Vicky Phelan: ‘I went to masses of gigs before Covid, making up for time I may not have’

Soundtrack of my Life: The health advocate on music, lockdown and cancer treatment

Music has played a massive role in my life, from my earliest memories of making my own mix tapes as a teenager in my bedroom, to now, where music from my past reconnects me with the person I used to be. Because we often get lost when we grow up and life becomes full of responsibilities.

I went to masses of gigs in the two years before Covid shut everything down, and I’m so glad I did. I was making up for lost time, and for time that I may not have.

I took my son Darragh to his first gig; we went to see George Ezra play at Malahide Castle and I have wonderful memories of singing along to George Ezra’s pop songs.

For my birthday, I went to Belfast with my two best friends to watch Snow Patrol. We've seen them many times together, but this gig was special because my cancer was back and we didn't know if we would get to see the band again

And I took my daughter Amelia to London to see Girl In Red, her favourite musician. I’ll never forget watching the unbridled joy on her face, jumping up and down to the music that she’d been listening to on her iPhone but was now seeing live.

For my birthday, I went to Belfast with my two best friends in the whole world, Maria and Susan, to watch Snow Patrol’s gig. We’ve seen them many times together, but this gig was special because my cancer was back and we didn’t know if we would get to see the band again. There were lots of tears, but also lots of laughter and jumping up and down to songs that have defined our lives.

I also picked Frank & Walters, Therapy? and The Stunning for my playlist because they played Feile 19: the very last gig I went to before the pandemic arrived into our lives. We pretended we were in our early twenties again, and relived our youth.

While we’ve been locked down, and while I’ve been having my treatment for cancer here in the States, music has done what it has always done for me in times of need: it’s kept me calm and sane, and helped me to pull myself up when I’ve been feeling low.

Watermelon Sugar by Harry Styles was all over the radio in the first few months of the pandemic. It's a particularly catchy pop song, and every time I hear it, it reminds me of that summer when we were all stuck at home trying to make the best out of being unable to travel.

When lockdown lifted in August 2020, I bought a campervan and my dad drove with me to Sligo to collect it. On the drive up, we listened to songs from the 1950s

When lockdown lifted in August 2020, I bought a campervan and my dad drove with me to Sligo to collect it. On the drive up, we listened to songs from the 1950s including Chuck Berry, one of my dad’s favourite singers. Johnny B. Goode and You Never Can Tell will forever remind me of the music blasting out of my little Bluetooth speaker on that trip, as we admired the views of Rosses Point and Mullaghmore out the window.

My Dad wrote in a card he gave me when I left to get treatment that he’s looking forward to another road trip with me, so those songs are close to my heart.

No playlist of mine would be complete without Learning to Fly by Tom Petty. It’s probably my favourite song ever. I listen to this song whenever I want to reminisce about better times, or to cheer myself up as many of my happiest memories are tied up in this song. It’s on every one of my playlists.

I feel this pandemic has made us look inwards, and backwards within our lives. I spent a lot of last year listening to Stephan Eicher’s Des Hauts, Des Bas and L’autre finistère by Les Innocents. They’re French songs from the 1990s that remind me of spending time in France. These two songs conjure up images of my gang sitting outside our favourite bar, listening to tunes on the jukebox and doing what young people with not a care in the world do.

I've been listening to new music too. This is Your Song by Mount Sion Choir featuring Ronan Keating is a new release for 2021. I became involved with the amazing Mount Sion Choir at a Choirs4Cancer event three years ago at UCD, and have been in awe of them ever since. Ronan Keating wrote this song after his mother died from cancer. He re-recorded it with the choir to raise much-needed funds for the Marie Keating Foundation, a cancer charity set up in her name. It's a beautiful song and one we can all identify with at this time. We have all lost someone be it to Covid or to cancer, and this is a song that honours those we have lost. – As told to Shilpa Ganatra