Cork music takes centre stage on the small screen... live!

Throughout the month of December, venues around Cork city and county will reopen their doors, and invite all manner of artists and DJs back on stage. We talk to venue owners and film crew about coming one step closer to the return of live music.
Cork music takes centre stage on the small screen... live!

The Tan Jackets at Crane Lane. Pic: OSM Photography

As 2020 inches to its conclusion, it can be safely be said that it’s been a difficult year for music in Cork. While artistic output has survived, and even thrived, amid lockdowns and other social restrictions amid the Covid-19 crisis, the same couldn’t be said for live music.

One of the first sectors of the Irish economy to shut down completely in the interest of public health, and likely one of the last to reopen fully, live music and the wider events business has had to deal with one eventuality after another in 2020.

 Elaine Malone performing at Debarra's Folk Club, Clonakilty. 	Pic: Bríd O'Donovan
Elaine Malone performing at Debarra's Folk Club, Clonakilty. Pic: Bríd O'Donovan

From the initial shutdown, to figuring out ways of staying in the public consciousness, to campaigning for funding and other infrastructural supports, the gig and festival scene has faced challenges without precedent, and is looking at another year, at least, of a slow, uncertain, but hopeful return to action.

“It was devastating to hear that we had to close in March,” says Kate O’Shea, events manager at Crane Lane Theatre. “As well as having concerns for our own family and friends, we shut a little earlier than others as we didn’t want to put any customers at risk. No one knew at this time that the theatre would remain closed nine months later.”

Around 130 people alone have income before Christmas that they wouldn’t have had before — sound engineers, stagehands, lighting engineers, technicians, camera crew, production — so we’re creating more employment

“The one thing everyone thought is that it would hopefully be a short-term thing”, says Ger Kiely, owner of Cyprus Avenue. “Gigs were deferred from March and April to September, and then on again. You’ve had this whole industry, living on a prayer, almost, that we’d be allowed to do gigs in some form again. We haven’t been, and in the meantime, everyone’s been busy, but no-one’s had any income whatsoever.”

Jazz Improv! House Band at Crane Lane.
Jazz Improv! House Band at Crane Lane.

“Anxiety, paralysis and despair were all major problems for everyone in the early months of Covid-19, I think,” says Ray Blackwell, manager of DeBarra’s of Clonakilty. “For me those feelings have been now replaced with a little hope, focus and a set of work goals which I’m eternally grateful for. So working towards those goals has been a major coping mechanism.”

Recent funding for the live venue sector came from Minister Catherine Martin and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, through the Live Performance Support Scheme: the first such grant to be awarded in state history. The hard-won result of organising, mobilising and making their presence felt through public support and campaigning, it all started with venues working together under the Live Venue Collective banner.

“I believe that coming together as one showed that our needs were very similar, and that passion that each venue has is outstanding,” says O’Shea. “It is a great model of how we see the music industry, and a great opportunity to work together to bring the best live music to every venue involved while supporting each other. We are now working together, rather than in competition with each other.

Andy Invine at Cyprus Avenue. 	Pic: Sean de Faoite
Andy Invine at Cyprus Avenue. Pic: Sean de Faoite

“Credit must be given to Minister Martin, for getting the funding where it wasn’t there beforehand,” says Kiely. “She has listened, tried to understand, and put funding in place. There’s a lot of work going into applying, which is fair - they have to have procedures and regulations. But she’s put a team in place which has been very helpful, very understanding, and very available.”

One of the major outcomes of this funding is the return to live venues of hundreds of artists and performers across the genre spectrum, taking to empty rooms for pre-recorded gigs to be released as video streams across the venues’ online platforms.

While adhering to social distancing and other restrictions, these sessions also allow venues to resume the process of booking, promoting and engaging with those in ancillary roles created by live music, while creating documents of a different time for the artform in Ireland.

“We have 33 acts booked”, says Kiely of his venue’s round of recordings. “Around 130 people alone who have income before Christmas that they wouldn’t have had before. You’ve got sound engineers, stagehands, lighting engineers, technicians, you’ve got camera crew, production management, we have interviews, so we’re creating more employment.”

“And among our own staff, catering, setup, cleaning, production, booking, PR, advance management, etc. So you’ve got a lot of employment created for that period.”

Happyalone at Cyprus Avenue. 	Pic: Sean de Faoite
Happyalone at Cyprus Avenue. Pic: Sean de Faoite

“Each artist is different, and will have their own needs with regards to how they are lit and filmed,” says Rob Noonan of Twisted Vision Productions, the film crew recording gigs at Cyprus Avenue, of the challenges and upsides of the job.

“It can vary from a relaxed solo acoustic set that can be filmed intimately, to a five-camera set up to cover a six-piece band. Everything is changing on the fly at the minute and its all about tailoring to the artist needs with regards to use of space.

“It’s been fun to be challenged creatively, in terms of adapting a filming style unique to every performer, and working with the lighting technician to achieve a look that is both cinematic and adds to the mood of the performance.”

With things moving forward, several arts festivals, weekenders and all-dayers have stated that live streaming will be part of their offering going forward, citing in particular a wide national and international reach. While it means an additional stream of possible income and awareness, everyone agrees that there’s no substitute for the real thing.

 ADT with Justin Grounds in Debarra's Folk Club	.Pic: Bríd O'Donovan.
ADT with Justin Grounds in Debarra's Folk Club .Pic: Bríd O'Donovan.

“I believe that the future of being at a show, and dancing until your feet hurt, or screaming for more until you lose a few vocal cords, isn’t lost”, O’Shea says. “Musicians need energy from the audience, to encourage them to reach other

depths that can’t be achieved through a camera lens. You need a personal experience, for both artist and audience.”

Kila at Cyprus Avenue. 
Kila at Cyprus Avenue. 

“As live music in some way increasingly moves to the online space it is important to put a value on it,” concludes Blackwell. “That means a ticket. Art and music should be paid for. Artists and technicians need to be paid. Also, the high production values and subsequent cost of streaming are very significant.”

2021 approaches, and with it, something of a change back to something approaching normality, with consensus being that we see regular gig action again in the second half of the year. While caution is natural after the trauma of the year we’ve just had, it’s time to look forward, make sense of the circumstances, and keep providing platforms for music to be seen, heard, and felt.

“All the vaccine news gives me hope,” says Blackwell, “but I reckon masks and social distancing in crowded places are going to be the norm for a while.

“But we have reasons to be optimistic - this funding was a beacon of hope and incredibly progressive in a very dark time.”

“There’s the question that has to be asked,” Kiely adds. “I suggest we can do gigs safely again, with a social-distancing regime in place, practices and procedures. I’m not sure what the difference is between us, and, say, a cinema, a football or hurling match. I’m sure we can do it.”

“We can only take it one week at a time,” enthuses O’Shea. “I do have great hope for the future of music. It is a wake-up call for anyone who took their live music experiences for granted, this will help with the drive to ensure that it returns to as much of a normal as possible.”

 Sam Clague performing at Debarra's Folk Club. 	Pic: Bríd O'Donovan
Sam Clague performing at Debarra's Folk Club. Pic: Bríd O'Donovan

Venues around Cork, like Cyprus Avenue, the Crane Lane Theatre, The Kino, DeBarra’s and others will be streaming gigs via their online presences throughout December and January.

For more information and dates, check venues’ social media and websites.

For more information on the Live Venue Collective, head to https://www.livevenuecollective.ie/.

Funding for these gigs has been provided by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, through the Live Performance Support Scheme. The venues involved in this feature would like to express their thanks to the Department for their help and co-operation.

Yasmin Gardezi at Cyprus Avenue. 	Pic: Sean de Faoite
Yasmin Gardezi at Cyprus Avenue. Pic: Sean de Faoite

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