THE thrilling and much missed sound of live music made a triumphant return to two West Cork venues last month after an almost six-month absence.
Both Connolly’s of Leap and Levis' Bar in Ballydehob have dipped their feet into hosting socially distanced gigs and it’s already paying off for them as West Cork music fans embrace the concept.
However, recent government advice on indoor gatherings almost marked the end of these gigs until it was eventually clarified that theatres and other cultural places could have up to 50 people in attendance indoors.
Connolly’s was first out of the blocks with their very first socially-distanced gig last month hosting Ríoghnach and Ellis and several more gigs have taken place since.
Speaking to The Southern Star, Sam McNicholl – who operates under a theatre licence at Connolly’s – said it has been great to have live music back in their well-known venue, albeit with a reduced capacity to facilitate social distancing.
‘It’s very much like a cabaret-style event for the gigs at the moment and customers are seated at tables and there is no walking around the venue or mingling,’ said Sam.
‘We’ve taken a lot of the furniture out and it feels a lot different, but it’s just good to see live music again even with just 40 people in the venue, despite us having a capacity for 150 people. We are hosting very acoustic intimate music at the moment with one or two people on the stage and we are only selling 40 tickets to keep it under capacity.’
However, Sam was highly critical of the new government recommendations for indoor gatherings that were announced late last month, which led to even more confusion across the arts sector – something that he described humorously as having ‘more flip-flops than a beach.’
‘One minute we were told we could open and then that was reversed, and then I was cancelling shows and it just turned into an absolute joke in the end. It was a lot of unnecessary drama for the entire arts sector and we need decisive leadership and less flip-flopping around. It always feels, too, that the arts are a secondary thought and this was more proof in the pudding of that.’
Sam is very conscious that people feel comfortable in their iconic venue while attending one of their gigs. ‘We’re going above and beyond to make people extra comfortable and because of that people are responding and are coming back and enjoying our pizza and the gigs.’
While he admits it does feel strange, he doesn’t see the current situation with Covid-19 going anywhere fast and he’s keen to embrace the changes to keep the music alive while also giving musicians a chance to earn a living.
‘It’s been a tough time for bands and musicians and they’re not making money, so at least this is a revenue stream for them,’ add Sam.
Recently, Connolly’s played host to two gigs by David Keenan, one during the afternoon and another later in the evening, while Rónan Ó Snodaigh (of Kíla) has also played there since.
Other musicians who have graced the hallowed venue in recent weeks include John Blek, John Spillane and Ye Vagabonds – who also did two shows while in Leap.
While De Barra’s in Clonakilty is currently closed, that hasn’t stopped Ray Blackwell and his team from live streaming recent gigs behind closed doors. Two recent John Spillane gigs held in the well-known venue were ticketed online events.
This year’s Clon Guitar Festival, due to take place later this month, is going to be entirely virtual and will feature archival, live streamed and pre-recorded music and gigs.
Organisers recently posted online that because there are no guidelines for live music events outside of museums or theatres, they said they have no choice but to bring the festival online for this year’s event.
Meanwhile, the news that ‘wet’ pubs can reopen on September 21st has been welcomed by the industry. ‘It’s been a really tough time for pubs and I hope that people get out to support them,’ said Sam.’