Just two strings can make a sweet melody

Posted on: 10th September, 2018

Category: Music Box

Contributor: Gary Hannon

Gary Hannon DJs a music show on AtlanticRadio.ie. He plays with the Clonakilty Jazz Collective every Monday night in the Emmet Hotel and once per month on Sunday afternoons in De Barra’s, both in Clonakilty.

Ray Blackwell manages De Barra’s, the legendary music venue in Clonakilty, and Kevin McNally is a music teacher who also runs: the West Cork Ukulele Orchestra; the band Kulini; and the West Cork Gamelan. Every September for the past 13 years, Ray and Kevin organise the Clonakilty International Guitar Festival (CIGF). This year’s festival will be on from September 17 to 23.

Kevin says, “At a recent big festival, looking at a band from a distance in a field, I realised how lucky we have it here—we can look up the musician’s nose!” Ray continues, “We want to bring the intimacy of a De Barra’s gig to a festival atmosphere, to avoid the disconnect that can happen at big festivals, and to have big bands play in small venues and quirky places that aren’t venues.” KMN: “Big festivals can be about escaping, but this is more of a homecoming. People will come here and no matter where they’re from, they’ll have that feeling of intimacy, of friendliness.” RB: “The sessions might start at 12 o’clock on Saturday, then you head around the town, to a gig in, for example in Shanley’s, then the butchers, and you meet people along the way. And you’re corralled along the Session Trail and by the sixth or seventh gig they all know each other. And using the type of town that Clonakilty is accentuates the experience. And it makes people more connected to the town.” KMN: “It re-contextualises the town and you start to see the town in a different way.”    

RB: “Everybody gets paid, nobody plays for free. And 90 percent of gigs are free. It’s part of our manifesto. We’ve tried really hard to have integrity and stick to what we believe in. That’s what makes the festival what it is.” KMN: “When the musicians see the organisers humping gear into the back of vans and clearing stages, they get the festival a bit more. They get that it isn’t one of the big corporate affairs—it is the community digging in to benefit the community itself.” RB: “And the gigs are amazing—the crowds are so appreciative!”

What are they looking forward to this year? KMN: “We always try to add an element every year. Our new venue, Footsbarn Travelling Theatre – our biggest venue – will be up in the Showgrounds. I can’t wait to see it! Monday will be Bottom’s Dream, [their internationally acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream], Tuesday is Glen Hansard, and Wednesday is Interference. It will add a whole other element of colour and pageantry to the festival that we haven’t had before, as well as it will allow us to expand earlier into the week. Because the town is at capacity for the weekend anyway and we don’t want to overheat the town. The plan is to maintain the quality, the intimacy, but make it last longer—extend it out so that we’ll have something that will benefit the town for a week and not only a weekend. Part of our manifesto is that we didn’t want a concert ticket—we wanted people to spend the money in the town.” RB: “I’m really looking forward to seeing Woven Skull, Joshua Burnside, (who won the Northern Ireland Music Prize last year), and Mama Kin Spender with the Community Choir.”

Have they any advice how to support artists? RB: “It’s grassroots stuff: buy records, pay to go to gigs.” KMN: “Value music, look at your priorities of spending. For example, if you’re balking at spending €10 to see a five-piece band that have spent so much time and money rehearsing and you wonder is it worth it; but you might have a subscription to Sky that you don’t watch that’s a few hundred euros per year… I know I sound so preachy when I say that!”

KMN: “We’re living at the tail end of this very short period of time in human history where the technology of production, of say recording was slightly ahead of the technology of reproduction. And now the digital age has meant that reproduction is just as easy as production: you make a million copies of a recording and it can be disseminated immediately without any barriers. There was a period where you could put music behind a paywall, but now that paywall is gone, and the only way for musicians to get paid is for them to play live—as it was before the 20th century! So rather than trying to maybe hold back and try to put that paywall back up, we should try to go with it and move on.”

KMN continued, “I think we’re going to have to come to a new conceptualisation of ‘the music industry’, where the separation doesn’t exist. When people say, ‘the music industry’, by and large what they mean is the recording industry, and they don’t see themselves as part of the industry, even though they were putting on gigs, etc. And maybe it’s time to say now that the previous model of the big record labels is going to stop having any relevance in a market as small as Ireland, and it’s time to start seeing ‘us’ as the industry, as the music community.”

And finally, what makes a good gig? KMN: “There are certain elements to a good gig: the musician(s) has to be in good form; then the gig will be good; and then the audience is going to be happy. It’s as simple as that. Look after the artists. If that’s your focus, then all the other things will happen.” RB: “It comes back to do things right and good things will happen.”

My gigs of the month for September are the CIGF. Come and do the Session Trail.

Full details can be found at clonguitarfest.com

If you have any comments or events, you can contact me by email gary@westcorkpeople.ie

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