Q&A with Scott McKeon from Rusty Shackle

It would be a huge understatement to say that COVID- 19 has negatively affected pretty much everyone unless your name happens to be Jeff Bezos!

Whereas a large proportion of the country are getting back to a semi recognisable version of normality, or the “new normal” as it has been tagged, the future is uncertain at best and at worse, bleak, for musicians, grass root venues and anyone connected to the industry outside major record labels and arena sized venues.

Scott McKeon is fiddle/banjo player in Caldicot indie folk band Rusty Shackle, a music teacher by trade and co-organiser of Devauden Festival. There are few people better placed to talk about how the pandemic is affecting the industry and what a recovery may look like.

Music has been a massive chunk of your life since, well, forever! How has COVID- 19 affected you and Rusty Shackle?

It’s tricky to write these things without it coming across all “woe is me”. The whole world is in this mess and I’m lucky enough to have a roof over my head and good people around me. With that caveat, my whole existence evolves around music really and my day to day has changed in a big way. From a performing perspective, we had a U.K tour cut short back in March and then obviously a full summer of Festivals pulled. We were lucky enough to get out to play a folk music conference in New Orleans back in January but budgeting doing certain things as a musician often relies on other bookings paying off such trips that further your career. Needless to say, it’s still not paid off. I also work/worked as a peripatetic music teacher for Gwent Music specialising in teaching full classes Celtic Music. I’ve gone from teaching over 600 children a week to squeezing in one or two evening zoom lessons to students after working a full day in a new job I’ve picked up. 

Image courtesy of Nadine Ballantyne

As the organiser of an established “small festival”, what impact does the cancellation of this year’s festival have on the community, artists and the future of Devauden festival?

Every festival booker says this but I genuinely believed we had the best line-up we’ve ever had all booked and ready to go. The decision to pull the festival was heart breaking, but we all knew it was the correct thing to do. The village community on that weekend in May is immense and it’s incredible seeing people come together essentially for the sake of making other people happy. We’ve taken a financial hit on some deposits but hoping we can recover it at Devauden 2021 if the world is working by then. 

How do you think a lack of festivals and functioning venues may hinder the development of emerging talent?

I really worry for emerging talent post COVID. The venues that are surviving (just) have now shifted 2020 bookings into 2021. The diaries for these venues are now chocka and it’ll be dog eat dog with bands competing for these gigs. Naturally promoters will opt for established bands who will sell tickets and the emerging acts will struggle to get gigs with this knock down affect. The hope is that everyone will be gagging to get out and experience live music so it might just take some creative thinking from bands/promoters at the grass roots level. 

I’ve seen some artists and venues announce shows as early as September. Is this a little ambitious perhaps? 

It’s a tricky one that’d have to be taken case by case really. I recently attended a “drive-in” gig that had all the promise of a creative way around the restrictions. Unfortunately, within two or three songs a sizeable chunk of the audience left their car spaces and just headed down to the stage and treated it like a festival gig pre 2020 (remember them?) jumping around shoulder to shoulder. 

On the flip side, I’ve seen evidence of quieter acts playing to sat down distanced audiences that appeared to work well. 

Image courtesy of Nadine Ballantyne

Given the precarious state grass roots music potentially finds itself in, how do you think the government has handled the situation?

It’s easy to point fingers in these situations, and I’m gonna point one! They’ve dealt with it horribly. Looking around at neighbouring European countries, the arts were supported from early doors. I have no idea why it took the UK government so long to make the decision to help the sector out. The funding was a huge help but for many venues the damage was already done. 

Have you noticed anything positive to come from COVID- 19? What positives may come from this in the future?

The connection between artist and fans has definitely become visibly stronger online. It’s really heartening seeing punters reaching out and actively asking how they can support musicians financially simply because they care. 

I think people have realised how much they have relied on music to get them through tough times or even to elevate good times and I hope this recognition follows through post COVID. 

Mostly, I think the world stopping and having a breather can’t have been a bad thing. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and I for one will definitely live in the moment more at every gig I play or attend after all of this. The music will never stop. 

Gavin Facey10/10/2020

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