Lockdown has been intense. Intense highs and intense lows.
We are preparing to release our first record but of course the gigs we had lined up to support the release are cancelled, so the focus has had to shift. We just released a track to Spotify which has done amazingly well for us with some brilliant reviews and industry support. Yet the Black Lives Matter protests have loomed large and forced me to reflect upon my own experiences in the music industry.
With a black Trinidadian mother and an Irish father I have been witness to racism many times, if not always intentionally directed towards me. But then there are the times it was, like the time I was detained for many hours in isolation (without explanation) at the American border as the only person of colour performing with a famous international artist, or when Finland border control told me I just didn’t look like a violinist. There’s countless times I’ve played a gig as a fiddle player only to be told what a wonderful singer I was (very kind but irrelevant as I hadn’t sung a note all night). I still recall with some dread, the promoter abroad who complained to the musical director of a show because I had worn my hair curly, and that made me look more black.
With my fellow musicians and the surrounding community I have always felt comfortable and welcome. Having lived in Ireland I was always accepted as an Irish musician regardless of the colour of my skin (thanks for the help Phil Lynott!) so this brings me to what I really wanted to say; the importance of representation over words and intent.
Having just seen the nominations for Americanafest I’m happy to see it’s the most diverse line up yet with nominees including Yola, Black Pumas, Our Native Daughters and Brittany Howard. The current push for gender balance in the music industry can help provide a model for improving diversity for people of colour too, ensuring that the Americana genre reflects its own roots. I was delighted to have the opportunity play an AMAuk stage that promoted gender balance and thought it a very positive step in the right direction. We should expect promoters to provide more diverse programming overall. Equality does not have to mean compromising on quality, its just harder work in the beginning.
BLM reminds us of the necessity of challenging predominant narratives. That needs to include the idea promulgated that Americana and Country music originated solely from white hillbilly musicians in the Appalachians. And whilst it's important to read about the music’s origins, the music itself tells this story as clear as day; It’s there in the Bluegrass tunes based on Scots and Irish melodies, and in the unmistakable black spirituals performed by early white adopters of the music such as the Carter family. If a platform for people of colour in the Americana community is demanded that will result in a more diverse audience and that would be a really great thing that can only go towards strengthening the music and the community.
My Irish musician dad introduced me to Steve Earle & the Del McCoury Band but its my Trini mum who plays the Dixie Chicks non stop in the car, in our family thats the norm. I’d like it to be the norm for the music family around me too. I want to see equality for all under represented groups in the music industry.
Carmen Phelan, Misty River
Today is the launch of a national campaign by everyone in the UK live music business from promoters to labels to artists and venue owners - we need everyone to realise the magnitude and the value what we've got to loose. All of you can take to social media and post the last live gig you did or attended with the hashtag #letthemusicplay
The Americana Music Association - UK were honoured to be invited back by Hackney Council’s Culture team to host another songwriting workshop, after the successful songwriting workshop with Hackney Empire Elders held in January 2020.
This time, First-generation Windrush residents created songs about their lives together with the AMA-UK songwriters, as part of the Council’s Hackney virtual Windrush Generations Festival.
Through informal conversations, six original songs were created, as well as new friendships amongst the elders and songwriters.
From childhood memories and taking the call to rebuild Britain, to migrating and making it their home for the last 50 years, stories brought back inspirational, educational and emotional experiences, which at times were relevant to current issues for society.
This project would have been held in person but due to the COVID19 restrictions, we found a way to connect via phone calls, emails and video chats - even with the digital barrier everyone involved had a positive experience and got to know their songwriting partners well.
The AMA-UK member songwriters who are from all over the UK and Ireland learnt so much from these amazing seniors and all feel a deep sense of honour to have been trusted with these beautiful stories that they, in turn, have weaved into a set of wonderful songs that we hope will be tangible keepsakes for the families involved. We know for the musicians it was moving, educational and an unforgettable experience.
Please read more about this wonderful project and all the other amazing things that have been happening in Hackney for the Windrush Festival during this unprecedented time of COVID 19 HERE
Here are the six songs, plus a little bit about each AMA-UK member and their collaborative writing partner:
Thank you to Fiona Bevan our songwriting coach through out the project
Fiona Bevan : It has been very special to be involved in the Windrush song writing collaboration project in a mentoring role. I feel very lucky to have been able to hear the wisdom of the Windrush generation immigrants and their first-hand stories of love, displacement, struggle and the epic transformation of building a new life in the UK. I also feel honoured to be helping nurture the songwriters as they navigate the challenges and complexities of telling someone else’s story through their lyrics and melodies. At this exact moment of history and the tragic events unfolding, this project feels incredibly important, and has been joyful and extremely moving for everyone involved. www.fionabevan.co.uk
Kris Wilkinson Hughes (My Girl The River): Originally from the USA, I immigrated to the UK 20 years ago. I am so privileged to be a part of this incredible project, hearing stories that speak to a time when so many cultures immigrated to the UK. I got to know Tony and Sharlene as we spoke about favourite ‘Bajan’ memories, starting over, homesickness, making new friends and raising a family. I was inspired by their devotion to each other, their faith, community, loving family, and very wise words. www.mygirltheriver.com
Sherlene Barker: I was a bit apprehensive about sharing my story to someone I had never met about coming to this country, but knowing it was part of celebrating the Windrush generation, that inspired me to partake in the project.Kris put us at ease and was very good at collating our stories. I really enjoyed it. For me, I found it fulfilling to let her into my journey here.
Tony Barker: It was a successful partnership putting the song together. I was comfortable talking about my life here in England and it took me back to those special moments like working on the number 106 bus as a conductor, where I first met my wife
Dewi Bowen (Sons of Owen) : I had the great pleasure of speaking with Louise to create this song ‘The Motherland’. This song is a story of woman making a journey in search of a better life for herself and family in a new world and the ups and downs along the way. With an uplifting chorus the song highlights the great passion Louise spoke with about the life she has created for herself in The Motherland full of friends and happiness. I’ve enjoyed every step of the process working with the Americana Music Association UK and look forward to hearing everyones songs. www.sonsofowen.com
Louise Parr: I felt very relax and felt that I knew the person who I was speaking to. I answered the questions to the best of my ability and if it any time I was uncertain, I felt that I could ask for clarification and would ask him to explain it again. This experience bought back memories from my younger years. I had a happy childhood, even though my family was poor. I was happy to come to England, as I did not know what to expect. Sometimes I would explain to him what I meant because I felt he did not understand what I had said and this works both ways.
Lady Nade: I wrote this song, with a positive, established Hackney resident about their insightful journey from Jamaica to England and all the changes that happened there after. It’s a song bouquet of memories in tribute to her sister's wedding that took place upon her arrival. The Hackney elder and I spoke about change and the topical concepts of social distancing.
I found myself drawn to the outdoors when composing and capturing the song's essence; appreciating the seeds of life and the gentle sprouts of change. Weaving in as we approach the precipice of revitalised engagement for the enduring black lives matter movement from the wider community.
Lady Nade's writing partner chose to stay anonymous
Callum Lury (The Blue Highways): Empathy and understanding. That for me is what this experience is about, and in many ways is what I consider song writing more broadly to be about; attempting to improve ourselves, to better understand those who are different to us, socially, politically, culturally. To see who they are, what defines them, what moves them. Milton is a man of great character, with an astounding resilience and stoicism. But I haven’t, and wouldn’t try to simply write his story, but instead have been inspired by his words and actions, hopefully creating something that speaks not only to his experience but as part of a wider story. www.thebluehighwaysband.com
Milton Smith: Milton felt that the whole experience enjoyable, interesting and what he said was based on his own experience on coming to United Kingdom. He was able to learn more about the Windrush and never knew that it covered the period between 1948 – 1971. He was surprised that the young man who he spoke to was able to use his words to make a song and found this interesting. He is very excited about this and is waiting to hear the song. Overall experience was very interesting, for the little that he knows and learnt during this session.
Dave Giles: From my very first phone call with Ngoma, I knew that this was going to be fruitful. I have enough material from him to be able to create an album worth of songs, and every single story would be worth hearing. His humour, openness, intelligence and eloquence have been a joy to experience and to be able to learn so much from him has been a real blessing. I knew it was going well when we were texting each other ideas of rhyming couplets at 1am. I look forward to collaborating with him again in the future. www.davejgiles.com
Ngoma Bishop: My experiences of or with those that forever seem to want me to share my story; usually with no psychological, spiritual, emotional, financial or other discernible benefit to me, and generally via someone with whom I had little or no connection, had made me not only weary of, but positively hostile to such approaches. Therefore when approached about this project, I was adamant I wanted no part of it. Fortunately Sherrie persisted and eventually that together with positive feedback I had received from a participant of a similar and previous project, I decided to give it a go, with the proviso that if at any time I felt unhappy I was out. Good job I was persuaded. I was paired with singer songwriter Dave Giles. Dave contacted me and two hours into a five minute audio phone conversation, we were both convinced that this was going to work. A couple of days later we spoke again, this time audio visual. Over another couple of hours we shared memories and experiences, that at times were very similar and at other times vastly different. Long story short, less than forty-eight hours on and we had somehow co-written a song that told my life story in less than half a dozen verses. I had always written alone, so a collaboration of this kind was new to me. We have discussed and agreed how we want to approach the instrumentation and ownership of our song. I am looking forward eagerly to the final product.
Kairen Caine: Trevor and I had a lovely long online video chat at the start of the song’s development followed by regular emails. He sent me a draft of a book he is writing for his family, which was also a wonderful resource. Telling a person’s story from a different culture and life experience is a challenging one but Trevor has been so positive about the process and is a great storyteller. ‘Promises’ is a glimpse into Trevor’s own individual journey and outlook on life and it has been an absolute joy to collaborate with him. He has taught me very much. www.kairencaine.com
Trevor Stewart: Yes, a song can describe the feelings of a Jamaican country boy growing up in London. The songwriter and myself managed to discover and convey my experiences and their meanings. It elated me and as the song was finished it brought tears to my eyes. Memories came alive sweet and dear, heart-warming, and sad. The songwriter Kairen was able to find the real me. I listen to my song repeatedly. I love it. Thank you, Hackney Culture Team. I am grateful to have this song as part of my legacy.
Thank you to all our members who joined us in the day of learning yesterday. Blackout Tuesday was a day of silence, a day to pause and show respect but also a day to take stock and learn about how we can do better.
AMA-UK will now do more for our BAME members and work hard to encourage more BAME artists to join us - we invite you to work with us on improving what we do - if you have resources ideas or information about positive action we can take or that you have taken please do get involved, comment below to start this conversation or email email@example.com if you want to share privately.
Being silent on Racism is not an option, AMA-UK accept this and we want to now work actively be more inclusive.
Here is some food for thought...
Educate yourselves and others...Learn, read and share - be vocal about what you have learnt - there is no shame in sharing that you have discovered you can do better
A good read: For Our White Friends Desiring To Be Allies
Resources to use with your children
An comprehensive resource list from The Show Must Be Paused initiative
Donate if you can....We know lots of people are finding life very tough right now, especially financially so we are not saying you should donate, but if you want to help some of those who are in peril during th protests in the USA here are some places you can do that.
List of Black Lives Matter Resources
Talk to each other...We are a wonderful community of members, we can help each other, we must keep this dialogue going - we have spoken about this at conference most years, are we learning? are we doing better? let's keep this up, LET'S DO BETTER.
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
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As an artist, my initial reaction to lockdown was one of panic, I had gigs lined up, a new single and video to promote and also songs for a film that I had spent the past few months writing that was due to be pitched to studios in LA.
It soon dawned on me, through my panic, that everyone was in the same boat, and although the boat was partially sinking, I sensed a spirit of solidarity within our global musical community that was genuine and very welcome.
So, I figured out how to film and broadcast a live video, not easy for someone who is a ‘technophobe’ and started doing fortnightly shows streaming through Facebook and Instagram and also put a shout out on my social media sites asking people to send in requests and dedications.
I was really surprised by the response I got. Initially the idea of doing my first livestream was daunting, I guess that for me and most musicians who play live, the performer persona needs a certain amount of feedback from an audience - or to put it bluntly, it's good to feel the love, we thrive off it, it tends to feed a performance, and can often be the difference between a mediocre, and a really good show.
I was unsure how this ‘love’ would translate into emojis and written comments, would it be enough? Would I be able to feel it, sitting in my kitchen with my cats wandering around and my teenage daughter blaring out Netflix upstairs?
As I sang the opening number I was pleasantly surprised to see heart and hug emojis floating up on my laptop beside me, and even happier to discover that they were making me feel good, little comments and requests bubbled up and people that I had not heard from in years suddenly appeared on the feed sending love and wishing me well.
I have since embraced livestreaming wholeheartedly with great results. I have experienced far more engagement with fans, my Spotify figures have increased by over 200% and the online launch of the video for my single, has attracted almost 5,000 views. Ok these are not massively high figures, but it is certainly a huge upturn for me.
I've had to find a much more relaxed way to perform. It's just not the same as performing in front of 300, 3,000 people in a venue, and so I don't need to have the same amount of energy.
I've found that if I can approach it in a Zen-like way, embracing any technical difficulties, cats or teenagers that suddenly appear, then it is far more enjoyable and far less scary.
Afterall, that is what the audience will be doing, you are unlikely to get the full attention that you would at a gig, they will be cooking, gardening, chatting, bathing and all the other million things people do in the privacy of their own home.
And that’s the beauty of it.
Photo credit : Jörg Detering
First of all, let me count my blessings. I’ve still got my health, so far. I’ve got my family around me, we’ve got a roof over our heads, and we’re surrounded by woods and fields where we can go for walks without getting into a car or meeting anyone else. We are fortunate.
But ... I’m still feeling blindsided. I’ve been a full time musician for over twelve years, and it was starting to seem like I was getting somewhere. I really thought that at the end of my 49-show spring tour I’d be able to pay off a big chunk of the debt that I’ve been building along with my career. Now 39 of those shows have been cancelled, and it could be a long, long time before things get back to the way they were.
It’s not just the money worries that are getting to me; it’s the loss of the magic that happens when a bunch of people are in a room enjoying music together, whether they’re listening to a concert or taking part in a singaround, session or choir practice. I miss that magic so much.
Live-streaming isn’t a solution for me; I’d never be satisfied with the technical quality, and more importantly, I don’t feel that the magic would be there. So here’s an idea:
I wrote those words in an email to my newsletter subscribers at the beginning of May, along with an invitation to contribute towards the costs of that idea: an album to be recorded “as live” (minus audience) in a beautiful, inspiring setting, and filmed for a series of videos. The response has been amazing: three days after sending the email I was already halfway to my goal, although contributions have slowed since and I’ve got a ways to go … but it looks like the project will be able to happen whenever the lockdown permits, and I’m grateful for that.
Of course, I’ll also need money to live on. I’ve been lucky enough to get grants from the Arts Council and PRS Foundation, and I should be getting something from the Self Employment Income Support Scheme, but it won’t amount to much, as my profits have always been minimal. So I’ve set up a Patreon page and am pinning my hopes on that!
It’s even worse for my sound engineer, who’s not eligible for the SEISS as over 50% of his income was from short-term PAYE contracts at theatres; he can’t get Universal Credit either, because his partner has a job. He’s been working and paying taxes all his adult life, and he’s left with nothing.
It is wonderfully heartening to see how the situation has been bringing out the kindness and generosity of so many people, but I worry for the future of all musicians, technicians and venue staff. Will we ever be able to get back to doing what we do and love best? I wish I knew the answer. Sending love to all!
The AMA UK Takeover of Shut-in & Sing featuring Elles Bailey, Robert Vincent, Ferris & Sylvester & Martin Harley.
3pm - 5pm BST
'Pay what you can' ticket so grab them while you can from Stage it and we shall see you on May 6th!
ABOUT SHUT IN & SING
A festival of songwriters joining forces to stay connected through music and community.
This project has come together as a response to the COVID-19 quarantines. We thought, “What if we get to be together even more in these times? Not in person, but in innovation, creation and connection?” Ours is a small and grassroots community. We take care of each other in the good times and in the challenging times.
Shut In & Sing is a roster of some of your favourite artists… and some people you’ve never heard of. Here is your chance to discover new music, to feel connected to one another and to us. By sharing resources, the artists have the possibility of making news fans and even ONE new person makes a difference in their world. Oh wait… ONE PERSON MAKES A DIFFERENCE? And we’ve reached the point of everything!
Shoulda Been and The Garden Gigs
When the lockdown began I started playing a game called ‘shoulda been’. April 5th, shoulda been in Aberdeen. April 11th shoulda been in Cottingham. Gilford, Cardiff, Kendal. Shoulda, shoulda, shoulda. It left me feeling pretty low, counting those losses, because that’s exactly what they felt like – loss. A grief for the sudden absence of structured time, of the excitement before a live show, and of the opportunity to connect with new and existing audiences. I tend to write best when I’m on the road, melodies arriving alongside me at each new venue, and I missed the chance to meet them too.
When it was suggested I play gigs online I resisted. I’d never done a Livestream before and was worried about not having any crowd interaction to bounce off of. If you can’t see the audiences faces or feel the room, how can you know if people are enjoying the gig? How do you adjust your set to match the vibe of the room when there is no room? The idea of it all made me feel more vulnerable than the thought of being on any stage. I had to start thinking seriously about how I could find the confidence.
The first step was to think about where in my house I would feel most comfortable and the answer was: outside it. I knew I would be happiest heading out to the garden to be with just the birds and the sun to sings some songs. The afternoon rather than the evening seemed ideal as the sun was still out and people could have a little break during these days which seem to last so long now. I wanted to make it a relaxed and regular event rather than a one off gig with the pressure to wow and impress. I took requests from the audience so I could continue to feel connected to them, and also so I had a challenge during the week learning and rehearsing new songs. This was to be a dependable date in the diary giving me – and maybe others - back some of the structure lost.
I did the first Garden Gig via Facebook Live on April 1st and, to my surprise, I loved it. I’ve found myself connected in a totally new way to my audience, a personal and intimate connection I could not have anticipated as we navigate these strange times together. My audience is also growing with people who click on shared videos sticking around, and with my neighbours who have coincidentally started rambling out to their own gardens at 2pm each Wednesday for tea. Through performing online I have found incentive to keep being creative, to keep writing, to keep looking forward. So while I’m still playing shoulda been my new game is trying to out-sing the local birds, and that is much more rewarding.
© Americana Music Association UK
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