A central ethos of the Other Voices event has always been to promote the viability of peripheral locations as places to live and support the arts and community life.
The music and arts festival, which has an associated high-profile international television series, has successfully done that ever since 2002 when the inaugural Other Voices was staged in St James’ Church in Dingle, Co Kerry.
Other Voices has grown and evolved since then, successfully touring such metropolitan bases as Austin, London, Belfast and Berlin.
Bringing the event to Ballina in 2018 must have been a litmus test for the relevance of the original ethos but the event, its crew and the community passed that test with flying colours.
That success was a particularly proud moment for the event’s producer, Tina O’Brien, who hails from Mayo.
A daughter of Paddy and Mary Moran and sibling to Sean, David and Helena, Tina was raised in Sandyhill on the outskirts Westport.
She is a niece of the late Nora Heraty who worked at Westport House for almost 50 years and played a central role in the cultivation and development of that town’s hugely successful tourism model.
The Moran family is perhaps most associated with the accountancy profession. Indeed, Tina’s brother, Sean, is the financial director of the local Kavanagh group.
But growing up in Westport she felt compelled to pursue a different path in life and was ultimately attracted by the varied options that a career in communications could afford.
She completed her degree at DCU where she narrowed her interests down to TV work. It was while still studying that she secured the opportunity of work experience with Philip King and Nuala O’Connor. They hired her after she graduated and she never left.
Today Tina is their partner in the Other Voices’ production company, South Wind Blows, and holds the title, managing director.
She explains that the concept of Other Voices was borne of an idea that Philip King and musician Glen Hansard had in 2002.
They wanted to afford a platform on TV to the wealth of singer/songwriter talent in Ireland at the time and RTE happened to have available budget for their proposed 13 half-hour episode series that was ultimately filmed in St James’ Church in Dingle.
“It kind of caught the attention of people. They really liked it and it just kind of evolved from there,” Tina explained, adding how additions like the music trail, the Other Room and the Ireland’s Edge conference have all been added on over the years to meet the growing demand among festival goers and to maximise the opportunities for showcasing musical talent.
Tina has been the producer of Other Voices ever since then. She says the role is essentially about project management from conception to funding to delivery/broadcast.
But the event represents just one arm of what South Wind Blows and Tina herself do. She is in fact, regarded as one of the most significant and effective producers in the areas of events, film and television in Ireland.
She has also been the lead producer on Ireland’s Edge, Ceiliuradh at the Royal Albert Hall and Notre Dame a Welcome Home at the O2.
Her portfolio of film and television work includes the critically acclaimed feature film Silence directed by Pat Collins, Gabriel Byrne: Stories from Home, The Gloaming: Moment to Moment, Glaoch: The President’s Call and the IFTA award winning documentary, John McGahern: A Private World,
Tina admits that her native Westport was her first consideration when Mayo Co Council first proposed, some years ago, that Other Voices might be staged in a Mayo location:
“It’s funny because when you are from a county, you tend to go home to your homeplace and not explore the rest of it so I had very little knowledge of Ballina or other towns,” she explains, adding that when she visited Ballina with other members of the crew, they knew it was the perfect base.
Pointing out that Other Voices does not operate to a commercial model and is dependent on successfully partnering with many parties and sponsors, she continued:
“In the case of Ballina we have worked with the likes of Mayo Co Council, Ballina Chamber of Commerce and Moy Valley Resources for this current edition and without that (collaboration) the event would not happen.”
“Place is very important to the ethos of Other Voices. It is important that it comes from the edge but it’s also important that we don’t go to a place and bring in what Other Voices is we do a lot of work to try and make sure that it is of the place. What we do in Ballina is not identical to what we do in Dingle and is different again from what we do in Berlin,” she explains, adding that close collaboration with local stakeholders is what gives the event its unique edge in each location it has visited.
Bringing the Other Voices experience to Mayo in 2018 proved a significant personal and professional milestone for Tina:
“I exceeded expectations because you never know when you go to a new place how it’s going to feel but Other Voices Ballina was amazing and we had a wonderful weekend.”
She continued that the artists and crew were particularly impressed by how friendly and helpful the locals were thrilled by how smoothly the whole weekend ran:
“So everyone is just really excited to get back to Ballina,” she remarked, adding that she is hoping her parents, who are a huge support to her as a working mum, will be able to experience the event that occupies so many of her working days.
Tina regards the line up for next the second Other Voices in Ballina next weekend as one of the most exciting in a long time.
Among the headline acts to play in St Michael’s Church is David Gray and Elbow. Tina acknowledges that these household names will be a big draw but is urging people attending the event to experience as many artists as possible including those performing on the music trail:
“I always say to people that one of the best things about Other Voices is that while you might come to the event to see an act you recognize you might discover someone else along the way that becomes your favourite.”