Within a couple of weeks of lockdown it was clear this was going to have a big financial impact. I'm a freelance musician who does songwriting on community projects. I was working with people who had dementia and at homeless day centre. Both projects were cancelled. I had begun booking some album launch shows and tour dates for later in the year. Suddenly all those plans evaporated. I was starting to feel worried and a little bit sorry for myself. But life always has a way of giving me perspective and very soon a more pressing problem presented itself.
My friend Pauline Town supports homeless people from her pub and music venue in Greater Manchester . The gigs she puts on 5 nights a week raise money that helps feed and house the homeless people in the local town. It's a real community effort and musicians play gigs to help her out. But now she was facing a crisis - the pub had to shut and that meant no more gigs and no more money for packed lunches or rent deposits.
Joe Solo, a musician and activist, sprang into action and before I knew it I was helping Joe organise a virtual Facebook music festival. We hit up friends and contacts and soon we had 36 artists booked. We could have filled the bill three times over. Billy Bragg agreed to help us, Grace Petrie too, Sid Griffin from the Long Ryders and before long we had 26,000 people joining the private facebook group which became our festival site. Talk about learning curve! Artist liaison, stage management, graphic design, press, so much to learn. On Easter weekend we put on 12 hours of quality live music. People threw themselves into the festival spirit. We saw photos of bunting and banners, of tents set up in back gardens, BBQs, face painting. By the time it was over we'd raised £28,000. That money will keep Pauline going well into 2021. Securing the future of the vital work she does in one of the most deprived areas of the UK.
This virus has really brought home just how vulnerable we all are, but it's also showing the best of people. As a freelancer, living month to month, I'm usually focussed on my own issues but it's good to volunteer time to others. My own problems didn't disappear but it felt amazing to help make that festival happen. Since then, thanks to an Arts Council Emergency grant, I'm weathering the storm and looking for the positives. I'm learning loads of new skills, especially around live streaming and audio/video production. I'm even recording a podcast. I've had much more time to devote to releasing my album and although I'm not able to tour it, the extra time will mean I can hopefully do a better job promoting it. It's certainly been an experience I will not forget.
Matt Hill's Savage Pilgrims is released on July 6th