Record of a lockdown lifeline

Living

How a weekly local session in Westport turned into a lockdown CD

Ciara Moynihan

A Covid-era musical gathering, known collectively as the Cobbler’s Group, is releasing a richly varied CD next Thursday, May 19, with reimagined and original songs and poems.
‘Unmasked: The Cobbler’s Lockdown Sessions’ is a hugely varied compilation of songs and poems celebrating and commemorating a singular experience shared by over 30 people – some of whom had never played or sang before. The names include Steven Aherne, Sinead Bracken, Steven Bryant, Nicky Dowd, James D Faulkner, Tony Reidy, Brigid Glynn, Giuliano Gnagnatti, David Guilleminot, Linda Grieve, Elizabeth Healy, Fiona Keane, Dean Kinsella, Maggie McGing, Marita O’Flanagan, Anne Marie O’Malley, John Scahill, Kenny Somerville, Pat Staunton and ​Paul Taylor.
“We all live in and around Westport but overnight found ourselves trapped in Tipperary, Roscommon, San Francisco, England, Wales, France, so the Cobbler’s group took refuge in Zoom gatherings, it cemented us on a completely different level,” says Nicky Dowd, one of the participants. “We empathised with each other’s time zones, family and friends, situations, accommodation and Wi-Fi connections – I think we all struggled with that one.”
The group takes its name from The Cobbler’s Bar in Westport’s Wyatt Hotel, where for many years, a small number of musicians singers and poets gathered every Thursday night to play traditional tunes and ballads, folk, blues, Americana, contemporary, rock, jazz, pop, bluegrass and more.
“You’d never know from week to week what you’d get or who would walk through the door and join in. When the pandemic locked down society it threatened to silence live music sessions, and the Cobbler’s group soon felt the loss,” Nicky explains. “Socially, creatively, mentally, the isolation hit us hard.”
Reluctantly, the gang embraced Zoom, and soon they were regularly meeting up online – often sporting outlandish hats, reflecting a world gone mad.
“Between 9.30pm until the early hours of the morning we would all log in on a Thursday night and play two songs each with a host navigating the craic and banter in between. Sometimes there was more musical trivia exchanged than musical notes but that was the essence of the freedom of it.”

‘A life saver’
Another member, Maggie McGing, explains just how important those Zoom meetings became. With Covid having ‘strangled’ her ‘life line to live music’, she says the Zoom sessions ‘became the substitute and the highlight of my week trapped indoors’. “Like so many I really struggled with the loneliness, isolation and depression. [I also had] the fear of living alone, as my husband died in January 2017.
“I was very sociable person deeply involved with my community so even as a spectator on Zoom it was an integral part of dealing with Covid restrictions. Our Zoom sessions were very interactive after each performer performed the mics were unmuted and everyone got a chance to comment. Words fail to describe the musical knowledge, banter, laughter and fun shared.”
Elizabeth Healy feels the same way.
“Singing and music are deeply important to me. Missing the contact and singing of our live sessions during Covid-19 lockdown, Cobbler’s online sessions were a life saver. There was chat, sharing of musical knowledge, wonderful quirky humour, underpinned by fabulous musicianship, quality singing and additional gift of poetry.”
Eventually, the musical gathering came up with the idea of making something permanent to mark the creativity that had flowed over the two years.   
“We soon realised we had shared over 250 tunes together,” says Nicky, “and the idea was thrown out about making a CD of our accomplishments surviving during lockdown. One of the Westport local Cobbler’s David Guilliminot had his own recording studio and jumped at the challenge, offering to make it happen. The seed was sown.”
As restrictions lifted, in collaboration with StreetbandStudio.ie, the gang set about recording one piece each to archive and celebrate the camaraderie, support and appreciation shared during an unprecedented experience. Some members of the group were still trapped in other countries, leaving David to weave and balance the audio files together.
The vast majority of the artists on the album had never recorded their performances, some had never sang in public before. Many interpreted favourites, drawing on the musicianship in the group for support, whilst others crafted new songs inspired by the time that was in it.

Launch
The album launch will give listeners the chance to hear some of the music live and buy the CD, with all proceeds going to help those in Ukraine and local people who are in need of wellbeing support via Westport Lions Club.
The double album has been designed to open up into the tricolour with a QR code to link to the website with all the  back stories of the participants. It is  on sale for €10 at Cobbler’s Bar, The Wyatt Hotel, The Clew Bay Hotel Westport and online through cobbler’scd.weebly.com and westporlionsclubireland@hotmail.com.
Nicky says everyone in the group is very grateful for all the support they received along the way. “Special thanks go to John Scahill for steering us in the online realm, Noel Kavanagh for support over the years, the Cobbler’s committee for organisation and Ronan Courell at Duplicationireland.ie,” she said. “Lastly, a very big thank you to David and John Guilleminot of Streetband Studio for their tireless recording and mastering. None of this would have been possible without you – merci beaucoup!”
Fellow Cobbler Dean Kinsella’s thoughts on the CD and its genesis sum up just how much it meant to everyone involved. “The Cobbler’s sessions are a fine example of a community refusing to be beaten down in the face of adversity. Its continuation through the lockdown (albeit virtual) was in some ways an act of political defiance. It was also an act of love and trust. But most of all, it was fun.”

The ‘Unmasked: The Cobbler’s Lockdown Sessions’ CD will be launched Matt Molloy’s Yard Bar, Westport, at 7.30pm on Thursday, May 19.