On Thursday 2nd July, a coordinated campaign was launched whereby artists, fans and venues posted on social media photographs and films of their last gig or event with the hashtag #LetTheMusicPlay. On the same day a letter signed by artists, including Ed Sheeran, The Rolling Stones, the Gallagher brothers, Paul McCartney, Rita Ora, Coldplay, Annie Lennox and Sam Smith, warned that the UK could lose its prime spot on the world’s musical stage unless the government committed to supporting businesses and set out a timetable for reopening live music venues. The performers said venues are at risk of mass insolvencies and that hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost. All these artists started out by playing small, independent grassroots venues. They know the importance of them better than anyone.
It's looking grim out there, like the veritable Ghost Town that The Specials so eloquently put it back in 1981 (albeit in response to the spate of riots at the time and rising unemployment). In terms of live music, it is grim. Beyond grim. Suddenly, after decades of uninterrupted live rock'n'roll, there is none to be had. Literally zero. Venues have shut their doors to live music, and as I write this the 50th anniversary of Glastonbury Festival is supposed to be happening. No festivals will be taking place for the foreseeable future. And while pubs are tentatively opening their doors, there will be no live music (the act of singing itself is deemed dangerous to other people's health...) and probably not even piped music, as it is being guided that people need to be able to talk in normal tones and volume, rather than having to shout to get their point across.
Sports Team are the rising indie stars, a fun-filled guitar band, who romantise about Middle England, who like to sing about fishing, pubs, motorways, and the everyday in our lives, and who are at once dismissive of some of their fellow musicians, whilst being fully paid up members of the I Love Music club. Coming up on the back of word of mouth live hype, the six-piece band (made up of singer Alex Rice, guitarist and songwriter Rob Knaggs, drummer Al Greenwood, keyboardist Ben Mack, guitarist Henry Young and Oli Dewdney on bass) released their first EP, Winter Nets, just a couple of years back, the cover of which features a mock tudor house, sitting behind a flowering front garden.
When challenged, in 2018, by a fan via Twitter with the question "WHAT are you?", Ghostpoet responded: "So Interesting. Why is it so important for me to be part of a predetermined genre with its parameters and rules? I'm just an artist who experiments with sounds and loves guitars. It's ok to be confused, not everything in life needs explanation, sometimes we just have to go with it".
Needless to say, these are weird and wonderful times. They are also extremely stressful for many, as the implications of COVID-19 insinuates its way into the hearts and souls of billions of humans on Planet Earth. But life goes on, as it must, and as it has evolved to. As always, our animalistic spirit shines through the desperation, fear and bewilderment. As the famous psychotherapist Carl Rogers observed, even the most malnourished and deprived plant will continue to strive towards growth and fulfilment. Is it any wonder that Keep Calm and Carry On is such an enduring mantra for the 21st century? Except that it’s now more Keep Calm, and less Carry On. Less going out, for instance. In fact, there is now no going out to see a show, a live gig, or festival. For musicians, along with everyone else, the times have changed, and no-one knows quite for sure if we’ll ever get back to anything approaching pre-CV (pre-Coronavirus).
In existence as the current line up for little more than two years, London-based Dry Cleaning brought together longtime friends bassist Lewis Maynard, drummer Nick Buxton, and guitarist Tom Dowse, before they recruited vocalist Florence Shaw at the end of 2017. An artist, university lecturer, and photo researcher, she had never performed live before, and had never been in a band. But she always kept notes and lists, for her artwork. Lists of headlines, neuroses, grievances, advertising copy; words, and comments culled from the media, social media, youtube commentary and the like.
One of the most welcome comebacks of recent times has to be the return of London four-piece Bombay Bicycle Club. During a whirlwind opening phase of their musical lives they released four albums, the last one, So Long, See You Tomorrow, reaching number one in the album charts, in 2014. But soon after the wheels started to come off, and by January 2016 they had made the decision to call a halt. “Well, I think you have to look at why we stopped doing it,” says Ed, backstage at Concorde 2, before their ‘outstore’ show in celebration of their new album Everything Else Has Gone Wrong. “At the end of 2014 everyone was tired out and we really didn’t want to do it, and everyone wanted to do different things, and do the things that they had always wanted to do. Like, Jamie went to university, and me and Jack made our own albums. And I think in doing that, during those three or four year years we realised that what we had was incredibly special and perhaps we had taken it for granted before.”
It’s been a bizarre year. While Parliament, social media and the country-at-large have been tussling with Brexit and elections, the musical landscape has somewhat reflected that turmoil via a fragmented po-pourri of emotions, feelings and heightened surreality.
One of the few bands to outlast the indie guitar band explosion of the mid-2000s, Field Music’s un-selfconscious, anti-fashion stance has seen them compared to the likes of Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren, Scritti Politti, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel and XTC. They may not have achieved much in the way of commercial success, but for the last 15 years they have been pouring their hearts and souls into Field Music, as well as a number of side projects including Peter’s You Tell Me band – also featuring Admiral Fallow’s Sarah Hayes - and David’s School of Language project, whose third album, 45, was released last summer, a satirical take on the 45th Presidency, Donald Trump.
Cacophonous feedback informed the beginning, the guitarist and singer Theo Polyzoides bent over forwards next to his amp, before the band struck out on a stridently noisy punk rock beat, Theo hopping on to his amp, back facing the cameras, before jumping off and reaching the mic in time to yelp the words to ‘Speakerface’. This was my introduction to King Nun, filmed in lo-fi, recorded live, but released as an accompanying video. It was electrifying. I loved it from the first seconds.
Who said guitar music is dying? Haven’t we heard this before? Yes, a million times and counting. When synth pop and the new romanticism hit the airwaves back in the early 80s, when dance music took the UK by storm at the turn of the 90s, when Britpop fizzled out in the late 90s and when the mid-noughties four-string revival hit the veritable brick wall. We’ve heard it time and time again. There are no new pastures, no exciting bands, the well is almost dry, and we’re all going to have to deal with the purgatory of computer driven music, soulless auto-tuned r’n’b and probably much worse. And yet, like the Phoenix from the flames, it refuses to die, instead re-inventing itself into new and exciting forms.
The Isle of Wight, it’s in a bit of a time warp, is it not? I ask Douglas Richards, who along with his older brother Jamie, and Chris Newnham, founded Plastic Mermaids earlier on this decade, with bassist Tom Farren, and drummer Chris Jones eventually completing the line up. “Yeah, definitely a little bit. There’s definitely some warped sides to it. There’s a lot of chavs, and then there’s a lot old people, and a lot of Brexit voters. And generally, anyone I went to school with who had half a brain, left the Isle of Wight,” he laughs. “Some people decide to come back, when they have kids and stuff. But, there’s also quite a creative community. I think there’s quite a few hippies from the 70s festival who ended up just staying in Ventnor (on the South Coast of the island) and breeding. There is a lot of really good music here, but not masses of people to go to gigs. It’s a slightly strange dynamic.”