Sharon Bampton isn’t a woman who’s used to being in one place.
After working on a tour with Placebo in 2006 she put down a deposit on an apartment in the south end of the city – but she’s far more used to living out of a suitcase and spending months at a time on the road.
She travels the world working on everything from intimate gigs in theatres to huge stadium tours and live TV performances.
Sharon, known to her friends as Bamo, is a backline technician and stage manager with more than 25 years of experience in the music industry.
She’s worked with countless artists over the years – but in March that came to a screeching halt as coronavirus lockdown measures saw gigs and festivals cancelled across the country.
Now, Bamo is one of countless professionals in Liverpool’s music industry who’s terrified of what the future holds for her career and the implications this will have financially.
Putting it simply, Bamo told me: ” We were the first ones to go and we will be the last ones back.”
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In March, Bamo was six shows into 68-show tour with Rumours of Fleetwood Mac when she and her crew pulled up outside a theatre in Tunbridge Wells to be told they had to wait to hear the outcome of a local council meeting that would decide whether or not the show would go ahead.
Sat on the pavement outside the theatre, they found out that the remaining 62 shows were cancelled and she was out of work until June.
The situation got worse as the severity of the global pandemic made it clear that mass events wouldn’t be returning for some time, and now Bamo’s next job isn’t booked in until Spring 2021.
Like make self-employed people working in Liverpool’s music industry, Bamo has been left frustrated by the perceived lack of support provided to a group of people who contribute hugely to the domestic economy.
More than six months on from the closure of venues and cancellation of gigs, we spoke to the people who make up Liverpool’s music industry to find out how they are fighting for its very survival.
“We are the forgotten and the unseen”
Speaking to Bamo, it’s clear that she lives and breathes her work.
At several points in our conversation, she starts tearing up as she describes how much she misses being a part of live events and creating amazing shows for fans to enjoy.
As she describes what goes into putting on a production, it becomes clear just how many jobs have been affected by the widescale cancellation of gigs and festivals in the UK.
Bamo said: “When people rock up to a show, they might be depressed or having family problems or hating their job but they will go to that gig at a weekend and dance their heart out and sing those lyrics and that’s escapism for them.
“What none of them realise is that we are the invisible crew and we make those gigs work. We make events.
“To put a gig on in the Echo Arena it takes 200-300 crew, if you include security and bar staff. You have trucks turning up and production.”
She added: “We are the forgotten and the unseen. You don’t want people to turn up for a gig and know it’s taken 500 crew and local crew – you just come to see a show and it’s great.”
For all of these staff working in Liverpool’s music industry, the prospect of a seemingly endless stretch of time is terrifying from a financial point of view.
Bamo, 53, received two furlough payments for jobs that were scheduled to go ahead this year – but coming in months after she lost her work, she’s been left feeling unsupported.
She said: “I’ve paid my taxes for 25 years. I’ve got crew friends from around the world and there are thousands of us now going into a recession and applying or jobs.
“I’m overqualified and if I try to put together my CV, I haven’t had to do that for 25 years. I’m a stage manager and a back line technician and I’m used to travelling from city to city. They don’t want that at Tesco or Amazon. We are all competing for the same jobs. It’s heartbreaking.”
But despite feeling that her skills and achievements may not be recognised by other employers, Bamo was keen to point out just how many transferable skills she and her colleagues in the industry have.
She said: “We’ve got the most amazing transferable skills – as a stage manager doing 16-18 hour shifts, speaking to local people all over the world, making shows happen, working to a deadline. These are amazing transferable skills. It’s just a different game.”
“I have lost over £40,000 worth of work”
Another person who’s been hit hard in recent months is Laura Davis, a 29-year-old freelance touring audio engineer from Childwall.
Laura was in Australia on a world tour with Mika when she was told she was being sent home and that all work was cancelled for the foreseeable future.
Since then she’s been unable to work. She told the ECHO: ” Currently I have lost over £40k worth of work. This is devastating for people in our industry as we have no idea when our careers are going to start up again.
“Our industry is made up of lots of skilled, creative people who have built up their careers over many years dedicating their lives to what we do.”
She added: “I am a company director of my own Ltd company so this has meant that I can only claim furlough for my wage and not for the dividends of which I pay tax on.
“This means I am receiving less than a sixth of my normal income. Currently I am unable to receive any other help. Many of my colleagues are receiving no help due to the income cap.”
This is a picture that seems to be common across the industry, with schemes seeming differently equipped to support those who are self-employed compared with furloughed workers who are employed by companies.
Jeff Skellon, 59, from Mossley Hill, has worked in merchandising within the music industry for 25 years and he explained that some people have “slipped between the cracks” due to jumping between self-employment and pay-as-you-earn tax
He told me: ” A lot of people out there are struggling.”
“I’m having to sell my family home”
When I started contacted members of Liverpool’s music industry about this piece, Phil Murphy sent me over a CV to help me get an idea of who he is and the work he usually does as a stage manager.
The list of artists reads like the set list for a dream festival, with everyone from David Bowie to Arcade Fire and Kylie Minogue.
He’s even managed the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.
But now Phil, 57, is faced with the heartbreaking reality of having to sell his family home in order to downsize so that, in his words, he can “survive this and ride it out”.
Phil has worked in the music industry since 1984, but he says the global pandemic has “brought his employment to its knees”.
He said: ” There’s n o sign of any touring until next summer. This is the longest I’ve been off work in 35 years.
“This has brought the industry to a standstill – there have been some silly little gimicky shows, so it looks like our business is ticking over but the reality is zero for 99% of us.”
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Phil said he’s been left worrying whether there will be an industry to go back to – and he’s not alone in this.
Mick Winder, 57, is a backline technician who’s worked with the likes of Robbie Williams, Oasis, New Order and Pulp in a live music career than spans more than 30 years.
Like Bamo, Mick pointed to the number of small, local venues that may be forced to close their doors forever due to the current crisis.
Just last month, Liverpool institution The Zanzibar Club announced it would close forever due to the coronavirus, with other venues up and down the country facing the same fate.
Mick said: “Every venue is lying dormant, leaving so many people without any work at all. Look at how small venues have closed down, it’s unbelievable.
“There’s nowhere for young musicians to craft their art, the knock on effect is frightening. I’m completely lost for words as the severity of this situation is heartbreaking.”
In the last six months, Mick says he’s received four “minimal furlough payments” and had been working as a Ltd company of one and paying himself a “small wage” until the pandemic hit.
He said: ” I’ve been massively affected as all of my work is in live music, touring extensively with many major artists. At present there is no clear plan to change this situation meaning we probably won’t get anywhere near our work place for at least another year.
“I have zero income and at present I’m living off savings. I’m not eligible for any grants – this really is a huge strain on my profession as we’ve ground to such an abrupt halt deeming what we do as useless. Mentally I’m hanging in there trying to keep as positive an outlook as I can. “
He added: ” I’m hoping like everyone I know who does what I do that we can get back to doing what we love, we need to be able to provide for our families.”
“The atmosphere wouldn’t be the same”
In August, Boris Johnson approved the gradual re-opening of theatres across England, but this was halted somewhat due to fears over rising infection rates.
The music industry professionals we spoke to were all clear that simply re-opening venues isn’t enough if it’s not financially viable to put on shows with the capacity numbers that would allow social distancing.
Bamo said: “Boris Johnson says ‘we are opening theatres again and gigs again’. You’re going to do that, are you? But as venues and as touring crew we need 90% bums on seats to pay the staff, pay the touring staff, pay the band, pay the promoter.
“How do you do this, Boris? How the hell do you do that at two metres apart? That’s 30% or 40% bums on seats.”
Despite being desperate for her industry to return, Bamo doesn’t want this to happen at the expense of safety or property virus control measures.
What she wants is appropriate support for an industry that can’t fully and meaningfully return while the virus is still spreading.
She said: “I understand that at the minute we can’t open. It’s not going to happen any time soon. My next did is book in next April. I don’t see how it’s going to happen before a vaccine.
“I’m not saying ‘let’s get back to work and fill the venues’, I understand that it’s dangerous. I’m just asking the government to help us out.”
This was echoed by Jeff, who said: ” The support for us is non-existent given how big the industry is. People can socially distance in the pub but in a venue how can that actually work? You’re looking at only allowing a quarter or a third of the people in. Everyone can’t survive on that.
“When you look at what a tour involves and the number of people who need to be paid, the only way would be putting ticket prices up fourfold. The atmosphere wouldn’t be the same so those who could afford it wouldn’t go.”
He added: ” The responsibility has been handed back to the industry which cuts off the support and shifts the blame.”
It’s clear that live music won’t be returning to Merseyside any time soon – at least not in the way most music fans recognise and love.
The experience of going to a gig, singing your heart out, throwing your arms around your mates and escaping for a few hours still feels like a very distant prospect.
And while this is a tragedy for music fans, it’s much more than than for the people who live and breathe the industry, as well as relying on it to support themselves and their families.
For these people, the next few months are a battle for the survival of their careers and their industry more broadly.
If we want to have a vibrant live music scene to come back to one day, their cries for greater support must not fall on deaf ears.