- 19 May 21
The past 14 months have been challenging in the extreme. There were opportunities to create new friendships and to focus on meditation. But with a new album by Declan O’Rourke to launch, for a busy artist manager, resting on your laurels was completely out of the question!
It’s fair to say, my career trajectory hasn’t exactly been straight forward, with lots of ups and downs along the way – never predictable, and certainly never boring! And during the Covid-19 months, I would actually say the same.
Looking back on my whole career, I tend to describe periods of my life around the album/tour or ‘project’ I was working on, or back in the day, the country I was living in – and this time will be remembered by the gestation and birthin’ of Declan O’Rourke’s seventh album, Arrivals, with my ‘kitchen’ centre stage.
I will never forget Thursday 12th March 2020, hearing Leo Varadkar on the car radio saying that schools were closing, and realising this shit was getting very real. I was aware of the fear rising up within me, with anxiety in particular about my mother and two children aged 15 and 21. But at the same time, I felt blessed to have already found the gift of ‘turning inwards’ through meditation, so I put most my energy into that from day one.
I invested time into listening to inspirational podcasts, while walking within my picturesque 5km radius. I joined invaluable meditation and soul nourishing groups led by Michael Ryan, Kathy Scott, Joanne King, Mari Kennedy and Mary O’Callaghan, listening to many teachings, and practicing quiet contemplation in groups and alone, which calmed down my nervous system, so when I would then try to ‘work’ at the laptop, there was a new kind of energy and flow...
It has to be said how grateful I was, and still am, to the Irish Government for the PUP payment, as earnings were down 100%, and no live gigs or consultancy jobs on the horizon. As well as Declan O’Rourke, I work with Finbar Furey, and his live shows were obviously all cancelled too.
A magic moment did occur when restrictions were eased over the summer, and we were able to shoot a music video for Finbar’s song, ‘Blue Jewel in the Sky’ with Finbar and his daughter Aine Furey. It was pure joy to see Finbar and his wife Sheila again ‘in the flesh’, and a huge privilege to work with the amazing director Dearbhla Glynn, who I had approached during that time after doing online yoga classes with her.
Usually I work alone, unless I am on a job that requires me to be on site, like when I worked as a freelancer in RTE booking music performances for The Late Late Show a few years back. Without any office overheads, my primary goal over the pandemic was trying to keep solvent, safe and sane, grounded yet ambitious, while continuing to reach for the stars, and dream up smart ideas. The ‘sane’ part came from numerous gatherings within WhatsApp, Zoom, House Party and later Clubhouse. I actually now realise I became much closer to certain people during Lockdown as a result of these weekly or monthly check-in calls, and usually with people who were able to show their own fears and vulnerability.
I am so grateful to these tech solutions, and especially to people like Mike Butcher from Tech Crunch, who facilitated global ‘Networking’ and ‘Brainstorming’ even in those scary early days – without me ever leaving the kitchen!
I am on the Steering Committee of Association of Independent Music (AIM Ireland), and as challenging as it was with so little ‘happening’, I really valued the ‘connection’ with the people working in other sectors of the Irish music industry. I would like to consider these people as friends going into the future, and am excited to see AIM Ireland evolve into an important Trade Group for all of us working in the business of Music, and hopefully to smooth out the path for new people starting to work in this unpredictable and challenging industry.
Another group I got ‘connection’ and encouragement from, (as well as some ‘craic’!), was IWMMF Whatsapp group, which Ismay Bourke set up for female artist managers, and invited me to join last summer… I can only imagine the ‘craic’ when we eventually do get to meet up ‘in person’ – hopefully at a gig in the not too distant future!
Thankfully, just before the pandemic in Feb ‘20, I had organised for the amazing director Johnny ‘WOLFF’ to travel to Black Barn Studios in the UK with Declan and I to film EPK and video footage, as that was where the amazing Arrivals album had been recorded back in 2019, with the mighty gentleman Paul Weller in the Producer chair.
That footage turned out to be the precious key to securing a record deal for Declan towards the end of the year, which in turn allowed us to create five music videos forming the confident, cohesive foundation for the Arrivals record release on 9th April 2021. What a joy to see it enter the UK Folk Album Charts last week at #2.
Like everyone, we had to change video shoot and album release dates quite a few times, and don’t get me started on the Arrivals Album Global Livestream from the Abbey Theatre the week of the album release. That was the ‘new thing’ that almost sent me over the edge! Genuinely, it was SO many hours, in the organising (keep in mind it was originally to be shot in the UK as we had Weller as one of the ‘Special Guests’!). The amount of draft schedules and budgets became a joke – especially with Johnny ‘WOLFF’ who is most definitely my ‘Hero’ during that time. He is one of the most hard working, optimistic and talented people I have ever worked with, and I really do hope all his dreams come true – he deserves it! The small issue of also trying to get the Livestream gig marketed out to all the audiences Declan had performed to over years of international touring was the other challenge.
When all is said and done, I am so massively proud of the Show, and in hindsight, getting the Abbey Theatre as the location, was such a thrill, and quite the luxury having their expert staff to work with on the shoot day, which happened to be my birthday this year. I truly believe this gig will stand the test of time, and it must be said Declan’s performance is flawless, even with an empty room.
Was it worth it…. Who knows? But hopefully it set the tone and solidifies Declan on the world stage as a significant Global Artist. I continue to work on myself to ‘be present’ and ‘live in the moment’, so I am little hesitant about bigging up the future – but until someone tells me to stop reaching for the stars, I will continue to do so with the three stars I work with – Finbar Furey, Declan O’Rourke & Graham Sweeney.
• Suzanne Doyle is an Artist Manager and Music Consultant. See suzannedoyle.com for more information.
Read more of our 'Music Industry in Ireland: Where To Next?' special feature here.