Want to see live gigs? Well you can!

Cork Opera House is opening its stage to live-streamed gigs. Ahead of the performances, some of the artists and organisers speak to Downtown.
Want to see live gigs? Well you can!

Lorraine Nash released her EP during lockdown. She is now looking forward to live streams.

Amid the ongoing restrictions presented by the Covid-19 crisis, Cork Opera House is opening its stage up to a variety of streaming gigs, including a session programmed by the Coughlan’s Live crew and hosted by 96FM’s Michael Carr. Mike McGrath-Bryan reports.

WE’RE two lockdowns deep into the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, and while hopeful promoters are dangling 2021’s announcements in front of us, in the event that things go according to plan and our most vulnerable are privy to a vaccine by summer, there are still no guarantees of anything, really.

The country’s venues and festivals have gone some way to fill the gap by facilitating some of the multitude of gigs that have been streaming online via social media and video sites, and now it’s the turn of Cork Opera House to switch the stage lights back on.

The Opera House Sessions, an ongoing series of as-live events happening at the metropolitan hall, including the likes of singer Karen Underwood this past week, and upcoming sessions with Cormac MacCarthy and West End star Molly Lynch. But an ongoing collaboration will also bear fruit.

Paddy Dennehy had the tough job of launching a new album in the middle of a lockdown, nevertheless, sales have been strong.
Paddy Dennehy had the tough job of launching a new album in the middle of a lockdown, nevertheless, sales have been strong.

“We have teamed up with the Opera House many times over the years now,” says Coughlan’s Live venue co-director Brian Hassett, “be it on our own shows, or the Right Here Right Now festival that we present together, so we were delighted to be approached by (Opera House CEO) Eibhlín Gleeson to programme a live show to record and stream online.

“We have chosen to feature four artists, all of which have been releasing great new music during the lockdown so we wanted to use this opportunity to shine a light on them in a year where their live shows haven’t been able to happen.”

One of the aforementioned artists is Cork-based blues songwriter Paddy Dennehy, who had to follow up a busy 2019 with the launch of his debut album, in June — without the help of gigs for the hard yards of promoting it.

Despite the circumstances, Little Light has sold out of physical copies, a vote of confidence for Dennehy’s music in trying times.

“When I was ordering the CDs, I remember going through the costs involved, and working out how many I needed to sell just to break even and I was a little daunted. Merchandise isn’t something that I’ve ever had before.

“It’s something that I’ve purposefully avoided, as I didn’t want to be hounding people at shows to spend even more money once they’ve gone to the trouble of coming to catch the gig in the first place, but there didn’t seem to be anyway around it with shows being cancelled.

“In all honesty, I’m very surprised at the response so far. Maybe one of the nicer aspects of not being able to go out and perform is that people are listening more at home and sending messages to the bands regarding what tracks they liked, who else they’re into, etc. At least, that has been my experience.

“I’m getting far more messages now than I ever did and because it’s online and not just a couple of hurried words straight after a show there is a little more room for a proper conversation, which has been lovely.”

Dennehy is performing a collaborative track with fellow songsmith Niamh Regan, also on the billing, as part of his contribution to the gig. Collaborations, jamming and working out an end result to it all have changed in the circumstances, but Dennehy’s happy with how it’s come together.

“Generally, I’m not great for collaborating, pandemic or no pandemic! I’m not very comfortable

with the idea of sharing something I’m working on and leaving it open to being twisted and pulled in ways I hadn’t wanted. This feels very different and really simple.

Niamh Regan is set to collaborate in the show with Paddy Dennehy.
Niamh Regan is set to collaborate in the show with Paddy Dennehy.

“I loved Niamh’s album, and I heard we would be on the same show, so I sent a quick message to see if she might be willing to play on a track together. I sent her the track with the lyrics, and she very kindly agreed. We haven’t even met yet, to run the song through, but that’s just the way things are at the moment.

“I’m not in the least bit worried about it, funnily enough. We’ve both heard one another’s work and have an idea of how we want the song to come across so really I’m just excited to finally get to perform it together!”

Releasing her debut EP during lockdown, with all of the complications that attend, has also presented challenges for singer-songwriter Lorraine Nash. Packing classic soul vocal influence into folk and Americana structures, the record was ultimately well-received, but getting it out in the circumstances was no mean feat.

“When lockdown happened, I decided to postpone releasing for a while, and do another single campaign instead. This single actually got a better reaction than I thought it would, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to slow down and promote some of the individual songs on the EP and gauge the public’s reaction to them.

“When I released the full thing in June, it was disappointing not to be able to have a live launch, and to have had other gigs cancelled, but I did reach many more people online than I would have at a real gig. Although the idea of a live stream seemed very daunting, the best thing to do was just go with it, I don’t think I could have sat on that EP waiting for the pandemic to end, when we still have no clear idea of what the future holds.”

On the thought of stepping onto the Opera House stage in the current circumstances, Nash is excited, even with the trepidation of playing on a closed set, with all of the health and safety measures necessary for events like this to go ahead in the current climate.

“I’m delighted to have the chance to perform in such a gorgeous venue, it is quite sad that we can’t have an audience there on the night but this is the next best thing.

“Going into a gig with strict safety measures will be a strange experience but we are definitely very lucky as performers that it is going ahead. Having the chance to hear some live music on the night myself is also a very exciting factor, especially from such uniquely talented individuals.”

Malojian among the acts to perform in the Opera House event.
Malojian among the acts to perform in the Opera House event.

Hosting the affair will be a veteran of music radio and beyond in Cork’s 96FM’s Michael Carr, the voice of the station’s specialist show Select Irish. Aside from providing introductions and engaging in conversations with the artists, he’s happy, as a music-deprived gig-goer, to be back in front of musicians performing live.

“Well, it’s nice to be back watching live music at the Opera House! Both Coughlan’s and the Opera House have done so much for Cork music over the years, so it’s both great and fitting that the two have collaborated on this show. To be involved is a privilege.”

Carr has been hosting Select Irish on Saturday evenings throughout lockdown, and while the show’s usual format has been put aside, it’s been something of a golden age when putting together a playlist — as Nash has alluded to, 2020 has seen artists across genres and scenes keep their noses to the grindstone.

“I guess, like everyone’s work during this period, it has had pros and cons. I really miss having guests for interviews and bands playing live in-studio. It’s been one of the real pleasures of presenting the show over the years, and I hope that aspect returns very soon.

“On the other hand, I’ve never known a more productive time for new Irish music. The lack of gigs and touring has meant that artists have perhaps spent more time in the studio than they normally would, so we’ve been inundated with so much new music over the last few months. We’ve seen a lot of collaborations too, despite the enforced distancing, and I think streaming is something that is here to stay, too.”

Coughlan’s Live has been front and centre in representing live gig venues’ interests in a representative capacity throughout the crisis, being instrumental in the establishment of the Live Venues Collective. Heading into 2021, this initiative, as well as hopeful resumptions of business and programming comes front and centre for Hassett.

Cork Opera House stage will come alive.
Cork Opera House stage will come alive.

“The collective is currently composed of 26 venues that have come together with the sole aim of giving voice and representation to all the small rooms and independent stages that are bones, lungs, heart and soul of the Irish music industry. The collective have recently been successful in obtaining funding with the support of the Department of Culture, Tourism & The Gaeltacht.

“This funding will serve to momentarily sustain the fragile ecosystem of the independent music scene and will directly support and pay artists, technicians, promoters and venue staff to do what they do so well, in our small music rooms and stages throughout the country. This is something which very much gives us hope for the future of Coughlan’s, and all the other great venues in the country for 2021 and beyond.

“As well as working doing bookings and promotions in Coughlan’s, I am also a gigging musician, and I have visited so many of these venues over the years while touring throughout Ireland. The independent venues provide spaces where there is always a great welcome, where artists can develop their shows, find their audiences and build the foundations for their careers.”

Coughlan’s Live presents an Opera House Session featuring Malojian, Niamh Regan, Lorraine Nash and Paddy Dennehy on Saturday, November 28, at 8pm.
Tickets at €5 on sale now at corkoperahouse.ie.

 Coughlans Pub, Cork City. 	Photo Joleen Cronin
Coughlans Pub, Cork City. Photo Joleen Cronin

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