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"Tier 4"?!

Christmas eve tomorrow, and it really feels like things are getting out of control now. Just as the country was feeling a little optimism with a vaccine starting to be rolled out. It’s very depressing.


The week started with talk of a new strain of the virus that had popped up in the South East. We are told that new strains evolve all the time, and this was quite normal, but this strain seemed to be different enough to be of concern. It seems that it’s significantly more infectious than the current strain, and it looks like it’s driving a surge in the virus in parts of the UK. We are told that it shouldn’t affect the efficacy of the vaccine although one can’t help being a bit concerned. By the end of the week everything has changed...


As a result a new “tier 4” was suddenly created on Saturday (above the previously highest tier 3), a sudden decision by Government to tighten rules. This means that all non-essential shops should close, and where possible people shouldn’t go out. The five day relaxation of the rules over Christmas have been scrapped (which now looking back seems like a ridiculous idea). Travel out of tier 4 is banned, so our Christmas plans to go to my mother in law in Devon have been shelved.


France and other European countries have closed their borders to the UK so thousands of lorries have been stacking up on the motorway into Dover. As a result of warnings of fresh food shortages there have been huge queues at supermarkets, rather like the beginning of the first lockdown in March. 48 hours later and France has opened its borders again, although anyone entering must first be tested.


I cycled down to an outdoor gig in town last Sunday which we’d been told would definitely go ahead, even if there was a lockdown. We’d probably be playing to nobody, but the agent had been paid so it would go ahead. 15 minutes before we were due to start playing, having met the other two musicians, I received a message to tell me the gig had been cancelled. On this rare occasion we’d be paid though, so there were no hard feelings. The three of us had a chat and a coffee (outdoors), wished each other merry Christmas, and headed home.


All my pre-Christmas outdoor gigs have now been cancelled, but I still had a boxing day gig in a hotel in The New Forest near Southampton. I have been expecting it to be cancelled, so I wasn’t concerned when I found out that the guitar player I had booked had gone up to Scotland for Christmas to be with his mother. But the hotel is still in tier 2 and so the gig is still expected to go ahead. I realised that I’d be unwelcome, coming from London, so I decided to find a replacement duo more local to the area. I had thought this would be a simple enough job, but all the people I called were either busy with another gig, had family commitments or had an ailment that prevented them from doing the gig. I was recommended a guitar player living in Oxford, so I called him and passed his details to the agent. All sorted. Phew!

Bicester Village shopping outlet had asked me if I could fix a band for them on Boxing Day too, using musicians from outside tier 4. I started making calls, but while I was doing this it was announced that Oxford, Bicester and other areas would be going into tier 4 on Boxing Day. Bicester Village would be closing (being a designer retail outlet, they are definitely non-essential!). It also meant that my replacement for the New Forest gig would no longer be able to do it, but it’s out of my hands now.


So I’ve spent a lot of time making pointless phone calls, texts and emails. It seems that in times like these it is better not to bother trying to fix a band until the day before.

Julie McKee with the Sunshine Kings tea dance band

One positive job I've done is to create a demo video for the Sunshine Kings Tea Dance Band using footage from the online tea dance we did a few weeks ago, and I've added a page to my website. We've been doing gigs twice a year for over 10 years for Tower Hamlets council and we've talked about trying to find more work for the band. Now I have some material to promote us with:


https://www.grahamhughesjazz.com/sunshine-kings-tea-dance

At least it's a handy time for my musician friend Laurence to be having a baby with his wife. He won’t be missing any work and will have plenty of time to be at home with his new son. I’m pleased for him.


There are also rumours that a trade deal with the EU is potentially just hours away. That would be a triumph for a government that is otherwise being battered from all sides in it’s handling of the pandemic.

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