As the lockdown restrictions ease and the first steps to normality are being taken, MGMB’s series of interviews with musicians carries on with the aim to support our NHS workers in any way we can. And for most of us, music, art and entertainment have been the main saviours in quarantine. It is fundamental to have access to something that is hopeful, inspiring and real, and something that speaks to and resonates with us, such as the music and words of the Virginmarys‘ frontman Ally Dickaty.
With the band being on hold, it’s been a challenging period for Ally finding a new flow and doing his best to adapt to the sudden changes while turning to the stillness of the Northern countryside and staying true to what matters the most.
I caught up with him for an in-depth conversation about the current reality, music, mental health and what should we be asking ourselves as we move forward.
Thank you so much for doing this interview Ally. The idea is to make bit of a difference in these circumstances and help raise some money for the NHS staff and volunteers caring for COVID-19 patients, as a way of showing our massive appreciation for them and their work.
Very happy to be a part of it, anything to help the NHS.
What are your thoughts and feelings about everything that’s been going on?
A little all over the place to be honest, still trying to get my head around it all. It’s very tragic and sad first and foremost and I just wish we would have been equipped, it’s shocking to see the UK having the highest death toll of Europe. It appears the majority of the nation is feeling let down by the government. I remember years ago watching Sean Lock referring to Ryan Air, who had put forward the possibility of standing passengers on their flights, he compared them to playing ‘Ker-Plunk’ with airline safety, continually pulling out straws, hoping the marbles wouldn’t fall in a heap. To me, it feels like the government’s been doing the same for the last decade with the nation’s safety, continually cutting and tweaking in the wrong places.
I don’t really know where I stand politically though. I think we have, for a long time, been let down by the larger political parties, each time I feel like I’m voting for the lesser of the evils rather than being inspired and hopeful. I honestly believe the Brexit vote was swayed by the 350 million a week extra to the NHS, that turned out to be a blatant lie, yet the vote still held and those responsible never held accountable, in fact one of them now Prime Minister. It blows my mind. If all that time and effort hadn’t been spent on the mess that followed, maybe our PPE stock would have been kept on top of and checked for expiration dates.
At the minute I’m trying my best not to spend too much time on the negatives, and on the flip side, many of the public have been really stepping up, communities have been uniting and that’s been really beautiful to see. I hope we can move forward from this making positive changes.
Have you been working on new music? And has the current situation inspired any new creative ideas in you and the band?
We were working hard on the new material every available chance in 2019, 2020 has just been so crazy. I was out of action at the start of the year and no sooner am I back, the pandemic begins. I’ve had a tendency of getting ill and run down around Christmas and have spent the last couple of NYE alone chilling out. What’s strange is, the NYE 2018 I was writing one of the new songs and the first line that came out was ‘2020, watch the world stop turning’, I’m not sure where it came from? Maybe predicting a society burn out, everything seems all over the place with no attention span and running on empty.
As for inspiration, I’ve written a few things, but to be honest I’m still adapting to the whole situation.
How else have you been spending your time during lockdown?
I’ve been resting a lot, as well as getting out for a run on the days I can. It’s been tough on my anxiety and depression, but I think it’s been of value to step back from everything for a little while, it feels like I haven’t really done that for years. Most of the time I have a 2 week break somewhere in the year and I struggle to adapt away from my routine, the momentum my mind carries still going full throttle so I can neither sit still or know what to do with myself. I can’t remember the last time I managed to stop for this amount of time.
You’ve done a couple of live streams on Facebook. What’s that been like for you?
Super weird. I’ve done it primarily for our fans and to feel like I’m at least doing something good or helping others in these times. I’m very shy as a person, always have been, you learn a certain set of skills to perform, charm and deflect, but without alcohol to fall back on I can find social activity massively testing. I thrive knowing what I’m doing with performance, so to be rehearsed and part of a band performing, eases that pressure and it’s easier to find ‘the flow’… it’s all about the flow for me, both in performance and life. So, to loop back, this was my first ever experience of live streaming, and to sing and address a mobile phone not knowing if it’s working, how it’s coming across or what to say between songs was a bit reminiscent of those dreams where you turn up to school and realise you have no trousers on.
You have also put out a couple of covers, what made you choose these particular tracks?
The first song ‘Hallelujah’ I’d been playing a few months before for enjoyment, I love to sing it and like the way I can work my voice to it. I love the feeling when I can disappear singing, granted it’s not an original choice in the slightest, but these are strange times and I wanted to get out some nice stuff for people. The second ‘When Tomorrow Comes’ by Eurythmics was more unorthodox, as a rule, I think covers should be different. I don’t see much artistic licence in repeating a song in the same fashion as it’s already been released in. I’ve always loved this song, my dad used to play it a lot in the car when I was a kid, and for whatever reason I’d had it in my mind recently so adapted it into more of a folk song.
Do you think that now more than ever, people seek connection through music and art?
That’s what I’ve been hearing from a lot of people, I don’t think it’s a surprise. Music/poetry/art has the ability to tap into what is invaluable, ancient and true, it reminds people of what is important and real. Pieces of art can speak so deeply that they continue to be relevant for centuries. I try to remind myself of this as inspiration and comfort. Sadly, few artists are lucky enough to live ‘comfortable’ lives and rarely deemed as ‘important’ members of society. It can be a challenging road to walk down long term when material wealth and stability are what’s valued most in society…especially that first meeting of a girlfriend’s parents…so Ally, what do you do?
What do you miss most about pre-lockdown life and has your perception changed in any way over the past weeks?
I miss the freedom to move freely, see my family and haven’t been able to jam or spend time with Dan which has been very odd. I’m not sure we’ve spent this amount of time apart from each other since we met. I try and focus on how fortunate I am, I’m living near countryside and have access to wide open spaces and nature. I’ve come to realise how important this is for my wellbeing, having access to space, silence and nothingness.
How do you think these circumstances would have affected people’s mental health?
On the whole, I can only see this would have had a detrimental effect on people’s mental health, but perhaps, maybe and only in the short term. There’s so much anxiety and uncertainty in the air right now and we’ve all been thrown into circumstances we’ve had no experience in, that in itself shakes the foundations. I know in myself, my mental health often relies on a ‘base camp’ of structure in place that I can adapt to, many of these structures have been lifted into chaos, like shaking a snow globe. But again, I guess what continues to remain in place is what’s real, and that’s what we should always try to place the most importance on and not neglect. There’s so much investment into the superficial. It only takes something like what’s happened to realise how frail certain beliefs and structures are.
What lessons do you think we should all take away from life in quarantine?
I hope it teaches everyone to ask ‘what is truly most important to us? Where best can we invest our time and efforts moving forward? And what seeds do we want to be sewing for our future generations.
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