In normal circumstances, Irish pop/rock crowd-pleasers The Coronas would, by this time of the year, be criss-crossing the country and promoting their newest long-player. A full schedule of gigs at the country’s bigger venues, a slew of in-studio radio appearances, and packed press days would be laid out, between appearances at festivals, as part of the summer circuit that marked live music’s busy season. But dear reader, you could probably finish this paragraph as well as your writer by now: these aren’t normal circumstances.
Answering the phone in a decidedly chirpy manner is The Coronas’ lead man, Danny O’Reilly, just off the back of a round of activity to support new album ‘True Love Waits’, and streaming live-in-studio accompaniment ‘True Love Live’.
Given the prevailing climate, however, the most pressing issue to discuss would be his and the band’s appearances on ‘Songs from an Empty Room’, as part of the RTÉ-backed multimedia fundraiser for event staff and technical crew left unemployed by the mid-pandemic collapse of the live music sector, broadcast a few weeks back across the public broadcaster’s channels.
The initiative succeeded in raising over €400k for the EPIC Working Group, representing those workers in the national conversation, and Minding Creative Minds, a free-to-access mental health/counselling service for workers in the music industry. O’Reilly goes into the experience, as the band performed to an empty Olympia Theatre in Dublin.
“It was great to be back playing, to be honest, great to be back in the Olympia. We enjoyed being in the same room to rehearse and play together for the first time in four months. It was cool to have something to do, and being in the Olympia was amazing, but it was nice to feel the adrenaline, and be out there live.
“Afterwards, we were joking, ‘this is our biggest gig of the year, because it’s our only gig of the year’. It was nice, nice to see the venue’s crew, our own crew, but it wasn’t quite the same, more like a TV appearance. We still miss gigging more than anything, so it was surreal, but we enjoyed it.”
The event also brought O’Reilly together with Noel Hogan, co-songwriter, backing vocalist and guitarist with Limerick outfit The Cranberries, partaking in a live arrangement of that band’s enduring single ‘Linger’. Stepping into the shoes of the late Dolores O’Riordan on one of her band’s signature tunes is no small feat, but O’Reilly maintains it was a matter of staying in the moment.
“I’ve always been a huge Cranberries fan, first and foremost. The first album I ever bought was ‘No Need to Argue’, one of the first ever gigs I went to see was The Cranberries in the Point Depot in ‘98 or ‘97… over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know Noel a little bit, I consider him a friend now.
“He was asked to do a song, and pick a singer, and he asked me would I do ‘Linger’ with him. Of course I jumped at the chance, it’s an amazing song, I didn’t have to think twice. Rehearsal was nice as well, we had a quartet in, and I just made sure I didn’t get in the way of the song. The crew there and then, as we were rehearsing, all the crew just stopped and applauded. I was joking, ‘god, The Coronas didn’t get that reaction’ (laughs). Noel rarely does things like that, I loved every second of it.”
The EPIC Working Group’s campaign of public advocacy and political lobbying is doing vital work in shining a light on the problems faced by the event staff and technical crew behind live music in the current climate. As a member of a band that’s kept a small crew of regulars around them in various capacities over the years, O’Reilly gets into how the crisis has affected The Coronas’ extended circle.
“It’s a really difficult time. Just before lockdown started, we had a gig overseas, and we had a conversation with our sound engineer, Darren, who also does front-of-house with The Academic, and he was saying he had his busiest summer ever ahead. None of the dates clashed (between the bands’ summer tours). He was going to do tours with us in Australia, America and the UK, and a full European tour with The Academic. All of a sudden, there was just nothing.
“We’ve had a good ten years, and we’ll be able to ride out the storm as long as we know gigs come back by next year. But a lot of musicians, crew, venues - people who make stuff happen - need support, because they work week-to-week, on a gig-economy basis to cover rent. Y’know, people think it’s all fun to put on gigs, it’s easy to do, but there’s some really specialised, talented people out there, making gigs happen, and a lot of people are expecting them to come back next year when gigs come back, but if we don’t look after crews, there’ll be no-one left when people want gigs next summer, because these lads have to look at doing other things.”
“The Covid payment needs to continue until mass gatherings are allowed, for anyone connected to mass gatherings. I hope it happens for the EPIC group, they’ve raised a lot of money. There has to be a support, and it goes from the top right down to the bottom, from people that’ll be affected. It’s scary to think that if the payment stops, people aren’t going to afford rent, move home and find other jobs. It’s scary.”
Amid the tumult of the Covid-19 situation, and the uncertainty of creating and releasing music in the prevailing circumstances, The Coronas are in the unenviable position of getting the aforementioned new album out, ‘True Love Waits’, released independently for the first time in their twelve-year body of work.
The band’s normal business of doing a conventional release, augmented by an intense media and airplay campaign, is out the door, and the band has tried different things to fill the gap. Live performances and personal engagement on social media, and a new take on personal appearances in the social-distancing age - chatting with fans and selling signed copies of their new platter from the relative safety of the inside of an ice-cream van on a tour around the country.
“It was a challenge, an ongoing thing. We’re involved in everything, from videos to promotion. We had the album ready to go, it was due to come out in May, but then lockdown happened and it didn’t feel right to release. But we could see an appetite for music amongst our followers, we could see an engagement on our social media, so it felt right to put it out now.
“Gigs promote an album and albums promote gigs, so they go hand-in-hand. We delayed it, thinking gigs might be back in September, but once we saw that wasn’t happening, we knew we wanted to get it out there, and it just felt right to get it out there, and whenever we’ll gig it, we’ll gig it.
“But until then: we can’t tour, we can’t do any in-stores, like we used to, or go around to radio stations doing acoustic performances either, because the stations aren’t letting many people in thanks to issues with sharing microphones. We were discussing what we’d do, and even before all this, our manager had the idea of us going around in an ice-cream van, going around selling and signing the album, bringing it to the people in a family-friendly way.”
Without live audiences, and various metrics like radio, streaming, traditional download and CD sales all in an accelerated state of flux at present, measuring the response to the record inevitably presents difficulties. O’Reilly is positive about the face-to-face reaction the band have been met with on an unusual excursion.
“Just incredible. The queues everywhere we’ve gone have been amazing, everyone’s adhering to social distancing, we wear masks, we have Covid officers with us, looking after that, and we were in touch with local Guards and county councils everywhere we went.
“The reaction has been like, ‘thanks for coming out, brightening up our afternoon’, they can come down, get the album signed, get a free ice-cream, take a selfie, and it’s just been mad. Even earlier this month, down in Dunmore East: it’s a Bank Holiday Monday, everyone’s gone home, so we said, ‘if we get twenty people, we’ll take a couple of pictures, it’ll be grand.’ And there was 200 people there, queues down along the pier."
- Find the EPIC Working Group across social media, and email your local TDs about your concerns for local live music and supports for the people that keep it going.
- For more info on the Minding Creative Minds mental-health service, and to see how you or your creatively-inclined loved one might benefit, head to http://mindingcreativeminds.ie/.
- The Coronas’ new album, ‘True Love Waits’, is available across streaming services, and on CD & vinyl from Golden Discs and other mainstream music outlets. Its companion work, live-in-studio session ‘True Love Live’, is available now on YouTube.