The best online livestreams through lockdown.

Happy New Tier!

Or, that’s what everyone was tweeting as the clock struck twelve and marked the beginning of 2021. It was funny the first time, I’m sure.

Yes, it can feel disheartening that the pandemic the Prime Minister assured us would be over in 12 weeks is still stopping us from doing pretty much bloody everything (unless you’re a Covid truther lunatic like some famous musicians), but we must remember that these bizarre circumstances brought about some really special moments of creativity in the last year or so. This list is in celebration of the best livestream moments indie music had to offer in 2020. I’m not talking about your old uni mates who went live from their bedroom with an acoustic guitar one time in April (although I am guilty of such misdeeds); this is to highlight the times where the spirit of musicians and music lovers shone through, giving us something to dance about and often helping good causes in the process.

Almost enough to make you feel hopeful.

Now, by no means complete and in no particular order, a selection of some of the best gigs we didn’t go to, but still enjoyed the hell out of in the year that wasn’t.

Frank Turner – Independent Venue Love/Crew Benefit Gigs (Recurring, March – December 2020)

It’s been said that if you stand still in any city in the world for long enough, you will eventually find yourself in the middle of a Frank Turner show. Such is the folk-punk-turned-arena-sellout’s work ethic, he literally never seems to stop playing shows. With that in mind, why would you expect him to let something like a pandemic get in the way?

From the beginning of Lockdown #1, Turner entertained fans with a series of acoustic living room sets, stripping back the bells and whistles as he played reworked versions of some of his classic albums, as well as lesser-heard rarities. These weekly shows were a roaring success among his rabid fanbase, and more importantly raised over £150,000 for a selection of independent music venues across the country in the process. More recently, Turner assembled his band The Sleeping Souls for a full stage production on his birthday at the end of December, splitting the profits from the ticketed stream with his regular road crew.

Frank Sidebottom’s 10th Anniversary (June 20th 2020)

From one famous Frank to another…

June 2020 marked a decade since the world lost the big-headed genius known as Frank Sidebottom – when his equally legendary alter ego Chris Sievey passed away aged just 54. Festivities in Sidebottom’s native Timperley were planned to mark the anniversary, but came to a halt for the obvious reasons.

Instead, his family and some close collaborators teamed up with Wigan’s Old Courts venue to put together a unique live screening of some of Sidey’s greatest moments, deleted scenes from the hit documentary ‘Being Frank’ and some unseen works that Sievey created without Frank. The result was a madcap cornucopia of laughs, music and often bafflement that lasted most of the day. A fitting, ace and top tribute to a true legend, the whole event can be viewed here.

Virtual Open Mic Nights (Recurring, March 2020 – present)

The benefits of open mic nights are always hotly-debated within music circles. On the one hand, they’re a vital variety show, a stage for up-and-comers to cut their teeth. On the other hand, they’re often an excuse to avoid paying musicians, and nobody needs to hear another cover of any Ed Sheeran song. Ever.

Focusing on the high points of the medium, the unique art of the open mic night was one missed by many musicians and spectators alike when the world stopped doing stuff back in March last year. The answer? Virtual open mics, of course! Detractors may cringe at the thought, but this format gave grassroots musicians an avenue to keep honing their craft throughout lockdown(s), and maybe even a chance to widen their audience base while doing so.

In the first lockdown, there were many attempts to nail down the formula, with the likes of indie legend Ian Prowse’s famous Monday Club at Liverpool’s Cavern Pub embarking on a short-lived but enjoyable run in virtual form.

Ian Prowse entertaining a virtual Cavern audience. (Click for video)

When venues (briefly) reopened in August, this particular format largely came to an end, but not quite; hosts like Manchester label Bread Records have kept their weekly slots open to make sure people still have a corner of the internet to come and flex those musical muscles. The humble acoustic livestream isn’t for everyone, but you can’t argue with the quality of talent some of these nights have showcased.

Salt Sweat Sugar – Virtual Clubnights (Recurring, May 2020 – present)

So, we all managed to get our fix of live music during lockdown, whether it was touring-circuit superstars or grassroots up-and-comers plying their trade through livestreams of varying sizes; but what about clubs? There is nothing like that feeling of finally getting the DJ to spin your tenth request of the night, while disco lights follow you in a drunken haze to the beat. That’s something you can’t get in your living room – right?

Well, not quite. DJs across the world managed to transfer their craft to the small(est) screen in 2020, offering viewers across the world a bedroom disco. Many could have made this list, but what makes the work of Manchester clubnight Salt Sweat Sugar stand out is that their playlists have truly offered something for everyone, and thrown in enough interactivity to keep things entertaining.

Hosting regular all-nighters on Twitch, DJ Tom Hardwick bounces between the night’s signature pop-punk and emo, classic alternative rock, right through to hip-hop and even dance-pop floorfillers. Requests are encouraged and the vibe is supplemented with a busy chatroom. All the energy of a night out, none of the hassle of getting your glad rags on. Winner.

United We Stream (Recurring, March 2020 – present)

The biggest project on this list, United We Stream was borne of two objectives: to reclaim club culture, and raise a shit ton for good causes. Since March, it has done both on a massive scale.

Starting as a solidarity campaign in Berlin, various cities embraced the combination of fundraising and bangin’ tunes; Manchester’s wing of the operation, however, took on a life of its own. Spearheaded by ubiquitous Nighttime Economy Adviser Sacha Lord, UWS Greater Manchester organised a seemingly never-ending series of livestreams featuring far, far too many big names to mention here. Elbow? Check. The Killers? Sure. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham? Yeah, he did a DJ battle with his Liverpool counterpart Steve Rotheram. The list goes on – in fact, they recently tweeted the full roll-call of (nearly 450) performers.

Crucially, these livestreams supported UWS’s solidarity fund for people in Manchester’s music industry with a set of grants. Not only that, but they threw some money at a collection of worthy charities as well – an utterly staggering total of £580,000 was raised, with their Hacienda 24-hour New Year’s Eve party alone bringing in over £100,000 of that. Absolutely top effort.