The importance of a city's culture is a hot topic right now with Dublin folk up in arms about the closing of such institutions as The Bernard Shaw. And it looks like the issue is not restricted to the capital.
Galway has been voted European Capital of Culture 2020, but now one of the art-forms that is the life-blood of the city's culture is about to be drained away.
The new busking by-laws introduced have hit the city hard, particularly taking their toll on the much-loved Galway Street Club.
Let me set the scene:
It’s the middle of summer, the sun is shining (sounds fake but it does happen), you’re making your way down Shop Street, the place is buzzing. And Galway Street Club is right there in the thick of it, doing what they do best.
Now picture this:
January 2 2020, you’re out for a new year’s stroll down Shop Street…but wait, something’s different. It’s eerie, unnatural even. There’s no music, no life, no fun.
Doesn’t sound like Galway, does it? That’s because buskers and street performers are the heart and soul of the place.
As the creative capital of Ireland, Galway has seen countless musicians come together and hone their crafts, out in the open, with all of us bearing witness. They manifest themselves on the cobblestones, in the air, on the walls. They sing and dance and create. For their own enjoyment and for ours. So, this is devastating news not only for the artistic community but for the wider community as a whole.
Walking down Shop Street bopping along to Galway Street Club was part and parcel of my daily commute and the thought of not having that privilege anymore is not something I want to think about.
Taking to their social media accounts the group put out a statement that essentially said come January 2020 they will no longer be able to legally busk in Galway. Ready for the irony? Galway Street Club came to be through busking. In Galway. On Shop Street.
What started out almost as a joke has resulted in one of the most popular and successful groups that the City of Tribes has to offer. In 2016, a group of individual musicians united to jam together and well the rest is history. Often described as the “United Nations of Music”, the band has members hailing from eight different countries, each of whom bring something uniquely theirs to the mix.
Crediting Shop Street as the platform for many of the subsequent opportunities afforded to them, it’s sad to see things potentially end on such a sour note. As several disappointed fans have highlighted online, a quiet Shop Street is of no benefit to anyone…especially for a city that plans to capitalise on the electric atmosphere it’s so famous for.
Galway is synonymous with Galway Street Club. Shop street is synonymous with their music and performances and creative energy. They’re so intrinsically linked that, for me at least, one is not the same without the other.
Laura Corcoran, vocalist and Galway Street Club’s resident ukulele player, says that the whole situation ‘just reflects greed, power and money’. According to her, ‘buskers and street performers were basically used as a selling point for Galway 2020…then as soon as it’s won, art is thrown to the side’.
Which calls into question: will Galway be the capital of culture…with no culture?
Now I’m by no means denying that Galway has bucket loads to offer. It’s practically overflowing with things to do, places to see and food to eat. But that being said, its buskers will always be the thing that I associate with it most.
The talent that people offer so freely out on the streets is what keeps visitors coming back time and again. It’s what leaves a lasting impression. Travellers and locals alike have long been wrapping themselves in a blanket of their fondest memories of the place; a blanket that is stitched together by laughter and joy. But most importantly by music.
Putting such strict infringements on creative expression, especially in a place like Galway, just doesn’t seem to be the way forward.
As the European Capital of Culture 2020, people are expecting Galway, the Galway they know and love, to put on a show. But I can’t help but think that that will be exceptionally tough without the added magic of buskers, such as Galway Street Club, out on Shop Street where they belong.
Surprisingly, one of the most poignant analogies comes from one disheartened follower’s Facebook comment (the source of all life’s wisdom); Galway has become a real-life Footloose movie. Which is nothing short of a tragedy and a half.
(header pic: Galway Street Club Facebook page)