
HG: Who were your own highlights from the recording of the new series?
AM: There were so many. In terms of someone brand new, who I hadn’t really heard and completely fell in love with over the week, James Vincent McMorrow. I’ve been telling all my friends on [BBC] Radio 1 about him and he’s getting a good bit of play over here on Radio 1 now which is brilliant. I thought The National were great. I’ve always liked them as a band but I’d never seen them live. So seeing them live in that church was really mind-blowing.
Definitely the highlights of the week for me were Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley. When I was growing up in the Nineties I was always a Blur girl; I was never really that much of a Pulp fan. I was sitting in the church looking at Jarvis and saying to myself: ‘How did I not love Pulp so much?’ He just totally won me over in every way – the way he performed, the way he dealt with the audience, the lovely, self-deprecating attitude he had while being absolutely hilarious at the same time.
HG: Who would be on your dream ‘Other Voices’ bill?
AM: Oh wow. They always have a proper legend, don’t they? I’d love to hear Van Morrison; I think he’d be amazing. In terms of newer stuff? Adele would be incredible and I think she’d be the kind of girl who would go over there and fall in love with it and not want to leave. Arcade Fire? This is a pretty amazing line-up so far! I reckon Lauryn Hill – just her and a guitar. There’s a young guy called James Blake who I think would be absolutely amazing in that church. I would camp out to see him in that church. Oh my God, I want this to happen now!
HG: What do you hope people take away from the new series?
AM: I genuinely hope that more and more people watch it! I feel that it’s a really special show and a genuine public service. I don’t think there’s a show out there like it – in Ireland or Britain. I hope that people like it and realise the amount of love, sweat and tears that go into that show and I hope that they want to watch it again! Every year it’s kind of up in the air trying to get the funding, trying to get it together and we never know until really a couple of months before – less sometimes – that we have the go-ahead. It’s a uniquely Irish thing and the Irish hospitality and the Irish people behind ‘Other Voices’ are the ones who make it what it is. It’s the best advertisement for Ireland ever.
The new series of ‘Other Voices’ begins on RTÉ Two on Wednesday, 16 February at 11:45pm.