While looking at a musician’s global approach to the pandemic halting live events, artists seem to exist in one of two camps. Either they hunkered down to write a new album or they threw themselves into livestreaming and other virtual platforms to keep their fans engaged. No matter which camp artists found themselves in, the commonality between the two is that 2020 and 2021 was all about preservation rather than a major increase in fanbase or overall popularity. However, there have been a few standout examples of musicians who have embraced the situation and, utilising both virtual, streamed and recorded live performances, have seen a significant increase in their popularity.
One such artist is British singer-songwriter, Arlo Parks. The artist was on tour in the UK working her way round the circuit of 500-capacity venues when live events came to an end. However, since then, she and her wider management team have continued to work, throwing their collective attention on high-level TV spots such as Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, as well as an exclusive Amazon Prime Performance. Due to her growing popularity, she’s now set to headline the 2,000-capacity Shepherd’s Bush Empire for two nights at the end of the year – both of which have already sold out and, at the time of writing, is currently nominated for three BRIT Awards.
Keen to chat to some of the team behind the artist, TPi Editor, Stew Hume jumped on a video call with Tour Manager, Adam Williams; Musical Director and Drummer, James Fernandez; and Audio Engineer, Chris Parker, to talk about this extraordinary success story.
“My team and I at Riverjuke tour management have worked with Arlo throughout lockdown,” stated Williams, who was brought on at the beginning of 2020 to take on the TM role – which resulted in only working 10 live shows with Parks before the UK’s first lockdown came into effect. “Despite this, and the fact that her schedule in 2020 was originally very ‘live orientated’, her popularity has grown so much in the past year to the point she’s now able to sell out Shepherd’s Bush – all without doing a single in-person event.”
Williams was quick to praise the work of the artist’s wider management team and their DIY approach and adaptability as the key to her success during this time. “Ali Raymond and Sarah Rodriguez from BEATNIK have been fantastic throughout the pandemic. They have been really involved with the creative look of all the performances we have done and I love their hands-on approach. It’s a breath of fresh air to work with such creative individuals and despite not having a live show for over 12 months, it doesn’t feel like we have wasted any time.”
Having been brought on for the artist’s Great Escape performance in 2019, Drummer, James Fernandez, as the oldest member of the hired hands, stepped up to fulfil the role of Musical Director. As the focus for the year switched to high-profile streamed and broadcast events, he discussed the differences working in these environments. “I feel you can get away with a bit more when you’re playing live, whereas on a livestream, you know you’ll have to stand by the performance for a long time. That said, I like working in a high-pressure environment and it means when we are finally able to tour, we are going to be a much tighter band.
The MD explained that despite newfound success, Parks had stayed loyal with the band and they have grown as a unit as more opportunities have come their way. “We have added members as the level of shows have increased and are really happy with the line-up for our upcoming schedule.”
On the other end of the audio chain through the past year has been Chris Parker of Patchwork London. “Bringing in the team from Patchwork was a natural fit,” stated Williams, who had collaborated with the audio supplier on a number of other projects over the years. “As I was the first Tour Manager they had worked with, it only made sense to bring in companies and people I trusted and knew I had a good working relationship with. As the pressure of these broadcast events increased, I needed a team we could trust.”
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Parker gave his two cents on what it was like working on broadcast and streamed events rather than his usual live gigs. “The streamed events have been great, although there is a part which feels like they are lacking without the buzz of the audience. It’s a different beast entirely. I almost look at it as the difference between being a studio and live engineer.”
Despite the different setting, Parker explained how Patchwork’s equipment offering was very adaptable to different uses. “We haven’t even had to diversify our stock for these performances and even for these broadcast shows, we’ve kept the same plug-and-play philosophy wherever possible,” stated Parker. “The last thing we would want to do is waste time on site setting up and holding up other departments, so we prep as much as possible in advance.” Parker complemented the work of Fernandez as an MD who came to Patchwork’s HQ to aid the setup of the audio package and their playback package that was required for a number of the shows.
Embracing the unique format of these performances, Williams explained how the design team had approached show design for these shows. “Across the board, all performances last year were not particularly lighting heavy,” he explained. “Sarah Asmail, our Stage and Production Designer, has done some amazing work throughout these shows, creating amazing set elements that really enhance each of the performances.”
He went on to give examples of some of his personal favourite moments including the opening to the Jimmy Fallon show, where they had utilised a flower curtain halfway through the set to reveal the rest of the band. “It’s an element I wonder if we could incorporate to a future live show,” he mused.
Although clearly benefiting from embracing this alternative route of promoting an artist or album, the three members of the Arlo Parks team gave their thoughts on how, moving forward, the artist would maintain these virtual means of playing live. “It’s an interesting question. I think different artists are going to approach how they tour in very different ways,” stated Williams. “What’s interesting with Arlo is that she is a global artist in that she could play in most regions. So, that means that geo-specific streams might be something we look to in the future.”
He also explained that conversations had already begun about how the management team would document the live journey once in-person events return and how videographers and content creators could be used to cater for the at-home audience as well as those returning to venues.
“Where this project is so rare is there is such a clear, creative direction that comes straight from Arlo. She is far beyond her years in content and ability to handle conversations, so it will be exciting to see what she’s like when she is face-to-face in these press interviews as she’s very articulate and passionate. She most certainly can back-up the buzz.”
This article originally appeared in issue #261 of TPi, which you can read here.
Photos: Lauren Harris & Riverjuke