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Gigging After Lockdown

Although music performed with live audiences came to an abrupt end in March 2020, I don’t think anybody expected it to be a full 18 months until some semblance of normality resumed.

Despite this, many musicians and artists took this time as an opportunity, an extended pocket of free time to create, write, record and practice whilst waiting patiently for restrictions to lift and a chance to perform again. I personally spent my time practicing my craft, teaching online and improving my skills at home. The far-reaching effects of the pandemic provided the opportunity for me to learn from Joel Hoekstra (one of my all-time favourite guitarists) through online lessons. This time was an absolute gift, and gave me an entirely new confidence and perspective on guitar after studying his playing style, stagecraft and hearing his kind advice. After over a year of lessons, remote recording sessions and intense sometimes 11 hour a day practice sessions, I was dying to try out some of the new ideas and techniques I’d developed in real a live performance situation with other musicians.

Then, finally, as the restrictions began to lift and performances were allowed again bookings began to drip into the diary. With the first performance looming I realised (quite hilariously) that I actually hadn’t played standing up for over a year. Which, I found was a lot more difficult than I remembered! So as part of my preparation I had to practice standing whilst playing for 4 weeks beforehand to feel comfortable again playing stood up with a guitar strap. Another unexpected challenge gigging after lockdown was being plunged back into social settings after spending over 12 months basically in my house or with very small groups. It was surprisingly frightening to go into venues with large crowds and groups after such isolation, especially with the added risk of getting ill. In some smaller venues such as pubs and clubs, audience members who had drank a little too much would often forget the bounds of respect or personal space and try to come up and talk at me whilst performing, which was quite uncomfortable as it was difficult to move away. The uncertainty of whether gigging and social gathering was actually sensible yet, was an idea lingering within the community and could be felt in both audiences and bands. The rules at the time were very unclear for performers and being a session musician, each band I worked with had very different comfort levels to operate. For some masks were mandatory and for others I would be the only masked person at the venue from the band to the audience. Which was quite an alienating experience, but my own safety and the safety of my family (some of which where ill at the time) was more important than being the odd one out. I also had to be careful as a positive Covid test would mean isolation and losing 10 days of work at least. I would take extra measures to keep myself and my equipment clean, leading to the strange issue of having sanitiser on my hands constantly which would rust guitar strings way quicker than usual and made the guitar neck very sticky. This was something I'd never had to navigate previously! As the rules changed and the summer progressed, bands needed to organise and complete vaccine passports and fill out Covid forms for each arrival at bigger gigs such as the Silverstone Moto GP (Performing with Matt Peach).

One of the biggest challenges we faced when performing during the first few months was the stress, the feeling of dread after a gig when you learned that some of the guests had received positive tests and in a few days, we might be positive too. This became a sort of constant anxiety for a few days after each show in case I or another band member received a positive test result. The stress of having to replace musicians, postpone or even cancel gigs at the last minute was constant, although it did mean more work opportunities for me to stand in for other musicians and led to many sub gigs.

Although returning to gigging had its difficulties it was also much anticipated, and I was so happy to be back on a stage again. I felt such confidence in my playing after all the work I had put in during the lockdowns. I managed to play bigger and better gigs with a wider variety of bands thanks to the practice I had done. I was able to fully appreciate the fun of playing live music with other musicians after such a long break. Strangely I received a lot more work and opportunity this summer than I did pre-covid, which could have been the effects of the lockdown driving many musicians out of the music industry and into other jobs. Overall, returning to gigging was an incredibly rewarding but continuously anxious experience. As time as passed and the guidance became clearer, the stress on musicians started to ease and we could begin to feel more certainty that our industry was here to stay, and in fact the long periods without social interaction meant there were weddings, parties and gatherings in abundance to play! I'm incredibly grateful for the time we had to make such progress, and that we can finally get back to a world resembling normality as it was before.


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