What's the future of live music in Norfolk?

Bare Feet Records' live music night at The Bowling House.

Bare Feet Records' live music night at The Bowling House. - Credit: Bare Feet Records

In anticipation of Monday’s freedom Day, LSJ journalism student Danielle Champ, from Norfolk, speaks with local musician and record label owner Alexander Carson about the trials of new musicians and hope for live music’s revival

One of Norwich’s oldest undercrofts has for the last two decades served as a space for artists to share their talents.

Although currently closed, 13 years ago the crypt of Wensum Lodge, known more locally as Jurnet’s Bar, was a cave for upcoming musicians to play to an anonymous crowd. Amongst the line-up was Alexander Carson, who began his musical career beneath the bustle of King’s Street.

The musician, from Gorleston, has, since the age of four, been perfecting his piano-playing, taking this one step further to train in classical music through the University of East Anglia. “The irony is that when I was about 18, I was making these two or three-chord songs on an acoustic guitar, even though the piano was my main instrument. Back then, I was the typical sad boy singing about his feelings,” he admits over the phone. 

If you type his name into Google, the search engine spits back reams of links to Carson’s melancholic music. Over the past three years, he has released two full length albums and a mix of singles and EPs that fall into a hybrid sound of downtempo neoclassicism, which some might attribute to anti-folk. “The idea of the genre is you’re meant to be a bit rubbish, deliberately, which actually suited me fine because back when I started, I didn’t really know what I was doing and I can’t quite sing in tune,” he admits.

But there is another body of work to Carson’s discography; the B-side. Above actively putting his own tunes onto the airwaves, he is also the owner of Bare Feet Records, a label handing out soapboxes to newbie artists and a part of his career that began in a tomb dating back as far as the twelfth century.

Inside the Jurnet’s Bar on King Street, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Inside the Jurnet’s Bar on King Street, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood - Credit: Archant

The 33-year-old was still in Uni when he was given a monthly residency to play at Jurnet’s Bar. “After about four months, I got bored of playing the same set at the Lodge, so I stopped but kept inviting friends to fill my space, and other people would ask if they could play and I guess the label grew from that perspective,” he explains.

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What he describes as an independent platform for struggling bands and artists attempting to release their music to a wider market, began as a duo-venture with a friend who later handed over to Carson, giving him sole ownership.

“Honestly it started as a means to put out my own music, as well as friends. But in those days, we were burning CDs and handing them out at shows; that was the level we were, which ages everything ever so slightly,” he says tongue-in-cheek.

“We were making those little recordings, I was networking and collaborating with people and it made sense to then put on shows to support what we were producing, and the home for those shows became the Birdcage, which now has become a casualty of the pandemic,” he shares.

As the years have progressed, Carson’s profession has taken him across the UK and abroad, as both a performer and a supporter. With a hefty involvement in all aspects of the industry, he has mastered the hustler skills required to bring a show together.

“I like the jitters from the first time I get involved in putting together a show, whether I’m playing or seeing someone else on stage. I think those early beginnings are really exciting because I was there and I understand,” he says, but for some musical novices performing to a live crowd, the experience may be uniquely unnerving.

Norwich-born neo-classical, folk composer and songwriter Alexander Carson. Picture: Emily Buchanan

Norwich-born neo-classical, folk composer and songwriter Alexander Carson. Picture: Emily Buchanan - Credit: Emily Buchanan

Although sites like Soundcloud, YouTube, Instagram or TikTok have given artists the gramophone from which to play their best sounds, they have also eroded at their confidence to craft and deliver a live show. According to Carson, “there aren’t enough grassroots, earnest, loving environments for artists to cut their teeth and that’s what I want to provide.”

So, when in late May the UK’s easing of lockdown restrictions allowed bars and restaurants to open up their doors again, Bare Feet Records made a move to plug Norfolk’s artists back into public speakers.

Carson teamed up with the Bowling House to produce Sunday session set lists of both local and out-of-town acts, which he claims has been a great success. “It was one of the first places to be putting on live shows and basically, the plan was to have live music at the Bowling House every Sunday from now until the end of time,” he declares.

Sam Leonard, who manages marketing for the Bowling House and produces his own music under the name True Adventures, says that the past year has shown the importance of live events and in-person experiences. “It’s made us all realise that a lot of work goes into putting on a gig and a lot of people rely on that income.

Also, the creative industry has played a big part in helping people through this crisis, so it’s vitally important that we give back and support it now.” 

By the end of May, the first three shows hosted by the bar were sold out, a sign that the Norwich folk are grateful for music’s returning debut.

From an artist’s perspective, the effort that bookers and promoters put into securing an audience in for a show is appreciated to guarantee the show runs as smooth as possible. 

Zoe Mead, a Swindon-born musician known by her stage name Wyldest, was one of the first artists to be travelling to Norfolk since the Covid-19 crisis. She highlights that because the entire music ecosystem relies heavily on everyone to play their part well, it is encouraging to see a team come together to support and prioritise the success of the show. 

Journalist Danielle Champ

Journalist Danielle Champ - Credit: Danielle Champ

“I’ve seen all the people involved be really proactive and promoting and it’s really exciting to open up for venues like the Bowling House and get people back in.

“Of course, it is so important that everybody stays safe but it is also really exciting that venue managers are finding ways to kick start live gigs again.”

During a climate in which the entertainment industry is constantly on edge for fear of sudden cancellations and further restrictions, it seems quintessential to make the most of the opportunities to support and be part of live gigs. According to their Facebook page, the reopening of Jurnet’s bar is still pending; a grave reminder of how far-reaching the Covid-19 consequences continue to stretch, and the social life that has been left behind. 

However, recent events have shown murmurs of normality’s faint heartbeat. Despite the disappointing result of the Euro 2020 final, it was refreshing to see clusters of humans again. Seeing stadiums filled, albeit socially distanced and groups gathering safely to celebrate is an optimistic sight that there may be new life in how we come together to support talent; a sentiment Carson strongly believes in, “I think we need to fill the proverbial pool of music in Norfolk with new and louder sounds.”

As July 19 looms closer, people like Carson are determined to do what is necessary to help bring the Norfolk music scene back to life and what seemed like a morbid beginning could end on a more hopeful note.

If you’d like to get in touch with Alexander Carson, email him at Alexander@alexander carsonmusic.co.uk or catch him live at the Sanctuary Café on July 30.