Local musicians' hope as live music given indicative date for return

Darren Beattie

Reporter:

Darren Beattie

Email:

darren.beattie@tyronecon.co.uk

THE NI Executive is due to discuss further relaxations to Covid-19 restrictions on Thursday and there will be much focus on the entertainment industry.

The Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey, has asked the Executive to plan for live music to resume in bars, restaurants and venues at the earliest possible date.

Monday, June 21 has been mentioned as a possible date when further lockdown restrictions are expected to be relaxed, and local musicians - many who have been without work since March 2020 - are waiting anxiously for positive news.

Speaking on Friday, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “One of the big issues that is still outstanding and remains to be resolved is live music and I know that many artists and musicians have been really struggling for the past 15 months because they haven’t had a chance to get out and strut their stuff.

“I can give you assurances that our Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey is working really hard and raised this at the Executive on Friday.

“She wants the earliest possible opening date and we hope to be able to come back to a decision on that at next week’s Executive.”

Minister Hargey said: “It’s important we can provide certainty to artists and workers and of course any changes we make will be in line with medical advice. Musicians have been creative and raised our spirits during what has been a really tough year,” she said.

Local musician, Dominic Kirwan, is encouraged by the possibility of live music returning but stressed the importance of removing social distancing to allow artists to fulfil their potential.

"Social distancing needs to be removed completely to make any solid statement, really," he said.

"The people in the art industry will tell you the same - they will be able to run functions but to get full capacities then social distancing needs to be removed."

Dominic has been fortunate that he's been kept busy during the pandemic but he admits it has been a difficult time for many musicians in the industry.

For example, his son Barry - an Irish country singer - has been working in Lidl since last year.

"It's been difficult in ways because my lifestyle has changed," said Dominic. 

"But it has also brought something new and I can now look at life in a different way.

"When I look back at the last year, it has gone in a flash. I have got myself involved in different social situations, through the likes of Zoom calls and every Wednesday night up until a couple of weeks ago I was live on YouTube.

"It's not the same as live performing, but I have built a very solid fanbase over the years and they have been very good to me and very, very supportive.

"I have seen really good times in the music industry, but it has been changing over the last five or ten years. My son Barry's lifestyle has completely changed and he is now working in Lidl in Omagh. He's been lucky to get a job, and he's been keeping himself busy on Facebook and by keeping in touch with his fans.

"For anyone who is young and starting out, I'm not sure what they are coming back to.

"However, I'm optimistic and open-minded about the future. But social distancing is the biggest factor. If it's taken away, then it will come back stronger. If not, it's going to be very slow."

Omagh musicians Owen McNulty and Matt McGlinn created 'The Guitar Studio' in Omagh during the pandemic, a project that may never have come to life if it wasn't for Covid-19.

"It would be amazing to get live music back," admitted Owen.

"Many have struggled mentally and financially. So any return would be great not only for musicians but for punters as well. I think people are just so keen to get out again."

Owen and Matt - who teach guitar and run a recording studio from their new business - are also getting involved with Hennessys on Main Street and will be responsible for live music at Omagh's newest venue - when restrictions allow.

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