The best of the worst of times | Cork music rises mightily to the challenge

Not to put too fine a point on it, but 2021 has been an incredibly difficult year for music, as much so in Cork as anywhere else. But despite it all, the scene has kept going, with artists and facilitators rising mightily to the challenges of the Covid crisis. Here are 10 reasons to be cheerful.
The best of the worst of times | Cork music rises mightily to the challenge

Clockwise: God Alone, Dan Walsh, The Altered Hours, and Arthur Valentine are among the artists that kept going in tough times

The Altered Hours going on UK and EU tour

It’s a massive undertaking to go on a multi-month tour in the best of times, never mind the worst - so for The Altered Hours to be asked to accompany post-punk superstars du jour Fontaines DC on their UK and European jaunt was a huge nod to a band that have put in over a decade of hard work, innovation and hope - culminating in a performance to a sold-out Alexandria Palace in London, introducing a crowd of 10,000 people to their expansive psychedelic rock.

Dan Walsh keeps pushing the boundaries

Singularly dedicated to music and exploring its shape and form, both on a solo and band basis, multi-instrumentalist Dan Walsh has used the opportunities available to him to gig and record to optimum effect. Whether with his Fixity project, as part of The Bonk, collaborating with Kerry singer-songwriter Junior Brother, or a frankly heroic Jazz-weekend residency at Barrack Street’s O’Sho pub, Walsh continued to forge his own distinct path in the live space, and the seventh numbered Fixity record was the sound of a polymath at play.

Clockwise: Cyprus Avenue chimes a death knell for the music business after more restrictions, Fitzgerald's Park lights up for Magic Nights by the Lee, PLUGD Records' new home on Coal Quay, student radio hosts in UCC 98.3FM's new studio
Clockwise: Cyprus Avenue chimes a death knell for the music business after more restrictions, Fitzgerald's Park lights up for Magic Nights by the Lee, PLUGD Records' new home on Coal Quay, student radio hosts in UCC 98.3FM's new studio

God Alone and Red Sun Alert maintain their momentum

It’s tough enough for metal and alternative in Ireland as is - so it must have been gutting for the crisis to hit when it did for metallers God Alone and rockers Red Sun Alert, who had just finished UK excursions in early 2020 before being forced into regrouping. They both returned to do small tours over the course of 2021, playing to healthy crowds in intimate rock venues, while God Alone have resumed their burgeoning momentum, being booked for next year’s ArcTangent festival, in Bristol.

The Hausu collective release new music… and a videogame!

Formed as a way for a group of musician friends to pool resources and session on each other’s solo releases, the Hausu lads went one step beyond this year for members Arthur Valentine and Automatic Blue, both releasing their debut full-lengths in ‘Splitscreen’ and ‘LOOK COOL DEAD’ respectively. The latter made its way out to the physical realm on tape, while the latter stayed digital - accompanied by a ‘90s-style racing game for PC and Mac soundtracked by the album - as well as a secondary score that got its own streaming release!

Young bands and artists make debuts in a pandemic

Imagine being younger in this pandemic - your education compromised, your social life curtailed - and trying to get your first band or solo project off the ground. We’ve spoken to a good few here, existing online for the moment while honing their live chops where possible. Dream-poppers Mossy, singer-songwriters like Chris Hockey & UCC Music Society 2020 prize-winner Angie McGrath, and bedroom-pop man Letterbox Kid, among others, have been taking to streaming services and social media to express themselves, in the absence of live platforms, and are making the most of it.

Venues staying open and working to adapt

Enough cannot be said about the patience, nerves, flexibility, work-ethic and sheer fortitude of the people behind the city’s music venues, dealing as they have been with the brunt of the current government’s unwillingness to actually invest in infrastructure to tackle the Covid crisis. They have found themselves a convenient scapegoat, subject to closure and restriction without any advance notice by parties who see these kneejerk actions as a way to convince less culturally-engaged voters that they’re actually doing something, and to hell with the artists and crew out of work a week before Christmas.

Small festivals and promoters can’t be stopped

In tandem with the resourcefulness and sheer will of venues to stay strong, festivals like Quiet Lights, Right Here Right Now and the traditional Jazz & Folk weekenders, as well as programmes like Magic Nights By the Lee, have found ways to make things work, reach gig-goers and stay ahead of the health and safety game, delivering us a slice of normality and sonic joy in the best way possible.

Vinyl return goes from bubble to bedrock

While casual interest in the vinyl-revival bubble grew to an explosion over the past two years - ironically slowing production of new releases for indie labels thanks to over-subscribed pressing plants - the city’s music scene has poured its love back into its record slingers, with PLUGD Records returning to physical premises with a new shop on Pope’s Quay, regular digging stops Bunker Vinyl, Records & Relics and MusicZone doing big, multigenerational business, and new addition Thirty-Three RPM getting its start. Brexit may stand to complicate distribution to Ireland from international labels, but it’s worth swinging in to dig through the crates, and keep an eye on their socials for new arrivals.

Clockwise: Elaine Malone's 'Mantua', The Altered Hours' 'Convertible', 'Fixity 7', Pretty Happy's 'Slugger's Bridge' EP, Bailer's 'Disposable Youth', Caoilian Sherlock's 'Big Child', Arthur Itis' 'Occam's Razor'
Clockwise: Elaine Malone's 'Mantua', The Altered Hours' 'Convertible', 'Fixity 7', Pretty Happy's 'Slugger's Bridge' EP, Bailer's 'Disposable Youth', Caoilian Sherlock's 'Big Child', Arthur Itis' 'Occam's Razor'

Music education keeps investing in a new generation

Whether it’s the School of Music and UCC’s music campus, youth groups and drop-in centres around the country, or the crew of MusicGeneration Cork City, our music teachers and lecturers, many of whom are practicing artists themselves on the local scene and beyond, have hung in there, working over Zoom or teaching in person where possible, working with the musicians of the future in every capacity, from theory and performance, to mentoring. It will serve an even more important function as the current crop of teenagers start to externalise their Covid-era experience in the coming years.

Community and campus radio continue

Following in the footsteps of pirates and community stations that have proliferated over the years, DJ Colm Motherway has worked diligently to assemble a strong selection of local selectors to make mixes for Radio Otherway, available now on the Mixcloud streaming service, and in finest Leeside radio tradition, broadcasting from an undisclosed location. Meanwhile, UCC 98.3FM has ploughed on with its stalwart mixture of student-generated shows, local-interest documentaries and music mixes from local heads like Jim Morrish and Conor O’Toole. Producer Kieran Hurley is also justifiably quite proud of the station’s new digs in the university’s student centre.

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