Musicians on gig restrictions: ‘I’m on anti-depressants for the first time in my life’

Wild Youth, Pillow Queens, Elaine Mai, Mango and others, on continued event closures

The live events industry is made up of a vast number of workers whose livelihoods have been decimated by the continued closures and ongoing lack of clarity around reopening.

At the heart of this industry are the musicians whose live performances – where the bulk of their earnings are made – and careers more generally, have been affected not just by the lockdowns, but also by the uncertainty over when they can get back to work.

In recent weeks, this feeling has reached boiling point, in light of news reports of the minister with responsibility for their sector, Catherine Martin, being refused permission to attend a meeting she requested to present a roadmap for the industry reopening, and also reports of her cabinet colleagues resisting reopening proposals she and her department have drafted.

There is no understanding in government that this is an industry. People have put years of work into building what they do

This frustration was compounded by scenes around and in Croke Park at the weekend, when 40,000 people attended and socialised at the All-Ireland hurling final, which the Taoiseach also attended.


The musicians who spoke to The Irish Times for this article understand the need for public health regulations. What they are universally asking for is a timeline, a roadmap, and concrete plans for reopening.

The wedding band

Jack (not his real name), who asks for anonymity in order to speak candidly about the impact of the closures on his livelihood, is a working musician specialising in weddings and corporate events.

"Since the start of the pandemic we have toed the line. We have been holding to every single restriction the government put in place. I've been emailing Fáilte Ireland constantly and they always respond, and say 'no you're not allowed do this'. It's frustrating because some bands have just taken the view that they're just going to perform anyway. It's been made very clear to us that our public liability insurance will not apply if we perform when government restrictions are in place on live music."

Jack estimates he has lost between 90 and 99 per cent of his earnings over the course of the pandemic, “We have done one wedding this year. Our pandemic has been spent communicating with couples and saying ‘ok, the restrictions are this, what are you thinking?’ For the most part, up until two months ago, people were moving their date so we had an opportunity to save that business. Right now, people are saying, ‘well, we can have have 100 people, so we’re going ahead with it’, but the thing they’re not allowed do is have a live band. So we lose out.

We've no answers. We can't do anything. There's nobody to talk to. It's heartbreaking

“Not only do we lose out now, we lose it forever. Weddings are one-off things. It’s not like they can get us back. We have been running on fumes for a long time. I know people who have dropped out of the industry, and just got jobs elsewhere. We’ve all had to think about it.”

Jack has no problem with sports events like those at Croke Park last weekend, but says live music can take place safely, too. “There is no understanding in government that this is an industry,” he says, “People have put years of work into building what they do. The one thing we need is clarity. If we’re given a date, October 1st, December 1st, whatever it is, just let us plan. All we have are contradictions, no clarity.

“I hear the Minister for Health saying on the radio, ‘oh we’d imagine now this side of Christmas we might see live events back.’ That tells us nothing. What does that mean? This week? A week before Christmas? If you have the information, give us the information.”

The personal toll has also been huge. “The truth of it is, I’m on anti-anxiety drugs and anti-depressants for the first time in my life. I was diagnosed last December and started medication in January. Last week I was admitted to hospital with heart palpitations, and I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. This is something they see in people over 60, and the doctors are there asking me if I’m under any stress. This has a very real impact. I had a businesses. I was paying tax. I was contributing to society. All of that is gone.”

Wild Youth

Conor O'Donohoe is a member of Wild Youth, one of Ireland's most popular emerging bands, who have played sold out tours across Ireland, including in large venues such as the Olympia Theatre. "I don't hold any grudge against people going back to sporting events," he said, "I'm delighted to see things open up. But we just did a show in Dublin and we were allowed 20 people to watch the show. Then you're seeing 40,000 people in stadium. It just feels so unfair.

“What’s the difference between that and people standing in a field at Electric Picnic?” That festival, which the organisers insisted could go ahead safely with only vaccinated people attending, was cancelled when the local council refused its license.

“I think music and arts has brought so much joy to Ireland as a country,” O’Donohue says, “It’s what we’re known for, telling stories and singing songs, and it’s been totally forgotten. You’re scared to not know when the next time is that you might do a real show in Ireland. This is our jobs we’re talking about. It’s loads of people’s jobs. Your wages are gone… I just don’t know how long people will be able to survive or exist.”

Elaine Mai

Elaine Mai is an Irish electronic musician and producer preparing for the release of her debut album. “The lack of a [government] plan makes it completely impossible to plan,” she says. “I’ve been working on my debut album. Loads of work has gone into that. Knowing what we’re going to do in terms of playing live and scheduling shows is literally impossible right now because we don’t know what’s going on.”

Regarding how other industries are operating, she says, “I don’t think it’s constructive to get into comparisons, but I definitely feel that we’ve been left behind.”

Pillow Queens

Rachel Lyons is the drummer with Irish rock band Pillow Queens, whose debut album, In Waiting, released during the pandemic became a massive hit, with the band appearing remotely on James Corden's Late Late Show in the US. "We've had a few gigs on, and they're all socially distanced," Lyons says, "It's a gig, but it's nothing like what we're used to and what we're craving.

“[The government] said they had a roadmap for us and there’s still nothing. We’ve got gigs coming up in December and there’s no certainly around that ... It was a given that the vaccine rollout would happen and then we’d have our gigs, but if there’s nothing in place, and they’re just fobbing us off, that is worrying … The vaccine uptake here is so high, yet there’s still nothing happening. We can’t do that forever.”


Mango, the acclaimed Dublin rapper and one half of Mango x Mathman, whose last show in front of an audience took place on February 29th 2020 at a sold-out Dublin venue, says that creatively and professionally he and his industry are at a standstill, "We've no answers. We can't do anything. There's nobody to talk to. It's heartbreaking. I don't know what to do about it."

Like most musicians, Mango understands the logic of the restrictions, but the lack of a plan has intensified the difficulties he faces as a musician, "When you're seeing the sports stuff, that kicked me in the teeth. Walking down Camden Street on Sunday night and seeing everyone out and about, I'm all for the GAA being back, but looking at throngs of crowds on a Saturday night, you're telling me if someone puts a f**king song on, that all becomes illegal? We've had a tour rescheduled four or five times now. We're looking at maybe February 2022. That's two years out of work. In music that's forever."