New busking project brings live music back to Southampton

Black Kat Boppers

A new busking project has been launched in Southampton, bringing a programme of live music to the city centre in celebration of the city’s musical diversity.

Commissioned by GO! Southampton, the city’s Business Improvement District (BID), and delivered by SoCo Music Project with support from Solent University, the project offers an alternative platform for artists to perform in Southampton, at a time when the city’s live music and performance venues are largely unable to open due to social distancing requirements.

The busking project kicked off on the August Bank Holiday weekend with performances on Above Bar Street from Poly Gone Wrong and Black Kat Boppers. Forming part of GO! Southampton’s city centre recovery plan, it is one of a series of planned activations aiming to animate public spaces to create a more vibrant city centre experience for visitors, workers and residents returning to Southampton post-lockdown.

As well as live music the performances, which are taking place in approved city-centre busking locations, will also incorporate spoken word and street theatre. Acts, most with Southampton connections, have been carefully selected by SoCo Music Project to ensure a diverse and high-quality range of performances are delivered. Artists are receiving a small fee for performing which falls in line with the values and principles that will be displayed throughout Southampton’s bid to become UK City of Culture in 2025. The project will not only help to support the music and creative industries, it will also aim to  kickstart a busking economy in the city.

Matt Salvage, Chief Executive at SoCo Music Project said: “The music and performance industries have faced incredible challenges throughout the pandemic. As we start to emerge from these challenging and unprecedented times, we are excited to be working with GO! Southampton and Solent University to bring live music and performance back to the city centre.

“As well as animating the city it provides much needed performance opportunities for artists, introducing them to new audiences and bringing the streets to life with music, spoken word and theatre. We’ve a vibrant schedule over the next few months with something for everyone, we hope you are able to visit the city and discover something new.”

As well as supporting Southampton’s present-day live music industry, the project will also shine a spotlight on the city’s rich music heritage, which is often overlooked or understated, with little known facts to be promoted via the Visit Southampton website and social media channels.

Prof Martin James, Professor of Creative and Cultural Industries at Solent University commented: “From folk song to the rhymes of grime, reggae’s roots to the UK’s new jazz scene, Southampton has a richly diverse music heritage that often goes unnoticed and, at times, has become hidden.

“Solent University has a long-standing interest in Southampton’s music past and present and is committed to supporting a healthy and sustainable music scene that can build on this rich but hidden heritage. We are delighted to be working with GO! Southampton and SoCo Music Project in support of this busking initiative and feel sure that it will bring a fresh focus on the power of the city’s amazing music talent.”

With many of the artists participating in the project ordinarily regular performers in Southampton’s live music venues, it is hoped the initiative will also help to encourage audiences back to those venues once they are able to reopen. UK Music states that, nationally, the core live music industry, which directly generates £1.1billion to the economy, stands to lose at least £900million if it remains closed for the rest of 2020, with 90% of grassroots music venues facing the threat of closure.

Giles Semper, Executive Director at GO! Southampton said: “I’m afraid that our city centre retail core has become more associated with illegal money-raising activities than with welcome activities like busking. We wanted to change that. We are also desperately keen to support the city’s incredible musical talent at a time when its usual platforms have been closed.

“We strongly encourage people who enjoy seeing an act’s busking performance in the city centre to go and support them when they’re back on the bill at a Southampton venue in future. We also endorse UK Music’s ‘Let The Music Play’ campaign, which calls for a bespoke range of support measures for the live music industry.”

Busking performances will take place in the city centre on selected weekends until at least the end of December. Other projects within the BID’s city centre recovery plan include a range of initiatives to facilitate more art in public spaces and supporting ZoieLogic Dance Theatre’s new socially distanced community dance initiative, ‘The Grid Experience’.