- 08 May 21
As part of our special feature on the impact of Covid-19 on the Irish music industry, singer-songwriter Mary Coughlan shares her experiences, and looks to the future...
How has the impact of Covid-19 affected you and your business?
The impact of Covid on my own career has been disastrous. I had a new CD recorded for release and 35 gigs and festivals booked. All cancelled. Some may come back next year, others may not. I was re-confirmed for Glastonbury, but I don’t think anything will ever be the same!
What is the worst aspect of it all for you?
Not singing, not touring. This has been my life for almost 40 years... We musicians joke that it’s just a practice run for retirement! I’ve spent almost two years in a studio, and the bonus for that is usually the gigs and selling heaps of CDs.
Did you have to let your staff go?
Last summer, I did about 10 gigs from my garden with a full band and sound, plus a few lights. The donations were really generous from the audience. We shared it between six people, and my son cooked for us. We looked forward all week to our weekly gig, and I answered hundreds of messages online. The guys in my band would normally be doing gigs with other people and jazz gigs around town, but it has been really rough.
People with high rent or with large borrowings have been worst hit. How have you been?
I got a short reprieve from my mortgage, but they refused to engage with me after six months. I called and wrote to them. They just don’t seem to understand.
Some people have been finding it hard to survive. Is that something you’ve encountered?
I had quite a public battle here with trying to get the PUP payment. Because a lot of my work is outside the country, I did not ‘earn enough’, so they decided I should go on the dole. I pay tax in New Zealand and Australia as well as other countries, but they don’t take it into account. I hate that they made it so difficult for musicians, arts workers and technicians. In this country, we are the first line of contact to help services raise money. In the same week that we (Woman’s Heart) raised €1.2 million for Pieta House, I was fighting with the department about PUP, as were the guys in my band. Some musicians I know were living on €35 a week after rent and bills were paid.
Were you in a position to try anything new or different?
Apart from the gigs from the garden, in December 2020 I did some from various venues around the country as part of LVSS... I hate Zoom!
Mental health has been a huge issue for a lot of people involved in music. How has your experience been in that regard?
In March/April 2020, I accepted it and like many people thought that by summer it would all be under control. However, these last few months I’ve had some of the darkest days of my life. I struggle to find any little bright spark. I make the effort most days to walk around this beautiful place in Wicklow where I live and I’m grateful for all that I have, including my kids and grandkids, but it’s really hard. Some days I sit and look at the wall, others I spend at a computer trying to think of something to write. I’m so glad that I don’t drink or take drugs anymore, because I know that kind of hell very well.
My recovery has taught me that sometimes I just have to sit with it, and this too shall pass, but it’s taking an awfully long fucking time! I want to break the radio sometimes and scream at politicians who make stupid remarks, and then I realise they havent got a clue what’s going on either. That said, they have made some really stupid decisions.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
I’m not very optimistic about Ireland. But I’ve been booked to do twelve concerts in the UK in October starting on 17th, in Ronnie Scott’s in London. So that’s hopeful. Now I just need a vaccine!
'Music Industry in Ireland: Where To Next?' is a special feature in the current issue of Hot Press, running to over 20 pages, featuring music industry professionals as well as artists including Moya Brennan, Jess Kav, Luka Bloom, Fia Moon, Kneecap, Gavin Glass, Mick Flannery, King Kong Company, Mary Coughlan, Rosie Carney and many more.