A new documentary by the London-based production company Switchbox TV looks at how the pandemic have impacted musicians in Ireland.
By interviewing well known performer Bressie, Josh McClorey formerly of The Strypes and long term collaborators of Shane MacGowan Cronin, Ethan Scally shines a light on the issue in the film titled Big Bag of Chats.
Ethan told The Irish World: “We just wanted to raise awareness about what’s going on in Ireland with music and the arts.
“I just wanted to ask them about how lockdown has affected them. It’s impacted them creatively, financially, mentally and a whole host of other ways. The arts and music seem to be an area where there’s been a real lack of support.”
In the documentary Bressie speaks about how the industry is on its knees and that without support, there will not be crew for future festivals.
“Bressie spoke brilliantly about that because he he does a lot of work around mental health. Every euro put into the music industry generates six in the economy. The music industry is not only made up of the artists, it’s made up of the crew: Lighting technicians, sound engineers, stage managers. It’s such a wide network of people that are currently all unemployed with no road map back.”
Although there has been support for the industry Ethan points out that much of this has done nothing for the artists themselves.
“A lot of the support has been for theatres, galleries, it doesn’t go into the hands of the musicians who are out of work and who otherwise would be gigging 50 weekends of the year. We just really wanted to highlight the situation because we were the first industry to close and we’ll be the last to open up again.”
The TD Heather Humphreys provoked the wrath of Ireland’s musicians and creative people when she suggested they reskill. Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently echoed the same sentiments.
However, Cronin spoke in their interview about how reskilling is part of the reality for musicians anyway whether it is doing bar work to get by or learning to produce and sell merchandise which they say makes up more of their income than the music now as Spotify streams pay very little.
“It’s getting hard enough for musicians anyway because there’s no one buying records, there’s no one buying CDs so you’re having to do alternative things like selling t-shirts or dish cloths or postcards. You need to be out gigging really. That’s where you make your money.
“Musicians have no money coming in from live gigs and then they have no real space to generate a bit of momentum or a bit of hype or buzz about themselves. But there’s been a real lack of government support to help musicians financially, mentally and every way you can think of.
“Cronin arepretty well known. They’ve been rubbing shoulders with Shane MacGown, Johnny Depp, Nick Cave but they told me they need to be out gigging. Even though they’re really well known they need to be out gigging to make money. For bands just starting out or with lower profiles, it’s even tougher.
“We understand it’s a hazardous situation for lots of different industries but lots of different industries have gotten support but government in both England and Ireland have politicians coming out saying musicians need to reskill and retrain. That’s terrible. Imagine saying that to an architect or someone, ‘You’ve spent your life doing this. Actually, you’ll have to go and retrain’.
“It’s worrying when you get two governments from two different countries pleading out that line that musicians should reskill because that wouldn’t be said to a retail manager, ‘Right, you’ve got 20 years experience in this industry but go and reskill, retrain. It kind of makes me worry.
“We filmed it when restrictions eased a good bit in Ireland and things were starting to open up again. Things were starting to open up again and other industries were starting to get a lot of support. There were road maps given into how they should reopen their business but there was nothing for the arts.”
Performing under the moniker Scally, Ethan has played with the acts featured and the rapport they have is evident in the documentary.
Mullingar has produced many musical talents and Ethan says of his home town: “The music scene in Mullingar is brilliant. I don’t know if it’s something in the water but we just have a brilliant pool of musicians in this town.
“To be honest I used to not pay as much heed to it a few years ago but the more I’ve been gigging and the more I’ve been going around Ireland or even the UK and everyone says, ‘Jesus, Mullingar has some talented musicians’. And when you go to other towns and there’s a real lack of venues or good bands playing.. I only appreciated it then.
“I think it’s just a town where music is one of the key facets of the culture. There’s a really good spirit and connectedness amongst the bands and musicians. Everyone helps each other out. It’s a really great community to be a part of.”