Irish Musicians’ Lives Without Live Music | Cassandra Voices

Irish Musicians’ Lives Without Live Music

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In the presence of great music we have no alternative but to live nobly … and indeed one can hardly think of life without music.
Sean O’Faolain

In March the live music industry essentially ground to halt in Ireland. Sadly, owing to safety concerns, live music remains prohibited under current restrictions, and now even buskers are banned from playing.

Undoubtedly, the first lockdowns provided for a period of reflection, and many artists appreciated getting off the merry-go-round of gigs and promotional events.

Indeed, music was to the fore throughout the spring. Who can forget the indomitable spirit displayed by musicians singing from balconies? Although in Ireland, where few of us live in apartment blocks, most musicians were reduced to entertaining the birds, or other local fauna, in their gardens.

It is apparent that many musicians used the time wisely – drawing inspiration from introspection – embarking on new projects, and finishing off old ones that had been gathering proverbial dust in hard drives.

Yet as time goes by it is clear that among the biggest losers from Covid-19 are musicians, and others involved in the live music industry. The term ‘gig economy’ actually derives from the way most of them have been earning a crust since time immemorial. But in March the taps stopped flowing.

Lacking a live audience that is intrinsic to a performance, and which no Zoom session can replicate, we’ve heard that some are no longer even taking up their instruments.

It was a mad enough career at the best of times, with many doing it for the buzz rather than the money. Sadly, many may never resume their careers.

As we strike a balance between safety and the wellbeing of the population, music should figure prominently in the conversation, and state funding of the arts should be at least commensurate with other EU countries. In the short to medium term, concerts may take a different form, but we do need to make them happen or face a cultural decline that we may never recover from.

We asked a number musicians and others working in the industry to strike four notes in response to the pandemic.

From the top:

Fin Divilly – Songwriter and Performer
John Cummins – Poet, Musician and Creative Workshop Activist
David Agnew – Musical Artist and Legendary Concert Performer
David Keenan – Songwriter and Performer
Aisling Moore – Songwriter & Performer
Gareth Quinn Redmond – Ambient Composer
Daniel Lambert – Music Venue Owner, Band Manager and CEO of Bohemians Football Club
Avoca Reaction – Drag Artist & Producer
Ger Murphy – Live Streaming Host, Photographer and Gig Organiser
Robbie Dingle: Songwriter, Busker and Artist
Stephen James Smith – Poet

Fin Divilly – Songwriter and Performer (Also featured in the cover image by Daniele Idini)

Optimistic Note: In the face of financial and social pressure, songwriters have far more to sing, think and talk about. Dreaming of comfort and stability is far more fruitful than the real thing.

Pessimistic Note: Read above on a bad day when you can’t even support your arse in a pair of trousers.

Practical Note: More time alone allows for more self-reflection on what it is you truly want to be creating and who you are.

Existential note/How you are coping: Read above and picture me smoking, drinking and writing in peace at home in my underwear, forgetting what day of the week it is.

 

Veteran Oboe player David Agnew by Virtuoso Fotografia

David Agnew – Musical Artist and Legendary Concert Performer

Optimistic note: Lucky to be supported by the broadcaster I work for, recorded many pieces remotely and lucky to have performed live several times despite restrictions.

Pessimistic note: Worried that vaccines won’t bring the live experience back in a meaningful way for classical music. It will be a long time before older audiences will congregate, I’m sure.

Practical note: It has given us all the time to evaluate exactly who we are as musicians, and value what we do. It has been difficult to maintain match fitness, going from one hundred concert performances a year for the past forty years in my case, to six small-scale live performances with twenty-five people in the large church. You need the constant organic and charged musical environment with colleagues and the big audience-throng to sparkle.

Existential note/How you are coping: Online teaching has been rewarding. Remote recording on your own is difficult but fantastic to see it mixed and realised in the final cut. Writing, collaborations with others, when we haven’t had the time before has opened up new avenues and friendships. When we get back to something, and we still don’t know what that is going to be, we will have a greater sense of value and appreciation of everything we’ve probably taken for granted, and assumed would last forever.

John Cummins. Daniele Idini/Cassandra Voices

John Cummins – Poet, Musician and Creative Workshop Activist

Optimistic note: time to take stock, see where my art is at…time to plan an approach when allowed to play again … levelling the playing field somewhat in the industry across the board, artists can stream easily enough, if they so choose…

Pessimistic note: the impact on the mind and the pocket of so many people who have had the rug pulled…

Practical note: difficult and frustrating for people to plan anything with certainty…

Existential note/How you are coping: trimming the day down to its particular parts – having a morning, slow and steady … being in the afternoon … embracing the evening … connecting to the night … whether we like it or not, we are all in this together … I try to keep an eye on the bigger picture and not get bogged down in just me and me and …

Songwriter David Keenan by Mark William Logan

David Keenan – Songwriter and Performer

Optimistic Note: Being creative and expressing observations, internally and externally has always been the go to reaction, a means of understanding. I sense a unity in the artistic community in the face of the current restrictions and the trauma inflicted on our way of life. Swells of creativity are stirring as people are going to their tools and collectively spewing. Adversity breathes action and there’s a duty to self and to the craft to try to articulate what we’re seeing now and beyond.

Pessimistic: The eradication of live gigs has been a severe trauma on the individual, the facilitators and the audience. Live medicine, that age old human ritual is being denied. Psychologically this is so destructive as well as to the livelihoods that have been erased. It brings into question the concept of essential work and how reverence for the Arts has diminished in recent times. I worry that the Arts are not being valued as crucial sources of emotional and psychological wellbeing and will continue to be devalued in the new year.

Practical note: Those involved in the production side of the industry have vast experiences to teach. I suggest that initiatives to support unemployed teachers such as these should be set up to help them pass on this knowledge to young and old. The same goes for funded workshops for artists be it online or in person. We have to revalue the work, not devalue it even more in a time where so much is given away for free online, almost expectedly so. The shop local concept should be encouraged and applied to Irish Musicians / Artists. Buy a physical copy of a record / t-shirt / book from your favourite artists or venues. Streaming is of no use in terms of making a viable living.

Existential note/How you are coping: I’m doing my best to stay as creative as I can and trying to protect my energy reserves, building for the new year. These past few months have invoked a lot of anxiety, confusion and anger but it’s important to me that I try to grow and turn the base into something pure. Expressing myself through music and words has always gifted me healing and renewal. I’m staying as tight as I can to those lights, hopeful of what’s to come.

 

Ashling Moore by Megan Shannon Photography.

Aisling Moore – Songwriter & Performer

Optimistic note: I think there is a lot of opportunity to wrote and really find myself as an artist. In terms of the music industry, there is more and more recognition from the government and others of how important music is. I just got awarded a grant to start my EP which is a helping hand. Also a scheme might be coming out that pays musicians hourly like other jobs which is ideal.

Pessimistic note: Trying to be inspired to write about things other than the lockdown can be difficult. It is hard to know how long it will take before performing can go back to the way it was

Practical note: Lack of practice with performing.

Existential note/How you are coping: I’ve started reading books again. I’ve started exercising and being more aware of what I’m eating. It’s been hard but I have a socially distanced gig coming up so that has helped a lot. Knowing that there is solutions being created gives hope to us musicians

 

Gareth Quinn Redmond by Daniele Idini

Gareth Quinn Redmond – Ambient Composer

Optimistic note: I felt very vindicated having spent so much money on recording equipment at the start of the first lockdown, it has been a lifeline being able to continue writing and recording throughout the year. I’m not sure what state I would be in now if I didn’t have this set up.

Pessimistic note: It has been a tough year mentally, which got even harder at the start of October when I lost one of my best friends and bandmates to suicide. I have a great support network of friends around me but nevertheless it is so hard to grieve his loss when nothing about my day to day life reminds me that he is gone.

Practical note: It has been a great year for reflection but this is constantly overshadowed by the eternal dread of possibly not gigging ever again, not like I did before anyway. I can’t imagine doing anything else in my life, so I’m worried about the impact the new reality will have on the arts.

Existential note/How you are coping: Taking it day by day, my family and friends are so supportive. Compared to many I am very fortunate, I just need to keep reminding myself of that.

 

Daniel Lambert – Music Venue Owner, Band Manager and CEO of Bohemians Football Club

Optimistic note: we’ve been given the space to somewhat remove ourselves from the rat race, to breath and contemplate.

Pessimistic note: the lack of a clear date for the restart of live music as we knew it makes it hard to motivate each other.

Practical note: spend the time wisely, develop the online shop, investigate opportunities outside of core gigs, see the opportunities in difficult times.

Existential note/How you are coping: by swimming in the sea every single day.

Optimistic note: It’s nice to have a break from the hustle.

 

Avoca Reaction by Kyle Cheldon Barnett

Avoca Reaction – Drag Artist & Producer

Optimistic note: It’s nice to have a break from the hustle.

Pessimistic note: Performing on Zoom/similar platforms is a paltry substitute for a real crowd at a regular gig.

Practical note: All of the work opportunities I’ve had since March have been better paid than pre-pandemic.

Existential note: The first lockdown showed me how much my self-worth was tied up in my work/output. Over lockdown I’ve been working on finding satisfaction outside of performing.

 

Ger Murphy – Live Streaming Host, Photographer and Gig Organiser

Optimistic note: I’m in the unique position of doing pretty well out of Covid so not sure my opinion counts! But here ya go…. A lot of people and businesses were working nonstop, gig to gig, so this break has given time to look at how they work and hopefully come back stronger.

Pessimistic note: Can’t see live events coming back for another 6-12 months so bulk of my mates jobless until then.

Practical note: I have a live streaming company so never been busier.

Existential note/How you are coping: I’m graaaaaand.

 

Robbie Dingle by Daniele Idini

Robbie Dingle: Songwriter, Busker and Artist

Optimistic note: I’m finding this time to be very productive and am using the time to hone and polish my skills. I have surrounded myself with great musicians and am learning and busking on the street every day (with safety precautions). I am finding myself to be more focused and driven as it gave me the time to really think about what I want to do, projecting myself and thinking about my future in music. In the band I am in we have been chosen to be part of a Covid series called “justtheone” alongside some great artists and this gave us a kickstart to release more which I am very excited about.

Pessimistic note: The fact that bars have been closed and sessions I used to play at, open mics, jams I attended and hosted I am missing the interaction with a crowd and artists. In these spaces artists share their ideas and performances. Artists polish and cut the fat off songs to see what works and without this space I feel it will have a detrimental effect on art, creativity and an artist’s livelihood.

Practical note: With no gigs and regular busking I have set up a PayPal and moved into the city centre to play every day. The money earned from YouTube videos via PayPal has paid for a bike I now use to travel mobile and light around the city. The bike has a rack and I just use my busking amp and guitar which is very handy. No time on buses which is saving me money and I can access and travel to places that I could not before as I used to carry a hiking bag with all my busking stuff for the day. Now I can busk, go home for lunch, relax, recharge my batteries and even busk a second time.

Existential note/How you are coping: Recently I moved to the city centre to busk and play every day and sometimes struggle with rent (like everyone if you’re not a politician). Some days can be very bad and others brilliant. This can be due to the weather, location or getting stopped by the police if there is a congregation of people. The public are very generous to us and I feel we are much appreciated during these hard times. People light up as many have not heard live music in weeks or even months, they dance and sing and for us to bring that out of them while doing something we love outweighs anything negative about a buskers life.

 

Poet Stephen James Smith by Babs Daly Grace Photography

Stephen James Smith – Poet

Optimistic note: What won’t kill you….

Pessimistic note: Many won’t recover.

Practical note: We’re learning

Existential note/How you are coping: ‘Let everything happen to you / Beauty and terror. Just keep going / No feeling is final ― Rainer Maria Rilke.

Are you a musician denied a living from live music? Answer these questions in the comments section.

Optimistic note:
Pessimistic note:
Practical note:
Existential note/How you are coping:

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