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Meet the ex-pats teaming up to help bands and musicians get their big break

Little Concert has formed a unique partnership with national charity Help Musicians UK

By Stephanie Bell

Down-on-their-luck Northern Ireland musicians could be about to get their big break thanks to two passionate ex-pats.

A company called Little Concert has formed a unique partnership with national charity Help Musicians UK, which launched here in November.

Heading up the local branch of the charity as director is Christine Brown, who is originally from Lisburn but is based in London, where she also works as Help Musicians UK’s director of external affairs.

Driving the partnership with Little Concert is musician Michael Turkington, who hails from Belfast but like Christine is based in London.

Together they are hoping to be a formidable force in helping musicians get their careers off the ground.

Help Musicians will also support performers who fall on hard times, either through illness or personal reasons.

The charity has been working with artists in Great Britain since 1921, but only moved here two months ago, setting up in Belfast’s Oh Yeah Music Centre.

Christine, 34, studied music in London and stayed there to pursue her dream of working in the industry.

She joined the charity in 2009 and is thrilled to have the chance to work more closely with musicians back home.

Hitting the ground running, the charity got involved in the annual Independent Venue Week by staging three gigs in Belfast this month. Last year, there was just one.

“Northern Ireland has always been part of our remit, but we realised that a small percentage of our output was actually going here,” Christine explains.

“We have a huge amount of talent here and I’ve long wanted to be part of helping to promote and support it.

“We have lots of plans to invest in the musical infrastructure here, looking at the needs of artists and the industry.

“We will also be fundraising, and every penny raised will stay in Northern Ireland.

“We will be introducing the Three for Three scheme, which will see us invest in three bands or artists for three years.

“We will be listening to what the industry needs and responding to those needs.”

The charity also aims to plug some of the gaps created by funding cuts to the arts in recent years, and venues as well as artists will benefit from the extra investment. In total, Help Musicians plans to invest £150,000 in the music industry here this year, on top of the money brought in through fundraising events.

But it is not all just about grants. The charity also has a huge focus on health and supporting artists through illness.

One of the artists to benefit was rock guitarist Henry McCullough, who died last June aged 72. The music legend, who grew up in Portstewart, recorded with top musicians including Sir Paul McCartney and toured with rock greats Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.

Hearing loss is among the most common issues the charity deals with. “Musicians are five times more likely to experience tinnitus than anyone else and really need to put protective measures in place as they get older,” Christine says.

“We run a musicians’ hearing scheme that allows music industry professionals to pay £40, for which they get an appointment with an audiologist who supplies hearing protection worth up to £600.

“In 2016, we helped over 1,500 people through the scheme. Hearing is one of musicians’ main tools and they really need to look after it.”

Delighted to see the launch of the charity’s local branch is Turkington, 28, a musician with the London-based Orlando Seale And The Swell group who also works for Little Concert, which he calls the musical equivalent of Airbnb.

The firm aims to link musicians with people who want to book them for private parties or concerts.

In November, he helped organise 10 gigs in four days at venues across Belfast to help mark the opening of Help Musicians’ Northern Ireland office.

Michael, whose band plays sell-out shows across Europe with their mix of orchestra and indie-punk, studied music at Edinburgh University, moving to London five years ago to seek a job.

With music a notoriously tough industry to break into, he knows the struggles facing many of his fellow artists, so he is thrilled to have the chance to help them.

“In the music business, it is passion that drives you,” he says. “Especially with London, it’s a very hard place to live because of the costs. To live and work here, you have to be very frugal.

“But we have such good music and talent coming out of Belfast. Being from the city, it is a real privilege for me to be able to help these musicians through Little Concert and through our collaboration with Help Musicians.

“It was great to be involved in the launch in November. We had 10 concerts across Belfast that we filmed.

“They were staged in a variety of venues, which showed that live music can be booked anywhere and there is so much live music out there.

“They were all up and coming performers, and that is what it is all about — trying to get them paid gigs and recognition.

“It is a new partnership with the charity and we are looking forward to what we can do with them in the year ahead.

“For me, it is so fulfilling and incredibly rewarding to be put in the position where I can do something to help other musicians to try and make an impact.

“I thoroughly enjoy it and I am so lucky, it doesn’t feel like I go to work anymore.”

Michael hopes that through their work, Little Concert and Help Musicians can give local artists a leg-up.

“People don’t know how to go about booking a musician, and what we do is service that marketplace,” he says of Little Concert.

“There is a huge demand for and supply of musicians, especially with undiscovered talent.

“The way Little Concert works is that musicians represent themselves and set their own prices and the areas they are prepared to play in.

“We have this big map of the world with musicians dotted all over the place, and people can search for a performer in their area.

“We have already joined up musicians and venues across Northern Ireland. Being from the city, I know how many good musicians we have and it is great to have the chance to help them.”

For more details on Help Musicians, visit helpmusicians.org.uk. For more information on Little Concert, www.littleconcert.com. Watch the campaign video at https://youtu.be/vZMVYNI3kM8

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