WAITING GAME Niall McCabe never imagined at the beginning of the pandemic that he would not be playing live music for well over a year. Pic: John Allen
WHETHER it is the wisps of wind or full-blown gales that inspire singer-songwriter Niall McCabe, the top of Glen Hill on his native Clare Island is the best place for finding his musical muse these days.
This time last year he was living in Kinsale, playing three to four gigs a week and heading off on tours every couple of months with trad-fusion group, Beoga.
The Mayo man had settled in Kinsale since completing his degree in 2009 at UCC, where he met some of his own band members whilst also becoming very involved in many aspects of the Cork music scene.
“My own group, The Niall McCabe Band, have been recording and performing since my college years and we’ve had lovely experiences playing on RTÉ television and radio and also getting to travel a bit while performing our own blend of folk-soul music.
“In 2018, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Beoga and they happened to be looking for a vocalist to perform their own collaborations live. That year Beoga played support to Ed Sheeran on his Irish tour, and I was lucky enough to be the first singer to fire his tonsils in anger in the newly renovated Pairc Uí Chaoimh,” McCabe explains.
Since then he has gone on numerous tours with them to the US and the UK, as well as to gigs around Ireland and Europe.
“Having played Irish traditional music as a boy and being both a performer and fan of folk music all my life, the opportunity that presented itself with Beoga was not only to perform their music but also to reconnect with my own traditional past and start to weave that energy into my solo work. So on January 1, 2020, I was certainly looking forward to what was to be an exciting year for me as a musician,” he continues.
And then the pandemic struck and his regular residencies stopped during the first week of March 2020. After that it was the cancellation of a big Beoga gig on March 17.
“We were due to perform for the Birmingham St Patrick’s Day celebrations, but like everything else that was to follow, it was cancelled. The rest of the year was spent rescheduling and rescheduling tours of Ireland and the UK, while trips with other groups to Toronto and Budapest were called off also. I also put the release of any more solo music on hold,” McCabe tells The Mayo News.
WHILST he has one gig in particular to look forward to during April, McCabe says it is difficult to predict ‘what will become of the live Irish music scene at the moment’.
“With the ever-lengthening lockdowns over the last year I’ve had to stop myself from even daydreaming about gigging again as it just leads to disappointment and frustration. There is some hope of course and online gigs have been keeping some musicians working after a fashion. I’ll actually be playing my first live-action gig (with real people) on April 17. It is with Beoga in the Limelight Theatre, Belfast. There won’t be an audience obviously, but the gig will be streamed on the internet. I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined that it would be over a year before I’d play music with people again,” he observes.
Other than a virtual launch with Beoga for their album, ‘Carousel’, there have only been a couple of online gigs over the last year for McCabe.
As a passionate advocate of the arts, he feels proud of the fact that a harp is one of our national emblems. However, he stresses the importance at this time for government to remember that it is ‘not only an industry, but also one of the major repositories of Irish heritage and identity’.
“To preserve that heritage is not only to record and maintain our historical legacy, but also to support and encourage the creation of new work. The act of artistic performance and the industries that have grown around them are as important as the archives of songs and stories themselves and are a living expression of Irish culture. Programmes and funding that reflects this unique importance of the arts to our country would go a long way to seeing us through this extended retreat,” he says.