Talking All Things Music With Kevin McManus

As the Coronavirus outbreak continues to change our lives in ways we thought unimaginable, we’ve been overwhelmed by the many good news stories to come out of Liverpool City Region. 

To help shine a light on these good news stories, we’ll be speaking to the people behind them. In this piece we speak to Kevin Mcmanus, Head of UNESCO City of Music for Liverpool.

A couple of weeks into lockdown

Almost a couple of weeks in now and the reality of the lockdown is really starting to bite, quickly moving from being a novelty to the new norm. Some people are treating it like a prison sentence, albeit one where the prison is remarkably similar to your house and you have the privilege of being allowed to exercise once a day in the ‘prison yard’ while always being careful to stay a safe distance from other inmates.

I’d count myself in a second group of people who have accepted there is nothing you can do about the situation so you may as well make the most of it. It is no great hardship working from home and if you manage it properly you can be really productive.

Getting reacquainted with music

So while I’ve been working I’m normally switching between 6 Music or the always excellent local internet radio station Melodic Distraction. Then when I manage to tear myself away from my laptop I’ve been getting reacquainted with some of the music I’ve had stored away and not played for far too long. I’ve loved the opportunity to fall in love all over again with records I bought 30 or 40 years ago.  I know we are awash with a plethora of content channels now and you can find almost everything online, but there’s still nothing like getting a vinyl record out of the sleeve, putting it on the turntable and the noise of the needle hitting the groove.

Support for the music industry

For office (or home) based  salaried workers like myself the lockdown is relatively easy to deal with if I’m being honest. There are lots of groups in society who are really struggling at the minute and the music sector is one of those that is being hit hard.  For musicians, venues, clubs, promoters and festivals the situation is critical with no live music or club nights meaning no income for all involved. There are a number of schemes out there looking to support musicians suffering hardship through the likes of the Musicians Union or the Spotify Covid-19 Music Relief fund which is working with PRSF and Help Musicians UK to offer financial support to musicians during these hard times. If you are in a position to donate, please do as each £1 is matched by Spotify.

Getting involved at home

However, music hasn’t just stopped while all this is going on, because musicians want to keep on making music. If you really must then you can watch big names like Chris Martin who streamed a short performance from a small room in what I’m sure is a very large but environmentally friendly house (I’ve met Chris Martin and he seemed like a thoroughly nice chap but to be honest I’d rather eat my own weight in cat food than watch a Chris Martin gig)!

Probably the only one of the big names I might try to catch up with is the legend that is Neil Young who has stepped forward with what he has promised will be a series of fireside session streams. Whatever your taste, there’s plenty of great content out there if you have a look. Yesterday I just happened to stumble upon a beautiful new song written by Michael Stipe and The National’s Aaron Dessner. Sitting in his living room Stipe performs a gorgeous vocal over a basic demo of  a very aptly titled ‘No Time For Love Like Now’.

Showing your support locally

I’d urge you to look at what is happening locally though and show your support for local musicians and the broader music sector during these troubled times. Of course there is loads of free stuff out there but where there are opportunities to pay and you are in position to buy or donate I would urge you to do so.

One of my favourite local bands of the last year or so’ The Mysterines’ have a brilliant new single out ‘Love’s Not Enough’, and when the world is finally back to normal you should really go and see them live where they are ferociously impressive.

After a couple of years away Lapsley is back with a well worth the wait second album ‘Through Water’. If that wasn’t enough I’ve just heard Liverpool born Jetta’s new track ‘Livin’ on the radio too and on one listen that sounded ace. You should also aim to aim to get your ears around the tracks that are out there by Wigan lads The Lathums. I saw them play in Liverpool lately and since then they have gone on to sign a major deal. Have a listen to tracks like ‘I Know That Much’ and you can hear why there is such a buzz about the charming guitar pop of these youngsters.

The aforementioned wonderful people at Melodic Distraction have managed to keep broadcasting through the determination of their lovely team and the support of local tech businesses who donated equipment to enable them to produce the shows from their own homes. As well as all the usual shows they are starting the exciting sounding ‘Lockdown Live Lounge’ featuring local and international artists performing from the safety of their own homes on Facebook. One of my recent favourites was this show by the wonderfully named Bear Growls https://www.mixcloud.com/melodicdistraction/the-honey-pot-with-bear-growls-february-20/. They’ve also had an upsurge in international artists sending through radio shows they have recorded. Check it all out at melodicdistraction.com.

Local superstar DJ and all round good lad Yousef never stops. A couple of days ago he posted a magnificent three hour live mix from his house under the banner of  ‘Yousef –Home Sessions Vol 1’. You can find it on Soundcloud and it is well worth a listen, beginning with a  famous and strangely inspirational Winston Churchill speech and just gets better. Another of my local favourites is adopted Scouser Giovanna of SisBis and any of her mixes online will make you want to dance around your living room. Or if you want to give a couple of newcomers a chance then have a listen to the mixes by two young local lads Keplaar on Soundcloud.

Keeping live music alive

Live music hasn’t completely stopped though. Local venue Jimmy’s for example are streaming their Isolation Gigs live on their Instagram page most nights. Sound City are just about to launch their Guest House live performance subscription streaming service with Episode I featuring Wigan’s rising stars The Lathum’s and others. The subscription payment goes towards paying the artists so they can secure some income during this lockdown. The first episode is live on Thursday 2nd April at 6pm.

Culture Liverpool are just about to launch their own platform this week featuring live music on Friday Night Live and much more so keep an eye out for that at www.Cultureliverpool.co.uk. The LIMF Living Room Sessions featuring some of the amazingly talented  artists from LIMF Academy is  also in the pipeline so keep an eye out for that.

If you want to keep on top of all of this then the always informative and comprehensive Get Into This Music blog www.getintothis.co.uk is well worth a look even though they haven’t had any gigs to cover. There’s still great opinion pieces/album reviews and a brilliant archive of their coverage. If you have never had a look then you definitely have time to look and support them now (and their April Fool’s Hope and Glory Festival piece was genius). We shouldn’t forget those unsung heroes of BBC Radio Merseyside, Dave Monks and the legend that is Roger Hill. Roger has been hosting a show on Merseyside for what must be 100 years or more now and is still one of the best broadcasters out there. I know nobody listens to anything in real time anymore but it is always worth catching Dave and Roger’s shows on Catch Up, BBC Sounds or wherever you can find them.

Platforms are popping up everywhere for creatives to develop their audiences and Screenlife Liverpool is one of these platforms providing an opportunity for musicians and film makers everywhere to get involved in this new model.  https://www.screendaily.com/news/timur-bekmambetov-producing-tales-from-the-quarantine-anthology-film-exclusive/5148671.article

We are, as we are constantly being told by the media, in unprecedented times and it is likely that things will never be quite the same again including the way we consume music. But when this madness is all over and it is safe to mix with other human beings again I hope that everyone gets out and enjoys the unique communal experience of enjoying live music. Experiencing live music anywhere, be it a sweaty tiny venue, an arena or in a club is special and we need to embrace that and support those who make it happen for us.