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Heather and the Chain Gang

All during lockdown, I found myself constantly thinking about musicians. I wondered how they were handling not being able to express themselves. It made me think about Rory Gallagher who was famously introverted but as soon as he stepped on stage he came alive. Are our musicians feeling alive?

I was worried about them but they all seemed to be ok. What is going on? I realised that with so much time on their hands they were instinctively getting into creative mode. They were recording with whatever limited resources they had within their bubble and they were mastering the zoom app online, producing gigs from their living room, free of charge, keeping our spirits up.

Hank Wedel rocking the back yard with Brian O'Carroll

But still I wondered why aren't they panicking, shouting from the rooftops? Is it because they are so used to living an existence which requires constant resourcefulness from them to survive? They have been waiting now 147 days to get back on stage.

It is crazy in my opinion, that the very people we need to strike a chord, get a venue hopping, bring razzmatazz to an event, are the ones being cast aside.

We will use them as is our want. "For this event, we must have a band." Everyone knows that music brings life to any event. Our city life was thriving because there was live music in almost every bar in the city, but now the majority of our musicians aren't working.

Now more than ever we have to buy their cd's and vinyl's, book them for parties, give to the tip jars of online gigs and like, share, promote any info on them.

Roy Buckley regularly plays gigs online during Covid, reaching viewers all over the world.

Recently Minister Heather Humphreys made very shortsighted remarks about musicians and will be remembered forevermore by them for her unrealistic, insensitive, and unintelligent point of view which was basically musicians need to retrain and get new jobs. Stop being musicians and become something else! Even if that was feasible or clever are we saying let's discard musicians? Even though music flows through the veins of us Irish. Apart from that she is ok with a city, any city being devoid of live music. My first thought after my concern for musicians is will we become like a lot of European cities? After 8 pm, all the business people leave the city heading home and a blanket of quiet descends.

Heather Humphreys have you thought about what an incredible resource musicians are to this country.

  1. Tourism - there is a perception of an island of music, romantic or magical, with miles of lush green fields and breathtaking scenery. Musicians give the tourist industry life and energy. It is the icing on the cake for the tourist experience.

  2. The vintners association - they are understandably very concerned at the moment, many of the pubs are still closed. It is largely musician dependent.

  3. Take wedding ceremonies - musicians make the event.

  4. Funerals - musicians draw on the heartstrings, helping the 'cathartic-ism'.

  5. Charity events - musicians bring it home.

  6. 21st's/ birthday parties - musicians give it energy

  7. Radio - Ah come on like!

  8. Television like the Late Late - no musicians - the whole show would have no punctuation.

  9. No music teachers because they are becoming electricians or whatever.

  10. No soundtracks to movies.

  11. Musicians generate revenue for dedicated venues, sound engineers, lighting technicians, recording studios and so on.

The list goes on and on. Heather Humphreys you cannot see if you cannot see the whole picture. You should not be making any decisions on the welfare of the musicians of the country. Look for proactive solutions. Tell the musicians of the country you want to set up a government body to help them. Writers can keep writing, artists can keep painting, but musicians can't keep gigging.

Conan Kilcoyne Headstock Design

Without musicians gigging there will be a knock-on effect on instrument makers. Another highly skilled artisan who doesn't make an hourly rate reflecting all the training and effort gone in to what they do. What is this about really? Why are the aspects of our society and culture which we admire the most, the least valued? If 'Séamus' can't bank on 3 gigs a week, he can't invest in a finely crafted instrument for recording and so on. Master luthiers and turners bring wood to life. In a sense it becomes immortal through the instrument. It will outlive it's player, as Bertrand Galen (Island of Music featured luthier) said to me recently in conversation.

Makers may not be immediately under threat like gigging musicians but there is a need to increase their potential viability. Somehow sourcing materials should be made easier and cheaper so that when it comes to pricing the finished product, the majority of what they make covers all their time invested in creating a piece, many's a sculptor would envy.

Instrument makers should have full order books in this country. They should be our first port of call when we think to ourselves I want to upgrade and treat myself to an instrument for life. You can help in this regard and in the meantime The Island of Music will campaign for subsidies or concessions for makers.

Handmade gives an instrument a magical feel.

We can all aim for 'Made in Ireland' to be indelibly stamped on the brain.

In the 90s in Crowleys Music Centre we had over 200 creditors. One by one all the reps started coming in telling us they were moving production to China. My father, Michael Crowley, was like, "nooooo! You can't do that. You can't take away the labour from your own people! You can't put all your eggs in one basket. This is such a short term solution!"

The battles were endless. I remember him saying, "mark my words, this will bite you in the ass." Well we should consider our asses bitten.

Non makers and non musicians can help in many ways. I will do a blog on that soon but in the meantime if you have an instrument, especially an acoustic one that no longer gets played you can donate it to to keep money and instruments circulating within Irish music.

I think it is about time the Irish government stopped seeing music as a bit of fun but as a huge resource instead and also metaphysically it gives us our quality as a people which lends to our renowned cultural expression. I remember Benny MacCabe (owner of music venues) suggesting that Ireland such be looked on as the music capital of Europe. I agree with him but I want it to be the music capital of the world.

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