Paul Sartin on gardening leave
Bellowhead founder, Faustus and Belshazaar's Feast musician on lockdown in Whitchurch
Oboist, singer, traditional violinist, competent pianist and swanee whistle virtuoso, Paul Sartin is a
prolific and highly-regarded performer, composer, arranger and teacher. He is a founding member of the award-winning ensembles Belshazzar’s Feast, Faustus and the late Bellowhead. Last year Paul was playing to packed-out venues around the country. But fast forward 12 months and he – along with every other musician – is now having to think outside the box.
DAN COOPER caught up with the Whitchurch musician in lockdown, to chat about online gigs, the future of the music industry, how he’s adapting to life in lockdown and what he thinks will be the new ‘normal’
PAUL Sartin is perhaps best known as a founding member of Bellowhead, the popular 11-piece ensemble that won eight BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards between 2004 and 2016. He also performs and records extensively with Belshazzar’s Feast and Faustus. In addition, he edits publications of music manuscripts, delivers workshops and is consultant and director of the Andover Museum Loft Singers.
What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on you as a musician?
As the vast majority of my work is live, my diary has been almost entirely emptied until at least September. Concerts, festivals, visits to elderly care and special needs settings, and teaching have all gone. It’s pretty scary, not just financially, but in terms of career. That being said, neither I nor any of my family and friends have come down with Covid-19, and that is the most important thing.
Do you miss touring and playing to the crowd?
I’ve had three tours cancelled, which is obviously very disappointing. But there have been loads of online initiatives, and last week I played two live solo gigs (my first ever). One was for Oxford Folk Weekend and around 300 people tuned in. As it was on Zoom I could see everyone and have interaction, take questions etc. Loads of family and friends turned up, from school friends to neighbours, and old friends in Canada. It was amazing.
And I also played for a mini-festival for friends who run a pub in Croydon. It’s like gigging but without all the driving and I get to sleep in my own bed every night.
So how else have you been using your lockdown time?
We’re blessed to have a garden and fields behind us, so we can always escape. I’ve been gardening almost every day – my herbaceous borders are coming along a treat. We have a dog too, who loves his walks and who keeps us sane.
I’ve had loads of time to work on my solo repertoire, which is a new thing. And I’m planning some digital sessions and recordings with my band Faustus and other musicians. I’ve been learning new tech, rehearsing my choir (the Andover Museum Loft Singers) online and generally keeping very busy.
And you’ve started the Covid concertina sessions?
On Christmas Day when I was 18, I found a concertina in my aunt and uncle’s loft and I’ve had it ever since – I just never got round to learning it, so now is a perfect time. It’s always good to learn new skills, although I’m not yet very skilful. One of my friends in Oxford is teaching himself too, so we’ve been keeping in touch and having a laugh. I thought I’d post some videos of my progress to cheer people up, and give myself an incentive. They seem to be popular on social media. Everyone knows it’s not very serious and in the spirit of fun, so I’ve had loads of hilarious comments. Some
are supportive. Others have told me to not give up the day job.
Do you think the music industry will change going forward?
The mainstream music industry was already moving towards more online content, streaming and so forth. For the folk world it’s been a kick in the pants for us to get our act together and it’s really working. Gigs, collaborations, videos – we’re learning fast, and I imagine this will become a bigger part of what we do, even when live work restarts.
What are your plans for the coming months?
More of the same. I’ve got more online solo gigs coming up and I hope that these will become a regular fixture. Both Faustus and my duo Belshazzar’s Feast are working on online content and music videos. I’ve got some arrangements to write and will be giving online lessons.
Other than that, dog walking, taekwondo... and lots more gardening.
What has been the hardest part of lockdown for you?
I’ve really missed not seeing my boys – we’re all spread out and the two eldest have flown the nest.
I’ve also found it hard to establish a routine, but that’s a work in progress...
What positives have you taken from it?
This has been a real coming together of communities. The folk music world is so supportive, putting on gigs and raising money. My community choir has rallied round. And here in Whitchurch we have a network delivering shopping, collecting prescriptions, putting on Facebook events like quizzes, cookery and yoga, and generally looking after each other.
I hope that this continues when we get back to ‘normal’.