Galway Advertiser's Galway Musicians of the Year 2020

The music and the people who brought light and hope to this strange, unprecedented year

The Galway Advertiser's Galway Musicians of the Year 2020 (clockwise from left, Tracy Bruen, Ultan Conlon, A Lilac Decline, and The Clockworks.

The Galway Advertiser's Galway Musicians of the Year 2020 (clockwise from left, Tracy Bruen, Ultan Conlon, A Lilac Decline, and The Clockworks.

THIS YEAR has, as Stephen Fry noted at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, been "a very dark time for the performing arts". A sector so reliant on human interaction; the gathering together of people; and which lives on the shared experience, remains one of the most profoundly affected, and curtailed, areas of life and activity.

Yet, it is to the arts we have turned for comfort, solace, joy, and as a way of making sense of an unprecedented year. It is artists who - despite having their means of livelihood effectively wiped out - time and again, via their creativity, technology, and social media, lifted people's spirits via their work, work created for our enjoyment, our entertainment, our enrichment - and they have helped us stay connected, with the good things in life, and with each other. When all this is past, we should remember that.

With this in mind, the Galway Advertiser salutes those Galway musicians who have embodied the ethos of "the show must go on" and delivered work that has kept us going throughout 2020.

Most Inspirational Galway Musician 2020 - Tracy Bruen

IN JANUARY, Tracy released the single 'Dream Away'. It picked up airplay on national radio, it was generating momentum, soon more than Galway would know how brilliant she is - then Covid-19 hit.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the pandemic, Tracy rose to the challenge. Throwing herself into upskilling on technology, she re-organised for the popular open-mic nights at the Róisín Dubh to continue online, thereby supporting and encouraging aspiring and emerging talent; and keeping a community connected.

Her regular #OurNews posts on Facebook, as well as her articles for the Galway Advertiser, looked honestly at life under lockdown, but provided solidarity, as many drew some comfort from knowing they were not alone in what they were experiencing. As the year progressed, Tracy became a robust and insightful critic of sexism within the music industry, and among musicians - her dismantling of an infamous drumming podcast being, perhaps, her finest hour in that regard.

As the year draws to a close, Tracy ends it as she began in a sense, with her work on Livefeed, the youth music project, working with young people from across the county to co-produce live events and help participants pursue interests in songwriting, performance, audio production, sound engineering, and music photography - supporting, again, another generation of emerging musicians, and, we hope, set to deliver her own new music in the coming months.

Best Galway Band 2020 - The Clockworks

Photo by Oscar J Ryan Photography.

GALWAY HAS produced many fine rock bands over the years, but none has ever caused the stir outside of Ireland in the way The Clockworks have.

Signed to Alan McGee's Creation23 label, praised by Annie Mac of the BBC, and, pre-Covid, enjoying sell-out gigs in London, the hype is entirely justified. Stripped down riffing, that combines a punk energy with an indie sense of melody, and a strong, socio-political point of view, The Clockworks - James McGregor (vocals/guitar ), Sean Connelly (guitar ), Damian Greaney (drums ), Tom Freeman (bass ) - are a band with something to say, and they say it wrapped in thrilling tunes.

Two 2020 singles encapsulated this - ‘The Future Is Not What It Was’ and 'Can I Speak To A Manager Please?'. The former captured a contemporary anxiety, not only around Covid, but around Climate Change, Brexit, economics, and the kind of politics Trump has enabled: “The future is not what it was, the future is not quite as good as it was" and “Life is greeting us with a ‘F*** you and good day.”

'Can I Speak To A Manager?' not only dealt with frustration and the grind of dealing with customer service, but also tapped into a wider disaffection with the structure of capitalist society. The video was also one of the Galway musical highlights of the year - James McGregor on his phone, shot at various locations throughout a very deserted, and eerie looking Galway.

Best Galway Solo Artist 2020 - Ultan Conlon

Ultan Conlon 2020 1

ULTAN CONLON, the Loughrea singer-songwriter, was another artist who could not be kept down by the Covid pandemic, another of those who declared "the show must go on" - and it was to our benefit he did.

Despite not being able to tour to promote There’s A Waltz, his fourth album, released in April, Ultan still enjoyed his most successful year yet - another instance of the arts, and an artist, showing resilience in a time of crisis.

There’s A Waltz was praised by Hotpress for its “songs of substance told with intelligence and wry observation”; The Sunday Times declared it “a record that revels in the beauty of the simple and unspectacular'; and it became Album of The Week on Lyric FM’s Marty In The Morning.

Despite all the obstacles thrown in its way, the album reached a wide audience. “The online sales have grown bigger," Ultan told me earlier this year. “From that I get orders for CD and vinyl copies of the album. I’ve been up and down to the post office sending them out. Everyday I post out an album is a win. It’s such a good feeling to put it in an envelope and send it off. It’s all a great lift for morale" - as is your music Ultan.

Galway Song Of The Year - 'Sunset Song'

IT BEGINS with a reversal of linear time - with a sunset, and sees the encroaching darkness, not as forbidding, but as a moment to take stock and be glad of what has been, and what is.

'Sunset Song', the opening track of Shelter From The Shadows, the wonderful second album by A Lilac Decline (aka Cecilia Danell ) has summed up this year in a way few other songs have.

Chiming chords bathed in hazy reverb and suffused with lush psychedelia create the feel of a summer evening (and we had some fine weather this summer ). While its lyrics acknowledged an underlying unease ("We just laughed and hid the evidence" ), it refused to give in to pessimism, its closing refrain, "We'll be fine, we'll be fine", instead offering hope and reassurance.

As Cecilia said: "Struggle, grief, and perseverance are not unique to any one person. Neither is joy and curiosity. Sorrow and joy are all multifaceted aspects of life."


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