Cork music personalities share their hopes for a better year in 2021

2020 was a difficult year to say the least, one that saw live venues go dark and record shops close for weeks at a time. It also made sure we engaged with music and the arts in new ways, and paid more attention to our relationships with art. Music industry personalities share their thoughts with Mike McGrath-Bryan on 2020, the lessons they learned in lockdown, and their hopes for 2021 and beyond
Cork music personalities share their hopes for a better year in 2021

Ray Blackwell in DeBarra’s Folk Club, Clonakilty. Picture: Bríd O’Donovan


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."

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.”

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.”


Stevie G (DJ, radio host, promoter, columnist, producer):

“We've all spent a lot more time thinking about how we spend our money, especially when we have less of it. Supporting independent artists and music is gonna be important as we try to build a sense of community going forward. Cork is a small but colourful and diverse city, and we have a good opportunity to benefit when this all ends eventually.

Ray Blackwell (DeBarra’s of Clonakilty):

“I suppose the rallying cry from the Live Venue Collective, and all the work we have achieved with this group, has put us in a position to be better able to deal with more lockdowns.  23 independent music venues and their teams have all dipped their toes into live streaming, and so we have a plan and knowledge of how to implement and improve our online musical offerings, as it looks like real gigs will be a while before they get up and running again.”

Niall Dennehy (Art Crimes Band):

“I tried to exercise as much as possible at home. I usually keep active but burning off the anxiety and self-doubt has been a priority for me. Aside from that I finally had an opportunity to submerge myself with my own music projects I'd had on the back burner for years and give them the time and attention they deserve.  And also, give undivided attention to write new music for an upcoming album with my group The Art Crimes Band. So I still kept occupied and was still trying to work toward something regardless.” 

Jake O'Driscoll. Picture: Shane J Horan
Jake O'Driscoll. Picture: Shane J Horan

Jake O’Driscoll (God Alone):

“Physical exercise and tunes are the best way to improve your mood, especially in times like these. Being able to run around with my friends and kick a ball, when we were able to, had a monumentally positive impact on my mental health, and something as simple as going for a stroll can have a massive effect on your day.  Bandcamp Friday every month was fantastic also, in supporting musicians throughout the year, and we all managed to find and buy stuff from a rake of unreal artists while in lockdown.”


Cian Mullane (God Alone, Red Sun Alert):

“Don't put too much effort on yourself to be productive in these times, it's hard enough being productive when you can actually go outside and it's especially hard now so you shouldn't feel bad for just existing.”

Julia Pawlak (Red Sun Alert):
“Just take every day in, one at a time. Self-care is more important than ever now.”

Dylan Walsh (Red Sun Alert):

“You have to realise as well, that it's not uncommon to feel dissuaded, or uninspired. Even though we're feeling like this, we can keep going.”


Enda Boyle (Red Sun Alert):

“As far as the Cork scene goes, we can only hope gigs come back at some point this year. Some of us in Red Sun Alert have been working away in the background on a new collective, so it'd be great to put on some gigs, and go touring again with that.”

Joe O’Leary (Fred, Levis’ of Ballydehob):

“I think the most amazing thing that came out of 2020, and lockdown upon lockdown, was that it gave us all the thing that's most precious... time. We suddenly had time. There were new friendships made, and old ones reinvigorated, and new collectives set up such as the Live Venue Collective that has already left a positive mark on the gigging landscape. The idea to do things together that we had all talked about, and half started down through the years, but then ran out of time to follow through on… we all just got a little closer, and we all understand each other’s roles a lot better now and that can only lead to positive change in the arts. That’s my hope for 2021, that the camaraderie and co-operation within the artistic community of Ireland continues and grows.”

Cathal Donovan O’Neill (music editor, UCC Express):

“I hope that there’s still a scene here – that our myriad of venues don’t wind up as student accommodation and the artists don’t end up heading to greener pastures.”

Mags Blackburn (, Blue Monkey PR):

“Cork has experienced a lot of hardship in the past decade and more. Recession and immigration have left a visible mark on the city and its cultural scene. My hope is that the talented people that live in Cork or move there have enough faith to revitalise it. There is plenty of inspiration and initiative out there. Live events will live side by side with virtual ones. Experiences will challenge traditional retail on the city streets and it will be interesting to see how this will be implemented.”

Julie Landers
Julie Landers

Julie Landers (staff writer, UCC Express):

“I’m worried that my hopes for the Cork scene would be rooted in irrational nostalgia. I’m always wary of talking about how much better things were before, and transplanting that idea onto a future I don’t know. But I have faith in and love for the music being made here and what it communicates about the folks who make it.”

Michael Carr (Blue Monkey PR):

“I think if you ask any performer, or venue owner, they would much rather see an audience present in the room, bringing that atmosphere you can only get through live interaction. It's one of the reasons international artists have loved playing in this country over the years and that should never be forgotten or replaced. What we have is a means to an end at the moment, but I think 'end' is the key word here.”

Kestine (Outsiders Ent):

“I hope that every artist, band, DJ, and instrumentalist represents Cork to the best of our abilities within our art. I hope that we put out music that represents the immense, diverse talent in our county, and hope we make music that inspires, and is able to compete with what the UK , US and the rest of the world puts out in 2021.”

  • In the more comprehensive series for, Mike McGrath-Bryan spoke with musicians, venue owners, journalists and other personalities about their thoughts on the year that was, living through another lockdown, and their hopes for 2021.  Find out what they have to say in the series here

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