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The Spirit of Voice Festival 2012 Reviews - An Taibhdhearc Theatre

Updated on November 12, 2012

Friday 9th of November 2012

The Spirit of Voice festival began this evening, bringing in a range of singers from all across the land, covering different musical styles that blended together seamlessly, styles that included folk, traditional and Sean nos, with touches of grunge and contemporary music mixed in with lyrics that were both traditional and modern.

What created the atmosphere was the venue itself, with ‘An Taibhdhearc Theatre,’ situated in the heart of Galway city, playing host to this evening’s entertainment. A historic theatre famed for portraying various forms of art and entertainment over the years, it was an ideal backdrop for the singers who participated and for the audience who came to witness this evenings events. It’s acoustics were ideal for the singers and performers to portray their talent to the highest level, and the lighting and simple acoustic stage settings could easily adapt to the changing musical styles and themes, breathing in every note and melody that was performed, and resonating them around the old famous walls, enticing feelings and emotions, drawing in the audience, and vibrating an artistic quality that so many venues fail to do. This was all largely down to the organizers and crew who worked tirelessly this year to bring this festival to life, and after this evenings entertainment, the remaining weekends entertainment will only benefit from their skill and hard work, combine this with the performers amazing array and depth of talent and this years Spirit of Voice festival will be a weekend to remember.

First on stage was Orlaith Ni Mheachair from Connemara in Co. Galway, a Sean nos singer with the amazing ability to mesmerize an audience with her voice. She sang a mixture of English and Irish Sean nos songs, stories sang with a technique that a lot of performers would find extremely hard to do. Singing so melodically that every note she hit in the spiral that is a sean nos musical scale was perfect. Before she began her act she apologized to the audience for not being at her best, a spell of laryngitis caused her to change her set and alter her voice slightly, if this is the case I wonder how she sounds at full voice, because even when feeling poorly she sang beautifully, her set including songs such as ‘Bright Blue Rose’ and ‘Willie the Sailor Boy.’ There she sat on stage, her head bowed, her hands on her lap, and when she sang it evoked memories of a forgotten Ireland, hypnotizing you with lamenting melodies and causing you to visually portray in your minds eye, scenarios of the lyrics that she sang so gracefully. Even with Laryngitis she didn’t need a microphone, even though it was there for her to utilize, she sang with a power and grace and beauty that captivated everybody in the building, to the point that you could hear a pin drop.

Next on stage was Peneleapai, a singer songwriter who hails from New York City with a refreshing urban sound of upbeat grunge, mixing in gothic Americana and even Irish songs into her set. Accompanied by her group, who also bear the name ‘Peneleapai’, what was portrayed to the audience was a strong rhythmic percussion section of bongos and a percussion box, with upbeat funky acoustic guitar rhythms. The groups sound is reminiscent to that of ‘Blind Melon’ and other nineties upbeat grunge rock groups, and her lyrics were colourful and striking, a mixture of emotions and messages, stories that included metaphors using the environment or just about the world itself. Her lyrical techniques follow an acclaimed list of singer songwriters who include Jack Johnson and Colin Hay of ‘Men at Work’ fame, singers who use their natural environment to convey their stories. Her set was extremely colourful.

Fia Rua
Fia Rua | Source

Third on stage was Fia Rua, otherwise known as Eoghan Burke, a folk singer songwriter who weaves atmospheric self written ballads with upbeat rhythms and mantric choruses. Performing tracks from his E.P. Drops, which was recorded especially for the festival, along with tracks from his already released albums, his music and songs are full of macabre and brutal honesty, with catchy melodies that cause you to constantly hum them out loud once heard. His emotional qualities portray extreme depth with a social running commentary of the mindset of the Irish, a tongue in cheek dark portrayal of mortality and pathos. There is black humour in his work, a mundane yet entertaining feel to his powerful lyrics and voice that caused the audience to get swept along like the ebb of a flowing tide whilst he performed. Many shivers went up many spines, his stories and messages were clear and concise, and captured the mood of urban Ireland with hidden themes in his stories, themes that seem to point or hint at the dark ebb of loneliness, depression and alcoholism that is so rife in Irish modern society. His chanting choruses strike these themes home hard; focusing on the psychological power of the human mind and how fragile humans are to the sheer power and brutality of the environment around them. How mountains are deemed immortal to that of a human, how darkness is inevitable to every human, how society functions as a whole, it was quite a breathtaking performance.

Wildflowers | Source

After a short interval, the main act of the evening took to the stage. ‘Wild Flowers’ are an awesome folk group, a trio of talented folk singers who formed to become, in some ways, an Irish folk super group. Comprising of Noriana Kennedy, Noelie McDonnell and Nicola Joyce, their immaculate and tight instrumental playing, tuneful melodies and crystal clear harmonies came into full force from the very beginning. They engaged their audience with humour and stories between songs, and sang with such immense talent and togetherness not seen since the days of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Their work had elements of sheer quality that CSYN would even admire, and even though their prime music consists of folk, there is also a mixture of soul, country, soft rock and even jazz thrown into the mix. The girl’s voices soared through the audience, and gripped your right into your very soul. They sang like heavenly angels, feeling every lyric and adding such breathtaking emotion that it extremely difficult not to evoke your own personal memories upon hearing each song. Their lyrics were so well structured and strung together it would cause any fellow songwriter to fume with envy just upon hearing them, and they weren’t afraid to delve into classic folk songs and sing them so uniquely that they made them their very own. They were the ultimate package on stage; they captivated the audience with every breath, they were so astounding one would find it hard to find any criticism at all in their performance. They are the future tour de force in the folk scene, not just here in Ireland but throughout the world.

Saturday 10th of November 2012

Saturday night’s showcase of the Spirit of Voice festival brought an eclectic mixture of music that covered everything from deep rooted soulful folk music, to alien pop. The show was hosted, as always, by MC’s Helen Gregg and Debbie Wright, otherwise known as The Lyrical Duo, actresses direct from Macnas Theatre Company. Their Air Hostess style of presenting brought a lot of entertaining value, as it does every night over the course of this festival. They engage the audience with surreal comic value, a refreshing style of MC presenting that is uncommon to festivals, who prefer to use the usual bland, boring, professional MC’s, the type of MC who addresses the audience with polite courtesy, dressed entirely in black. This is not the case with The Lyrical Duo. They appear on stage before the show begins, and mingle with the audience, making them relaxed, causing them to enjoy the show even more. They perform what is normally the bland task of health and safety issues with great gusto and comedy, and perform great introductions for each act. They really are a duo to remember, for all the right reasons.

First on stage was The Good Vibe Society, consisting of Brosy, D’Beats and Mickey Gatch, a trio of two rappers and a DJ hailing from Cork City. There is an ever growing popularity for Irish rap in this country, and depending on where you go, different regions in the country focus on different sub genres of rap. In Dublin they tend to go for the more psychological gangster rap, highlighting the harsh harrowing issues of drugs, violence and depression, whereas regions like Cork and Limerick focus more on hip hop, letting off a party atmosphere that crowds can enjoy and dance along to. The Good Vibe Society seems to be the forerunners in this scene judging on this evening’s performance. They rap about parties, their backgrounds, and social issues of the day, never overstepping the line in terms of their reality. They took to the stage and immediately created a party atmosphere in The Taibhdhearc theatre, having the audience bop along to tracks that included the aptly named ‘Feck That’. Their lyrics were ones that everybody could relate to, not just fans of the rap genre, and they had lines that were memorable. The most memorable one being ‘I’m a c**t sucking mother f***ing son of a gun.’ Lines of lyrics like this could be taken out of contest, but their high octane positive style of rapping really helps their lyrical talents, not only can they rap but they can also put on a damn good show. The term ‘rap’ derives from the phrase ‘rhythm and poetry,’ and they certainly nail both aspects of that term, they are definitely an act to look out for in the future.

Good vibe Society - Greatest Hits

Orlagh De Bhaldraithe
Orlagh De Bhaldraithe | Source

Next on stage was Orlagh De Bhaldraithe, a soulful earthly bluesy folk singer. Ireland has always been referred to in the feminine tense, from the days of mythology right up to its present scholars, but what is extremely rare to find are female singer songwriters who are able to capture the essence of femininity in Ireland, that earthly rooted soulful lamenting for the modern era. Whilst the traditional sense is still going strong, it is the individual female story teller with passion and talent to burn with attitude that is rare. Thankfully, Orlagh De Bhaldraithe is all of this and more, she is the voice of Irish women, and sings with such grace and funkiness its very hard not to get swept along to her music. Everything about her explodes with raw feeling and emotion, her voice is husky and powerful, and reaches into the inner core of her soul to break out notes that are filled with everything of who she is, she bares herself spiritually when she sings, her guitar playing is simple yet extremely pleasant to the ear, her clockwise circular style strumming allows the notes to echo out with pleasant melancholy. Her songs are full of dreams, of hopes lost and gained, of losing yourself and finding yourself once more, her music is pure and utter escapism of the highest quality.

Nanu Nanu
Nanu Nanu | Source

The final act to perform were Nanu Nanu, an alien pop duo from the fourth dimension, who have decided to travel around Ireland on the planet Earth telling their stories of what they have learnt on this planet. Mirrorman and Glitterface took to the stage, armed with an arsenal of synthesizers and processed vocals and a visual show that is artistic on the eyes and ears, performing tracks from their ‘Arena’ E.P. What is extraordinary about this group is how unique they sound; it would be hard to find another group on this planet who sounds just like them. Their brand of alien pop is just that, a strange yet gratifying mixture of music that sounds like it has come from another world. Unlike a lot of electronic acts who are repetitive, each Nanu Nanu song is completely different from the next; in fact in some cases they are miles apart. It makes you realize that their range of talent and song writing is infinite, no matter how many songs they write and record in their career it will always be different from their last work. Their music takes you on an infinite journey; it triggers off positive natural chemicals into your brain, it is pure art. The highlights of their set included ‘Pocketful of Gold’ a rasping, funky wailing song, with processed vocals that sound like a cacophony of tuneful otherworldly voices, and their unbelievably good cover of Katie Kim’s track ‘The Feast’, a song that is primal yet hauntingly beautiful when covered by Nanu Nanu. They are a talented duo who seem to have the world at their feet and will break many boundaries in the future, collecting a huge fan base along the way.

Nanu Nanu - The Feast

Sunday 11th of November 2012

The Spirit of Voice Festival came to a closed tonight with some fantastic music that reached right across the board of genre and art. The Taibhdhearc Theatre had a more resounding calming presence, and being a Sunday evening, there was more of an artistic relaxing mellow feel compared to the avante garde, high octane, party feel of top quality acts who performed the night before.

Tom Portman
Tom Portman | Source

First on stage was Tom Portman, A softly spoken singer songwriter who can sing the blues with the best. His range of topics were diverse, switching from positive stories about his life to more moody numbers that conveyed loneliness with such a stark yet poignant pang that it caused the audience to drift away to his unique style of guitar playing and voice. There was a Rory Gallagher-esque quality to his music, a spirit of true Irish blues throughout his work. His Guitar playing was unlike any to be seen, or heard, in Ireland today, he managed to play high quality riffs while mixing in flurry of tuneful notes, his keys dancing up and down the fret board in a flawless manner, and his guitar was an extension of himself. While he sang softly the notes that vibrated from his guitar filled the room with an inviting calm atmosphere, his music portrayed stories within his songs. The audience were so captivated that they refused to allow themselves to make any sort of sound until the last note drifted away on his guitar for each song, a rapturous applause would then break out with appreciation of this mans genuine natural talent. His style of blues reached across all spectrums of the genre with sheer brilliance, and his style of playing can only be matched by the likes of the late great Rory Gallagher himself.

Miriam Donohue
Miriam Donohue

Next on stage was Miriam Donohue, an acoustic folk singer songwriter. Her bubbly personality was ever present throughout her set and her singing and guitar playing had a simple and resounding quality. Her voice was lush and pleasant to the air, full of charm and beauty, and her guitar picking style was a complimentary backdrop of music to her songs, it was a cheerful and engaging style of playing. Her musical partner, Michael Chang, filled with the set a fantastic supporting role, his talented work on the violin, viola and mandolin provided an extra element to the songs, his harmonies reached out to the more traditional folk vibes of the set, complimenting certain lines of lyrics with certain styles of playing, whether it was by merely finger picking on the violin for one of Miriam’s more quirky numbers or stretching out long melancholic notes with his bow to portray the mood to what Miriam was singing. He did all this without overstepping the mark and taking away from the quality of the songs, yet stamping his own unique musical ability onto the set. What was most enjoyable about her work was her genuine storytelling. She was able to interweave stories into her songs without using heavy metaphors, yet creatively telling them in such a way that it caused your imagination to run riot. This was especially the case with her songs about Inisheer Island, most notably her song about a boat that was washed up onto the shore on the island fifty years ago during a storm, with the islanders saving all the crew on board, before stealing all the whiskey and plumbing on the boat. She sang this through her own unique way; with Michael Chang supporting her with a style of harmony that brought you in your minds eye to that fateful night. Miriam Donohue is blessed with a natural, creative song writing talent.

Little John Nee
Little John Nee | Source

The closing act for the spirit of voice festival 2012 has to be one of the greatest journeymen of entertainment in Ireland today. Little John Nee casually walked onto the stage, surrounded by an array of instruments and props. His act had everything, it was a mixture of theatre, poetry, storytelling, spoken word and singing, and it was all done by a master of his craft. He performed his show ‘Sparkplug Emporium of Natural Delight’ to an audience who loved every second he was on the stage. This man has managed to create a universe within his music and art, a multitude of his own created characters that he not only sings about, he even acts out some of his characters with mini monologues in certain parts of his show. And does it in such a way that it is for all ages and backgrounds, from young children to the most prudish of audience members. When he was not singing and performing he was creating a soundtrack for his small theatrical pieces right before your very eyes, he would play an atmospheric dark riff, and then loop it so it continued on in the background before engaging in his props and bringing his characters and stories to life. He even had the audience participate throughout his show, and what is so absolutely mind-blowing about this mans creativity is that his work has taken on such a life of it’s own that even the audience helped him write out what he called ‘futuristic’ songs about his characters, asking them to come up with themes and emotions, before literally improvising the songs on stage, with the help of the amazing musical abilities of Dublin alien pop duo Nanu Nanu, using ghostly haunting backing vocals and even a bow and saw to accompany Little John Nee. At one point he created such a diverse array of sounds that it had a pink Floyd style of quality, he performed a spoken word number after spending five minutes looping a different variety of stamping, clapping, clattering, banging and shouting noises to create the feel of anarchy in a mechanics garage. The mans talent is infinite, and he has created such a magnum opus with ‘Sparkplug Emporium of Natural Delight’ that it can only continue to grow in popularity until every person has heard something from it, whether it be covered by other artists or being seen performed live in theatre. Every country in the world needs a performer like Little John Nee, however they would be better off having him perform for them instead, he is a creative genius.

The Spirit of Voice Festival 2012 was an outstanding showcase of performers and music, and as it draws to a close, it can only benefit and grow from its popularity after witnessing the amazing acts that were live on stage. It is the kind of festival that fills you full of hope for what is the underground scene in Irish music, with acts that should really be headliners and A- listers in the music industry. However being the nature of the stranglehold that commercial radio and manufactured revenue driven pop music has over the country today, it is difficult to find a major platform for these acts. Festivals like Spirit of Voice, amongst others, really do work tirelessly to promote Irish artists, some of whom are on the threshold of breaking into the major markets, and it’s because of this, that I am certain that Spirit of Voice will continue to build on its popularity and grow and prosper in years to come. People must support the arts, support live music, and it was clear on the crowds that attended, that this message is coming through loud and clear and long may it continue. Here’s to Spirit of Voice 2013.


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