KEEPING ART ALIVE AGAINST VIRUS
By Steve Bewick
An old issue is coming more to the forefront of my mind. How can I best market my program? I need administrative support to research how to better target my audience. Currently I attempt to do so through musicians on their Facebook pages.
Vibe, a local music project aimed at dis-enfranchised and disaffected youth, had offered to find someone who would be interested in such work experience but that, of course, is ever more problematic as coronavirus and the enforced lockdowns tighten their grip. Doors at Vibe in Rochdale have closed, as in every similar arts arena around the country, due to the virus. The task set before any such volunteer worker now would be to find web sites, blogs or facebook pages of clubs, pubs and music venues who usually deliver live jazz events.
I know of plenty of excellent such pages, of course, like those of Jazz On Sunday, Rochdale´s leading music venue and through them I can reach out to our shared customer base of those who enjoy live and / or broadcasted music.
For instance I have a date in my diary on which the words Oldham Community Radio (OCR) are written. I am due to guest in the next couple of days on a ‘My Music’ programme there, talking about my recent visit to Israel and the jazz scene in Tel Aviv. I haven´t yet seen any previews of the programme on their social media pages nor heard it advertised on air. With everything under so much threat, and the lockdown screw due to be tightened even harder over the weekend it might have seemed churlish to remind OCR of the agreement. I decide not to contact them, yet, but am aware that they might not have been able to meet the technical requirements needed to make the programme happen. I may, therefore, have to find an alternative way to deliver the show should they still require me to do so.
For now, I have enough problems at my home ground. A colleague at FC—radio has not downloaded this week’s program audio file onto the server to play out. Nor has my circular been ´circulated´ round the office appealing for help from colleagues in identifying locally based hip hop artists. I had been planning to run a feature on this music soon in a future broadcast. Still in the hope that the lockdown might not happen, I decide to contact my colleague again and remind him of my requests.
Before I know it, though, my last week`s program is being repeated, when it should have been this week´s show, with still no reply from my FC – radio colleague. I fired off a correspondence at once. I was pretty disappointed. Putting it mildly!
However, as I once more check Facebook it is obvious that the shut- down of the arts is only a verse or a brush-stroke away. There are further cancellations due to the effects of the virus.
Today’s big one is the Ribble Valley Jazz Festival. One down in the North West, two still standing but still no downloads of audio files from FC Radio nor OCR. That is such a shame, as I had been immensely looking forward to hearing Alina Bzhezhinska, who is described on the programme details as a hip-harp player.
A leading jazz magazine has said of her performances that ´she engages the audience and gives them a potted history of the background to the material she uses; often of someone who she has seen as an important role model and an influence on her own work.´
That is how we create legend.
The following day I receive a raft of e mail and fb correspondence from musicians telling me of loss of gigs, loss of teaching time and loss of sessional work. For all the help seemingly being offered by the government in these times of emergency, there is not talk yet of financial help for self-employed musicians.
I manage to make contact through facebook with two Israeli bands I met during my brief scouting of the jazz scene in Tel Aviv recently and both outfits seemed pleased to hear of UK airtime being given for their music. I also receive more offers from them to send me further information and music.
My e-mail in-tray also contains the odd request from listeners asking for downloads or archive references to programmes they have recently missed and of course I respond immediately. It always feels good to be appreciated
I now learn that Oldham Community Radio is no longer broadcasting a regular schedule. I re-checked audio files I had sent for Monday`s forthcoming Israeli jazz program but three are found with errors and would not play. I re-built them and sent them again. I rang OCR but still there was no reply, or message.
By now, messages being posted on facebook from musicians have slowed down to a trickle. Only comments on the current state of affairs are being posted.
Another festival has been cancelled. Only Manchester Festival is trying to hold out to call the tune; Wigan Jazz festival 2020, closed! Ribble Valley Jazz festival 2020, closed!
I spoke with Olivia Moore, violinist, composer and leader of Unfurl, who has recently appeared on my radio progamme and who has featured in interview on these pages at https://aata.dev/index.php/2020/03/17/olivia-moore-indian-raga-and-jazz-violin/
To my great delight, Olivia likes a poem I have written about my recent visit to Israel that already seems such a long time ago. She wonders whether I might be interested in having a piece of music composed to underscore it? Could I read the introduction, or a shorter version for recording purposes? We discussed a possible style of music for it and agreed to talk again soon and to try out a few readings and re-writings in the meantime. Olivia finally told me that South East London is like a ghost town, and news of the death of one of her colleagues due to the virus, put news in an even starker perspective.
It’s now the day of the week for posting on Facebook about next week’s show. This includes an apology for this week’s error in repeating the previous weeks show again. No loss to Counterpoint, the guest musicians, who gained an extra weeks broadcast time.
Next week’s broadcast will, I am still hoping, feature saxophonist/clarinettist, Sam Rapley of Fabled, the group that is his brainchild. Following on from the success of their earlier EP, the band have now recently released a CD called Short Stories. I had inadvertently mis-spelled some details, in a draft article and Sam had not been slow to tell me. To be honest I have to admit it is not unusual for me to miss spell names etc., but my excuse is that I write with so much enthusiasm for the music and make so much effort to ensure that shows are widely advertised, that I don´t have time to pay attention to administrative details. Ooops, that´s another apology needed. (and before the Sidetracks and Detours editor has a similar dig at me, I would point readers in the direction of his writing !!)
However, I can slightly repair any damage my mis-spellings may have cause by telling you that Sam Rapley and Fabled are drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Debussy, Tom Jobim, Sarah Vaughan and Bon Iver. The music of Fabled explores the wealth of textures, harmonies and grooves available in the traditional jazz quintet setting. Heavily influenced by music for film, and the relationship between music and storytelling, Fabled are always searching for their own new ways to tell the classic, age-old stories. You can learn more about them at
I now see that the audio files have been downloaded at the Oldham Community Radio studio. I am hoping that this is a sign that the guest programme is to go ahead.
I notice an e-mail stating ´it’s on´ flashing at me in my received items but then a subsequent phone conversation with David, the station manager, concludes in a postponement for a month. The station´s program schedule has been savaged by the virus.
My folder of archive files, that might be suitable for broadcast to replace scheduled events that are now cancelled until further notice, is, itself, looking pretty empty. We´re now at Monday morning which is time I always keep free at home for building a programme. That is to say, I put together music, links, and my vocal interventions that comment on what I have played and what has just been and gone and is about to come up on the local scene.
Today I shall be building my program from found material in the dusty archives of unused fragments from live gigs recorded, and shared with me by Bob Jones, musician and music promoter. Bob has for a long time now procured bands for the Hilary Step, Upper Chorlton Road, Manchester. Bob is a much respected man, and Hilary Step is a popular venue in the South Manchester music scene. His regular gigs, virus aside, are the ‘Giant Steps’ on a Sunday and Wednesday evenings.
The jazz nights attract good crowds and very often they also draw excellent reviews from visitors such as Dominic H who recently posted on their web site that ´I came here on their Jazz night (every Sunday) to see the fantastic saxophonist Sam Healey (I know I’m not reviewing Sam Healey but if you’re into jazz definitely go see him!!). The Hillary Step provided a small and intimate venue for the gig, and created a fantastic atmosphere. The bar, and the Hillary Step in general, is small and lively. Their bar also impressed, with a great ales and craft beers for reasonable prices.´
Whoever said Time Is Tight was right. Even in days when we cannot really do anything, I seem to be left with unfinished tasks.
Nevertheless, bands and gigs are identified.
Background notes are found amongst a much disorganised paper filling system. I need to put that right one day, perhaps when I’m housebound due to the anti-virus measures which seem soon to be brought in.
Ready to go!
Audacity is the preferred software for creating the show. It’s free, developed by enthusiastic programmers and has a simple functions facility. Three hours later, including several retakes and an essential coffee break, I have an Mp3 audio file in the can and a feeling of great satisfaction fills the room.
The room I refer to is the spare room in my house, as FC-radio is a virtual radio station. Files are sent in from all around Greater Manchester and the North West generally to our man at the centre, Ben Hughes, station manager. Ben loads the server and drives the station, never a glitch, crash or error, ha ha. I wonder if we could do it live? No room for retakes, change of direction midway through a show, leaving it part complete for later as we don’t feel up for it. Just sweating on it and getting down to the groove.
Insert photo of steve bewick The nature of my show, Hot Biscuits, is the sound of jazz on FC–Radio. It promotes mainly local sounds, bands and events in the Manchester area. That can include visiting bands and musicians. I hope I have carried out the task with some verve and enthusiasm for the genre of jazz; the most innovative musical development in the 20th century.
Hot Biscuits is broadcast as one program three times a week on Wednesday and Thursday at 21.00 and Saturdays at 23.00. It can be found at www.fc-radio.co.uk Archives can be found at www.mixcloud.com/stevebewick I’m also on Facebook/stevebewick.
That article is a perfect pen-picture of the man I worked with as co- presenter of the all across the arts radio programme for quite a few years. Love and enthusiasm for music and a desire to share it with others was what drove us to sit in a cold, empty late-night studio as we introduced what few listeners there may have been to new music. We mis-spelled, mis-labelled, missed out advertising clips and forgot to announce decreed public notices, as we spoke of Townes Van Zandt and Vincent Van Gogh often in the same sentence.
I´m confident you will agree, though, that Steve´s article offers a rapidly changing insight into how the current pandemic is affecting everybody who works in the arts in whatever capacity, whether professionally or as a volunteer. This is true in all sectors of life, of course, but what we are trying to do here at Sidetracks and Detours is to emulate communicators like Steve Bewick, Graham Marshall, and Steve Cooke, our colleagues at all across the arts UK, and to keep breathing life into an arts scene so that artists and audience are fit and healthy and ready to meet each other again when life returns to a semblance of normality.
Some of the news we are receiving here in the office is shaped somewhat by how far in the future an event is scheduled for. Graham Marshall has posted an announcement all over social media that outstanding events on the Rochdale Music Society 40th Anniversary programme have been cancelled until further notice and yet Steve Cooke has reminded us all that Manchester Festival, slotted for later in the year, seems to be still recruiting volunteer stewards etc. Check the festival site for details.
Note also, that some of Rochdale´s creative writing groups have somehow managed to run a ´virtual.´ We are grateful to the ever-cheerful Katie Haigh of Touchstones Creative Writing group and Langley Writers and Weaving Words (all Rochdale based) for sending that information.
We face the same challenges here on Lanzarote as Steve Bewick describes in the UK and what has for decades been a vibrant nightly-everywhere scene has fallen silent for now. Like Steve, I am raiding archives, re-writing and editing pieces to make them relevant for today and to try to provide some continuity to those who are finding life already difficult enough without any arts input.
That input is still there, though. We have books, we have radio for a while still, and tv and we have recordings and aren´t you glad now you made all those bootlegs? Whilst we´re clutching for our fix of arts and culture there are artists locked away in their bed sits reflecting on the crisis and creating new masterpieces of music, literature and visual arts. So let´s look forward to the great stuff we are going to see and hear when the lights are switched on again !