Marcus Neal – The Smokehouse: Virtual And Better Than Ever

No one can deny that local businesses in Ipswich have all struggled this year through these endless lockdowns and the ongoing pandemic, but some places have adapted to their new environments by going online. 

The Smokehouse in Ipswich, for example, is beginning to live-stream their music events for everyone to see. 

During the first and second lockdown, of course, The Smokehouse had to, unfortunately, close its doors to the public. The team at The Smokehouse, however, decided that this wouldn’t mean the closure of the music scene in Ipswich. 

Marcus Neal, the program manager for The Smokehouse, said: “Initially, there was a sense of: ‘what the hell are we going to do now? We’ve got no income and no audiences’. So we applied for some funding, which we are very lucky to have gotten. 

“We also have a number of freelancers at The Smokehouse, which were kind of left high and dry because of lockdown so we set up a CrowdFunder and raised just over £12,000 and, for us, that really showed just how well regarded The Smokehouse is and how well thought of we are by the local community. I was quite humbled and quite overwhelmed at how much money was raised and I know for a fact that the freelancers appreciated it.”    

Photo by Marvellous Visuals

When the first national lockdown was announced, The Smokehouse began investing in cameras and live-streaming equipment and hardware and have since been inviting local bands to come and live-stream some gigs, from a distance of course. They also always put a donation link into the description of the live-stream so that any money raised goes directly to the act. 

Another project that The Smokehouse were a part of during the first lockdown was called LockEast, which was a way for The Smokehouse team to keep in touch with local music creators and artists during lockdown by the artists submitting videos or any music they’ve been working on for The Smokehouse to promote on a dedicated page on their website and social media. 

Marcus said: “That was really cool actually, we had so many great submissions and it opened our eyes more to the local scene and out of that we did a 12-hour live-stream. We also did a Sound City live-stream as well because Sound City 2020 obviously didn’t go ahead this year. The Smokehouse is all about community and giving back to the local scene whilst also giving music lovers and audiences an experience that they may have missed this year.”

Although the brakes have been pushed on The Smokehouse live-streams during this particular lockdown, this new way of hosting gigs is something that The Smokehouse is looking to continue in the future. 

“We’ve got around four things booked in for December after lockdown,” Marcus explained. “We’ve had loads of fun doing these live-streams and we know that, even after lockdown is lifted, we’ll be unlikely to open our little venue because there’s no way to social distance. So live-streaming is definitely becoming another strand of what we do- we want to continue doing live-streams as well as live gigs, side by side so that everyone, even those outside of Ipswich, can get involved.”

Amethysts at The Smokehouse

The Smokehouse started in 2016, when owner Joe Bailey received a grant, which he used to create a community music venue after seeing that there wasn’t a dedicated music space in Ipswich for emerging, young bands at the time. 

Joe had already launched Punch Studios and Out Loud Music, which use technology to teach young people about music production, particularly people with disabilities, additional needs, and mental health issues and they now runs those classes at The Smokehouse online. 

The Smokehouse has been working with local promoters and artists by putting on virtual fully-staffed gigs, giving all local bands, whether just starting out or with years of experience, a safe space to perform and showcase their music. 

Marcus explained that all of this is to keep the local music scene in Ipswich alive the best way they can and that it is vital that we keep supporting our local artists, venues and businesses. 

He says: “It’s like with anything- you use it or you loose it. Hopefully people are going to flock back and they’ll want a live gig and the loud music again because they’ve missed it. 

“The pandemic has affected everyone. Some may argue that the music scene is a bit of a luxury and not necessary but to us it’s not just music, it’s the technicians and the backroom management and the artists who rely on gigs as a job. It’s just a web of people all involved and needing a helping hand and it’s so important that we keep it going for everyone really.”

To keep up to date with everything The Smokehouse does, sign up to their newsletter on their website here, give them a follow on social media accounts and be sure to watch all their upcoming live-streams from the comfort of your own home.