There is something exciting happening at The Blue Lamp with the iconic venue set to become a thriving hub for the Aberdeen music scene.
In the darkest days of the pandemic lockdown the Gallowgate venue offered local musicians a vital platform via online streaming shows on the Blue Lamp TV YouTube channel.
For musicians who had not played live for more than a year those strictly socially distanced gigs behind closed door shows were a much needed lifeline.
Musicians as diverse as Cherry Bleach, Seas Starry, Craig John Davidson, Chemical Callum’s Conductive Collective, The Moons of Mercury and many more have all played with the full performances available to watch on YouTube.
The shows have already reached a global audience with fans as far afield as Brazil and the United States tuning in.
Blue Lamp TV is the first phase of ambitious plans to get the venue and the Aberdeen music scene ‘jumping again’ once lockdown restrictions are eased enough to allow an audience, albeit reduced, at shows.
Social Media sensations Cherry Bleach who have racked up more than 300,000 likes on TikTok recently played one of the behind closed doors shows.
Cherry Bleach aim to help The Blue Lamp become as vital to Aberdeen as The Cavern, which birthed The Beatles, is to Liverpool.
Paddy Buchanan, Events Manager at The Blue Lamp said: “It looks like 2022 will be an exciting year for The Blue Lamp.
“Once social distancing is a thing of the past we want to get the place jumping again with all kinds of different styles of music.
“Folk music, jazz, rock n’ roll, young bands, all different styles.
“Unfortunately Aberdeen is not often that great at flying the flag for itself and championing its own artists so as a result a lot of really good musicians feel they have no choice but to move to Glasgow, Edinburgh or even England.
“It is a Catch-22 situation because if more and more people move it means there is less culturally going on in Aberdeen.
“Fair play to Cherry Bleach for trying to put something back.
“Cherry Bleach have such a fresh, interesting sound and they are absolutely lovely guys.
“They really want to help nurture the Aberdeen music scene and I have a lot of respect for that.
“Aberdeen is a great city with so many cultural things going on that need to be supported and championed.
“If nothing else these 11 online gigs, with 90% of the artists from Aberdeen or with connections to the city, showcases the talent in all different musical styles we have on our doorstep.
“We are hoping that before too long some kind of small, socially distanced gigs will be reintroduced.”
The world is watching Aberdeen
Other bands and musicians who have played for Blue Lamp TV include Full Fat, Whisky Por Favor. The Ghost Tape, John Alexander, Doghouse Roses and Katie Mackie.
Paddy said: “There have been people watching from all over the world.
“We have had comments on the YouTube channel saying ‘listening from Brazil’ and ‘listening from America’.
“We are not getting ahead of ourselves but we want to build the YouTube channel and get more subscribers.
“Subscribing to the YouTube channel costs nothing and it just means you get notifications when a new video is going up.”
The music scene came to a grinding halt when venues across the United Kingdom were closed last March as the country went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A lifeline for musicians in tough times
Bands could not meet to rehearse together let alone play a live show.
The Blue Lamp came to the rescue to offer bands the much needed opportunity to play live, albeit in an empty venue watched only by Paddy who was on filming and sound duties.
Paddy explained: “It had been such a long time since musicians had a gig so we were very happy to do this.
“I was thinking about doing it last year at the start of lockdown and at the same time Jazz Scotland and Jazz at the Blue Lamp were having similar thoughts of their own.
“Last year was very chaotic in many ways and we lost our former landlord Sandy Brown.
“There was a lot of uncertainty as to the future of the venue and what would be happening.
“Once Sandy’s grandson Lewis (Brown) had taken The Blue Lamp on between Jazz Scotland and ourselves we put our heads together.
“It did take quite a time sourcing all the equipment and we shared the costs for our state of the art camera instillation.
“We did a couple of trial jazz gigs at the tail end of last year just before the Christmas lockdown.
“Then by February we had it all set up to primarily do the Aberdeen Virtual Jazz Festival which was a big success.
“Once we had the cameras installed we wanted to do as much as we could to help primarily local musicians.
“Jazz at the Blue Lamp have done their own series of excellent jazz concerts as well.
“It was a long time in the planning but it has been loads of fun doing it and although there was no live audience it was great to have live music back at The Blue Lamp again – as it should be.”
The logistics of streaming a show from The Blue Lamp
The future of the legendary venue, hailed by musicians world-wide, was in jeopardy when legendary owner Sandy Brown sadly died from cancer at the age of 74 last April.
However, Sandy’s grandson Lewis took over the reins at the popular venue.
Paddy admits the logistics of arranging the behind closed door shows were difficult – but it was worth it to finally see musicians play live again after more than a year.
He said: “There was lots of red tape and the whole thing had to be risk assessed.
“You have to adhere to strict social distancing guidelines so it is a totally closed set with no-one in the room that doesn’t actually have to be there.
“For Blue Lamp TV it is generally just the artist or however many are in the band and myself.
“I do the video, the sound, the lights and check everyone’s temperature with a digital thermometer when they come in.
“I also make sure everyone is wearing their masks and are properly spaced out.
“You have to think about where you position the musicians on the stage so that not only can you get a good camera shot of each of them but that they are also suitably spaced apart.
“Cherry Bleach all live together so they were one household and did not have to socially distance amongst themselves.”
The musicians may have been playing to an empty room but it was the first time in more than a year they had performed on a stage.
For the majority of the bands the show was the first time they had met up for many months – let alone performed together.
Lights, camera, action…
Add in video cameras, lights and the surreal experience of no audience and there were inevitably nerves.
But there were also laughs and most importantly superb performances as Aberdeen musicians thrived when given the opportunity to show just how strong the city’s music scene can be.
Paddy said: “Everyone was nervous but I told them they are in good company because no one has had a gig for a year or more.
“The cameras are rolling and it is quite intense under the spotlights.
“They all relaxed into it though.
“A lot of them haven’t been able to rehearse and had not even seen each other until they met up at The Blue Lamp.
“So we always allowed time for them to run through a few things.
“We tried to make it as relaxed an environment as possible because it can be an intimidating atmosphere with all the lights and cameras on you.
“In spite of that it was always a light hearted atmosphere and that comes through in the recordings.”
‘Magical’ – one of the best venues in the UK
The Blue Lamp, which celebrated its 70th birthday in November 2019, received a Landmark Award from the national organisation Hands up for Trad, and was commended for its “lifelong services to folk music, folk musicians and folk audiences”.
It is revered by the jazz community world wide with the influential Jazz at The Blue Lamp having put on more than 200 shows.
Paddy insists the venue will give a platform to vibrant, exciting talent from all genres to build on the legacy left by Aberdeen music legend Sandy.
He said: “I am really passionate about The Blue Lamp and think it is one of the finest music venues in the whole of the UK.
“Being a musician myself I have toured extensively and seen my fair share of venues the length and breadth of the country.
“I know I am biased but I have to say there is no venue of similar size that I have seen throughout the country that comes close to The Blue Lamp.
“It is a really special, magical place for so many people.
“We have a great reputation that Sandy cultivated over his long career at The Blue Lamp.
“He has left us in a really good position and we want to build on his legacy to take The Blue Lamp from strength to strength.”
The Blue Lamp can be like legendary Liverpool venue The Cavern
One of the bands to play a behind a closed door was Aberdeen social media sensations Cherry Bleach.
The psychedelic rock four piece have have already racked up in excess of 29,000 TikTok followers and more than 300,000 likes on the social media media platform.
Cherry Bleach aim to use The Blue Lamp as a launching pad to revitalise the Granite City music scene following the pandemic when lockdown restrictions allow live shows with audiences.
Singer/guitarist Alisha Wilkie said: “We want to expand the Aberdeen scene and make it equal for everyone.
“We have been chatting with Paddy at The Blue Lamp about setting up something like The Cavern in Liverpool, but in Aberdeen.
“It would be for all types of music, something for people to enjoy that can really shine a spotlight on Aberdeen.
“We are musicians and also students at NESCO (North of Scotland College) which is close to The Blue Lamp.
“For us to be able to bring other bands to The Blue Lamp to play would bring people together so much.
“That is what we want to do and having The Blue Lamp there for us is crucial.
“It is going to be the HQ.”
Cherry Bleach believe the Aberdeen music scene is bursting with talent but have been starved of the platforms to show it.
With the help of The Blue Lamp they hope to do their bit to change that.
Cherry Bleach bassist Ewan Watson said: “A lot of attention goes down to Glasgow and there are some great bands down there.
“However there is some great music up here in Aberdeen as well but it is not being heard.
“We want to give Cherry Bleach and everyone else in Aberdeen the exposure we all deserve.”