On the 10th of March I went to my last live-in-person-concert (in England). On the 11th I got back to Ireland and on the 12th the lockdown started here – partial initially, strict soon after. “You must miss concerts”, people say. I probably would eventually, but for now, I honestly don't. Due to a mild, manageable (confirmed) dose of the corona virus I have had more free time at home than I have had since secondary school, with lots of live music streaming into my living room. I get to pick and choose, donate if I find it is worth it, and nobody bothers me by talking through the music. It's ideal.
Also, for the first seven or eight years of life as a music fan, I did not go to gigs. I got into music in a big way when I was seven, when Abba won the Eurovision. Living in a village where nothing happened, I enjoyed music through radio, records, TV and magazines. And I was not a casual music fan. I was an obsessive, and that did not require live concerts.
On the eve of heading back to work I want to look back at some of the best things I saw since the isolation period started. If this lockdown continues for much longer, things may get slicker: Providers stepping in, better quality streaming, but for now it was all free and some of it gloriously ramshackle. Richard Thompson and his girlfriend peering right at me with puzzled looks, “How do we turn this thing up?” Frank Turner's wife pointing out that viewers are demanding to see the cat. Charlie Watts playing furniture!
When I look at what my highlights were, it is much like my lists of summer festival favourites. Huge thanks to the following musicians and organizations for keeping me entertained:
FOLK ON FOOT FRONT ROOM FESTIVAL
Easter Monday, @folkonfoot on Facebook, Folk On Foot on YouTube
Broadcaster Matthew Bannister is now on season four of 'Folk On Foot'. He invited friends of the podcast to record half an hour of music each, specifically for the Front Room Festival. As a friend pointed out, this was like the Cambridge Folk Festival, beamed into your living room. This was the crème de la crème of British folk: Martin Simpson, Jon Boden, Seth Lakeman, Bella Hardy, Rachel Newton, Julie Fowlis, Karine Polwart. I expected all of them to be brilliant, and they were. More surprising were those I knew less well: Lisa Knapp, with husband and daughter, doing a really varied set that included a cover of Joe Jackson's 'Stepping Out'. Another great cover was Iris Dement's 'Let The Mystery Be', sung by Nancy Kerr and James Fagan.
It has taken me time to get into Sam Lee's music, but I like him now and I really enjoyed him singing and chatting in his dark, cave-like room. Kris Drever made a lovely comment about how incredible it is that the whole world has pressed 'pause'. Great to see Kerry Andrew/You Are Wolf returning to performing with a short set sung in an echo-y corridor with excellent acoustics. I really warmed to Peggy Seeger who admitted being terrified, but who did a perfect job filming herself in different parts of her house, playing several instruments and lecturing us (“this is your granny telling you...”). Despite much time spent in England she sounds so much like her late brother Pete.
Sequencing was good too. By the time Steve Knightley was on, I was singing along at the top of my voice to 'Cousin Jack'. His section ended with a beautiful song dedicated to Show Of Hands bassist Miranda Sykes, 'You'll Get By', recorded at Steve's last pre-lockdown gig, accompanied by a video put together by Jolyon Holroyd.
FRANK TURNER – INDEPENDENT VENUE LOVE
@frankturnermusic on Facebook (ongoing)
Frank Turner is the hardest-working man in music and lockdown does not change that. Forced to cut his solo tour short, Frank first did an online show to raise funds for his crew. He also did a show for Australia and New Zealand, where he was forced to cancel a tour, at a time convenient for that part of the world, an all covers set, and so many podcast appearances I have stopped keeping track.
Best of all though is his 'Independent Venue Love' series. Frank puts on full album shows, in his living room, raising funds to help specific independent venues survive the current situation. This makes total sense, as we want venues to be there when all of this is over. It also means that die-hard fans get to hear songs Frank rarely plays live. So far he has done his first three albums and the rarities compilation 'The First Three Years'. Next up, on 23 April, will be 'England Keep My Bones', which I picked as my Album of the Decade on this very website.
RYAN BINGHAM – CANTINA SESSIONS
@RyanBingham on Facebook (ongoing)
Ryan is a fantastic singer/songwriter, now on his 7th album, much better known in the U.S. than over here. Originally from New Mexico, Ryan now lives in California. He has been posting a daily song from his cantina. He is now on day 35 with this. He always includes some preamble, a reaction to messages he has received or a topical comment. Ryan has played some of his own best songs, but also covers by John Prine, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Guy Clarke and Bill Withers. This was not a fundraising effort, but as Ryan said, “just playing some songs to help you get through the day”, however he has since brought out a Cantina Sessions T-shirt, with proceeds going to a food bank. The most popular video ('Hard Times') has 564K views. The sound on these recordings is excellent, which has prompted fans to say that they would like to see a Cantina Sessions album.
LUKA BLOOM, 'LIVE AT THE ALOE TREE'
@lukabloom on Facebook; Luka Bloom on YouTube
Luka Bloom is from Kildare, now living in Clare. His real name is Barry Moore, and he is Christy's younger brother. Interestingly in my native Netherlands Luka is better known than Christy.
Luka opted to pre-record in the Aloe Tree health food shop in Ennistymon, which provided a lovely warm backdrop, with fairy lights and good acoustics. Luka commented: “I sing every day at home, but just to go out and sing some songs for anyone who cares to tune in, was such an absolute joy”. It was a joy to watch too, and the link is still up. The Facebook version had 129K views so far. It included all my favourite songs: 'Gone To Pablo', 'You Couldn't Have Come At A Better Time', 'The Acoustic Motorbike', 'Sunny Sailor Boy'. Fantastic. It also included a lovely cover of 'Mystery Girl', the song Bono and The Edge wrote for Roy Orbison.
CORMAC BEGLEY, IRELAND PERFORMS
on Facebook @CultureIreland
Under the moniker #IrelandPerforms, Culture Ireland invited a wide range of artists to submit recordings. The streams are all still up and can be watched at any time. The series includes John Spillane, Mick Flannery, Inni-K, Aoife Scott, Junior Brother and Sharon Shannon. My favourite episode was the one with West Kerry concertina player Cormac Begley. Cormac owns a camper van called Beauty, which he drove up to a beautiful location. Cormac then sat in his camper, played tunes and talked about his different concertinas, which I found fascinating. As he sat there playing you could see the sun go down and it was the one time during this isolation period that I felt a pang of wanting to travel.
BEANS ON TOAST, 'AT HOME WITH BEANS ON TOAST'
@beansontoastmusic on Facebook
Beans On Toast always has a knack of making audiences feel like they are listening to him nattering in his living room. I have seen him do it on big stages at Glastonbury. This time we were in his living room. This also wins the prize for the slickest home recording I have seen: Set-up, light and sound were all perfect; there was no fumbling or tuning. Jay (Beans) just sat there chatting to us and singing his songs. He is a poet. His set included my favourite, 'Here At Homerton Hospital'. As a healthcare worker, I feel much more understood by Jay then by all those clapping people.
JOE PUG, SOCIAL DISTANCING CONCERTS
@joepugmusic on Facebook; Joe Pug on YouTube
I first came across Joe Pug at Cambridge Folk Festival, when he threw complimentary CDs into the audience at the end of his show. I missed, but checked him out afterwards and I have been a fan ever since. Joe has been streaming shows from his basement in Maryland. The first two shows were a bit of everything. He has now moved on to full albums and the episode on the 'Nation Of Heat' EP (Social Distancing Concert 03) is particularly good. Joe's shows go out on Sunday nights, though I have been watching them after the fact. Joe also does a podcast, 'The Working Songwriter', which I highly recommend.
THE DUNCAIRN VIRTUAL CABARET
@TheDuncairn on Facebook; Duncairn Arts on YouTube
The Duncairn is an arts centre on the Antrim Road in North Belfast. I have never attended a show there but I often spot the place in gig listings. The venue approached many artists from Ireland and Scotland asking them to submit songs, and these make up their virtual cabaret. The shows are presented by Lynette Fay from BBC Radio Ulster and musician Conor Caldwell. It goes out on Saturdays at 20:30 with episode 4 scheduled for 25 April. Highlights so far have been Damien Dempsey, Lankum's Ian Lynch, Varo, Julie Fowlis, Ríoghnach Connolly, Brìghde Chaimbeul, Zoe Conway and Ryan Young.
RICHARD THOMPSON, FACEBOOK LIVE CONCERTS
@RichardThompsonMusic on Facebook, Route TV on YouTube
Richard has been on twice, from his home in New Jersey, on 29 March and 19 April. The first show was better technically, but the second one had a great setlist. Both shows can still be watched. The first one includes 'She Never Could Resist A Winding Road' and 'I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight' and the second one has 'Beeswing', 'Persuasion' and 'Wall Of Death'. Zara Phillips sings harmony vocals in the second half of both shows.
@russelltom on Facebook
American singer/songwriter Tom Russell has streamed twice from his home in Switzerland, on 5 and 12 April. Like with Richard Thompson, it was just like seeing Tom perform on a stage. Humorous banter, great songs, and fans worldwide logging on, commenting and sending 'thumbs-ups'.
Dervish singer Cathy Jordan has been posting a daily song from her home in Sligo. See @dervishofsligo on Facebook. Cathy is very witty and includes informative details about the songs she sings. She is on day 33. I am also impressed with the daily effort with hair, make-up and jewellery!
Talisk were the first livestream I caught, on Saturday 14 March. The band found themselves stranded in a Dallas hotel room. They had quickly set up a fundraiser, to clear the debt of their truncated tour and get themselves home. Mohsen Amini's expression “smash the love button” has been useful in these livestream-watching times.
Steve Knightley of Show Of Hands has been doing all sorts of things online to keep himself busy, including request shows and guitar tutorials ('Strum with Steve'). I caught his two part 'Stories Behind The Songs' performances, which I really enjoyed. Steve is a great storyteller.
WSO Isolation Fest – an all-dayer on Saturday 11 April, raising funds for a homeless charity. This day included 20 minute sets from left of field singers, poets and comedians. It reminded me of the performances I tend to watch in the Green Fields at Glastonbury, before the main stages open. I caught Grace Petrie's set live (brilliant as always) and watched Billy Bragg the following day.
Maria Doyle Kennedy has been broadcasting livestreams on Instagram, from her kitchen, accompanied by husband Kieran Kennedy. These go out on Fridays at 20:00. I only caught one show so far, which was excellent (including a Prince cover).