A SILENT SUMMER
It’s the middle of September as we take a stroll through the Demesne, in Killarney’s National Park. The sun is shining and it’s warm but comfortable and there’s a nice breeze which is not cold, but stiff enough to let us know that we’re on the wrong end of summer. As we walk the incline passing Knockreer House we come to the top of the hill on the circular walk where we’re greeted by the sight of the Macgillycuddy Reeks, reflected in a glass still Lough Leane with Killarney Golf & Fishing Club tucked nicely away in the corner. It’s scenes like these which attract tourists in their droves every summer to this picturesque little town in Ireland’s Southwest. This year, 2020, has been different however, as the world is gripped by a Covid 19 viral pandemic which has yet to loosen its hold. As we walk we spot a free bench and decide that it’s a good a place as any for a chat on, what’s termed around these parts, a glorious day. We speak with Colm about the effects Covid 19 has had on the local music scene, what he feels may happen in relation to live music, what this has meant for ‘The Hot Touches’ and how it has affect him on a personal level.
Macgullycuddy Reeks Reflected in Lough Leane: u/mckenna 7 reddit
“It’s been surreal. Honestly! Like one of those Zombie movies. There’s a bit of life about the place now, again but initially it was just eerie.” Initially was back in March, 2020 and as Colm explains the Town of Killarney was getting ready for the opening stages of the tourist season. “I’m a full time musician and thankfully over the last 6/7 years I’ve been able to sustain myself with a residency in the Faílte Bar, on College Street. There’s usually a break from the latter stages of January until the beginning of March. Coming close to St. Patrick’s Day is when the wheels begin motioning and this year was no different. After March, you’ll have the Easter Holiday’s and by the end of May we’re into the season proper. Actually, October is the final month of the season with a shorter break before Christmas and New Year’s, so we’d be winding down getting closer to November.” As things were beginning to get going, O’Mahony says that there was a sluggish feeling around and things just didn’t feel right! “I usually get a call from Gearoid Nagle, the Faílte Bar’s manager, the first or second week of March and we begin with a few nights here and there, but this year it just felt like it wasn’t taking off at all. Granted it was just a few nights but there wasn’t any kind of a buzz around anywhere and that’s unusual. I don’t know if it was because people were conscious of the virus or that it was getting more coverage but I do remember feeling like it was strange.” That sense of foreboding was prescient, as the Killarney musician tells us that he, nor any of his colleagues have played a live gig since March, 13! It has been a silent summer.
The Failte Hotel: College St. Killarney
Killarney’s music scene is one of the most vibrant anywhere, with music in most of its bars (of which there are quite a few!) nightly. Most of the ‘Hot Touches,’ Jackie O’Mahony, Ray Kennedy and Adrian Healy, at one time or another made a living exclusively playing music and it’s a tightknit community with musician’s often covering each other’s gigs should the need arise, and they have a big get together in December just before the Christmas period. “The Musicians night out is our Christmas party,” laughs O’Mahony. “I can’t remember the first two, as I was still drinking back then, and I’m sworn to secrecy about the rest, haha. I will say that it’s great fun and there’s some serious music played, and the beauty of it is that we get to play for ourselves for just one night. I remember a group of tourists happened upon us one year and stayed out with us all night. It was their first night in Ireland and I think they thought that it was going to be like that everywhere, with songs flying from all directions. They had a look of wonderment on their faces all night, haha. There’s a great comradery and we all look out for one another, that includes bar staff and punters too. So the lack of connection is sorely missed, of course. But we’re in it together and we’ll come through it together. The economic aspect is the most concerning aspect. As long as there’s supplementation it’s fine, but the worry is about the months to come. But it’s not as if we’ve gone totally unnoticed either. Dave Looney, manager of the Tatler Jack on Plunkett St., started the Tatler Jack’s live sessions on Facebook. It was a great initiative and the first performer was our very own Ray Kennedy (Hot Touches drummer). I did a night myself solo and ‘The Hot Touches’ launched our album virtually. Still indebted to Dave for that because otherwise we’d have had little to no live promotion really.”
Extra, Extra! Killarney Advertiser's feature for the band's Album launch
O’Mahony has further praise for the publicans around his hometown, saying, “The Vintners Federation totally disregarded us, dj’s and all entertainment in general. As they lobbied for support for their industry, it would have been nice to be a part of that discussion. But as far as our local publican’s, they’ve been great. I’ve already mentioned Dave Looney, but Gearoid Nagle and Niall O’Callaghan from the Faílte Hotel have also been vocal in their support for musicians, and I know that other’s around town have too. I know those mentioned have been assessing how gigs may go ahead in the safest manner possible, and have been since they reopened. They’ve included us in their discussions and have wanted us to be back entertaining punters again, which is much appreciated. The challenges are significant and solutions may not be readily available, as safety must be the first priority in any form of discourse, but we’re extremely thankful for the support. No one likes to be side-lined, especially during a period of unknowing and uncertainty. Everybody needs to be included in the discussion.”
As we’re talking, the conversation switched to ‘The Hot Touches’, and what the pandemic has meant for them. “We can’t play live. That’s a huge blow as it’s the best form of promotion” says the band’s front man. “We were meant to have our launch live in the Tatler Jack this summer and I feel that it would have been awesome. With the right promotion and preparation, it would have been something special. We did launch virtually, but it’s just not the same and none of us are tech engineers so things were a bit ropey, haha. But I was struck that evening, more than any other, by how much I missed playing. I hope we can have a proper launch in the Tatler sometime.” The future remains very much in O’Mahony’s mind as he tells us, “I’m in the middle of creating a tiny little studio space for myself, just to put some demo's down. Just a place to go and be creative, as well as practice.” We ask if there’s another album coming down the line, “No”, is O’Mahony’s terse response! “Material wise, yes. There’s enough songs there for a second album I feel, but we’ll focus on getting some traction for the first one for now, haha. That’s the focus for ‘The Hot Touches’ right now, and has been all year. There’s a lot of admin stuff to do, and I’m learning as I go but hopefully things will start paying off soon.” We ask what he means by ‘paying off’? “Just getting our music to more people really. I’d love for as many people as possible to hear the music. That’s why we recorded it, and so I try and reach out to as many people as I can each week.” So ‘The Hot Touches’ keeps you busy? “Extremely! It’s been my job these past few months. Doing something every day. In reality it’s been a Godsend as it has given me something positive to focus on. I can’t stress how important that has been over the past few months!”
Sketch: Colm O'Mahony & The Hot Touches
Towards the end of our encounter, we asked Colm how he’s been dealing with the current situation on a personal level. “I’ve been very well actually, thankfully. The first month or so, around March was difficult alright, as I was just coming off a break already. It all happened so abruptly and I was looking forward to getting back, and, like everyone, I was faced with this indefinite layoff. Then the mind starts to wander, thinking about financials, reading about death tolls et cetera. But, as I said above, I started working on promoting ‘The Hot Touches’ and it became my job. I’m also receiving support financially from the government, and whatever people think about their handling of the situation I’m thankful that I live in a country that provides assistance to people who need it. I’m staying optimistic. We’ll be back playing in some capacity soon enough, and I believe there’ll be advances in the treatment of the virus before long, if not a vaccine.” As we stood up to make our way back down the hill, O’Mahony took a look out over Lough Leane, as the Macguillycuddy reeks were reflected along with a blue sky and said, “I can think of worse places to live through a pandemic!”