We all know someone for whom the Covid-19 crisis and its attendant measures have represented a life-altering change of pace. Plans, projections, and priorities were put aside in the short-term across the board, as the country entered effective lockdown while initial steps were made across civil society to suppress the spread of the virus.
For Cork’s live music scene, as many of us are all-too-painfully aware, the usual rush of gigs every weekend, build-ups to festivals and new releases came to a very sudden halt. But as soon as the dust began to settle, the natural ingenue of the city’s musicians came to the forefront in many ways, as documented on these pages and elsewhere.
One such musician is arguably among the city’s busiest, hardest-working and most forward-thinking: Mayfield man Dan Walsh. A multi-instrumentalist with a penchant for percussion, Walsh is a quietly-spoken, considered yet unerringly radical presence on the Leeside scene, and his impact over the past few years has made itself evident accordingly.
His Fixity project has, on a solo and collective basis, provided endlessly interesting, pigeonhole-dodging tunes informed by a wide array of musical movements and ideas, while he’s been busy contributing to the music of The Bonk, and collaborating with friends in The Tan Jackets to pay homage to psych-rock’s early innovators, among many other projects.
When it came down to the next step after the imposition of lockdown and the cancellation of gigs, Walsh’s decision to keep improvising and creating was an equal matter of personal challenge, and establishing regularity amid the onset of a new normal.
“When restrictions came in, and every single show I was booked for for the year was being cancelled, it was a very tough thing to come to terms with. Playing music live has been a huge part of my life, and taking that out of the equation was a huge blow for a lot of us spiritually, and a straight up kick in the guts financially.
“I had to keep engaged with music, and kept playing and writing alone, which was not easy considering all of the tension and uncertainty around us all, but I figured that making records is what we as musicians do when there are no shows, so I tried to make a routine for myself of making something every day that I could.”
‘Fixity 6’, self-released this past Monday, is Walsh’s third self-made release amid the ongoing social and economic uncertainty, following the digital release of his fourth and fifth ‘numbered’ long-players (solo studio efforts, as distinct from his collaborative or live albums). Walsh discusses the creative, recording and collaboration processes for these particular releases, and gives us some insight into how his ‘directions in music’ are made manifest.
“The creative process has been much the same as the other numbered/solo releases; I'll start with an idea of some sort, either a melody, a concept for interaction or a theme on the drums, and then I'll press record and improvise a complete song form based on that idea.
“That first take decides how the song will take shape, and then I'll add the remaining layers in a similar way, committing to the first recorded take of each part. What the song means to me will reveal itself quite clearly as it grows into a finished piece, I try to keep discovery as a central objective in each part of the process.
Among the sonic surprises to be experienced on the sixth Fixity platter is an appearance from veteran Cork musician Muireann Levis, featuring on the album’s lead-off track, 'Still Still'. The pair have worked and shared stages together in the past, but while a theremin-centric collaboration came from left-field, it also provided Walsh with something compelling to build around.
“There are some people who just understand melody, and Muireann is one of them. I love to hear how people interpret things, it’s been a huge part of my work to hand material to people for them to be themselves with. We spoke about working on a tune years ago when I was starting out writing tunes for Fixity, and when this melody came to me, I thought Muireann would really understand it, and she very much did.
“From when she sent her theremin take to me, the song became something completely new, and that level of interaction is something I was really craving while working on a lot of the songs by myself. I couldn't be happier with where it led me.
“Theremin is often used as a kind-of arbitrary way of adding noises, or some sort of otherworldliness to music, but in the hands of someone who has such an individual voice and clear intention, it can be a very powerful melodic force quite unlike anything else.”
The album was released on cassette and digital download/streaming via Bandcamp.com, an independent digital platform that provides artists with a substantial cut of digital sales, mail order facilities for merchandise and physical music, etc.
Walsh, like other musicians in Cork in recent times, has been increasingly vocal in his opposition to new releases going up on Spotify, considering the inequities at play regarding royalties, and CEO Daniel Ek's recent remarks on artists’ relationship to the streaming machine’s seemingly insatiable appetite for any and all new content.
“Musicians have been talking about how awful and harmful to the artist Spotify and similar platforms are since it began gaining popularity, and I'm really glad to see more and more people realising this. It is an absolute disgrace that these companies are allowed to harvest such an enormous profit from artists and give so little in return.
“The best thing we can do as artists is to not tolerate being devalued in such a way, and to encourage our peers to stop giving in to a harmful system. There has been a lot written about how problematic and insulting to musicians it is, and even a cursory glance at the figures are enough to scare anyone. “Unfortunately, there are still quite a few people in and around the industry in Ireland that still consider sharing music from there to be an acceptable form of promotion. They are wrong. It is exploitative, and should not be supported.
“Delete your Spotify account immediately, and buy music from artists you want to support. Do not expect people to work for almost nothing. That's what bad people do.
Walsh has also been busy with The Bonk's recent lockdown-made EP, ‘Songs for the Meantime Vol. 1’, as well as the Phil Christie-led band's recent live-streaming appearances for the Live at Guerrilla Studios show, hosted by Doneraile man Ray ‘Wingnut’ Cuddihy, and Another Love Story festival’s online programme. How was it to get back in the saddle, so to speak, after a few months away?
“It has been amazing to be able to get together with the people and play again. I think we were all fearing the worst in terms of opportunities to play, so seeing the crew at Guerrilla getting together to make sure people get some music into them has been some sort of relief.
“It's an amazing group of people, and they are putting an awful lot of work in to bring a high quality show to people. Check out their Patreon to see how you can support them, and keep it going. I really missed the people and the music and it is great to be able to feel a part of something again.”
Walsh has also been a regular at the post-lockdown excursions of The Kino on Washington Street, a venue that has paid ample attention to providing a full-blown gig experience while being respectful of social distancing and providing table service, with both the Tan Jackets and the Bonk.
While playing to a small room full of candlelit tables is a shift from noisemaking for a tightly-packed crowd, it’s been a welcome return to regular action.
“The shows have been great. I'm on this planet to play music, so I was very glad to get the call. It's quite a different experience playing now, given the restrictions, as there is just a lot more to consider in terms of safety, and being able to cover costs with such limited capacities, but it is absolutely possible, and I think it's great that the Kino has made the effort to make some things happen.
“Hopefully other venues will be able to get going again soon but not before they can do it in a way that is safe and worthwhile for the audience, staff and performers.”
Insofar as any of us can make these kinds of calls at the minute, Walsh is keeping on top of a growing body of work, and appearing at live events at a time of rapid change.
The long-term ramifications of the last few months will doubtless be felt by musicians and music-lovers for months if not years to come, but Walsh’s steadfastness in moving forward is an example of the best in Corkonian resilience.
“Having just made three albums almost entirely alone, I'm considering my options for performing the music with the band and exploring the new tunes. I'm planning recordings with Fixity and a number of other projects as always, and will be trying to see what shows are possible through the winter and into next year.
“I will be involved in an upcoming online show hosted by (Limerick not-a-label) The Unscene, and will be playing a Fixity show in Cork in the coming months. That's all I can say right now, so just watch out!
“It is impossible to know what will happen next for any of us, but I know for sure that I'm going to find ways to keep making music, and getting better at what I do.”
Fixity’s new album, ‘6’, and The Bonk’s new EP, ‘Songs for the Meantime’, are both available now on Bandcamp.com, with the former also available on tape.
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