2020 - A year of change for Cork music 

2020 was a year to forget for Cork music: the Covid crisis resulted in venue closures and festival postponements, while lockdown has changed how we interact with music completely, and an uncertain future awaits. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with musicians, promoters, venue owners and writers as they collect their thoughts on the year that was.
2020 - A year of change for Cork music 

Kestine Ugbodu: 2020 forced us to be in the moment.  Pic: IAMACOSMONAUT

TOMÁS DALY (electronic musician, Laserface, Ctrl-Alt-Delete) 

This was a year to batten down the hatches, and a return to the calmer mindset of our forefathers: strengthening our grip on what is important, and breaking away the chains and habits that were not... Difficult times can be fruitful times too.

STEVIE G (DJ, radio host, promoter, columnist, producer) 

We learned a lot about streaming! 2020 was tough and 2021 will probably be similar, but on the wider scale of things, I think more and more people have learnt that music and gigs and artists and venues and festivals are important.

Stevie G: More people have learned the value of music events.
Stevie G: More people have learned the value of music events.

KESTINE UGBODU (Outsiders Ent) 

I learned in 2020 the importance of spending time with family, patience, and appreciating the moment. 2020 forced us to be in the moment, and appreciate the good, bad and ugly.

JIM SPILLANE (Dirty Casuals) 

In 2020, we learned how easily we can lose all that is dear to us in an instant. Dealing with a pandemic has been tough but as a musician, having nothing but time to explore all other avenues of your life, it's kind of refreshing in and of itself.

ELAINE MALONE (singer-songwriter, Soft Focus, Mantua, HEX) 

We've all been robbed of time, friends and collaborators. This time has been so detrimental for mental health, and people in unsafe homes. We need fallow years to get strong. This one wasn't my most productive year, but there's so much learning in listening and watching.

RAY BLACKWELL (DeBarra’s of Clonakilty) 

How to make sourdough bread aside, I guess we all learned what the most important things in our lives are. Family, community, connection, art, I know I won’t be taking any of them for granted going forward. From a professional point of view, I guess a lot of venues and tech teams have learned to live stream, and we here at DeBarras are figuring out how to become an online production house/media hub at the minute, as a way to keep us going while lockdowns continue.

Elaine Malone:  We've been robbed of time. 	 Pic: Bríd O'Donovan.
Elaine Malone:  We've been robbed of time. Pic: Bríd O'Donovan.

JOE O’LEARY (Fred, Levis’ of Ballydehob) 

Well, what we learned was to always be ready for a big surprise, and never assume there'll be too much common sense at the top table. It was amazing to watch politicians not be their usual selves... which I know only lasted about two-and-a-half weeks, but still was amazing to watch all political parties pull together initially in March for the greater good of the people of Ireland, and then sad to see the gamesmanship of politics slide right back in a few weeks later. On a personal level, hanging out loads with my partner in everything, Caroline, and our two young kids was just perfect, and what it’s all about.

JONATHAN PEARSON (director, Quiet Lights festival, Islander Presents) 

I think in 2020 we learned that, by and large, people appreciate the arts and what it brings to people. We were devastated to cancel our November edition of Quiet Lights, but the infrastructure within the city's music scene couldn't have been more supportive. We ran digital events in Cork Opera House and The Glucksman, and we have lots of digital content coming out in early 2021 to showcase the festival in a new way. I am very happy with the increased investment in the arts, which means that we are no longer the lowest or second lowest arts funder in the EU anymore.

MICHAEL CARR (director, Blue Monkey PR) 

2020 was the year of the live streamed show, and while these are never going to approximate the experience of attending live shows, it's what we have to work with at the moment. With that in mind, I think delivering quality performances to the highest technical standards is what we have to aim for. It's maybe an opportunity for small production companies to hone their skills at capturing live performance, while for Cork venues like Cyprus Avenue, Coughlans, The Kino and Cork Opera House, it perhaps opens up a bigger audience through the internet than the capacity of the venue will allow.

Julia Pawlak: Support of those close to us is more valuable than anything.
Julia Pawlak: Support of those close to us is more valuable than anything.

JULIA PAWLAK (Red Sun Alert) 

Aside from writing new music, I think we also all learned that the support of those close to us is more valuable than anything other. That being the motivation that our friends and family give us or simply being there just to talk to and lift our spirit in the hard times.

DYLAN WALSH (Red Sun Alert) 

I think we became closer as people, more than a band. We bonded more through the struggle of the Covid crisis, and not having many other human interactions.

ENDA BOYLE (Red Sun Alert) 

This year gave us a great amount of time to write and rehearse. We've pretty much got the bones of an album done now and, for 2021 we'd hope to get that out there for you all. We're really proud of these songs and, I think they're some of our best yet. We've done a lot of zoom calls, as of course we weren't able to really see each other in real life. During the first lockdown, we also did a lot of recording on Bandlab. It's like a browser DAW basically.

CATHAL DONOVAN-O’NEILL (music editor, UCC Express) 

The past year’s brought me back to why I started listening to Cork music – I live out in Cork’s countryside, so it was a way of getting a feel for the city, of connecting to the rhythms and lives going on out there. And now, I’ve barely seen the city since September. Tracks like Ghostking is Dead's ‘Deflector’, Happylone's ‘Bodybags’ and Elaine Malone's ‘Vonnegut’ have become comfort listens and connections to the outside world, and I hope the coming months bring more music like them, tonics to the crazy times we live in.

MAGS BLACKBURN (musician.ie, Blue Monkey PR) 

I think we learned just how resilient we are. The pandemic forced me and everyone to stop and re-evaluate. I didn’t write that novel that’s in my head, or become fluent in Irish (although I tried my hand at both) but I did learn a lot about myself, the people and the world around me. I figured out what and who I want to be. And for better or worse, I’ve become a bit more protective about all of these.

NIALL DENNEHY (Art Crimes Band) 

I learned that before the pandemic, I should have maybe tried to travel more when I had the chance. I regret not trying to make more of travel. I also learned more about what aspects of my professional life make me the happiest. I re-evaluated many approaches I had to the work I was taking. I figured I would rather be more selective with the live music work I was pursuing, and I could actually be happy not gigging every night of the week in pubs. I would rather perform live more with my own group The Art Crimes Band and focus mostly on that. I decided I could also teach English online. That's not to say I'm giving up my life as a professional musician, nor to reinvent myself. By pursuing the TEFL I thought, 'I'm still engaging with something that I feel passionately about and also adding more skills to what I already do and creating extra opportunities for myself on top of what I already do'.

Michael Carr from Bluemonkey PR: Opportunity for small production companies to hone their skills at capturing live performance. 	 Picture: Miki Barlok
Michael Carr from Bluemonkey PR: Opportunity for small production companies to hone their skills at capturing live performance.  Picture: Miki Barlok

JULIE LANDERS (staff writer, UCC Express) 

There was a solid few months of 2020 where I just listened to Phoebe Bridgers' ‘Punisher’ on a loop, and the only reason I got out of bed most days was to walk the dog. But that period of trying to accept what was happening and grieving for the certainty I used to have about the future was necessary, and I hope that anyone else who felt that way knows that those periods of stasis and unproductivity are not signs of failure. We are far more malleable and elastic than we give ourselves credit for.

CIAN MULLANE (God Alone/Red Sun Alert) 

The God Alone lads decided after years of being lazy, to finally get back into the ball. We formed our own 5-a-side team and in-between lockdowns, we played Messyng FC every week in the Sam Allen pitches. Between football and regular socially distanced practice sessions, we managed to keep the ball rolling over 2020. Otherwise, I acquired an astronomical amount of music gear to help me cope with not being able to leave my house.

Dylan Walsh: We became closer as people.
Dylan Walsh: We became closer as people.

LAS SALAMANDAS (West Cork duo) 

As a new act, we had to come up with a different way of sharing our work and music with people. Based in West Cork we have a very supportive/creative community around us and while it might have been a time that kept us indoors and away from other people, we were lucky enough to connect with people we might never have met if it weren’t for the quarantines and lockdowns keeping people in Ireland.

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