An excerpt from a commissioned series of videos the musicians are creating for care homes
Northern Ireland Branch Director Alice Lewis interviews musicians Deirdre Galway and Conor Lamb of Live Music Now ensemble Réalta.
What did your ‘normal life’ look like pre pandemic?
We have played music all our lives but are currently full-time professional musicians. Our main focus is Irish Traditional Music, with Deirdre performing on guitar and Conor on uilleann pipes and whistles. We’ve had an interesting and enjoyable routine over the past few years, spending half the year at sea as Disney Cruise Line entertainers, and the other 6 months working on various projects. These include: recording and touring festivals and folk clubs with our two bands Réalta and Music in the Glen, guiding with the Belfast Traditional Music Trail, playing at various sessions, weddings and corporate events in and around Belfast, and bringing our music into local schools, day centres and care homes with Live Music Now.
What was the immediate impact of pandemic on your life?
We were in the USA with our band Re´alta when the pandemic began to impact Ireland. By the end of our three-week tour COVID-19 was also beginning to impact America and our last concert was cancelled. We were disappointed to miss this sold out St. Patrick’s Day show, but understood it was necessary for everyone’s safety. We were lucky with the timing of our tour – some bands were only starting their spring tours at that time, and cancellations have left them in debt.
Over the space of a few days in March, all our live performances for the spring and summer were cancelled – several local gigs, sessions, Belfast Traditional Music Tail events and Live Music Now performances, as well as concerts with Réalta in London and Letterkenny, and a French festival and teaching weekend with Music in the Glen. We were due to board the Disney Magic in May for a 4- month summer contract which is now on hold, and our European festival bookings for the autumn are also in doubt. It’s pretty devastating, not only due to our lost income, but because we really do enjoy the travel and performance aspect of our job.
How have you been finding life since the pandemic hit?
It’s a very strange time. We are lucky that we have our health and our loved ones are safe and well. However, it is still a frightening time and we worry about what’s in store for ourselves and for others. Isolation is hard because we are removed from the many things that bring joy into our lives – our family, friends, interaction with other musicians, travel, going to concerts and eating out. It’s also difficult because it disrupts our peace of mind, and this stress is compounded by the indefinite cancellation of our work and lack of financial support from the government. But we are ever conscious that we are among the lucky ones – so many are losing their homes, their businesses, their loved ones and their lives. While some days are tough, we remember we are fortunate to have somewhere safe and warm to spend this lockdown and can just pick up the phone when we miss our family and friends. And we have each other – we are lucky to live together and have each other for company and support.
Although we’ve had more free time than we are used to, we haven’t been writing much new material recently. Being creative is more about peace of mind than about having time, and creativity is difficult during a time of stress. We have been doing our best to adapt to working from home. Having always enjoyed teaching we’ve been using Skype to connect with students in Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Russia and the US. We’ve also taken part in several collaboration projects, such as Viral Sessions Chapter 2 (141 artists from around the world) and the NHS charity single ‘Broken Land’ which aims to raise money for COVID rehabilitation research. There has been welcome support from some great local organisations who commission online live streams and pre- recorded video content. We performed a Facebook live stream recently for An Droichead’s Belfast Traditional Music Trail as part of Discover NI’s ‘Embrace a Giant Spirit’ Campaign. It has had nearly 200,000 views to date – strange to think that all those people have seen our living room!
We’ve also had videos commissioned by the Tinderbox Theatre Company’s Solo Art project and Cultu´rlann McAdam O´ Fiaich’s Fe´asta na Bealtaine. Live Music Now (LMN) has been particularly proactive in supporting their musicians and providing opportunities to work remotely. We are currently producing a series of LMN videos aimed at a care home audience that will be made available online and on DVD (see the first in the series at the top of this article). We hope to bring some joy to the listeners with these 30min concerts which include folk songs, lively dance tunes and relaxing airs. While most of the concert is filmed in our living room, we have also included footage of the outdoors to give our audience a connection with nature while so many are currently cocooning indoors.
What does the future look like?
That’s a difficult question to answer. It is now the middle of May, and at this stage it looks like live performances will not be possible for the remainder of 2020. We may be lucky and have some progress towards employment before the end of the year. On the other hand, this current situation could persist until the end of 2021. This uncertainty makes it tough to plan for the next few years. In the meantime, we will do our best to stay safe and protect those around us, and to adapt our work as best we can. We also have to hope that funding bodies and music fans continue to support artists until they can get back on the road. If you enjoy the music of independent artists, now is a great time to support them by buying an album or merchandise. If you are interested in hearing our music, or even becoming one of our online students, you can check out the websites of our bands Re´alta (www.realtamusic.com) and Music in the Glen (www.musicitg.com). We look forward to the day this pandemic is behind us and we can return to the job we love, performing live music.