Cornish Underground’s 11th Birthday

Wow! What a ride this year’s been hey? The most destructive event happening to the music industry anyone has ever experienced. Global lockdowns and complete disturbance to all live events. Within this year also lays Cornish Underground’s 11th Birthday!

My gosh! Where do I start? And all was going so well…Bonfire night, Heartlands Nov 5th 2019, possibly my biggest gig to date. An audience of 4K + and a wet evening, water will have been leaching out of my gear possibly for weeks after that event. 3 bands and a very long distance from the stage to the mix position whilst just on an iPad. Maybe a 5 minute hustle to the stage through the busy crowd! The following month yielding gigs with Mad Dog MCrea, Hanterhir at a new Redruth cafe/venue Beats & Roots, a fundraiser with the reformed (for one night only) Dalla, plus 3 Daft Monkeys, Julian Gaskell and always nice to get a NYE gig too! January brought in the customary Degol Stul and Kan Rag Kernow events which I have the pleasure of working with Carey Davies on and by March, the Old Bakery was getting into its stride with an array of ace touring bands scheduled. We got as far as Skillywidden on the 7th, when all things went terribly wrong….Lockdown!!

Now, it was horrific! Big companies, venues, festivals and even smaller companies like mine all scrutinising any information possibly leading to work, when we’ll be allowed to start again and even how to pay our overheads and feed ourselves. Fortunately, we’re a resourceful bunch and soon we were all helping each other out and sharing info on funding, grants, making FB info pages, phoning each other and generally making sure we all were ok. For me, like others, my work stopped dead. With no income expected from live events, I had to get creative! I consider myself one of the lucky ones in this as I quickly figured I had a wealth of pre recorded audio material from the many gigs and festivals I’d done over the last 5 or so years, my plan was to set up a micro business remixing and mastering this material. I had the month of April, making databases of audio recordings, collecting contact info for festivals, promoters, venues and bands and doing the first ‘greasing of the cogs’ mixes for this project which I affectionately named ‘Cash in the attic’. Groundwork was done and the first album went out for 2 Man Ting – Live at the Melting Pot in May, swiftly followed by Leski – Live at the Compton, then sessions at the Old Bakery on two separate recordings, Kerensa Dulcimer (solo album) and The Velvet Hands, the latter making it onto BBC Radio just last week. All of this coincided with the start of the non-existent festival season, though gladly I was making the start of an income by then and receiving the first of the government’s SEISS grants. By July I was very busy, with an album going out for Big Nos – Nos Lowen Dance Album, recording and mixing the finalists of the Old Bakery – Live Lounge Young Songwriter Competition and making headway on a great album by Mohamed Errebbaa, playing traditional Gnawa music of Morocco.

I was by this stage rather aware that my work practice had changed drastically and my home studio was now a busy and productive workplace. Rather timely, a business grant was awarded and subsequent investment went into upgrades of my central business, the studio. Weeks scrolling through gear reviews and seeking advice from fellow music professionals led me to a path of purchasing some very pleasing sound gear. It has gone as far as I see possible to getting my home studio operating at the quality of a pro studio, without losing the comfort of my home space. I was also lucky to use video rushes from a shoot of my home studio for a Cornish Speaking channel to make a video promo (see other website blogs for this) outlining some of the gear purchased. Recordings with The Family Band Project at Cube Recording, with the mixing at Cornish Underground was the first in a line of recordings I’ve now mixed from home with this gear, honing the technical skills needed for running this optimised studio setup. Other interesting new ways of working happened while tracking the clarinet and vocals of Hilary Coleman (Dalla / Skillywidden) for the new album by TEYR, in the way of remote monitoring. Whilst tracking Hilary’s parts, the band were listening in from London and Finland, this is a technology which I consider to be experimented with further, as it shows great potential.

Again where things look bleak, with winter looming in Cornwall another great opportunity has arisen. Through the help of the Arts Council, England a cool project (which I can’t talk about yet!) will mean gainful employment starting in November and continuing into March. This alongside an EP recording will offer some comfort for the winter months. I have given up trying to predict the path of the pandemic on live music, but if and when these curfews are lifted and we are able to do gigs again, all my live sound gear is still in good working order, kept safe and ready to gig at the call.

Where Covid-19 has really, really messed with us all, stopping us from seeing each other and celebrating our existence at gigs and festivals, it has also made profound effects on our lives for the better. I love the way that the pandemic had metaphorically said ‘Go to your rooms and think about what you’ve done!’, aiming our collective consciousness towards the environment and our relationship with it, even allowing some healing time for nature while we were in the thickest parts of the first lockdown. It has also brought many of us into a relationship with ourselves, good or bad, giving rest and reflection at this time. I know that my body is thanking me for not having to endure the physical and mental strain of festival season, but at the same time wasting away (and gaining blubber) from not having the physical exertion of lifting heavy PA systems. It’s also not been easy for many, losing loved one’s and the constant risk of ill health from the virus. Many people are losing large amounts of money and businesses failing, in some cases without any promise of support for the future. It’s not ok for just some of us to get support, it’s only ok when we are all supported, freelancers and M.D.’s included. Looking out for one another at this time is paramount, we all need each other and will continue to need each other even when out the other end of this. What will be the biggest healer is when we can all gather again and share the sheer joy of music in the collective experience of a gig or music festival. I look forward to these times dearly.

In the meantime, I will keep making music here at Cornish Underground and offer music coming through my studio the very best of my knowledge and skill. Together we can make music that continues to inspire and light the way for the listener.

I’d like to thank those who’ve helped me and my business this year, in particular Catherine King who has been a rose in the crown at the Old Bakery, to those who helped and advised in purchasing sound gear, my loyal sound crew Rash, Josh and Flip and to those companies and festivals who are still keeping the wheels of the music scene turning. A Happy 11th Birthday to Cornish Underground and a cheer to those who have made it this far and to those who will be there when the music returns! Cheers One-and-All!

Brendan McGreal (Cornish Underground)
29th October 2020