HOW THE PANDEMIC IS AFFECTING MUSICIANS
With loads of musicians losing huge incomes from cancelled tours and gigs, Blues Matters contacted several well-known names from the world of blues to assess the impact of this awful virus on their livelihoods. We also asked them what steps they had taken to continue promoting their music and engaging with their fans. Some told us about their favourite activities, piece of music, or books, that keep their spirits up during the period of isolation.
GRAINNE DUFFY: Irish singer, songwriter, guitarist.
Well, of course, it’s had a huge impact on my life and my husband too as we are both musicians so it’s our employment gone, temporarily and our upcoming festivals too. We were super excited about returning to Glastonbury 2020 but in the whole scheme of things, it’s only a small short-term price to pay. I’m so worried about all the smaller festivals and clubs. These places have been our lifeline and keep us alive. They need to work so hard to keep going even in a good climate. I’m really hoping the governments do all they can to help and support them to stay alive.
I’m trying to stay in touch with fans out there. I’m doing videos from the studio and will hopefully do a small live concert. Even doing wee online live video collaborations with other artists has started now since the outbreak which is a positive thing. Who knows where they might lead in the future. We also have a few fun ideas for upcoming posts lined up too which I am excited about.
Thankfully our wee boy Bobby Joe who’s one and a half keeps us entertained for the most part. We are making this a good opportunity for quality family time, nature walks, cycles, art and crafts etc. Mainly we try to exercise and take time to write and record songs that we haven’t had the chance to do. We also take time to listen to older albums that we had never got the time to enjoy and watch videos from artists who inspire us. I love reading too, I’m reading Alan Lomax, The Land Where The Blues Began. It’s a super read, very informative. I believe this will provide us with a new way of looking at and appreciating Mother Earth, slowing down a little and really appreciating our families and valuing their importance even more than we do.
It’s the simple things in life. Maybe we all needed to press stop momentarily. Nothing really stops this modern world turning but this has and it really makes you stop and think about what’s most important in life.
Hopefully, we will get back to making and enjoying music together soon.
More Info at – Grainne Duffy
RUBY TURNER: Singer and actress.
It’s unprecedented and very difficult to put into words just how I myself and everyone is feeling right now. The total uncertainty as no one knows when this pandemic will cease and we can return to life as we’ve known it. I do believe now, as a world, things will have to change, and cannot assume that we’re as in control as we think.
The situation has decimated live music. Shows cancelled everywhere and for everyone. And for once we’re all in the same boat. We as self-employed people, are powerless and really the last on the list of economic priorities. Sadly that’s just the nature of the beast. It’s a case of buying bread or going to a gig. One can only hope that some have followed the old saying “putting something away for a rainy day” that will help some of us to cope until we’re able to work again. Once the initial shock of this now crippling pandemic virus has sunk in, we now have to deal with the fact we’re out of work for the foreseeable future. Everything cancelled or postponed. Sadly there’s nothing we can do but try to be optimistic in the hope work can be rescheduled when this crisis ends.
We need to be proactive to keep ourselves going best we can. I’ve seen a few musicians on social media doing a little something to entertain and to even raise funds to help, which is great. I guess like many, we find ourselves at home on an imposed, sabbatical. And trust me there’s much to do around the home. When you’ve been on the road month after month things can get neglected. So now I’m trying to approach this with a positive frame of mind to use my time well and I shall be de-cluttering physically and mentally.
The wonderful thing about technology now, it’s come into its own, connecting people to help alleviate isolation and share positive information. The very thing I believe it was created for. Of course like everyone else I’m grateful to be able to share new music, positive vibes and things I love and enjoy, like flowers in bloom and the wonderful things I see around me in nature. All this I hope will help to alleviate stress and tension whilst we weather the storm.
This is life, but not as we know it! Praying for better days, a better you and better me.
More Info at – Ruby Turner
SEAN TAYLOR: London-based troubadour: singer, songwriter, guitarist.
Like many artists, venues and promoters I will be losing a lot of income. I have lost at least two months of tour work already and by the looks of things probably more.
This is an unprecedented time and it is going to get tougher for everyone. There is no safety net for musicians and as a workers’ movement, we must be united in calling for collective worker protections and support. It is also very important to remember that as musicians we all have a duty of care to the beautiful people who support the music. We should be following the world health organisation’s call for social distancing. Offering support for musicians and venues that cancel events to protect the public health, is crucial at this desperate time.
I have released a Live In London album at www.seantaylorsongs.com that I am selling via my website to get by and the response has been beautiful. I was only going to sell this album at concerts but I have lost a lot of work and I have to try and survive. I have been writing a lot which I do anyway as it’s my job. I will look into live- streaming gigs but the road is my home and I miss it already.
More Info at – Sean Taylor
PAT McGARVEY: Banjo player with Southern Tenant Folk Union and The Banjo Lounge 4
I’ve lost all my work for the next month ahead and more will go, of course. For example, I’ve had about £1000 worth of gigs cancelled over the next month and none of those, are coming back, I’ll be trying to see what government help I can get next week, probably something to do with the existing working tax credit/child tax credit thing we already had going on. My wife has some money coming in from her school job but it’s not enough for us to get by on.
I’m sure some music will get done and I might work on some new things I’ve not even thought of yet. I and my wife’s main role will be looking after the kids and maybe helping her mother who has been self-isolating. There’ll be plenty to do with that and getting some sort of schedule/timetable for the week so the children can do the work sent electronically by their teachers/school. They will continue to practise their instruments with us all playing together as well. I would like to try and do some recording with them too, probably showing them how to do it as we go.
I’ve got a lot of books to read. I started the Stan Lee biography, A Marvellous Life last night and other books ready to go are Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers, This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan (I’ve started this one already and it’s good), and Trouble Is What I Do by Walter Mosely. We started watching the Miles Davis documentary this morning: my son was resistant but we’re going to force him to watch it as part of his history studies. Anyway, I now have Milestones going around my head which is a good thing. There’s tons of music here in the flat and it’s all inspiring in its own way.
More Info at – Pat McGarvey
GERRY JABLONSKI AND THE ELECTRIC BAND: Scottish Blues Band.
Gerry and his band have raised over £4000 on their Facebook page via a fundraising platform for creative projects in order to record a single. They made the following appeal: https://youtu.be/5Q5i-6cZCe4
What are we trying to do? We’ve recently been doing demos for our latest single and we can safely say it’s the best one we’ve ever done. We’ve managed to convince one of the top London PR guys to help us out to get the single on the radio and press. This is the very first time we have had the opportunity for our music to be heard and spoken about. In order to do that we need to record the single properly and produce a video. Additionally, we will also record a “secret” track that will be included on all the formats you receive.
We need your help – We’ve managed to save some funds from our shows and merchandise sales however we need your help to cover all of the expenses- studio time and producing the video.
What do you get back? We would love to reward you for your help and give back all we can. We will ship CD’s & vinyl to everyone who pledges and decides to help us. You will be part of the project that hopefully will be heard on national radio and who knows – maybe even TV.
Thanks a lot in advance and see you at our next show!
More Info at – Gerry Jablonski Band
ZOE SCHWARZ BLUE COMMOTION: Award-Winning British Blues Band
It’s a very weird and strange feeling having played full time since February 1984! The first point is that our income has evaporated pretty much overnight. We do earn some money through PRS, MCPS, downloads, as well as on-line CD sales. One positive we can take from this period is to use the time to improve our skills in using Spotify, YouTube and all social media.
We may also look at live streaming in the upcoming days/weeks, but I guess that is going to be flooded. By far the biggest percentage of our income comes through live performance. We don’t actually have a plan to deal with this situation as it is totally unprecedented. Our skill is playing music which of course is suspended for the foreseeable future. We had planned a whole series of concert dates and festivals to coincide with the release of our new album Chameleon; that is a lot of work that has just evaporated.
My personal approach (Guitarist Rob Koral) is to use this period of time to refresh, take stock, and whilst remaining mentally busy, slow down a little. I certainly miss gigging. I must say it is a very odd feeling where each day has the same value and same feel. The old cliche of the Monday to Friday routine, although never particularly applying to me, doesn’t exist for most people now.
All us musicians, being a creative breed, are not good at reading the “small print” when it comes to getting to the bottom of, and utilising, the new government legislation to help with the financial crisis of losing our livelihood; but we are just going to have to get on with it. Ugh!
Quite honestly my inspiration is totally unaffected and is the same as always. I am enjoying practising hard and working on new ideas. This part of being a musician involves disappearing into one’s secluded world and headspace anyway. Who knows, we may write a song or two for that wonderful day when we are back in front of audiences.
Interestingly, there is a whole breed of guitar players whose sole means of expression is through the Internet (YouTube and Instagram). There are several that I follow, and they have been around for a long time. Ironically enough I have always sneered at them for not playing live! Like a cricketer playing in the nets all the time and never playing a game!
More Info at – Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion
BROOKS WILLIAMS: Statesboro Born Country Blues Singer.
These are strange times, indeed. My internal soundtrack is bouncing between moody Skip James, apocalyptic Blind Willie Johnson and ecstatic Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Aretha Franklin and Susan Tedeschi next, I think! The direct impact on me is up to 60 cancelled shows. Perhaps more depending on how long this all continues. We’ve been working two years toward the release of Work My Claim (March 2020) and the celebration of my 30 years on the road (a tour from late February to early July). I was a couple of weeks into the tour when we had to pull the plug.
The grim reality is lots of money invested in PR, advertising and preparation for this tour over the last year or so, and thousands lost in just weeks through cancelled shows. I have built my career on gigging. I identify as a ‘road dog,’ if you know that expression. For me, it’s all about the face-to-face. Not only do I count on it for my livelihood, but I genuinely love it. To my way of thinking, music is all about what happens in a room with an audience. All the rest of it is just a means to get you to that room with those people. I’m old school in that way, I guess. Gigging has been the constant of my 30-year career. Now that is off the table, I’m trying to figure out a way to stay connected with my audience. They have been great before and I’m assuming we’ll find new ways to connect.
Like so many others, the strategy is to try and keep in touch via social media. I have a new Patreon page and an email list that I connect with every week or two, but I also use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
I’m filming videos of songs – deep cuts from my back catalogue, old blues songs – and beginning to post them. We’re also planning a series of live streaming concerts from my office. Additionally, I’ll be doing online guitar lessons as well. Of course, I’ll keep co-writing with my collaborators – we can do that online – and figuring out other ways to stay connected with my musician friends.
I’m not tech-phobic by any means, but I’ve never had a home studio or a live streaming set-up before. To be honest, I didn’t have time. Now I have the time and I have the need, so taking ‘baby steps’ learning how all this works and asking lots of questions. Many of my peers are way ahead of me here, but I’m kind of enjoying the process. It inspires me to think outside-the-box. We’re all being challenged to be inventive in a way we haven’t had to be before.
I don’t really have any hobbies other than guitar, songwriting and music, so those continue as part of my daily routine. I’m re-discovering reading and trying to re-learn the fine art of sitting still and being attentive to what’s around me. I’ve put the flight cases in the loft for now and have truly unpacked for the first time in I don’t know how long. Who knows what can happen? I’m also listening to my music collection again and making it a point to explore the music of other musicians, something I’ve not had the opportunity to do. I watch their videos and, in some cases, order their music. Long before thirty years ago, I loved this acoustic roots music and I’m delighted to discover I still love it not only as a player but as a listener.
More Info at – Brooks Williams
GILES ROBSON: Harp maestro.
Our first cancellation on arrival in Calais on, yes you guessed it, Friday 13th March was for a gig that evening in Abbeville, France. We were on a double bill with Chris Bergson and Ellis Hooks. As soon as the Eurotunnel train hit Calais I got a message from my agent saying that France’s President Macron had banned events of over 100 people. Myself, and the band, waited in Calais for a couple of hours for final confirmation that the show was off, which inevitably came and so back we went.
Slowly over the next few days, it became clear that all of my work for March, April, and May in Europe and the UK would be cancelled. I must admit this was initially a great shock. The work was some of the best I had received in France, Romania and Holland and Spain and it seemed that we’d turned a corner this year with sold-out shows in Paris and just outside Lyon.
On a more practical level – there was the money situation which is pretty nightmarish I’m sure for all musicians and indeed any creative freelancers who are living on a job by job basis without anything saved up. The next few months will be challenging to say the least and hopefully, the government will step up a bit more and help the self-employed somewhat further, and whilst I write this it looks like they will be. The one positive thing about being a professional musician is that if you’ve stuck with it and toughed it out over the years, you’re used to fighting through unexpected situations, cancellations and financial challenges that have made you stronger in the face of adversity because you have no choice if you want to carry on.
I’ve decided to use the vast amount of new free time as positively as possible to start building up my online teaching presence internationally and to try and monetise it. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for some time. I love breaking down both the legendary masters of the harmonica and writing new stuff to help with understanding different aspects of the instrument and the art of playing the music. I’ll also be writing and planning my new album. That way I’ll be on top of the overall concept, songs, artwork photography etc. when the touring kicks back in. I will also be writing some articles on blues masters of the past and also interviewing blues masters of the present for some magazine articles including Billy Branch.
I wish all my fellow musos well and look forward to catching up on the other side of this.
More Info at – Giles Robson