Monday, 11 February 2013

MUSIC REVIEW: Other Voices Derry, Final Night

Other Voices bows out of Derry-Londonderry in a surprisingly eclectic manner

It's the end of the line for Other Voices Derry as the final four "big" names prepare to step onto the now Legenderry stage of the old Glassworks church. And once again, it's a question of whether or not they'll rise to the occasion...


It's not Little Bear's fault, but when they step onto the Glassworks stage I'm unfortunately reminded of what happened when David Bowie dislocated his shoulder in the run up to Oxegen 2004. Into his place stepped the overhyped, over-marketed and over-played The Darkness, and an otherwise fine festival finished on a damp squib. There's no danger of that happening tonight, however. For despite their unexpected promotion to centre stage at the expense of the unfortunate Two Door Cinema Club (and their laryngitis affected lead singer), Steven McCool and his highly regarded band mates - Mark O'Doherty, Ryan Griffiths and Conor Mason - produce an affably tuneful set that both hugely excites and strongly resonates with the packed church. McCool comments during the set that it's "amazing to be sharing the stage with three Gods". Except McCool and company do far more than support these "Gods" - they complement them.

Their gratefulness for the unexpected opportunity they've been given shines through on stage. They dovetail nicely with one another, seem very much at ease with their material, and transcend their obvious rawness to present us with an earnestly experimental indie set featuring splashes of folk here and there. If the Snow Patrol-esque singalongs don't quite come off, they deserve kudos for trying. Both their overall reception and my gut tell me that in the near future, they will no longer be "little" Bears.


Daughter are a very different beast to Little Bear. The majority of their set is laced with an eerie, freaky ambience akin to Portishead and Radiohead, which is fine if you're in the mood for it, but it also comes across as disappointedly dreary and detached. Lead singer Elena Tonra is really the epitome of the entire performance; for the most part, her massive fringe and perpetually sorrowful demeanour overshadow her strong presence and vocals. For every fine guitar riff or drum beat there's an equally mournful lyric; it's sort of schizophrenic.

Fortunately, the dominance of the vocals, the professionalism of the band and Tonra's growing confidence throughout the set eventually win you over. The strength and spirit of the band's final number is such that despite the rather odd nature of the performance, the overall effect is a positive one.


Imagine if Daniel O'Donnell had met Johnny Cash in Scotland and trained the first person they saw; then you'd have James Yorkston. The amiable Scot's self-depreciating humour and Barry White-esque drawl (he jokingly blames this on a little "incident") stand out nicely in a very smooth performance.

Even if his drollery isn't enough to raise the spirits of the Derry public (and it is), he still has a lot to offer. The varying pace and jauntiness of his folk tunes give him and his talented accompanist Emma Smith plenty of time and space to shine in these surroundings. His "raspy voice", a jocular subject between the songs, is actually a rather priceless asset during them. Whether it sounds as good when he's doing Tina Turner on karaoke afterwards, as he claims he is, is another matter entirely...


One could be forgiven for being initially taken aback when they see a seemingly weary Beth Orton performing with her fellow singer-guitarist - and now husband - Sam Amidon in a very country and western manner. It, and most of the songs we will hear in this setlist, including the William Blake-inspired "Poison Tree" seem alien to those of us who were raised on the Trailer Parks, Central Reservations and Daybreakers of this world.

But really, Orton has just honed and toned down her style to remain in context with the times. What we hear from her tonight is as much of a "regeneration" project for her as Neil Hannon's similarly titled album of 2001 was - for all the differing instrumentals back then, Hannon's wit and drive remained intact. As do Orton's vocals and songwriting skills. Artists never really surrender the essence of who they are, and as the set goes along, one slowly but surely realises this. A song like "Mystery" for example, would feel quite at home in the pre-Comfort Of Strangers era, and the speedy enunciation and effective projection of "Dawn Chorus" is an example of Orton at her very best. The uncertain transitional phase she seemed in when she released Comfort Of Strangers (it was six years before she released another album) seems a thing of the past. Maybe, as she says during the set, Amidon has been the "brain" she has needed to calm her nerves and get her back on track?

Amidon's cover of "The Streets Of Derry" is a little disappointing, paling in comparison to - in my opinion - Cara Dillon's definitive version of said song, but it's the only false note of sorts in an otherwise fine set that concludes with a mature performance of the Trailer Park classic "She Cries Your Name". Perhaps, with everyone about to bid farewell to Derry, "Thinking About Tomorrow" might have been more apt, but she's chosen a good tune to finish on nonetheless.

So long, Other Voices. We've been lucky to have you.

(Photos courtesy of Robert Emmett Photography.)