One year on…

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Dear all,

I realised this morning that today marks one year to the day since I did my last gig with Urban Folk Quartet in Guildford, my last indoor gig and indeed my last ‘real life’ gig of any kind apart from one gig in Shrewsbury town centre back in the summer. It has been the most extraordinary twelve months of my life (and indeed for everyone of course).

I’ve blogged elsewhere about being a musician in lockdown, but a year on it’s interesting to reflect on that particular gig. It was a very very strange gig and I’ve done some strange gigs in my time! I’ve played a little bit drunk (I didn’t know I was going to be playing or I would have been sober!) at a reenactment festival looking out at Roman gladiators and German Nazis (not real ones just for clarification). I’ve played songs I hadn’t the notion I knew during a four hour epic in Golden Bay in New Zealand before being crowd surfed. But this was a whole different kind of strange…

Four days earlier we’d played in York amid a very different atmosphere. By now of course the pandemic was in the news but to be honest I was still playing it down, as were many of us. The gig felt like a normal gig and the atmosphere in the car its usual jovial kind. Ben, the band’s sound engineer was more concerned than the rest of us it seemed and suggested to me that no this was not another bird flu! By the time of the Guildford gig, we had all realised he was very right indeed…

I turned up at Joe and Paloma’s as usual to travel on to the gig and when they answered the door I tried to jovially say ‘well I guess this is the last time we’ll do this for a while’. I think maybe I was trying to convince myself I was not too worked up about it…but I never was good at hiding things. The atmosphere in the car was bizarre as we sat musing on what beckoned and from a more selfish perspective the prospect of losing a whopping May solo tour and even more heart wrenching, two tours of Canada. I was terrified frankly. It’s not exactly the most secure job at the best of times let alone when something wipes out your work in one fell swoop!

We turned up at the gig and we were all extremely mindful of washing our hands and keeping our distance. Some audience members did same, some went for the usual handshakes…I’m not blaming them. I think we all processed the gravity of the situation at different times and in different ways. But my god, it was weird! We did our usual gig and I have to say it was a good one and the audience seemed to have a great time! Again, we tried to ‘make light’ of it all with jokes about how long it would be til we did this again and how contactless payments might be best in the interval…

The journey home was just horrible. We didn’t say a lot and my own journey home from Birmingham was quite the weirdest feeling. I felt such a contrast with my usual emotion at this stage in my journey – gig high, adrenaline, looking forward to a nightcap and bed…all replaced by discomfort and stress. I was facing the reality of my work disappearing, although I don’t think any of us could have seen for just how long!

I thank my lucky stars that online teaching was something I was already doing as it gave me something to build on. In addition, I embraced Facebook Live gigs for donations which worked brilliantly for a while (and is still something I enjoy) and I’ve now set myself up as a home recording artist, video editor and running a subscription page for banjo players. Somehow, I am still a musician and even more incredibly not all that worse off than I was!

But mentally, I miss performing. I miss travel. I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss going out not just for a run to relieve the cabin fever! And I really really miss my band. In UFQ we really are great friends as well as colleagues. Not seeing them and indeed Joe and Paloma’s daughter Sabela has been agonising and I dearly hope before too long, we’re back out there or at least in rehearsals! Joining UFQ was an outstanding career and life move – let’s please restart that chapter soon!

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