Artist experiences of socially distanced live streamed gigs

When Manchester jazz festival was cancelled due to Covid-19, the team raced against time to create a fully online festival. From 21st to 24th May 2020 mjf2020: Jazz Unlocked went live online with Jazz North and United We Stream as producing partners. Current and past Jazz North northern line artists Nishla Smith, Ubunye featuring Thandanani Gumede and Archipelago performed socially distanced gigs as part of the festival. Here are their experiences….

Faye MacCalman – Archipelago

Archipelago were initially booked to play Manchester Jazz Festival before lockdown, but of course like most of life as we know it in 2020 it was cancelled. A few weeks of isolation later, after catching a breather from a busy time of gigging and freelance juggling I was really missing playing with other humans and connecting with audiences.

When mjf emailed us explaining they were partnering with United We Stream, offering us a socially distanced livestream gig I was excited to have the chance to play again but a little hazy on how we could work under lockdown restrictions. I decided in the end to have only one distanced rehearsal 2 nights before our gig to minimise risk, and we travelled down together in the car with key worker status which the festival arranged for us.

We were placed understandably very far apart by the crew there, with John Pope (Bass) even having to go on the audience floor which only added to the surreal-ness of the day.

My music works best when we’re close together as it is so much about our individual energies as well as the compositions, so it’s always difficult when we’re far apart. However in this case I think the intensity of the livestream and our happiness to be playing together again after so long more than made up for that!

Since lockdown there’s been a massive emphasis on artists sharing music from their homes, but I think a lot of people don’t realise how inaccessible this can be for many reasons, including costs, living circumstances and health. It was a total game changer having a film and sound crew who took care of all the technicalities so that we could just focus on the music, this was amazing! We were also paid which is vital right now for artists doing livestream gigs as it’s tempting to end up doing a lot for free.

For me, it was really mind blowing to play live again. Although I was very nervous to be streaming live for the first time, my nerves on the day were overshadowed by the feeling that during what continues to be a sad and strange time I am really lucky to be able to play music and how transformative music really is through the good, bad, and everything in between. /

Instagram & Twitter – @fayemaccalman

Facebook & Instagram – @archipelagoband

Thandanani Gumede – Ubunye

I was originally asked by Steve Mead to perform at mjf earlier this year but it was cancelled (along with a string of other cancellations!) for obvious reasons. These are strange times defined by exponential uncertainties. So a glimmer of hope reemerged when I was asked to submit footage from my last year’s performance at the mjf hothouse showcase instead of a cancellation but that was eventually cancelled too. As you can see, this was already a roller coaster ride. Finally, Steve called again about the Manchester Jazz (Digital) festival in collaboration with Jazz North and United We Stream. It had to be live and I felt alive again—music is my life after all and I hadn’t had the chance to perform in a while since the lockdown was right at the heels of my trip from South Africa.

Our band consists of three singers from South Africa and four more musicians from the U.K. who make up the rhythm section; seven people in total. But there could only be a maximum of four people  for my set in order to adhere to Social Distancing guidelines—this was the first of many curve balls when it came to logistics and our preparation for the gig. I had to prioritise Keys/Piano, Bass, Drums and Lead Vocals. My aim was to make the set a hybrid of my solo repertoire and Ubunye repertoire because both projects mean the world to me. It wasn’t going to be the same without everyone but we had to make it work. I would not have been able to pull it off on my own.

First things first: I upgraded to Zoom Pro.


What followed was a series of video/text/email and phone call correspondence with Dave Evans (piano/keys) to get a set together, and next to get the band together while remaining apart. Communication was everything: while we couldn’t practically rehearse, we went through the songs note for note and through the harmonies. Revisiting the songs theoretically and knowing them inside and out helped us rehearse synoptically despite the separation. I also had to use different apps to record myself singing different parts so I could listen back and gauge accuracy, blending, sound out some vocal onsets and imagine how those would sound like with a different voice and timbre.

Both our guitarist and drummer have very young children and we didn’t want to put them at risk. But Dave’s eldest son, Jonah is a fantastic drummer too. He knew most of the songs we played. Since they were self isolating in the same household it made sense to ask him to play and they could travel together without violating the Covid 19 lockdown guidelines. The entire process was centred around problem solving:

  1. I had to sing songs that were designed for 3-4 singers;  so I had to sing lead and backing vocals. Dave harmonised with me. I also had to give him a crash course in Zulu.
  2. Our bass player was unable to honour the engagement due to unforeseen forces–my stress levels were off the roof but Jason Dandeno saved the day. Singing down the phone to one another was a nightmare but it was necessary.
  3. Finally, it was strange to arrive at the venue and not greet or hug each other…rushed sound check and had to go live in 5 mins.The hardest thing was to break formation and be so far from each other without any eye contact with most of the band. But the team from United We Stream was incredibly supporting and calming. When you’re there you realise that you do not have a trapped audience.
  4. I once had to perform under the watchful eye of the Queen’s guard and a security detail that was armed to the teeth with weapons I had only seen in Call of Duty. But this was by far the scariest performance to date because people do not have to be polite online. They can say whatever they want and leave the stream if they didn’t like your set. I felt vulnerable at the honesty of it all. In the end the well planned set came with the elasticity to create things in the moment so everything fell into place. There are no regrets and there was so much love from the people who watched. I am sorry I could not contract the entire experience in 400 words but I’ll leave it here: this was different but it was special.

Ubunye Facebook page

Nishla Smith

When it was decided that the festival would go online, Steve Mead reached out to say that the mjf team were working on creative ways to include as many of the artists as possible in the new format. I had this idea for Tom Harris and I to do a socially-distanced concert filmed in my building for my neighbours. We wheeled my piano into the foyer and neighbours watched from their own balconies. It really felt like it brought the building together as a community—one person in my building is a dancer and he improvised to one of the songs Tom and I played. Unfortunately we had some technical issues, and the recording wasn’t able to be broadcast, which was a real shame, but even so, it still felt like a small act of music in a really isolating time, so I’m glad we did it!

Since we weren’t able to share that concert, Tom and I joined the amazing lineup of bands at Bury Met as part of the Sunday livestream. Archipelago were just finishing up as I arrived, and it was super weird because the first thing I wanted to do was to run over and say hi, but we instead kind of waved and kept our distance. The schedule was meticulously planned so there was minimal overlap, which meant that soon after Tom and I arrived we were sound-checking and then suddenly we were on. There’s always adrenaline and even fear for me when I perform, but this felt somehow both more and less scary than a regular show. There’s so much energy built up when you’re performing live, and without the audience there to absorb and reflect it, it has nowhere to go, so it just builds up and up— there were some songs in our set that we’ve performed together before, but that took on really different characters because of the strange cocktail of emotions in the room, and the insane power of playing together again after so much isolation. I miss performing for people, I miss my friends and colleagues and I miss after-show hugs (!) but until we can safely have all those things again, it’s important to find ways to create and disseminate art and music remotely, I think mjf did this amazingly well.

Instagram – @nishlasmith / @tomharrisisacommonname / @movementdecoded

For our staged work with artist Luca Shaw –

Nishla Smith is on our northern line scheme with Nishla Smith Quintet.


She Wasn’t Bad for a Girl – by Helena Summerfield

As a young, female saxophonist I lost count of the number of times that I was told whenever I played that ‘you’re good for a girl’ or ‘you don’t sound like a girl’. Now, I’m sure these comments were only meant as a compliment but the truth was they niggled at me. What does a girl sound like and why can’t I just sound like me?

I’m Helena Summerfield, a Manchester based saxophonist, teacher and performer. I am passionate about getting girls into playing jazz and improvised music and like to think that those kinds of comments are becoming a thing of the past.

In 2018 I became the project manager for Jazz North’s ‘Jazz Camp for Girls’ inspired by an original project developed by Jazz Danmark and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. ‘Jazz Camp for Piger’ was designed to address the gender imbalance in jazz and introduce young female musicians to rhythmical, improvised music in a positive, supportive environment. Their first camps took place in 2014 with nearly 50 girls attending and this has steadily grown to over 200 girls spread across 13 cities in Denmark. The tutor ratio on each camp is equally split between male and female and delivered by a combination of experienced music school teachers and professional musicians. After attending ‘Jazz Camp for Piger’, girls are invited to attend further mixed music camps. The girls are recruited first and then applications are opened to boys – the number of girls is matched so that the gender balance within the camp is always equal. I felt really inspired hearing about the project’s success in Denmark and looked forward to recreating something similar in the north of England.

We were awarded with a grant from the Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation to develop and deliver a one-day jazz camp for girls. This took place on Sunday 10th February 2019 in four locations across the north: Huddersfield (Huddersfield University), Manchester (Trafford Music Service and BlueJam Arts joint camp) Lancaster (Lancashire Music Service) and Rotherham (Rotherham Music Service and Sheffield Music Hub joint camp) with more than 70 girls attending in total. Similar to the Danish camps these were led by a mixture of professional musicians and jazz educators including the creator of ‘In the Gap!’ Hannah Brady, J Frisco’s Lara Jones and Megan Roe, Jilly Jarman from BlueJam Arts and electronic musician Werkha (Tom Leah).

I decided that I wanted to create something that the girls could take home with them and refer to after the camp was over so I designed a course handbook packed with snap-shot interviews of female jazz musicians plus helpful practise tips. I wanted to celebrate female musicians working in jazz and introduce our young musicians to new inspirational role models. Luckily both camp staff and participants were delighted with the outcomes of this day. Feedback confirmed that the project had increased the girls’ interest, skills and confidence in improvisation and the camp was rated “Excellent” by 81% of participants and “Good” by 16% participants. I personally loved coordinating the camps and couldn’t wait to start thinking about the future, the five-year plan being to build up a UK Jazz Camp for Girls by adding new partner organisations each year.

At the end of 2019 we received funding from Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation, Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation and The Golsoncott Foundation to deliver a two day (non-residential) Jazz North Jazz Camp for Girls in 2020. Developments from the first year included introducing a trainee music leader placement scheme and I revised the course handbook to include inspiring new releases* by female led ensembles, J Frisco and Nerija. *One such release was by Issie Barrett´s Interchange previously mentioned on these Sidetracks & Detours pages in Virtually A Real Festival.

Six camps were planned to take place in Manchester (Trafford Music Service), Gateshead (The Sage), Lancaster (Lancashire Music Service), Penrith (BlueJam Arts), Blackpool (Up Beat Rock Academy), and Doncaster (Doncaster Youth Jazz Association, Rotherham Music Service and Sheffield Music Hub joint camp) during February and March.

Jazz Camp for Girls in Manchester

The first four camps went ahead with 54 attendees in total but unfortunately due to the Covid-19 pandemic the Doncaster and Blackpool camps had to be postponed. The Blackpool camp was replaced with an online camp lead by Lara Jones and Megan Roe and seven girls attended this. Luckily the online concept worked really well and I am keen to use this idea in the future alongside physical camps for girls living in remote locations. Plans to reschedule the Doncaster Camp are on hold until safe to do so. Although cancelling some camps felt like an anti-climax, feedback from the four camps that took place was extremely positive.

One participant from the Manchester event said ‘It was the best experience of my life. I had so much fun. I learnt new songs and made new friends. I would definitely do it again and would definitely recommend it.’

Jazz Camp for Girls in Manchester

I hadn’t quite forgotten those well-meaning comments from my youth though, as after talking to other female jazzers over the years I had come to realise that I wasn’t alone in having received such comments. Being mistaken by some people for the singer, by others thinking you are carrying your boyfriend’s instrument and by many presuming, before hearing you play, that you’re not as good as your male counterparts, is part of a long list of depressing reactions girls on the jazz scene still often encounter. So, I decided to do something positive, by turning these silly comments on their head and composing a Jazz Camp for Girls anthem. I thought that the song could then be used to help raise awareness of the project and inspire the young camp participants.

Cover artwork for ‘She Wasn’t Bad for a Girl’

‘She Wasn’t Bad For A Girl’ was recorded at Valley Wood Studio in Leeds and released on March 8th 2020 for International Women’s Day.

It features a fantastic line up of northern female jazz musicians with Kathy Dyson (guitar), Nicola Farnon (vocals and bass), Laura Cole (piano), Caroline Boaden (drums), Alex Clarke (tenor saxophone) and myself (alto saxophone) with Nokuthula Zondi delivering vocals. Recording it was a dream come true and I felt honoured to work with these amazing musicians – who just happen to be female!

The song is available on all major download platforms plus you can watch the official video featuring footage from the recording session plus Manchester and Gateshead jazz camps on YouTube here.

Due to Covid-19 the Jazz Camp for Girls project remains on hold but I am looking forward to picking up the project as soon as possible. I enjoy working with these enthusiastic, young musicians and seeing them engage with the music I love. I think the future of jazz is safe in the hands of these talented youngsters!


Making Music Online for Free webinar

Discover a range of free online music apps that can be used by music teachers, parents or anyone wanting to start making music. Enrico Bertelli of Conductive Music will be talking about and demonstrating a range of free online music making apps including Soundtrap, Chrome Music Labs, Skratch, Dot Piano and Patatap.

1:00pm – 2:30pm
+ 20 minute consultation slots until 5pm
Thursday 11 June


Jazz after Covid19?


At 3pm Friday 8 May you’re invited to join a webinar with a panel of four Europe Jazz Network members talking about how their organisations have had to react and improvise solutions to the Coronavirus pandemic and also project forward with some blue sky thinking about 2021 and beyond.

Steve Mead, Artistic Director Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf), UK
Eva Frost Director Jazz Danmark, Denmark
Nadin Deventer Artistic Director Jazzfest Berlin, Germany
Matti Lappalainen Artistic Director April Jazz Festival, Espoo, Finland

Matti at April Jazz and Steve Mead at mjf both made quick decisions to move their April and May festivals online. Two different solutions to the challenge. Eva at Jazz Danmark reacted immediately to create an innovative artist support scheme baggaardsjazz (backyard) to enable Danish artists to take paid gigs recording performances in their local environement to live stream. Berlin Jazzfest takes place in November putting Nadin and her team in the same situation as many other autumn festivals wondering if they will be able to go ahead.

Recommended for artistic directors, programmers, venues, artists and festival goers.

Register to attend. Limited space available. Please arrive 5 minutes before the start of the session.


We join forces with Jazzwise magazine to stream northern jazz

Jazz North Live Stream Partners

On Friday September 13 2019 our northern line showcase will be live streamed via a network of Live Stream Partners including Jazzwise direct from the outdoor stage at Lancaster Jazz Festival. This new network, with partners who share our aim to support northern and UK jazz scene, will increase the online reach and audience for the artists taking part. The live stream will last for 8 hours filmed with a multi-camera video team and hosted by J Frisco guitarist Megan Roe. This showcase will feature seven artists from the latest round of northern line: Beyond Albedo, freesetrio (now Jemma Freese), John Pope Quintet, Nishla Smith Quintet, Not Now Charlie, Rafe’s Dilemma, and SogoRock.

We are pleased to announce that the UK’s best selling jazz magazine Jazzwise will be joining this new initiative as our Live Stream Media Partner. Jazzwise Magazine Editor Mike Flynn says:

“Jazzwise is pleased to join forces with Jazz North for a packed weekend of exciting live performances that take place as part of the Jazz North’s northern Line showcase at Lancashire Jazz Festival. Reflecting the new wave of young jazz talent that’s now exploding out of the UK, see some of the stars of tomorrow playing sets across weekend on the Jazzwise Facebook page.”

Jazz North Creative Director Nigel Slee says:

“We plan to use this new digital partnership network to stream future events that support and promote the dynamic northern jazz scene. New partners are welcome”.

Live Stream Partners:

Burton Agnes Jazz and Blues Festival
Hull Jazz Festival
Ilkley Jazz Festival
Jazz at Davenham
Jazz Leeds
Jazz Promotion Network
Jazz South
Lancaster Jazz Festival
Marsden Jazz Festival
Ribble Valley Jazz and Blues