Other Voices Dispatch 001: Gemma Dunleavy

In the early embers of the new year, music heads religiously pencil in the Dingle edition of Other Voices as a can’t miss event. For one weekend only, the town’s pubs, shops and streets open themselves to insatiable listeners for a genuinely one of a kind, community-driven music showcase. With the festivities taking place in one of the most southernly points on the island, on the other side of mountainous terrain, it’s an experience reserved for only those committed enough to make the pilgrimage. With the global pandemic interrupting the sanctity of the annual show for two years on the trot, we made a point of checking in with some of our favourite acts, before, during and after their performances across the weekend.

If something is in short supply, it’s usually a good idea to save an emergency stash for a rainy day. When socialising was reduced to a quantifiable screen time, there were few pieces of art that bottled up the pure joy of human connection like Gemma Dunleavy’s ‘Up De Flats’. Whenever the pandemic dealt another blow it was a swift and powerful reminder about the power of community and it feels fitting that she made a return to the Hillgrove nightclub in Dingle to give the track the reception it deserved at Other Voices’ first in person return.

After her performance on the Friday Night, Gemma blew off the cobwebs and hid from the south westerly winds ahead of day two of the Kerry showcase. Chatting from the backseat on the way to the coast she talks about the performance essentials she never remembers and shows being her home away from home.

Gemma Dunleavy by George Voronov.

Did you drive straight from Dublin to Dingle?
Yeah, so we have a driver, Leigh, who is deadly.

What were you listening to in the car?
You know, I actually worked the whole way… I listened to the Mark Ronson podcast with Erykah Badu, my uncle sent me that last week. That’s the only thing I tuned into on the way down.

What do you think of Dingle itself, had you been before?
I love Dingle! So I was here last week for ‘Other Rooms’. I came here during the summer with my friends, we did a holiday. It was whopper, we went to Blasket Island and it was 29 degrees. It was like being on a tropical island. We were up to our shoulders and we were the only people on the beach. They do tours 8-1, we went at eight and there was no one else there. Not even a footprint on the sand. It was insane, I’d never experienced anything like it. But yeah, I love Dingle. Every time, I am like ‘aw I wanna come down again’, but because it’s such a long trip you leave it until you have to. It’s a shame cause it’s stunning.

Adds to the magic making the commute.
Conor’s pass is a bit scary when it is windy. We didn’t drive through there this time, but last week we went through Conor’s Pass. Now, it was nighttime actually and i’m terrified of heights but I’m also blind as a bat so when we drove over, Leigh who was driving, her nerves were gone and I was like ‘what do you mean this is lovely’. Then I looked at a picture of it in the day time and I was like ‘thank god it was dark cause I would have been shitting myself’.

Gemma Dunleavy by George Voronov.

Tell me a little bit about last night’s performance.
It was deadly.  It flew in, it was only half an hour and we were pushed for sound check cause there were a few other artists. So we were trying to squeeze in all the bangers cause as soon as I knew I was playing here, especially in a nightclub, I was getting all the heavy dance floor stuff out being like ‘oh I’ll play this and I’ll play that’. Squeezing all those in was deadly.

Do you have any essential items that you can’t tour without?
I always have my ma’s sewing bits with me cause she always makes all my outfits. So I always have a bag of tricks that belong to her for fixing up stuff. This tour has got me really organised but to be honest I have a head like a sieve, I forget things I lose things so if I haven’t got an essential I probably haven’t brought it with me [Laughs]. 

What about pre-show rituals, do you have any that help stay focused?
So I’ve gotten into a ritual of sitting down and writing the set list with a marker cause that gets me into a bit of a zone. Sometimes, if it is an intense environment, I normally do a three minute meditation just to centre myself. I never get nervous, I get really excited, like a kid, but it affects your voice. When you laugh loads and your voice goes wobbly, that kind of happens to your voice when you get really excited. Me and Róisín always have a moment where we look at each other… we always say the gigs fly by so we look at one another and say ‘this is the moment before it’s over’. We always collect ourselves for a minute. Other than as I say, if I had a ritual it just wouldn’t happen because I’m a chaotic person. 

Gemma Dunleavy by George Voronov.

Was that what it was like last night?
Yeah, oh my god, we got there in the car. I was expecting them to bring us into a backstage area or an artist area or something and I was like ‘Im playing where do we go’ and he was like ‘in here’ and we literally go right in the middle of the crowd. Loads of people had come to see us, which was lovely but you know just before you go on stage you are like ‘aghh’. I think it is from the way my family are… As soon as someone comes over to me before I go on, I’ll forget I’m about to go on stage and start having a chat. Even Róisín is like ‘watch your voice!’.

Did it differ to gigs on tour?
The tour was very specialised. I had outfit changes, it felt like the room was mine on tour whereas here it felt like the room was someone else’s and I was stepping into it and bringing a buzz. So in that sense it was different, but I’m starting to see this thing with shows and it is so heartwarming. The last few gigs we’ve done it’s the exact same people and they are wearing the up de flats t-shirts and I don’t know them and they are coming to the shows. Someone came up to me last night and I recognised her because her hair was two different colours. She was at two of the tour gigs and one before that. That’s so lovely because last night was a bit chaotic, I was a bit stressed before I went on stage because I have this big flag and I didn’t know if that could go on. I didn’t get to sound check, the sound engineer checked my voice, but I didn’t get to hear my voice against any other instruments and to be honest I don’t like doing that when the crowd is there anyway – I hate sound checking in front of the crowd cause it feels like you are giving something away. So I was tense when I went on stage, but then I saw the same faces I saw in Galway, that i saw in the academy, that in It Takes a Village and AVA and you see all the same faces and you’re like ‘Im at home’.