Twickenham music manager on lockdown struggles and hopes for the future

  Posted: 01.03.21 at 14:46 by Stella Tooth

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It’s been a frustrating year for Nina Jackson, Music Manager of iconic music venue the Half Moon Putney.

Before the epidemic restrictions, her job involved booking bands, comedians, and music industry speakers to provide seven-day-a-week live entertainment on a stage often frequented by the Rolling Stones.

Commuting from her Twickenham home, she would consider the shape of the week - from Monday’s new talent, through comedy, to the coveted weekend slots for old hands and tributes, and a jazzier, more mellow feel for
Sunday lunchtimes.

With bands booked in months in advance, slotted around the venue’s festivals, video production bookings and private events (including for Dartford-born Mick Jagger and Keith Richards), she also had a clear view of the shape of the year, with its usual Christmas crescendo.

If you’ve ever attended a gig at the Half Moon, as I have so often since becoming its resident artist in 2016, you will understand why it has hosted household names from The Who, Van Morrison and Bo Diddley to Ed Sheeran and Billy Connolly.

With an audience capacity of 220, it’s an intimate yet vibrant venue where bands quickly establish a rapport with the audience.

But all that changed in mid-March last year. For the first time since it opened in 1963 the Half Moon fell silent.

Nina Jackson with Mungo Jerry at the Half Moon

Nina said: “We closed the venue on 16th March, after a sold-out weekend. I was hearing from friends in Europe about how badly Covid-19 was affecting them and we made the decision to keep our audience, staff and artists safe.

"Of course, by the 23rd March the whole country was in lockdown. We thought it was going to be three weeks but I didn’t return to the venue until September.”

The Half Moon had over 100 shows on sale that had to be rescheduled but, according to Nina, there was a really positive response to the crisis from live music fans, with almost all buyers holding on to their tickets.

So began a cycle of rescheduling and cancelling over 400 shows throughout the year.

Nina added: “Thankfully our audience are amazing, many are regulars, and have asked how else they can help, offering to buy vouchers etc. Plus so many artists have offered to play fundraising or re-opening gigs.

Nina and Stella at Half Moon with Stella’s artwork

"It’s very humbling and a huge relief to know our audience and bands are not going to abandon us during this time.

"By the time the venue was able to open again in October, most of the Half Moon’s shows had been moved twice already.

“Usually we work at least 3-6 months in advance, but I had eight days to book and promote the rest of this year.

We managed to put on nine shows in October and 11 shows in December, all sold out, with another lockdown and more shows rescheduled in between!"

In 2019 the Half Moon hosted 445 shows, with 55,000 people attending. In the last 12 months they managed 20 with 1,000 people.

Nina added: “You can imagine how this has affected our finances alone. Now we are playing the waiting game with everyone else, but the hidden side of it all is how our staff and musicians are coping, mentally and financially.

"Most of the pub staff have been furloughed, but we had to lose everyone on hourly contracts, along with our graphic designer and box office staff.

Half Moon Putney drawing by Stella Tooth

"Our sound engineers are also freelance, like a huge swathe of the music industry, and consequently needed different help and support. Our regular bands have also had no work for a year now."

The worry in the music industry for the future is that so many highly-skilled freelancers and musicians will have had to get other jobs just to survive.

Nina added: “The impact too on mental health cannot be underestimated – I was lucky to have the support of Music Venue Trust, and the Youngs’ social media group, along with my family and friends. I know others have not been so lucky, with many living alone too."

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