Creative Arts During Lockdown I: Jamie Blackburn

We look at how Lockdown has affected local creative artists

New Rules at the Vaults

What were your plans for 2020?
I’m a part-time musician, gigging mostly at weekends between 2 cover bands; ‘New Rules’ is a lively acoustic 3-piece with Bethany Irving on lead vocals, myself (Jamie Blackburn) on co-lead vocals/guitar and Steve Rogerson on cajon drum. ‘Undiscovered’ is a louder 4-piece that tends to play more private parties and weddings, with myself on lead vocals/guitar, Roi Geyari on lead guitar/vocals, Dan Billing on bass and Dan Fortt on drums.

Outdoor practice

How many performances were you expecting to have this year?
By end of February I had 24 gigs already booked in for the year across both bands and expected several more to come in over the months for key dates like bank holidays, Easter, Halloween, Christmas and New Year, as well more private birthdays, weddings, festivals and charity events. On top of this I also regularly played at least 1 local open mic each week and had started exploring further afield into Swindon, Cheltenham, Stroud and Bristol. So it was shaping up to be a really good year!

How have things turned out?
Unfortunately due to Covid-19 we’ve gradually had every gig cancel. It started with open mics as it wasn’t sensible to share a microphone between multiple performers. Then lockdown happened and when venues eventually started opening again there was a delay to live music as singing in front of an audience wasn’t allowed. Then that restriction was lifted, allowing live music to go ahead outdoors and eventually indoors (with tight seating restrictions), but as the venue’s have had to halve their capacity and close early, there are very few that can make it economically viable to hire-in live music. This is pretty much where we’re at today, in a strange limbo where live music is allowed, everyone from musicians to landlords to punters want it, but no-one can afford it.

How did you adjust to this new reality?
Basically everything has had to move online. The open mics did this quite quickly using Facebook or zoom with a coordinator to pull together a schedule of participants who would perform 2 or 3 songs each from their homes, to an online audience . My personal experience of this was that it was a helpful outlet for a while, but ultimately was more enjoyable for the viewer than the performer – so much of the buzz of performing is from the interaction and feedback of the audience, which other than live comments on the video (which the artist can’t read while performing), is non-existent.
Despite this, New Rules were inspired to do an online charity gig, which successfully raised £1000 to support the fight against all forms of racism and was received extremely positively with over 2000 views of the gig online. Myself and Beth also performed to our street from our doorstep for VE Day which was great for some social interaction and a feel-good distraction during lockdown.
New Rules also tried to stay proactive with recording some sample songs as promotional material for when restrictions eventually ease, while Undiscovered recorded a practice session to keep in touch with social followers – all of which had its challenges while remaining socially distanced. Myself and Beth have also been slowly working on a few of our own original songs which we hope to start incorporating into our sets and will enable us to play more festivals – if they ever happen again! I also recently played a solo set at a great acoustic festival at The Tavern Inn, Kemble, which had a really good outdoor setup.
So overall we’ve been able to complete some good music projects which have scratched the itch enough to keep us going, and some of those might not have happened at all if our busy year had gone ahead, but at the same time, nothing beats playing to a live audience! Although we’ve been busy with various projects, we’ve not earned any money for ourselves over the last 6 months, which will be a similar situation for most musicians, part-time and full-time.

On stage

Limited Shows Coming Up
New Rules has 2 live gigs booked in this year!! Woohoo! We’re immensely grateful for the team at The Vaults, Cirencester, who are hosting us on Friday 23rd October and Friday 11th December (as well as many other great bands on other Fridays and Saturdays). Make sure to book a table in advance as strict Covid restrictions apply, but it will be lots of fun with music spanning the last 60 years!
We also have several weddings already booked in for 2021, but any of those could easily cancel depending on Covid restrictions.
Unfortunately, unless restrictions are eased we’re sadly not expecting to get many more gigs for the rest of 2020. As well as the loss for musicians, it’s also now becoming obvious that many music venues are at risk of closure due to the capacity and curfew restrictions, with far reaching negative impacts. Also many musicians can’t practice properly at home, so without suitable practice spaces or gigs, the performance quality will drop. I don’t know all the details to provide a solution, but if guessing I’d say government need to step in to help venues, whether that’s access to grants to tied them over, or a way of easing the capacity and curfew restrictions.
I’m fortunate that music isn’t my sole income. If it was, I would also hope for some form of government support for musicians and other artists, rather than just being told to retrain, as Rishi Sunak recently suggested! If that ends up as reality, the future of live music might be confined to street busking and small capacity private parties with no more action in pubs, arenas or festivals – bleak!

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