- 26 Apr 21
As part of our special feature on the impact of Covid-19 on the Irish music industry, Cóilín Phelan, founder of Cabal, shares his experiences, and looks to the future...
How has the impact of Covid-19 affected you and your business?
Covid-19 forced us to cancel a large event last March called No Eircode, which was set to bring collectives from all over Ireland together. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fulfil that dream. Since then, we ran a virtual three-day event but without sponsorship or public funding this business model was not sustainable. In Cabal, it has never been about money for us, but unfortunately, without the income from ticket sales, we cannot pay the artists. We’ve always tried to ensure that creatives and crew are paid fairly.
What is the worst aspect of it all for you?
Not getting to do what we love. The camaraderie of working with your friends and the joy of experiencing live music is irreplaceable. There’s a lot of amazing artists coming out of Ireland right now, and we would love to be able to support and provide a platform for them. In many ways it was the biggest part of our lives which was taken away.
Did you have to let your staff go?
While we didn’t have permanent staff, we did employ a minimum of seven people per club show. The fact that they were all our friends was quite difficult, as we always wanted to provide an environment and culture where they could have a lot of creative freedom, which they always turned into amazing results.
People with high rent or with large borrowings have been worst hit. How have you been?
Thankfully we had no overhead costs as we were working remotely before the pandemic hit.
Some people have been finding it hard to survive. Is that something you’ve encountered?
In 2021 we had a map of where we wanted to elevate the business to, and really felt like it was going to be our year. Instead, with the PUP support scheme we have been able to survive, but not thrive.
Music is a people business – how has the loss of contact with staff, colleagues or with others in the business affected you?
What we did was such a personal and collaborative experience, removing the human element can feel like the very thing you have spent so long building has just evaporated. Many have gone in different directions, and luckily, they are all very skilled people and have found creative work despite this whole mess. But for us, as directors, there is a sense of a prolonged sabbatical.
Were you in a position to try anything new or different?
We both decided to return to undertake Masters degrees – to elevate our skills, and in turn the business, when the live industry returns.
Mental health has been a huge issue for a lot of people involved in music. How has your experience been in that regard?
Thankfully we have been in good spirits. During the first few months, there was so much uncertainty and a sense of idling which can really get you down. But since we found new goals in our studies, we have something to work towards and to keep us stimulated.
How important is it to you to get back to work?
With any company, consistency is key. We want to engage our audience. We have so much energy and positivity to bring into the new landscape of music in Ireland that has evolved over this last year. On a personal level, it will bring back our sense of value and meaning that we experienced in the first three years of Cabal’s story.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
We’re taking everything as it comes. We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to return, but also realistic that we cannot get our hopes up about when!
• Cabal is a young independent brand which aims to promote culture in Ireland through events, music and clothing.
'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.