“JJ LOVEGROVE’S alt Christmas message: An independent artist ‘choose your own adventure’ guide for ‘How to navigate the music industry & mingle with your heroes, without getting too nervous & throwing up!’

It’s the 22nd of December, the winter solstice, and I’m sitting in my favourite bar in my hometown, waiting for my soundcheck for tonight’s gig. A familiar friendly pub with a properly poured pint of Guinness is the best place to weather another festive solstice storm I find.

The three men on the table next to me are discussing their cycling adventures and the inclines they faced this year. “Now! That was a tough one”…”Yeah, but they’re the ones you remember, you don’t remember the easy climbs, it’s the tough ones that stay with you.”

It makes me think of conversations being had all over the world this year, after similar feats of endurance and bravery that have been faced over the past couple of years. On the table in front of me, a dad and his thirty something son have just sat down. A Christmas catch-up and tentative conversations to show in-between the nuances of bad jokes, that they’ve missed each other’s company and have never really known how to express it. I find myself getting teary eyed and trying to hide it, as I realise how much I would give to swap places with them and get to take my dad for a pint just once more.

My dad left us nine years ago, but losing friends alongside musical greats this past year and my mum approaching her Christmas Day birthday with the recently extinguished firecracker poet Shane McGowan – who I had the huge honour of meeting a few years back – brings a firm immovable lump in my throat and I’m transported back in time. My dad insisted on buying me my first keyboard when I was four years old, to the infamous declarations from my difficult hard to love Eastenders nan that, “It would be a wasted present,” and how I would, “Never take to it…

Dear reader, it was love from the beginning and has been ever since. I played in the working men’s clubs from the age of six, making strangers feel things they couldn’t admit to each other with the help of a little alcoholic lubrication and wrapped in the disguise of “…she’s so sweet,” and to be honest the weirdest lesson this year, has been that nothing much has changed.

At the start of the year, much like many independent artists out there, I was making plans and blowing wishes for bigger festivals, bigger supports, and bigger stages for my bigger sounding debut album about to launch in the summer. After the album dropped and the tour ended, I realised I had missed something that was there right in front of me all the time. I know how to share my soul with strangers. It seems to be something passed on to me in my Irish storytelling blood and it’s what I’ve done since the start. Those gigs on the tour that stripped everything back to just me, the song, the words, and the people in the room on that night at that time, these were the most powerful and special nights.

So, as I sit here tonight contemplating my carefully curated set I will soon be sharing with those here and joining in on the livestream, I’m reminded of how grateful I am to these venues for still hanging on and supporting independent musicians like me. For being a new working person’s safe place to congregate, cry, laugh and find like-minded humans to share souls with. They say it takes a community to raise a child, and I was certainly raised in a working men’s club community of many beautiful souls who were all learning about this brave new world and how to do better to communicate their feelings with subsequent generations. Things are certainly getting better and I can feel these emotions in the room when I play. Never more so than now in this post pandemic music industry.

According to the ‘Small music venues index,’ one music venue has closed every month in the past two years here in the UK. The Music Venues Trust have started lobbying for a levy to be paid on those bigger tickets to help grassroots venues and I think without some big thinking and brave decisions, all we have left of grassroots venues may be lost forever in the very near future.

As I listen to the contenders of our Christmas number one being the ‘Fairytale Of New York,’ and ‘Last Christmas,’ it certainly seems our industry is so focused on the ghosts of old money-spinning nostalgia deals of the past, than anything focused on ghosts of music of what’s to come. Our post pandemic world doesn’t quite fit the advertising mould. We all now feel more human, more vulnerable, things are a little raw still, we are never quite sure of our footing or how those around us feel. Does everyone feel a little sadder and that we could still do with a more collective, ‘we are all in this together’ vibe again?

I’ve hustled and worked so hard this year, I’ve said ‘yes’ to almost every opportunity and have been very fortunate to find myself lobbying for fairer streaming rights in the Houses of Parliament, hanging out with the formidable Yungblud and his family in his hometown of Doncaster – in his local Working Men’s Club no less – and in the press pack of the Ivors Awards shaking hands with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sting, Dave Stewart, Raye, Charlie xcx and Morrissey, to now pinching myself at being asked to represent songwriters on the Ivors Academy Awards Committee. Life is weird guys and so full of adventures when we try our hardest to put ourselves in the right rooms and allow our hearts to stay open to what music means to people at its core.

Songs are precious things. They can help you find love, lust, friendship, or shelter. They change lives, synchronise heartbeats, become prayers, memories, or placeholders in time. They mark births, weddings, deaths, and all of humanities awkward and beautiful in-betweens.

My songs can make friends when often I am afraid to do so. This year has let me know where my friends are now. I’m choosing my own adventures and making sure I am sneaking my ways into rooms with my heroes while trying to pretend I feel I belong. I’m nervous for 2024, but happy to remain open to dreaming of other worlds, to wonder more in nature and in the cosmos and to let my imagination make me run away with it. I hope music does the same for you.

Much love and beautiful brave wishes to you all for 2024. JJ x. “

Connect with JJ LOVEGROVE: JJLovegrove | Twitter, Instagram, Facebook | Linktree

‘A NIGHTMAIL Before Christmas,’ JJ’s intimate livestream evening concert, available here:

Music | JJ Lovegrove (bandcamp.com)

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