As I travel down to Cardiff for the PRS Foundation’s Talent Development Conference it feels like a great time to share the story of how we are developing talent in New Music at the Albany in Deptford and working to make us the home for New Music in South London.
When I first began the relaunch of the Albany’s new music programme I knew that I wanted to bring the same developmental approach to working with musicians as I had seen in other artforms. There’s a major disparity in the way musicians are treated compared to artists who work in theatre, spoken word etc., where talent is rewarded with investment and support. I have seen this in my work as a venue producer and programmer for the last 5 years, after a much longer career spent working with music funders including PRS Foundation, Arts Council, Youth Music, Creative Scotland and others. I’d also set up and run a creative music programme for young people, led by professional artists, for 10 years. As well as having been privileged to engage with a huge amount of music, music projects and incredible music creators, this work has given me a real insight and understanding as to how musicians are making work and ‘making it work’ in a rapidly changing sector, as well as the challenges faced by lack of infrastructure in a music industry which has increasingly reduced investment, especially to early/mid career artists or those who aren’t making mainstream/commercial music.
When working with spoken word, digital and theatre artists over the last few years I was amazed to find that even those in the early stage of their career in these fields knew about funding opportunities, and were often working towards them, usually with organisational partners on board. Often as soon as they approached a venue, that venue would give them creative support and advice, rehearsal space and help with funding applications. Musicians are treated entirely differently – even subsidised venues often see their music programme as their ‘commercial’ business, meaning there is no investment of staff time and it’s expected to ‘wash its own face’. Additional barriers for mid-career musicians can actually be the industry itself – managers and agents still seem to be wedded to old school models of touring and an ‘in and out’ mentality when it comes to working with venues and organisations, and they often aren’t aware of the funding opportunities that exist.
The Albany is an organisation with a rich musical heritage – gigs throughout the last 30 years have included the Wailers and the Clash, and 15 legendary Rock against Racism gigs. The Albany has a small programming budget but we guarantee all the artists we work with a fee, and usually offer a split on top of that. We also have some great in house expertise – I have an amazing small team of producers, and our Production, Marketing and Front of house team have great knowledge and experience to offer (and frequently do). We also have great participatory programmes working both with young people and elders, giving artists who want to develop that side of their practice a new opportunity. Whilst we don’t have huge amounts of cash, we are rich in space, as we currently programme across 3 venues (Deptford Lounge and Canada Water Theatre in Southwark). This means we can offer musicians rehearsal space on site, and even tech time in our theatre to craft their show. We also have a lot of experience in working with artists to help them put funding applications together.
This is the approach we are taking with the brilliant music artists we are engaging with, who may well be mid career or high-profile but it seems have never been offered this sort of support before For Shingai Shoniwa who launched her solo EP (and our Autumn music season) with us just recently, we gave the chance to approach her gig like a theatre production – she was able to perform ‘in the round’ in our beautiful round theatre and she had 4 days in the theatre to rehearse, with her band and tech the show. Gwyneth Herbert, award-wining jazz/folk songwriter and vocalist, plays here on Sunday. Gwyneth wanted the opportunity to work with elders on her latest project about letter writing and we were able to pay for her to work with our older peoples group, Meet Me at the Albany. Other artists like Tawiah are getting extra rehearsal time here and we also invested in a lovely promo vid for Tawiah, Rahel from Hejira and Shingai. The now legendary Steamdown nights will begin a bi monthly residency with us from November – we’ve offered them creative space, tech support and advice. We’re doing the same with emerging artists Leyendekker and the really exciting electro scene in south London (Leyendekker’s bi monthly event Rate/Repeat starts on Friday). Wherever we can give musicians the time, space and support to develop their ideas and practice we will do.
It makes total sense for us to do this now, at a time when there is a huge amount of talent coming out of South London and a massive buzz about the scenes here. We are delighted that the PRS Foundation has recognised the quality of this approach and the artists involved with an award this year. We believe ultimately this investment and approach will lead to better experiences for artists and audiences at gigs here, and develop longer-term relationships with us as a venue and our local audience. See you at a gig here soon!