ADELAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA – As lockdown restrictions begin to ease across most of Australia’s states, Pagan events are returning, albeit in a new, socially distanced, “covid-normal” way. TWH’s Australian correspondent Josephine Winter caught up with Spiral Dance vocalist Adrienne Piggott and accordionist Paul Gooding this week as they gear up to play their first live gig since the beginning of the year, which will also be streamed for interstate and international fans via the Facebook page of Adelaide’s Wheatsheaf Hotel.
TWH: How does it feel to be getting back in front of a live audience?
Paul Gooding: I simply can’t wait! I love playing to an audience. I adore the energy that the people bring to the show and for me, it just lifts the performance. The crowd really does influence the musicians, I’m sure Spiral Dance plays a bit harder and faster when the fans are dancing and rocking out with us!
Adrienne Piggott: I can’t wait – We are really excited to be back playing for our community, with the English Ale, our Winter Solstice event, and our Wassail not happening this year, it’s felt very strange not being able to celebrate our usual calendar customs with the community. There is a cap of 66 at this concert but it will be lovely to see whoever comes along. The energy of a ‘real’ audience is very special. AND I get to wear my frocks and boots that have been gathering moths during the lockdown!
TWH: What challenges have you faced as performers during COVID lockdowns?
Piggott: In the early lockdown, the biggest challenge for me was not being able to play music and jam with the boys. Music is my life-line, so I was feeling very glum at the beginning, wondering when we would be able to be together again. I was playing my guitar and mandolin, and I started reworking a couple of older Spiral songs that I was never really happy with to get them ready for recording so that kept me busy. Once we were allowed to gather in small groups here in South Australia myself, Nick and Paul got back together to play and rehearse. In fact, the first time we streamed a live tune set and song on Facebook was really meant to be a bit of fun. however we got such great feedback we decided to do the live FB concerts.
Gooding: I guess it was a total unknown for all of us – we didn’t have any point of reference or any experience to draw from really. It was certainly a shock, then probably a bit of anxiety and depression crept in as lots of our gigs were postponed and interstate and overseas tours were cancelled. But then we started discussing things amongst the band and decided to pursue the live-streaming thing. To be perfectly honest, I listened to a few Facebook Live shows and was very unhappy with the sound quality. We talked about it and, as the band sound is very much [band member] Nick [Carter]’s domain, he did some research, bought a few gadgets, and worked out a way of setting up the band through a PA like a normal gig on stage but with the ability to send the mixed sound out to Facebook Live rather than just using the internal mic from the iPad. That’s how we’ve run all our streaming shows now. Nick did a brilliant job. The first time was stressful too! It’s all good now, but you should see the amount of gear we have to set up to make us audible and visible!
TWH: What have you missed most about the face-to-face Pagan community?
Piggott: I’ve really missed my grove, sharing rituals and feasts. I’ve missed our seasonal gatherings. We usually have a big winter solstice gathering every year with shared plates of food, sitting around the braziers, singing songs and playing music, telling stories. Can’t wait till we can do that again!
Gooding: Just like the music and not having an audience, it’s been strange not seeing all my Pagan mates for months. Like everything else, we’ve adapted to using video calls and suchlike, but it’s just not the same as meeting your friends, having a hug, sharing food and drinks, and generally hanging out in the traditional sense.
TWH: What was the most surprising thing about playing virtual concerts?
Gooding: I was nervous about getting the quality of sound for the streaming gigs, and it was weird to play and be met with silence at the end of a song! But what we hadn’t considered was how many people would either watch live or catch up over the coming days – and where those people were living. We had comments for all over the world – Eastern and Western Europe, Scandinavia, South Africa, Asia, Canada, all over the USA, as well as from our mates in Australia and New Zealand. It was amazing and very humbling! So many people commented that they had heard our music but never, ever thought they’d get to see us play live. So it made us realise that something positive could come out of all the COVID chaos, without it we would never have set up the whole streaming thing, but now we have we will be able to continue to reach people that would otherwise never get to interact with us like that during a show.
Piggott: To be honest I was astounded how many people tuned in to watch from across Australia and overseas. Not just how many from Australia (which was the whole point of keeping in touch with our Australian Pagan community) but how many people tuned in from around the world. And since then our following has grown. Damh the Bard had advertised our gigs from his page, bless him, and word of mouth has got out through social media. We’ve definitely connected with more of the world wide Pagan community – how exciting is that?
TWH: Aside from music, what did you get up to during lockdown?
Piggott: Life really didn’t change that much for me during the lockdown. I’m a bit of a homebody and I love cooking. I was still writing music, and the autumn weather was so gorgeous, I continued to do lots of walks in the bushland near my cottage and through areas of the Adelaide Hills. I did discover a few new walks around my area so that was lovely. The mushrooms, toadstools and fungi were just beautiful this year so I bought a book, a field guide to identifying Australian Fungi, so that’s been fun. I think the Fae were calling to me! I spent a lot of time just sitting and listening to nature. The parrots, magpies, kookaburras, and wrens kept coming into my garden to visit, so it was lovely to sit and just “be.” I threw out a lot of old Tupperware containers into the recycling and my herb cupboard has never been so organised. I found boots I haven’t worn for years and cut a few frocks into new designs. I did enjoy parts of the lockdown, I have to admit!
Gooding: I’ve been able to work from home, so aside from not travelling, it’s been fairly normal. The family have been marooned at home too, so we have to have our own “safe zones” where we can work/study/relax/play music etc. Again, it was a learning curve, but it feels normal now. I’m not ashamed to say that lockdown has given me a chance to catch up on some reading and a few TV series – but the garden is still just as untidy!
TWH: What do you think will be the lasting effects of this pandemic on the Pagan community and how we operate?
Gooding: Well, hopefully we’ll never take seeing each other at gatherings for granted! And never waste a moment when we do get to see each other. I’d love to think that with a renewed appreciation of how precious our time together is, we’ll stop bickering about trivialities and become more united as a community, that would be my hope – not that the community is fractured by any means, but perhaps we can learn to use time together more productively. Also, like the concert streaming thing, we might get better at staying in touch remotely and maybe bring together Pagan communities that would otherwise be rather more solitary. Maybe get people in different locations more involved in working together.
Piggott: You know, I really think the Zoom and online concerts and events will continue. What a great way to get music out across the world when you can’t tour. I’ve been involved in a couple of online weekend and week long Druid and Pagan events, with workshops, talks, rituals, and bardic circles, and once we all got used to how it worked we embraced it. I think they will continue. The only down side is eyestrain from my point of view and I need to step away from the screen quite a bit. I’ve been having a break from [Facebook] in-between virtual gigs, as it was all getting a bit much. I need to get the sunlight in my eyes in the day and look at the stars and moon at night. Nothing will really ever compare to us being together in the flesh, so to speak, but it is a great way to stay in touch and share fun events with people who live interstate and overseas.
TWH: What’s the best thing fans can do to support artists during this time?
Piggott: It has been a tough time for bands and musicians – really anyone involved in the arts. Keep in touch with us on social media. We love hearing from our followers and it keeps us focused. We didn’t start to do the shows to make money but the donations to our Paypal buskers hat and CD download sales have really helped. The generosity and support of the community has been wonderful, and we are very grateful for that.
Gooding: The arts are suffering so badly everywhere: galleries, studios, theatres, concert halls, live music venues are closing. Many people who make their living through the arts are suffering. For bands like us, it has been difficult, and at the beginning of the lockdown, when that initial depression hit, we did even wonder if this was going to be the end of Spiral Dance. I know Adrienne was very upset. But we have been so lucky to have such a supportive community around us and that’s all that can save the arts – community support! People have donated to our PayPal in lieu of ticket sales for our streaming gig, which was so generous! And others have bought CDs or just sent messages of support and that has helped us stay focused and driven to continue to write and play music.
TWH: How can fans outside of South Australia support you on Friday?
Gooding: Come join us “virtually” at the Wheatsheaf Facebook page – leave some comments, say hi, and above all, just enjoy the show! It’s a free concert so you’re quite welcome to watch the show, there’s no pressure, but every little helps, so there are tip jars – the Wheaty will have one up once the show goes live, or you can pop something in our Busker’s Witches Hat.
The live concert – a free event with limited seats due to social distancing – will take place at the Wheatsheaf hotel in Adelaide on Friday, July 10. The event will be streamed live on the hotel’s Facebook Page from 8pm Australian Central Standard time. There is no cost associated but fans are invited to donate to the band’s Busker’s Witches Hat if they wish.