Wait goes on for live music return

It’s been a year since the music venues shut their doors and it could be another year before things return to anything resembling normal again, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Wait goes on for live music return

Tebi Rex: The Irish hip-hop group are among many artists impacted by the ongoing closure of live music venues.

It’s been a year since the music venues shut their doors in Ireland and we have just received the strongest indication yet that it will be another year before things return to anything resembling normal again.

Aiken Promotions are one of Ireland’s biggest hitters when it comes to gigs and they have rescheduled their Live at the Marquee 2021 programme to 2022.

The bad news is that this suggests that most other big summer festivals are unlikely to happen here either. The good news is we have a realistic date for a return to such big gigs here, though as we all know, this is subject to change too.

The initial burst of optimism regarding vaccination announcements a few months ago has long evaporated and delays in distribution and administration mean that most of us have long since realised this summer is likely to be a bit of a write-off now too. Many festivals will continue online and some might even manage to put together something with limited numbers and social distancing. But many promoters and festival organisers are also realistic enough about our prospects of a swift return, and most of the gigs I’m now seeing advertised heavily are for this autumn or winter at the earliest. Most of this summer’s shows will have a much reduced audience.

The pre-Christmas vaccine optimism was also accompanied by some significant government support regarding live venues and a couple of weeks ago there were some more supports announced. This is very timely and will be welcomed by not only venues and promoters but by artists and other technical staff and it might be the difference in keeping a few of them above ground.

Hopefully we will have plenty of more great online shows soon. Some artists, such as Mick Flannery, have used the online platforms really well, and many other artists, such as Tolü Makay and Denise Chaila, have seen their careers explode during the pandemic era. Both of these women have coupled strong music releases with some iconic performances and even landmark TV interviews, and by the time we do come out of this they will command much more attention as live acts too.

All of the artists mentioned, and many more, deserve everything they have achieved and all of them would have done even more in a non lockdown situation. Some are missing out on arguably the best times of their careers but I’m confident that, for most, the best times are still to come.

But many other artists are struggling. Irish hip-hop group Tebi Rex were one of the many to express frustration recently when they told of how they hyped and hyped their latest single, but felt downhearted immediately afterwards when there was no outlet to promote it live. We all miss the human interaction. We’ve all got better at streaming and we all know how to watch stuff online now. But it’s not the same.

The venues who are closed are many and some won’t re-open. In Cork I’ve written extensively about this, and by the time this is over we won’t have the Kino or Dali and perhaps a few more. For everyone working in this game it’s been a terrible time. The engineers, staff, promoters, artists and everyone else involved have faced significant challenges financially, but the mental health of everybody has been under a huge threat, and it’s hard sometimes to see where it will all end. At the moment, 2022 has quickly become the new 2021, and those first to close look likely to be last to open.

Attitudes to local music seem to have changed a little and there seems to be a lot of goodwill towards our music artists at the moment. A few more people are supporting artists directly through bandcamp sales, where royalties are very reasonable, but it remains to be seen whether this goodwill translates into more tangible support in the long run. Will we actually change many of our behaviours and try and support more artists rather than just stream them for a pittance? Only time will tell.

In the good times the music industry was a struggle for all but a few. So the bad times will claim many victims, and I’m sure there will be many calling it a day before normality returns. It’s the same for many industries, the world will never be the same again.

But the music will keep playing no matter what, so hopefully the day won’t be too long away until we can do that again up close and personal with artists and audiences at one.

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