Outside the Box: Other Voices' intimate church sessions are lost at a graveyard slot

The most critically-acclaimed music show on Irish television might as well be shouting into the Atlantic winds

Other Voices, Annie Mac, May Kay, Huw Stephens, Aidan Gillen, RTÉ2, Dingle, Church of St James

'Other Voices' presenters Huw Stephens, May Kay, and Annie Mac [RTÉ]

RTÉ 2’s flagship music show Other Voices is set to return to our screens for an impressive 14th season this weekend, lost in a graveyard shift at 11.15pm on Saturday night. After more than a decade of getting some of the world’s most critically-acclaimed performers to make the trip to Dingle, to perform in tiny venues, surrounded by music fans that haven’t paid a cent for the privilege to be there, the show still wows critics, bewitches a global audience on YouTube, and is largely ignored by the national broadcaster.

Music programming has an uphill battle to fight in the modern era of TV scheduling; amid all the talk and hype surrounding global media services like Netflix or Amazon launching successful shows in the field of drama, documentary, animation, and jingoistic jalopy driving, none of them has yet launched a show that caters to music fans. It is difficult, of course, to understand what kind of show to pitch, as the very personal experience of listening to music, whether that’s crackling LPs rotating under a needle or digitally spotless MP3s orchestrated by the rotation of a thumb, is an act not best suited to the limitations of a TV screen.

And yet, in many ways, Other Voices captures the ethereal and fleeting moments for viewers that listeners feel when enveloped by a song. Raw, emotive, and simple, when an artist you’ve never heard of takes to the stage in the intimate setting of the Church of St James, a boxy house of worship with notions of Georgian Gothic Revival, the sound doesn’t just fill up the church, it takes over your entire living room.

Add to that the engaging presentation style of three people who know their stuff and introduce the performers with ease, warmth, and a keener understanding than other RTÉ presenters have previously shown; compare Annie Mac, the Irish DJ whose BBC Radio 1 show has become the benchmark in musical cool across the Irish Sea, to the painful interjections of Al Porter, whose schtick while presenting footage from the tents at Electric Picnic last year seemed to be entirely derived from the direction to “put camp back into the campsite.” With one, we have a consummate professional, as interesting as she is interested. With the other, it was a leg up for his own stand-up show over Christmas.

That’s not to say that Other Voices hasn’t had its own issues with presenting in the past; while Mac, her BBC colleague Huw Stephens, and Fight Like Apes’ May Kay all make for game hosts, they sit in stark contrast with actor Aidan Gillen, best known for playing Littlefinger on the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones, and whose increasingly awkward interviews with guests would lead one to assume they showed him the middle finger after the cameras stopped recording.

Frankly, Other Voices doesn’t need an internationally famous actor to front it, the singing, for want of a better word, speaks for itself. The festival has garnered a worldwide following and a reputation for giving the stage to up-and-coming artists who make the most of the opportunities the boutique venues offer. The show is not a vehicle for anyone other than the performers, who showcase their writing and performing in a unique venue.

It seems a shame, then, that the schedulers would let Other Voices air at such a lonely time, lost amid the morass of 90s movies, foreign-language dramas, and Bieber music videos on repeat on digital services as people neck their naggins in the build up to a night out. Alone in the Dingle wilds, the soulful cry of Other Voices’ annual return to the TV will likely be lost. And what a shame, it’s great to hear from them again.

Every Thursday, James talks Sean Moncrieff through what's making waves on the small screen this week. You can listen back to what he spoke about with guest host Tara Duggan below:

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