Summer is usually the busiest season for The Kimberleys, a folk duo from Blackheath. This year was looking to be no different with a packed tour diary and gigs planned in all corners of the country.
But when the government imposed a lockdown on March 23 following the spread of Covid-19, the couple dutifully retreated into their homes and away from their fans.
But just a few days later, while the weather was still wintry and the skies still grey, the musical duo picked up their guitars with a message to the world: The show would go on.
Since then, Isobel and Jim Kimberley have recorded 50 videos for their Songs from the Balcony series where they play one classic folk song each day.
“It’s common for us to be sat here on the balcony rehearsing new material. There we were doing that and we thought, why not stick up a phone and record? It went really well, we got a heck of a response when we posted it,” said Jim.
Their videos, which they post on their YouTube channel, have a devoted following, with some fans telling them that hearing a new song is the highlight of their day.
“In a space of one or two days, our entire spring and summer work was just cancelled. It was all pulled from us which is a shame because there were some venues I was really excited to get into,” said Isobel.
Nestled in between pots of sprouting lettuce leaves and pea plants outside their front door, The Kimberleys have transformed from a touring band used to life on the road to one comfortable performing in front of a camera.
Their first video, a rendition of The False Bride, a folk song on lost love from the 17th century, was filmed on a phone propped up by a jar of decaffeinated coffee. Their videos became more complex after a few days with Jim hanging his phone off a coat hanger to get a wide angle shot.
“The amount of support, not just forgiveness for being on the noisy side from our neighbours, has been fantastic. A little girl started picking flowers and throwing them to us when coming by. She was very sweet,” said Isobel.
She added: “By not being on the road, we have been able to focus entirely on music. No time out of our day has been spent on booking gigs, travelling, and doing promo for gigs. We’ve been able to concentrate entirely on being musicians which has been absolute bliss. We come out in the morning with a cup of coffee and we’re here for hours.”
The couple have been able to survive financially because of “support from our fans” which saw their online CD sales spike even as their tour dates were cancelled.
While they qualified for the government’s self-employment support scheme, a few of their supporters told them they would cover their mortgage payments if necessary – an offer they haven’t had to take up.
But Jim said he was “pessimistic” about when they would return to gigging in pubs and venues.
He said: “A pub will book a band because they want to pack the place, but if that’s no longer allowed or safe, it instantly makes the appeal of having a band less appealing to the bar. I don’t know how we’ll get past that.”
In the meantime, The Kimberleys have paused their balcony series to work on recording their new album.
A couple of miles away in Deptford, Lucy Alexander, a music teacher and one half of the noise band Scrounge, has also adapted to streaming songs online.
“The first thing we did after we realised all our bookings were cancelled was some online stuff. It’s been quite good doing online gigs because people interact with you. We found out that our fan base isn’t strictly from London and there were people popping up from America,” said Lucy.
Lucy and her bandmate Luke Cartledge have hosted live acoustic sets on their social media platforms and raised money through record sales for social justice organisations that are supporting Black Lives Matter protesters in the US.
Her band, along with around 30 other artists, also produced an album as a “surprise present” for Sister Midnight Records, ta venue and record shop in Tanners Hill, Deptford, after it was threatened with closure during lockdown. The musicians managed to raise £700 in just two days for the venue.
She said: “Lockdown has mainly been about fighting to keep the places we love open. I think our next gig will be in 2021. I worry about the venues that we love and we’ll continue to do fundraisers for them.”
EMILY FINCH is a former reporter for the Islington Tribune.
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