I’m sure it’s crossed many of our minds: “Do I leave my home town in search of something better?” In this three-part series, I have interviewed three musicians on whether leaving their home to try and make a music career in another city was worth it and find out all the highs and lows of making the jump.
Belfast musician Rebekah Fitch who made the move back in 2019 to the hustle and bustle of London. We had a quick catch up ourselves, speaking about life in lockdown and how we are both dealing with it before settling into our chat about the big move.
SS: So take us back a few years before you even made the move, how were you getting on Belfast?
RF: I studied songwriting in Durham and after the course, I made the move back to Belfast. My plan was to start building contacts, gig and write as much as possible. It was a new starting point for me and I could go all in since I’d be living back home. I had watched the Belfast scene from afar, observing from a distance. Everyone was really welcoming when I got back home and they were keen to help me which made it all feel very welcoming. After being home for a year I had met loads of new people which was great. I felt I was making good progress and had lots of room to grow my music. Although I did find it hard to get gigs, especially as I wasn’t integrated into the scene. One thing I definitely learnt is that everything takes so much longer than you expect. A year later I started a training course with the church in Coleraine. I found that really helpful. It gave me so much structure and helped me develop more. When you do this for a living it can be so hard to self motivate yourself every day.
One issue in Northern Ireland is that there are so many great musicians but there just isn’t enough music industry people. There is such an imbalance. There were people who were keen to help me but I felt they were really saturated with other things.
I felt I couldn’t make it work there, so it just made more sense to leave. Although it was sad. I do like to tell people in London that I’m from Belfast but I needed to do this move for myself, expand, grow and meet more people.
SS: Was there a tipping for you for when you decided you needed to leave?
RF: Ha! Well, I would say I’m a slow processor, I don’t make rash decisions. This had been in my head for a while. I love city life! The bigger the city the better! It’s just so exciting! I just needed to find out when was a good time to leave. I felt restless in Belfast and like I was going round in circles. I felt I was ready for a change. I had lots of friends in London, and I got offered to share a flat with three friends from university, but I worried about all my gear, where I would store it? What about my car? But actually everything lined up! My three friends gave me the biggest room and I also had a space to park my car! Being offered that, I just couldn’t turn it down! Although it was so scary, I felt excited and ready for it!
SS: Did you feel like you had to start all over again?
RF: Absolutely! I had no music connections! Most people go because they have a label, community or a band. I had nothing. I had to gig for free and send out loads of cold emails. When I was living in Belfast I had an overview of the musical landscape within six months, I knew how everything was connected and had my go-to people.
London is just so huge! I’ve been here for a good while now and I still have no clue! I feel at times I’m still outside wondering how to get in. I always wonder how do I join the dots. But a big reason for me to move was to get to know more people and make new relationships, whether it’s industry or just other musicians.
SS: Do you feel that going away and living in London will make a bigger impact for you back home?
RF: Yes, especially towards the general public. A lot of music they hear comes from the likes of BBC Radio One. If you go to London to get better support from a bigger media group that can then be delivered to the public better. It can be that media from overseas that feeds back to the media in Belfast for the general public to hear.
SS: Can you tell us your biggest high and low from moving?
RF: Hummmm. Biggest low is definitely feeling you like you have to start all over again, finding out how everything fits together and living in a fifth-floor apartment! Trying to move all my equipment from my room to my car takes 40 minutes! You can feel overwhelmed and insignificant all in one go!
But my highs would be forming a new community with friends who support me. I want to focus my attention on not just achieving things but making art that I’m proud of and people can relate to. Before I would have got so caught up, feeling that other people’s successes are my failures. Now I can focus on having a creative community with likeminded people. Working with a fresh audience is also amazing and makes me feel like I’m making more of an impact.”
In Belfast Rebekah, like many musicians, made her living playing cover gigs in bars around town. She told me there isn’t the same scene in London, and so she is working as flower delivery lady. Lots of other people who work in the flower shops also have their own artistic interests so she felt at ease there knowing everyone is similar, in the same boat!
I like to picture it like the opening scene of Notting Hill. Working away in a busy market street where everyone says good morning and someone from the coffee shops brings over free buns and cakes and everyone is laughing before you head off to the lovely bar to play music for everyone and people listen and clap…
It’s probably not like that at all, but it’s always nice to think it could be.
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