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Help Musicians Scotland by Étáin Sweeney Guest blog for Glasgow Music Walking Tours

Whether you’re a musician or a music lover (maybe you’re a little bit of both), you’re probably here because you appreciate the incredible impact that musicians have on each of our lives through their creativity. My name is Étáin and I am the Fundraising and Volunteer Officer in the Scottish office of Help Musicians, 100-year-old charity that loves music so helps the people behind the music to thrive in their lives and careers.

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Being a musician is a tricky career often fraught with unsteady income and physical and mental health concerns are common issues to navigate; training can take many years and, along with investing in instruments and other equipment, puts up financial barriers to creative progression.We want to make a meaningful difference to the lives of musicians so whether it’s direct financial help to support musicians to achieve their creative and career potential or health and wellbeing support, the range of help we offer ensures there is something relevant to every musician at different stages of their lives and careers. As Fundraising and Volunteer Officer, I manage donations to the charity as well as community fundraising and voluntary activity in aid of the charity across Scotland; making sure that we can continue to offer musicians this lifetime of support when it’s needed most.

Sadly, the impact of the pandemic means that musicians will need even greater support to survive, create and thrive in 2021, Help Musicians’ centenary year. Throughout the past 100 years, musicians have faced many crises and at every turn, Help Musicians have offered them support when they need it the most.

As we mark our centenary this year, we’ve delved into our archives where we have found the stories of countless musicians who have received help from us since 1921 when the charity was first established.

In the early days of the charity, the cinema industry provided plentiful work for musicians who would perform during silent films. However, in the 1930s, Scottish musicians found themselves in financial hardship and facing a crisis across the sector with the arrival of the ‘Talkies’.

In November 1935, a trumpeter from Glasgow who played in cinemas and venues across the city came to us for support after he had been “idle for six years, largely owing to the Talkies”. That same month, we supported a vocalist and pianist from Aberdeenshire with a £10 grant after he lost his livelihood as a result of the impact of talking pictures on the local music sector.

More recently, Scottish musicians have been hit hard by the impact of the Coronavirus crisis and the need for our support hit record highs. Across the UK in 2020 we were able to provide financial hardship support to over 19,000 music creators and increased access to our mental health services by 40%. In 2021, this ongoing need will continue at scale while the music sector recovers and rebuilds.

Scottish musicians have inspired us this year with their extraordinary resilience. In the past 12 months we have seen musicians across Scotland demonstrate their adaptability as they continued to create music which has helped many of us, music lovers and musicians alike, to cope during these unprecedented times.

One such musician is Edinburgh-based singer Nicole Smit. 2020 was set to be the most exciting year yet for blues, soul and R&B singer, Nicole C. Smit. Since moving to Edinburgh from Sweden in 2012, she has made a name for herself around the local jazz bar scene, selling out gigs three to four nights a week and fronting multiple bands including Smitten, The Blueswater band and Nicole and the Backup Crew. Here’s Nicole in 2015 with a fabulous cover of  Nina Simone’s Do I Move You.

With a European tour and UK dates lined up, as well as performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – her busiest time of year – she was looking forward to the year ahead. The devastating impact of COVID-19 meant that Nicole watched as all her upcoming bookings disappeared, practically overnight, leaving her with no work and no income.

Help Musicians was able to support Nicole through our Coronavirus Hardship Fund. She received financial aid that enabled her to pay her rent and keep her head above water whilst she figured out a plan for the future.

With the live industry still out of action, Nicole adapted to the situation and secured a role working for Saheliya – a mental health organisation in Edinburgh, supporting black and other minority ethnic women. Without the support from Help Musicians, Nicole would most likely have had to return to Sweden and give up on her life and career in the UK. After a difficult year, she has been able to produce new solo material which will be ready for release later in 2021, showcasing an entirely different side of her artistry.

Through their creativity, musicians like Nicole become an integral part of each of our lives. Their music often defines life-changing moments that we remember forever.

As an independent charity, we owe a great deal of thanks to our supporters for enabling us to do this essential work. If you want to know how you can support our work, learn more or find support yourself, please email:[email protected]

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