Bob Hedger (aka Jah Buddha), musician, in Paris in Covid Times
Covid Introduction from Alan Dearling
I know Bob through his involvement in the Glissando Guitar Orchestra and in Phaselock with his mate, Pascal Vaucel. I love his psychedelic floating soundscapes. World music that is uplifting, mesmeric and brings a smile…we need more of this…Phaselock: https://youtu.be/KJH9BkcfykM
Like so many creators, musicians, artists and staffers of gigs and festivals across the world, Bob has had an abysmal soul-crushing 2020. Bob and myself would normally be criss-crossing paths in the UK and Europe at festies and gigs. We’re both part of the extended family of old Freak sisters and brothers. But the best we’ve managed during Covid-times is to keep in touch through Facebook and exchange a few rants, links and updates on ‘what we cannot do’! But my friends are beginning to suffer the same finger-wagging criticism and in-fighting that is befalling communities and society generally across Planet Earth. At the beginning of the lockdown there were many signs of kindness, love, caring and some potentially positive moves towards a new more compassionate world. But that seems to have changed. Now, seemingly more and more folk are looking to air their grievances and criticisms. Sharing conflicting theories, ideologies and information on Covid and responses to it. Everyone has chosen their own experts. Or, so it seems. Very sad.
Before handing you over to Bob, here are some examples of material that has been shared with me in good faith (even if tongue-firmly-in-cheek). Each piece of the Covid jigsaw seems reasonable enough. But in many cases it is making us more angry, frightened, frustrated and unstable. What is Real? What is Mis-information? What is downright Fake?
Worryingly, mental health issues are increasingly to the fore. Friends and family members are increasingly arguing, loudly disagreeing and finding faults in each others’ behaviours. Communities are being split apart. There’s more building of barriers. Responses to new government rules and recommendations appear to be about spreading ‘distrust’, ‘disunity’, a growing ethic of shop-thy-neighbour, with each set of new rules, tiers and restrictions. Perhaps more than ever before, we need positivity, inclusivity, communality and compassion.
Our future, the Brave New post-Covid World is looking like an ever more dystopian nightmare…rather than an opportunity to re-learn and re-think our beliefs and behaviour. Luckily, there are still a few more humorous moments…chinks of light in the ever-darkening skies of gloom and doom.
Alan Dearling is proud to be receiving some support for his creative writings from his European friends in Lithuania during the Covid pandemic.
Bob Hedger (Jah Buddha) tells us:
Gigs, working on, going to, playing. Gigs must be at least how 80% of my time is filled. Since March there have been no gigs, so no work, no live expression, no downtime pleasure. I live in Paris and even though outside of France I am considered to be a musician, here in, what is my chosen home, I make a living as a stage and events manager, machinist and sometimes as a local crew roady. I began to suspect that this COVID 19 thing was going to be something different back in January. The indicators that I picked up on were that my fellow crew members were treating this very seriously and already social distancing. No handshakes on meeting at work or on leaving was a big red flag as this is such a part of social behaviour and politeness. This for crew members, myself included, was pretty uncommon behaviour as we usually just soldier on through illness and injury with little or no change to our ‘normal’ routines. So this was very different.
Work kept coming in and I was in that midseason fatigue state that often occurs at the end of winter and talking about needing a break. Then, in February, gigs started to get postponed, by the 1st of March gigs were getting cancelled and there were noises coming from government that strict measures were likely to come in, but no-one had any idea of what that could possibly be. I watched out for myself, hand-sanitiser, keeping a distance but I’d still go out for a beer after a particularly hard job. At that point there was no suggestion of any of gigs that I had lined up in the UK (as a musician) being cancelled. Then on March 10th everything here in France was cancelled and we went into a lockdown. A document was needed to justify any excursion from one’s home and there were very strict criteria, the police were everywhere carrying out random checks to make sure that you had the right authorisation. Paris ground to a halt. The parks were closed as were bars and restaurants, cinemas, theatres, concert venues etc. An incredible peaceful calm descended on this noisy city. Summer seem to come early as March was sunny and warm.
I was exhausted from too much work so I was happy to have a break. I have a balcony that I would sit and read on, soaking up the sun and fresh air. The smells from the closed park opposite where I live were amazing, like being in the countryside. The silence meant that birdsong and the geese in the lake would be the soundtrack of each day. My days are ones where normally I either play/practice/record music or I am working. There’s no way of fitting both into 24 hours which meant that I had a lot of unfinished projects that I wanted to get on with so that I could move on. I saw this downtime as an opportunity to recharge the internal batteries and get on with catching up on musical projects that had been in various states of completion for over a year. I also could now do some serious practice for a concert that was booked in Rugeley UK on March 21st. The gig got pulled as the UK followed France into lockdown. As I’d fully prepared for it, I recorded a live set and offered it to the organisers as a gift for all the ticket holders.
Then the idea of doing an Easter Sunday Glissando Guitar Orchestra performance of Daevid Allen’s ‘7 Drones’ live online came up. Easter Sunday is when Daevid had his initial vision back in the ‘60s and we, members of GGO, thought that the world needed some positive healing vibrations generated. So began two weeks of online rehearsals. It was so great to see all the other members of the Orchestra. It was via the internet but after a few sessions it was as close to being together as it could be. The banter, the jokes, the catching up, the silly disguises that some would wear for the rehearsals all lifted the spirits. We tried several online platforms to get the thing sounding right. Our long suffering sound engineer Jay Cantebrigge took on all the technical trouble-shooting, organisation of sessions and configuring each musicians’ internet and audio equipment. It was a huge task. In the end we went with Zoom but it was fraught with problems. It was the only platform that didn’t completely fail us during the weeks of trials. While we were slightly disappointed by the audio quality of Zoom, the audience response made it all worthwhile. It brought us all ‘up’ and it seemed to be exactly what people needed.
I continued to record live improvisations and every now and then releasing them on Bandcamp for free download. Work had now postponed until at least the autumn but the French government begrudgingly intervened so that the private insurance that we in the entertainment industry have to pay into (I know it’s a weird one but it makes sense when you really look into it) would cover us for the lockdown period. It helps but only covers 2/3rds of my normal earnings so things were getting tight. Then something totally unexpected happened, people began to pay for the free downloads. On Bandcamp there’s a free or you can pay what you want option. For May, June and July revenue from Bandcamp just about covered the missing 3rd. It also meant that as this was my only earnings, I could psychologically call myself a professional musician again. I know that it’s splitting hairs but it’s very good for the morale. I’ve kept up the output and had time to go through old files that were spattered all over sd cards, hard disks, mini discs and put together a few ‘Archive’ releases and I also had time to bring out double album of rare tracks combined with some remixes and remasters of my earlier stuff that I wasn’t happy with. Time was usefully filled up and I honestly couldn’t even begin to suffer from being bored. As one project finished then another one would pop up.
At the end of June thoughts and online chat began to turn to the subject of this year’s Kozfest, the 10th anniversary edition. All the bands and organisers were loosely throwing around the ideas about maybe doing something on line. Nothing concrete was decided but then at the start of July we heard that Kozmik Ken had died. This was and is still, devastating news. It made putting on some sort of musical event even more important, the outcome was that it was decided to put together an online Kozfest in his honour. I spent rest of the July preparing a solo set and Andy Bole asked me to record and film my parts for a collaboration for his set. Eventually the Kozfest ,’Stoned at Home’ online weekend took place in August. Due to internet outages at Kozfest HQ the original broadcast at the end of July had to be delayed until the connection was fixed. It was organised just like a real festival. Sets were timed and for four days you’d ‘run’ between different Youtube broadcasts from midday to midnight with an active chat stream that was just like the Kozfest bar. It was amazing. I even got the post-Kozfest blues during the week following. It was all put together by Paul Woodwright.
Around June/July I was told that I had two tracks included on Fruits De Mer’s ‘Head in the clouds’ 2xLP w/2CD box set that would be released in September. It’s over four hours of music in tribute to the Berlin School pioneers of the ‘70s. A very proud moment for me to have music included let alone two tracks. All these events served to keep me motivated and positive. Lockdown began to ease late August, the wearing of masks became the norm and staying in as much as possible was advised. I did manage to get 8 days work in September. Supervising maintenance in one of the venues that I contract for. This was in preparation for re-opening in October, however, sadly the resurgence of the virus and the resulting second lockdown put an end to that. When I went to work in September it was with everything up-to-date on the music front, so time enough for new things and time for work. The mental change was striking. I was once again happy to be doing my job, over the moon to see my work colleagues. There was no point where I thought, “I could be at home now finishing that track/album.”
The lockdown has had its positive effects. But then when it all calms down, what is my first thought? I want to see a band… I miss it so much. I would go to at least one gig a week since 1973. I love local small gigs. Seeing bands that I’ve never heard of. Yes, I hear a lot of crap, but I also get to hear some magnificent music. I never subscribed to the complaints of, “music today… blah blah blah”. There are young musicians out there playing phenomenal music. You just have to get out there and find it. I will embrace it even more when it kicks off again. To think that I used to complain about having to go to gigs alone. Now that will never be an issue. Bring it on!
Here are links to a lot of my Covid lockdown musical output:
Head in the Clouds: https://www.fruitsdemerrecords.com/clouds.html
Andy Bole Kozfest 2020 set:
My live solo Kozfest 2020 set:
The Glissando Guitar Orchestra 7 Drones live Easter Sunday 2020:
Time to buckle down….
A little ‘refresher’ reading. So many parallels to today’s pandemic. There was a deadly third and fourth wave and the pandemic of 1918 lasted two years. How heads of government around the world can say that this second increase in infections was totally unexpected is beyond me. What is that saying? He who doesn’t learn from history is condemned to repeat it. Come on leaders we’ve had 100 years to prepare for this.
Bob Hedger (Jah Buddha)