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The MU Summer Of Live: Our Livestream Festival For Musicians in Need

How we hosted the first in a series of live online music events to raise money for musicians hit by the Covid-19 crisis, by Neil Crossley.

Published: 28 July 2020 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:31 PM
Photograph of Scottish-Sudanese singer/songwriter Eliza Shadad wearing a red jacket and standing in front of a red background.
Singer songwriter Eliza Shadad, photographed by Mel Tjeong.

The power of music to inspire and uplift was brought into sharp relief on Sunday 21 June when the MU broadcast its Summer Of Live festival, an online live stream event to raise money for the MU Coronavirus Hardship Fund. This was the first in a planned series of live online music events from the MU, hosted by guest presenters on Instagram, which will help provide money for musicians whose livelihoods have been devastated by the Covid-19 crisis.

The event, which ran from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, was hosted by radio presenter, producer and DJ, Shell Zenner, and featured interviews and live performances from four distinctly different artists – rapper and poet, KinKai, r‘n’b singer-songwriter and producer, Prima, singer-songwriter Jack Curley, and singer-songwriter, Eliza Shaddad.

MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge praised the Summer Of Live event and the talent of the artists involved. “At a time when we are desperately missing live music, it is great to see and hear performers of this calibre doing what they do best, and all for a very good cause,” he said.

Making music in Manchester

With the exception of London-based Shaddad, all the artists and host Zenner hailed from Greater Manchester, and there was a strong sense of shared identity and mutual support.

“Manchester’s homegrown talent is really special to be a part of,” said Prima, who after a few years in London returned to the city, where she has flourished as an artist with the help of a strong creative team. “We’ve got each other’s backs all the time and that’s a rare thing to have. I love the north… this is where I’m supposed to be.”

How the MU Coronavirus Hardship Fund will help

Shell Zenner was an assured and empathetic host, well-attuned to the plight of musicians at this worrying time and full of praise for the MU’s work on their behalf.

Throughout the broadcast, she reminded viewers of the whole aim of the event – to encourage donations for the MU Coronavirus Fund. She was also acutely aware of the challenges facing musicians in general during lockdown and mindful of the need for profound change across the profession.

Building a better music industry for musicians

“If this has shown us anything it’s that the model we have at the moment is not sustainable,” she said, highlighting the inability of musicians to make income from the streaming of their recorded music, while all options for live income have dried up.

Zenner championed Keep Music Alive, the MU campaign to ‘fix streaming’, which calls for industry stakeholders to come together to agree an equitable, sustainable and transparent model for royalty distribution in the streaming era. “It’s really important to get these basic fundamental things in the music industry, to make money from your product basically,” she said.

KinKai – Respected poet and rapper with a far-reaching sound

The first artist on the bill was KinKai, who draws on his Jamaican and Sierra Leonian roots and is a respected figure in the UK underground hip-hop scene.

Jazz, reggae, west African music and hip-hop beats pervade the music. It’s an emotive, heartfelt and far-ranging sound, infused by his ready wit and forthright lyrics that focus on poverty, social and family issues. His second album Mellow Mermaids And Malibu notched up over a million streams on Spotify and its follow-up, A Pennies Worth release in May 2020, looks set to follow suit.

“The number one rule for me with music is if you’re going to do it, try and make it undeniable,” he told Zenner. “That doesn’t mean everyone’s going to love it but no one can deny it’s got a level of quality to it.”

KinKai’s output is prolific and he has collaborated with numerous artists such as revered producer Glue70. He said lockdown has been a time of emotional extremes, with five family deaths within three months. “But then it’s like I’ve had an album to put out in the same time. So it’s like ‘I’m going to go cry, but I’m going to come back.”

One of the first tracks in his set was “Sorry I’m Late – I Was In Quarantine”. It’s a fluid, soulful sound – sparse, poignant and impeccably realised. “Let’s see some champagne glass emojis,” he smiled, before the track Plantain & Champagne, as fans posted comments in realtime. “Keep throwing those emojis down,” he said, “I need them.”

Prima – Singer-songwriter with stunning voice and chilled r’n’b grooves

Like all the artists performing at Summer Of Live, r’n’b singer-songwriter Prima said the worst aspect of lockdown has been the inability to get out and physically play live. “I really, really miss gigging. I gig all the time. I miss people’s energy.”

Prima has a strong, soulful voice, as was evident on the tracks she showcased, such as the Anywhere and Running Me Down.

She attributes this to her classical training and says the vocal trills she uses in r’n‘b are very similar to those used in operatic arias. “The trills in that music are so intricate, just like an r’n’b lick. So for me, my soul exists in r’n’b, but my education was in the classical world. Bringing those two worlds together was perfect for me.”

Prima went on to discuss how she was exploited as a younger artist and experienced sexual discrimination. But she said the experience had only made her stronger. “I have been in these situations but over the years I’ve seen things change, which is amazing, because you just can’t get away with that sort of stuff anymore.”

When asked what advice she would give artists coming up, she said: “Have a strong head on your shoulders, build up a team around you and collaborate. Always ask people for what you think is right. And don’t be nervous about asking for things.”

Jack Curley – rising singer-songwriter with intimate sound and exceptional vocal range

Anticipation was high for the appearance of Jack Curley, from Stalybridge, who recently signed a major deal with Parlophone. Zenner kicked off by asking him what he will be asking for on his rider, now he has entered the big league. “Oh, I’m not much of a diva” he smiled. “Just as long as I’ve got a bottle of water and a guitar I’ll be fine.”

Curley showcased tracks from his EP, Tomorrow, before launching into the track that started it all, Alice, which racked up eight million streams. “That’s a heartfelt song,” he said, “means a lot to me”. Curley’s effortlessly powerful voice and broad vocal range were impressive.

Like most musicians, he recalled low points “playing in pubs to no one” and described playing to his biggest audience yet in Germany as “the best feeling I’ve ever had”. Curley said he had spent a lot of time walking during lockdown, which he said was a change as he was “an Uber kind of guy”. He also admitted he had found it hard to be musically creative during the Covid-19 crisis.

He spoke of his love of playing live and said he is itching top get out there after lockdown. “I just want to get back out on the road. That’s why I do it – seeing the people’s faces, the fans’ faces. It’s the best thing in the world. As soon as lockdown’s over, we’ll get it done.”

Eliza Shaddad – Gritty, emotive singer-songwriter with an alt rock sound

For singer-songwriter Elizah Shaddad, the final artist featured at the event, the three months of Covid-19 lockdown has been an industrious time, enabling her to write songs for her next album. But like all musicians, the uncertainty of how and when venues might reopen in the future has meant she has been unable to plan a schedule to release and promote the album.

“It’s all so uncertain and it’s all such an uncertain career [anyway], it can be quite devastating. But I’m really inspired by the kind of initiatives like Tom Gray’s #BrokenRecord campaign – taking the time to look at the industry and figuring out how we can make it better and fairer. I feel quite lucky because a lot of the festivals we were booked to do have just transplanted their whole line up to next year, which is I think really decent.”

Shaddad studied jazz at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and has since shaped a diverse sonic palette, spanning Arabic scales, heavy rhythms within an indie-folk and alt-rock vein. This Scottish-Sudanese artist released her debut album Future in 2018, to widespread acclaim.

The tracks she showcased at Summer Of Live included new single Make It Go Away, which starts with slow, overdriven grunge guitar before gliding into a slow, infectious groove. There’s a beautiful simplicity to Shaddad’s sound and her set demonstrated her assured songcraft, lyrical honesty and rich, emotive vocals.

An integral part of our drive to support musicians

These events are an integral part of the MU’s drive to support musicians whose livelihoods have been devastated by the events of the last three months.

“Like so many people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, musicians have been hit hard,” said Dave Webster, MU National Organiser for Live Performance.

“The music industry fell off a cliff almost overnight, leaving many professionals out of work and the MU responded by being the first to set up a hardship fund for musicians. Live music was one of the first entertainment sectors to be shut down and looks like being the last to reopen.”

Watch back through the IGTV highlights of the previous Summer of Live festivals.

Donate to help musicians

If you are able, help us provide immediate support for musicians in real financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Donate to the Coronavirus Hardship Fund now.

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