The week after Switzerland imposed widespread restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 I had been scheduled to sing at Mulligan’s pub in Geneva to mark St. Patrick’s Day, on Tuesday 17 March. I knew a few days beforehand that the pub would be closed so I decided to see whether I could do something online instead. Fortunately I had everything that I needed: a laptop with a webcam and a guitar with a built-in mic plus my usual vocal mic. I could run the audio sources through a mixing desk and from there into the laptop via a Zoom H4 recorder, which functions as a USB interface. I downloaded open source software called OBS to help with putting the audio and video inputs together and streaming to the web.
And so it was that I streamed live on YouTube for a couple of hours, playing the mix of Irish songs that I would have otherwise been singing in Mulligan’s.
It worked out really well, with probably more people watching at some points than would have been in the pub. There was a real sense of warmth and connectedness coming through the comments on the chat and the messages I received. It was a fun, if slightly unnatural, way of overcoming the distance. I sensed that it also gave some of those who followed it a feeling of positivity and optimism during those disturbing early days of the crisis.
I decided I would do another stream the following Saturday. For reasons that I still don’t fully understand, I was prevented from using YouTube, so I jumped to Facebook for the first of what would run to eight Saturday night sessions, with shorter Wednesday night sessions (that I’m still doing at the time of writing this post).
Saturday nights were all about covers. I realised after the first two that I was finding it hard to settle into a rhythm, jumping here, there and everywhere with the songs I did. So from then on I tried to pick a theme each week.
My favourite session to prepare for and perform was probably the evening when I sang songs by The Beatles, but they were all so much fun. It was great to see lots of suggestions for songs to do coming in on the Eoghan Sings Facebook page that I set up as a home for the project.
Here’s the full list of links to the Saturday sessions (plus that first St. Patrick’s Day session on YouTube):
- St. Patrick’s Day (17 March) – all Irish songs
- The Basement Session (21 March)
- The Basement Session (28 March)
- The Basement Session (4 April) – Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, James Taylor, etc.
- The Basement Session (11 April) – Crowded House, The Beautiful South, et al
- The Birthday Basement Session (18 April) – Indie rock, Britpop and a guest appearance from the birthday girl!
- The Basement Session (25 April) – Eoghan sings The Beatles!
- The Basement Sessions (2 May) – Eoghan sings… songs by women
- The Basement Sessions (9 May) – Eoghan sings… the 80s!
All good things…
As it looked like things would begin to open up again in Switzerland, I decided to call a halt to the Saturday night sessions. It had been a really positive experience for me, with anywhere from 40 to 80 people turning up each week, plus many others dropping in and out. It was many, many years since I put so much time and effort into learning new songs (albeit “cheating” a lot on these ones by using an app for lyrics and/or chords in many cases). And the “atmosphere” on the comment stream often made it feel like I was in a noisy pub with good friends old and new.
As an added bonus, my parents – cocooned in Ireland for much of that period – were online for the sessions most weeks, as were my sisters, the in-laws and many friends and acquaintances around the world that I hadn’t been in touch with much in the years before. It was a lovely way to connect and reconnect. I got so many warm and encouraging comments, plus even a gift of some beer and wine delivered to house by some appreciative listeners living in the region. I’m looking forward to meeting some of these new connections in person at some point.
As I mentioned above, as of now I’m continuing to stream every Wednesday night, when I do about 30 minutes of my own songs. I’m hoping this will serve as an incentive for me to keep working on new material. It has certainly been an adventure digging through my old notebooks and demo recordings to see what songs might deserve a second look.
COVID-19 has impacted on people in different ways, good and bad. For me, it has brought many positive experiences related to music and I hope that momentum will continue in the months and years ahead.