Georgia Blackman took a massive risk in October 2020, when she decided to quit her job as a bartender and set up her own music PR company.
“I was working thirteen hour shifts and running around like a headless chicken. I just thought to myself this is not something I want to be doing for the rest of my life,” she told me.
The 23-year-old fell in love with music from the moment her uncle took her to watch bands at The Sugarmill in Stoke-on-Trent as a young girl. Her passion for this art led her to studying music journalism at university, where she created her own website, “Happy People Music”. A platform dedicated to promoting up and coming bands and artists via gig, album, and single reviews.
She said: “I find such a warmth from writing about how a song sounds and makes you feel.”
Remembering this sensation and driven by a need for change, Georgia decided that it was time to start a career in the music industry. After much research into the logistics of running a business, in the little free time she had between long gruelling shifts. Happy People, a PR company for new bands and artists, was born.
The timing of this move was an interesting one, as UK Music had just described the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry as “catastrophic”. Concert and gig revenues had fallen by 85% and music creators were warned to expect losses of up to two thirds of their yearly income.
This did not stop Georgia, and by the time she spoke to me in April 2021, a 14th band had recently been added to the Happy People roster. Her inbox was receiving 500 emails a day from musicians up and down the country wanting to work with her, and over 50 aspiring journalists had written reviews and press releases for the company’s website.
“Happy People is a platform where we can celebrate new music together. Talking about the songs, bands, and musicians we adore. It’s a beacon for the thing we love most.” Georgia tells me.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions from those at the top of the industry, those like Blackman within the grassroots music community have taken numerous positives from the last year.
One of the bands on the Happy People roster, The Headshrinkers, admitted that the pandemic had given them a “chance to reflect” after a non-stop year playing the local pub circuit.
“It’s done us more good than anything,” said lead singer, Garran Hickman.
“We might not have been able to step back, look at ourselves and assess where we wanted to be. It’s improved us massively no doubt.”
Hickman began to reflect on his writing, and through daily communication with guitarist James Knott, started to develop songs centred around spoken-word poems. Poems that Hickman believes make them sound “anxious, dark and beautiful”.
Ever since this period of reflection, the Wolverhampton four-piece have gone from strength the strength. Three singles have been released, an EP is soon to follow, and preparations have begun for a late summer/autumn tour, playing gigs in London, Nottingham, Leeds and Liverpool (to name a few).
“It was very much in its infancy before [the first] lockdown. We were just playing local shows with friends and family coming,” remarked James, who combines Hickman’s lyrics to his intense, post-punk guitar riffs.
“But since then, we’ve released more music and really grown our audience. We’ve got loads of gigs lined up and more to announce, so it’s all happening and will be a busy year.”
For bands like the Headshrinkers, the key to this busy schedule is the UK’s independent music venue scene, which provides up and coming artists with the space to showcase their art.
Clara Cullen, the venue support manager for Music Venue Trust (MVT) explained how important these facilities were to the entire industry.
“I see it as being like an iceberg,” she said.
“Above the waterline is your mainstream music, your Coldplays and your Adeles, but below that line is the mass of the iceberg and that’s where I think the grassroots level is.
“We get bands, we give them their first audience and give them a chance to grow and develop their fan base before they are established artists.”
According to MVT, 95% of these critical venues were in danger of permanently closing at the start of the pandemic in March last year.
To avert this catastrophe, the government provided support via the Culture Recovery Board. A £1.57 billion package to support the cultural organisations and heritage sites badly affected by the pandemic.
But this was not an amount substantial enough to cover the live music sector, and the industry was reliant on the spirit of its grassroots community to avert disaster. Since April 2020, fans and musicians have raised over £4 million for struggling live music outlets, through the MVT “Save our Venues” campaign.
“It was a real testament of people power and coming together. It was a real organic movement and snowballed way beyond anything that we had ever imagined doing,” Clara said.Embed from Getty Images
Currently, 30 UK venues remain at risk of closure, and Clara admits there is a lot of “apprehension” from venue owners about the reopening of their sites. But the Headshrinkers and Georgia Blackman, are keeping optimistic.
“It’s so important that as fans we are getting out to gigs and supporting our venues. Whether it is buying a pint or some band merchandise, we are all in this together,” Georgia said.
“It’s been a very difficult time for venues, but I think it will bounce back man. Everyone is just itching to get back to gigs and it means everything to me. It’s what we do it for,” said James.Embed from Getty Images
The constant uncertainty, lack of social contact and deepening economic recession caused by this pandemic has left a myriad of people in the United Kingdom uninspired and sceptical about the future. However, within the independent music scene, there is no time or place for this outlook.
The community is filled with many highly motivated, hard-working individuals and groups who are all connected by a love of music, and a yearning for a return to the stages and dancefloors that have acted as breeding grounds for some of this country’s best musical talent.
Those at the top of the tree are still understandably worried, with many venues still on the brink of closure and requiring large amounts of support. But the hope, passion and enthusiasm shown by those starting out in the music business during this pandemic is something to be admired.
Happy People PR website: http://happypeoplemusic.co.uk/
Headshrinkers Twitter page: https://twitter.com/HeadshrinkersX
Music Venue Trust website: http://musicvenuetrust.com/