Interview: The Music Industry vs COVID – Barnaby Fairley (Photographer, MCR)

‘I’m alright – I’ve got a skateboard, guitars and some chickens, me. I’m a Yorkshire survivor.’

– Barnaby Fairley, photographer (and Yorkshire survival expert)

Let’s cut back to January 2020. If you’d have said that this would be a topic of conversation in an interview, about the sudden near death of the music industry, as a result of a pandemic that’s killing thousands around the world, I’d have probably said, ‘I think you’ve had enough love, time for you to go home.’

Yet, suddenly, we’ve found ourselves in unusual and unprecedented times; diets are formed of pasta based everything, respiratory illnesses are giving people imaginary bowel issues that require mass stockpiling of toilet paper, and the world has come to a near stand still. Most importantly, jobs have been lost, lives have ended, and times ahead are as unclear as they ever have been.

In the second of our ‘Behind the Sceners’ interview series (read the first with sound engineer, Chris Sherwin, here), I spoke to Barnaby Fairley – a Manchester based photographer and videographer – in order to discover his take on the current crisis within the music industry, and what it means for him. There was, unfortunately, a hell of a lot that I couldn’t keep in the interview, for everyone’s sake – but know, I haven’t laughed that much in a while!

(As with the first interview, it’s worth noting that this interview was done before the lockdown was put in place by the government).

Halyna: For anyone who hasn’t come across your work before, tell us a little about what you do on a day to day basis

Barnaby: I’m a photographer and videographer working mainly in Manchester. I do press shots, music videos for bands and artists, and lots of live gig photography. I’m the best, honestly – you can quote me on that one n’ all!

Halyna: With regards to the current situation, did you notice a gradual decrease in bookings, or was there a sudden point at which they stopped?

 Barnaby: Weirdly, I noticed an increase in bookings at first, then suddenly people started cancelling after the social distancing announcements were made earlier this week. Maybe people wanted to get their new material done in a rush before lockdown or something? Today, I’ve had two shoots cancelled, and I’ve lost out on nearly a grand, just like that!

Photo by Barnaby Fairley: Pete Doherty playing harmonica to a dog backstage (I have so many questions)

Halyna: That sounds like a really difficult position to be in, I’m sorry you’ve had to go through it! How do you feel about going forward?

 Barnaby: Aw don’t be sad mate – I’m a survivor me. Have you never watched Shaun of the Dead? You don’t see people running from Zombies shouting, ‘Oh hang on a minute lad, let me just stop to take a quick press shot before you kill me,’ do you? Plus I’ve got 700 toilet rolls at home. (Disclaimer – definitely a joke. I checked, because I wouldn’t mind a couple to add to my current ‘last one left in the packet’ situation)

There are people dying right now- at least that’s not me yet! I’ve got about two months saved up in me money wise, after that, I’m going to have to say ‘fuck it’ to the rent on this place- let’s hope things get better before then. Think about this for a positive – I’m going to live with three of my boys on my mum’s farm, in the middle of Yorkshire, and we’re going to isolate, but try and have fun while we do. If I die, at least I’ll be by their sides won’t I! (Ok, calm down Morrissey).

Barnaby’s survival whiteboard. Whatever you do, don’t forget the binoculars.

Halyna: Do you think that there is enough protection in place from the government or music industry, for people in your position or similar?

Barnaby: First of all, fuck the Tories. I think that sums up what they are currently doing for freelancers in the music industry or similar positions at the moment. (NB. Interview done on 19/03 – there have been government updates since) The music industry – let’s be honest, it’s struggling to even support itself with all this going on, there’s not much we can do. It’s like trying to get juice out of a lemon that’s already been juiced. You can’t make lemonade out of a dead lemon, can you?

Halyna: You’ve just made up a very Mancunian lyric right there

Barnaby: You’re right actually, it is a bit Manc that isn’t it. I’m going to write that one down. You can’t make lemo…

Halyna: Yesterday we heard that Glasto is cancelled, as well as several other festivals and I’m sure there will be many more to come. Of course, there are the more local festivals, like You Are Not Alone fest (YANA), Off the Record and Neighbourhood – YANA has already been rearranged, but if others need to be rearranged or cancelled in the coming months, what kind of effect will that have on the local music scene and on yourself?

Barnaby: Pretty much, any live music being cancelled is going to affect my income. Especially if the festivals are local, that’s where I’d make most of my money. It will massively affect the venues involved too – all local, small music places aren’t they, so they rely on regular gigs and local bands filling the slots.

Halyna: Is there anything that people can do to support you as a freelancer?

Barnaby: It’s difficult because obviously to shoot a gig, you need the gig to be happening. To do press shots, you need to be working closely with people, and that might not be possible in the next few months if there’s a lockdown. It depends on what your role is within the industry; I guess in my case, people can support me by buying prints of my photos and continuing to make bookings for the future. Same with other photographers I guess. If I do an exhibition, are you going to come?

Halyna: I’ll check my diary, although think I’m busy until 2022.  Talking of the future, are you worried at all about what it has in store for you?

Barnaby: I’m on survival mode now. I’m just taking it as it comes. The thing I’m mostly scared about, is that if all this kicks off, there might just be 4 of us left on a farm in North Yorkshire.

Halyna: Left to repopulate the country?

Barnaby: Exactly. As 4 lads, I think we’ll be pretty fucking useless in that department. Do you want to see my survival plan?

Halyna: Go on…(cut to a FaceTime of Barnaby’s whiteboard survival plan)

Barnaby: Pepper spray, loo roll, lighting, binoculars, skateboarding… (it goes on for a while. A long while. I may or may not have cried laughing)

Halyna: I know this has been widely spoken about, but what do you think will be the biggest effects on the music industry at this point and in the coming months?

 Barnaby: I think the biggest thing, is that it’s all going to be going online. There will be so much more dependence on streaming and less on live gigs for obvious reasons. There’s also the issue of later on, when all this is over – people will be in debt, they wont even have money for rent, let alone money for gigs, or at least for a while. So, it’s hard to know what to expect for my own work and I suppose, when to expect it all to start getting back to normal. It’s all a little uncertain for freelancers, as you’re suddenly not in control of your own future anymore.

Halyna: Do you think this time is going to define an era of music for us?

Barnaby: Songwriting is going to get a whole lot better when people realise that it’s not about a girl who broke their heart in high school. I’m telling you now, punk is coming back. Trust me on that one.

Halyna: Do you think music is important to people at times like this? 

 Barnaby: Me and the boys are going to play together through all this and I’m planning on getting better at guitar. So we’ve definitely got no plans to cut music out of our lives. Music is about energy; it’s about making people feel something.

I’m going to start a Youtube channel just documenting life and tours and that too. I actually used to have a Youtube channel and it got quite popular, but then I found girls.

Barnaby (centre) on tour with Twisted Wheel

Halyna: You must be well versed with the touring scene, having toured Europe with bands like Twisted Wheel – do you think this issue will affect the wider profile of smaller bands and stop them from building a following outside of the UK or even their home town?

Barnaby: Maybe in the immediate situation, but I honestly think that there will be more of a buzz for live music everywhere when all this is over – people want what they can’t have. Right now, people can’t have it. When bands are eventually touring again, I think there will be less of a, ‘let’s go and see them’ attitude, and more of a, ‘we NEED to go and see these guys while they are here’ – if that makes sense? I think it will be positive.

(Get’s out a pack of cards) Right, pick a card, I bet I can guess it…

Safe to say, at this point, Barn’s attention span reached it’s limits and we played a made up game involving some dice and a pack of cards instead.  

Check out his incredible work here – give him a follow and support the freelancers and independent businesses as much as you can!

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