My last show, for the foreseeable future, was on 15 March at the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend-On-Sea. That’s quite a sentence for me to type. For the last two decades I’ve made my living playing live shows and, indeed, quite a name for myself as someone who is “always on tour”. It turns out that it took a worldwide pandemic to slow me down.
The decision to pull the tour was agonising but necessary: within a few days, concrete restrictions on large gatherings started to be brought in by the government, culminating in the complete lockdown introduced a few days ago. I’m fortunate enough to be back home in London with my wife and my cat, but the prospects for my professional world, the live music industry, are grim indeed.
I have spent my life working passionately and frenetically with the sole aim of gathering large numbers of people in a room together. It now turns out that is the last thing any of us should be doing, and that’s a hard pill to swallow for an artist like myself. And I am far from being the worst hit by this turn of events. I have other streams of income, from merchandise, song publishing and so on. The real workers of the live industry are staring into the abyss.
Not everyone is familiar with the cast of characters who work in this business, so let me walk you through it. The artists are the most visible people, of course, and there are many who are not as lucky as me, and who depend more completely on being paid for their live performances. But every artist has a host of people working with them behind the scenes.
This can include hired musicians, technical staff (guitar technicians and sound guys), tour managers, tour bus drivers and the like. Then there are the promoters, who work on organising the shows with the artists and their managers and agents. At the venues themselves there’s a long list of people making their living – owners, managers, bar workers, sound technicians, security staff and so on. Most of these people work on day rates or zero hour contracts, which means if they don’t work, they don’t get paid.
Larger venues and artists have financial cushions to fall back on, but it is the smaller, more independent part of the scene that gives the most cause for concern. And small independent venues are the lifeblood of this corner of culture. For the music I love to exist, it has to have somewhere to exist in, somewhere to germinate, experiment and thrive.
To be specific, I came up living and playing at a bar in Holloway called Nambucca. Over time, I graduated to venues like The 100 Club, the Underworld, the Electric Ballroom in Camden and countless others. These places are hallowed ground for performers and audience alike.
On a personal level, after doing a very successful online live-streamed show and fundraiser for the 11 people who work on my crew, I decided to try and lend a hand to the independent venues I love. I’m starting a series of live-streamed shows, playing one of each of my eight albums in full per show, to raise funds for independent venues. The legendary Nambucca will be the first. The money raised will help pay staff, bills and keep the business going through this difficult time.
The project is called Independent Venue Love, and the shows will be streamed on my artist Facebook page. It’s free to tune in, but everyone is encouraged to donate what they can, be it the price of a ticket for a show, or even just the money they would have spent on beer at the bar. I’m hoping that other artists will get involved in this project and help out venues that are both local and important to them.
Once the dust has settled and we’re allowed outdoors again, I’m hoping that people will be more appreciative of communal gatherings in general, the art that takes place there and the people who provide those services. In the meantime, we can hopefully all pull together and make a difference.