How are you all doing? What a year eh! I’m treating today as my last working day of the year so my last lessons, recordings and whatnot so thought as part of that I ought to review what has been a mad old year.
It started off quite normal…back in January I was gearing up for my Australian tour in February and all was quite normal. Normal. As if my life has ever been normal of course being a full-time banjo player…but anyway off I went to sunny Perth at the end of January and I enjoyed an immensely fun and successful three week tour of Western Australia. I did plenty of gigs, went to a few sessions and saw some old friends and generally thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was hearing more and more in the news about some virus but I thought I’ve lived through swine flu, bird flu and ebola and nobody in my life had ever seemed to be affected much by them so I figured it would be another one of those…
I returned to Blighty and was gearing up for the annual Urban Folk Quartet spring tour in March/April and then my first UK solo tour in three years in April/May. Even as the UFQ tour started in York on March 9th, I was still quite sceptical as to how much impact this virus really would have…then four days later was our next gig in Guildford. The atmosphere in the car journey was very very different. By now it had become apparent that no this was not another swine flu…this was going to change things a LOT. We knew it was our last gig for a long time and sure enough, day by day, gig after gig disappeared from my diary. I held out hope that my May tour might be salvaged but clearly it wasn’t and then even more heartbreakingly my two tours of Canada in June and August were also off. The devastation was palpable not to mention the sheer terror of what on earth to do for money.
LIVE STREAM GIGS
I suppose in the end, my whole career has been built out of making things happen and being proactive so I set to work on doing live streamed gigs from my home with a paypal donations box. I have to say quite simply…thank you. So many of you donated so generously so many times and helped recreate some of that magic from a live gig with your comments. The withdrawal symptoms I was feeling from the adrenaline of travelling and performing was absolutely horrendous. I never realised just how much it had become a part of me and how horrendous the loss of it really would feel. It was like an alcoholic losing alcohol, a footballer never playing football again (that did also affect me as well of course although not in quite the same way…) or a thrill seeker having no more thrills. Since March 13th I’ve had precisely one in-person gig – in the centre of Shrewsbury. It was an emotional and wonderful occasion but that’s it. I haven’t tried touring – it just isn’t sensible. The live stream gigs plugged the gap, just about. And I will always be grateful to you all for helping me with them.
Where I was more fortunate than other musicians I know is I did at least have one income stream that was unaffected – skype teaching. Thanks to Ian Matthews who back in 2012 asked me ‘do you do skype lessons’ to which my reply was ‘no, but I should’. I didn’t know that eight years later it would save my bacon! My students have been nothing short of amazing and during the very strict lockdown really did help to keep me sane with their studies and companionship. And yes, financially I don’t know what I’d have done without them. I also ended up with a whole bunch of new students who have enriched my life considerably. Thank you, all of you.
I had never been near video editing in my entire life…but encouraged by Ciaran Algar and other chums doing split screen collaborations I thought what a great idea! So I asked a whole bunch of musicians I’d played with, admired, met, drunk with or thought would be fun to work with if they’d be up for a long distance collaboration. I’ve ended up with over 30 of them with heroes (Sharon Shannon, Gerry O’Connor, Leo Moran, Jez Lowe) students (Joe Danks), former collaborators (Will Pound) and even namesakes (Dan Walsh…from Canada). It’s been so much fun and kept my creative juices flowing. And I discovered editing videos and even ended up being paid for it a few times…whatever next!
I’d long planned to have some video teaching available to people online…again I bit that particular bullet and launched my patreon page with tabs, videos and whatnot. Thanks to all my patrons – they interact a lot with me and I really love hearing how much people have gained from it.
Again, I’ve never been a studio engineer. I’ve been in studios hundreds of times and have worked closely with engineers as they press their buttons (as it were) but I’d always been nervous about doing it myself from home. But I finally bit the bullet and am now recording banjo parts a-plenty from my home sort-of studio. I love it!
Finally I’ve been writing banjo tabs for people which I did a bit already but I’m now doing a lot!
Lastly, I have to thank my wonderful girlfriend Nicol. I’ve spent 2020 with her and she has been my rock, my strength and the best companion you could ever ask for. I don’t normally do coupley sap on the internet – but I couldn’t write a review of 2020 without mentioning her.
And here I am in December. When I reflect on the year it hasn’t turned out all that badly – I’m still a professional musician and I’m more set up for home earning than I ever have been that’s for sure! It’s forced me in to new directions to keep doing what I love and that will stand me in good stead even when some sort of normality does return. I miss performing like sin – that’s by far the hardest aspect of this whole sorry business. I’ve been through stress, anxiety and depression this year beyond anything I’d experienced in a long, long time. But in the end, it hasn’t turned out too badly. Somehow. But let’s hope 2021 brings some live music eh? Stay safe everyone and keep on keeping on.
Merry christmas y’all,