image captionAnna Mae Kelly has written more than 30 songs since the start of the pandemic. With lockdown easing planned, she is looking forward to playing live gigs in front of audiences
Unable to perform up close and in person, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a “difficult” time for musicians. The BBC spoke to those involved in the music scene in Corby, which currently has the highest infection rate in England, about what they have been up to and their plans for post-lockdown life.
‘I’m going to try to get as many gigs as possible’
“I’m a compulsive song writer, music is my relaxation,” says 17-year-old singer Anna Mae Kelly.
Since the first lockdown last March (which was introduced the day before her birthday), Anna has written more than 30 demo songs and released four tracks.
Her next, White Lies, will be released on 19 March.
“I’ve written a lot more than I usually would in the past year and I think I’ve improved the way I am writing as well as learning how to produce my own music,” she says.
image caption“The main thing now is to try to get myself as many gigs as possible, climbing the ladder and getting myself out there,” says Anna
Anna, who started singing at the age of four, tells how the pandemic and the two lockdowns have given her the opportunity to delve more deeply into her song-writing and consider more deeply how she wants to produce them.
Although live in-person performances have not been possible, Anna has taken part in online gigs in Corby – about 10 miles (16km) from her home in Kettering.
And it is performing for audiences which is at the top of Anna’s priorities once lockdown ends.
“The main thing now is to try to get myself as many gigs as possible, climbing the ladder and getting myself out there,” she says.
‘The bigger picture’
image caption“We had a few streets where I had people tell me it was the first time they had ever heard and seen a live gig and they’ve loved every second of it and asked us to come back,” says The Green Room founder Martin Steed
The creation of more reflective work, as described by Anna, is echoed across the industry.
Film-maker Martin Steed created The Green Room in Corby to give musicians a stage to perform on throughout the pandemic.
“I think some of the projects done by artists I have been working with during lockdown are really reflective ones,” he says.
“They have been working on new tracks and new songs which are looking at things like family, where they feel they belong and just generally looking at the bigger picture of life.
“Before Covid, everybody was rushing about and under relentless pressure. Now they have space to look at life anew and that is finding its way into lyrics, songs and beats.
“It has been really difficult for people but it has also been refreshing in terms of the work.”
image captionThe Green Room brought socially-distanced live gigs to various streets in Corby
The Green Room has taken live performances into single streets in and around Corby – tiny in-person and Covid-compliant gatherings which are then live-streamed for people to watch remotely.
“We had a few streets where I had people tell me it was the first time they had ever heard and seen a live gig and they’ve loved every second of it and asked us to come back,” says Mr Steed.
The Queen and I
image caption“One of my projects has been learning to play a Renaissance guitar,” says Paul Balmer.
Queen Elizabeth I was a guitarist.
To most people, this information might elicit a half-interested nod or perhaps even an “oh, I didn’t know that”.
But for writer, musician and freelance film maker Paul Balmer, the musical meanderings of a former monarch has triggered a voyage of discovery through the waters of the pandemic.
Mr Balmer, who lives in Corby, lost all of his music teaching contracts with schools because of the pandemic. But with that loss of income came an increase in available time to pursue his interests.
“Just before the pandemic, I learned her favourite piece of music was ‘lavolta’ (to which couples danced),” says Mr Balmer.
“One of my projects has been learning to play a Renaissance guitar.”
He sent drawings of one of Elizabeth’s guitars to US luthier Dan Larson, who made a replica and sent it to Mr Balmer in Corby.
“It has been fascinating learning to play it,” says Mr Balmer, “and learning about Elizabeth’s relationship with Corby.”
You might also be interested in:
He tells how the residents of Corby rescued the Queen after she became trapped in a bog during a hunting trip at Rockingham.
“She was recued and taken to safety at Rockingham Castle. It was this that led to Corby gaining a Royal Charter in 1568.
“And last year, during the break between lockdowns, I got to play lavolta at Rockingham Castle. I was dressed up in Renaissance clothes and played Renaissance music on a Renaissance guitar.”
image captionMr Balmer, his partner Judy and son Karl formed a lockdown band and played gigs in their garden to raise money for the NHS
Music has also played an important role in his family’s lockdown life.
Mr Balmer, his partner Judy and son Karl formed a lockdown band.
“We did some gigs as a family in our back garden to raise money for the NHS,” he says. “We played You’ll Never Walk Alone. We were recorded over the fence by our neighbours so there’s probably a few embarrassing videos out there on Facebook.
“But we raised £500 and it felt like we could something for a good cause which takes away a little of that feeling of helplessness.
“It has been a very challenging time. But while some things have stopped we’ve found others things to do.”