The pandemic has affected almost every facet of modern life, none more so than the euphoria experienced by musicians and revellers at live music events.
This time last year Maghery singer, Eiméar Crealey, journeyed back home after all remaining shows of her American tour with the Celtic Angels were postponed.
So it was that just one month on from putting on her own solo show at the Market Place Theatre in Armagh, that all live music events would cease…little did she know for how long.
Speaking to Armagh I, Eiméar explained how the Covid pandemic allowed her the time to piece together and create her first solo album, which is due for release next month.
“I was on tour with the Celtic Angels last year and we literally got sent home on St Patrick’s Day,” she said.
Eiméar had been splitting her time between London and the United States prior to the pandemic, but instead returned to her native Maghery to stay with her parents.
“I was there until October. It the longest stint back home ever. It was a bit of a novelty and was fun at the start but then I kind of stopped and thought ‘I need to do something here’,” she said.
Although Eiméar had always dreamed of putting together an album, she commented that she was “never home long enough” to do so.
Her first contact was Stephen Smyth, a big name in the Irish country scene, whom she had met whilst performing on cruises with the Celtic Angels.
She said: “I knew he produced for people. I wanted an album with just Irish music. There are a lot of Irish female country singers but there is not a lot of the folk side of it.”
Work began on the album back in August, with Eiméar travelling to Loughside Studios in Portaferry for recording.
Describing the whole process as “stop-start”, the Maghery singer also began studying to become a music teacher back in London this year.
She said: “I am doing a PGCE to become a secondary school music teacher, as sort of a back-up. I decided to retrain and this is the best year to do it as there is nothing happening in the world of live music.
“I have been juggling the album and the PGCE. It was a close call at a few times. My mum and dad said they always knew I would end up going into teaching but there were always performance opportunities being put first.”
The London which Eiméar returned to in October of this year is a much different prospect than the fast-paced metropolis she remembers.
She said: “I have lived in the London for the last three years. If you were to have moved there in the last year you would have the worst impression of it. I have not really noticed as I have been busy with the teaching.
“There is an Irish bar in every corner. It is weird not being able to go to gigs but there have been loads of little events. It has been impressive how the music industry has coped and how creative people have been.”
The album includes an exciting blend of traditional and contemporary Irish folk songs with a modern edge, such as ‘When You Were Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Caledonia’, along popular classics with a Celtic flair such as Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’.
“It took me ages to pick all the songs,” she admitted, “I chose quite a few of them from the show I did in the Market Place because I knew the vibe they sort of had and the atmosphere they created.
“Older generations will know those songs, but the likes of brothers and sisters who never would have heard that stuff now love it, just from hearing younger people singing it.”
One such re-imagination, is a female version of Richard Thompson’s ‘Beeswing’, with rewritten lyrics by Daire McCarroll, called ‘Don’t Know What Love Means – Beeswing Female Story’.
There is also another first for Eiméar with the album featuring her own first original track ‘Forget and Remember’.
Explaining its origins, she said: “On the tour, there is an older woman, who is a big fan/friend. There is a poem from the 1800s which she always said before bed and our tour manager would read to her, as she is blind.
“She came to one of our shows and read us the poem. Everyone was saying that it would be lovely to put it to music and I never thought anything more of it.”
However, whilst in lockdown back in Maghery – by her own admission “bored” – Eiméar decided to take on the task.
“I took the words, I adapted some and then added some music. It was more just something to send to Christine. It was just me and a piano but then Stephen just brought it to life.”
Talking about the differences between live performances and recording an album, Eiméar added: “When performing live if you make a mistake there is nothing you can do and then it is forgotten about.
“But when you are in the recording studio, your inner perfectionist won’t go away and you always think you can do a line better.”
Eiméar said that she desperately misses performing live and can’t wait to get back on the stage.
“The whole concept of the album is that it can work as a show, the songs, the way they are listed, it is like a story. It would be a dream to have my own show and my own set of musicians.
“I would like to, when it is possible, have an official album launch with a mini tour.”
Eiméar’s album ‘A Heart at Home’ comes out on April 2. She is accompanied on it by Rónán Stewart, Cathal Murphy, Adam Linsley, Amy Penston and Stephen Smyth.