Liveaboard lockdown Zoom band: The Loose Connections

Julia's tango dancer artwork is epic!

Julia's tango dancer artwork is epic! - Credit: Archant

It takes Zoom to tango! Liveaboards go from entertaining towpathers to creating a full Zoom band during lockdown

Creating the stunning tango dancerartwork featured in the video

Creating the stunning tango dancerartwork featured in the video - Credit: Archant

Julia has been a continuous cruiser with her partner Ralph for coming on two years. They have mastered the art of living together on board a 36ft, semi-trad boat named Omega, and haven’t fallen out with each other yet.

Having both recently retired they had been enjoying the waterways to the full, setting out from West Yorkshire across the Pennines on the Rochdale Canal, through to Liverpool, down the Shropshire Union and over eastwards to Nottingham and the Trent. All fabulous.

Passionate about the waterways and the live aboard life, Julia also took all available opportunities to improve her technique on the alto saxophone, having taken up playing at 55.

Entertaining towpath users with well known chart classics became a feature, as well as blasting through scales in the countryside where there are no neighbours to annoy.

The start of lockdown in March 2020 may have shut down all opportunities to travel the network, but the saxophone practice just kept going. With a twist.

People across the world were waking up to the connective potential of Zoom, and suddenly here was a way for Julia to share music with other people in her life. She formed a band with two other players, her daughter Bridget on trumpet in Sheffield and their friend, Roxanne also on Alto Saxophone, near Stafford.

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There were some technical hurdles to surmount, including weak internet signal, delays between contributions and inevitable battery failures. The band name they came up with for themselves was a no-brainer.

The Loose Connections was up and running. The band mainly entertained each other, but also appeared together on an informal Zoom-based Open Mic session run by a group of amateur thespians at the Halifax Playhouse.

The band wanted to develop beyond single performances of covers and decided to go their own way with their own composition.

In August 2020, on board Omega, Julia sketched out the melody and words to a completely original song about the woes of internet dating. Being a fan of Strictly Come Dancing, she naturally thought of Argentinian tango as the musical theme, and hit on the name Tango Number Four, even though tangos numbers three and five don’t actually exist.

She knew the basics of how music fits together but not how to write it down conventionally. She merely had to put it all across to the band by ear using audio tracks and word documents.

The band flew with all these ideas and suggested adding some on screen drama to a video version. Roxanne volunteered to act the lead role, from the front room of her house in rural Staffordshire. Bridget stepped in on vocals and as producer and video editor from her house near Sheffield city centre. All the filming and audio was recorded on smart phones and uploaded to the cloud for sharing.

The arrangement of two saxophones, trumpet and vocal, really needed filling out so the call went out for other musical contributors. The five new team members, all amateur musicians, came from all around the country, all friends and family. They chipped in on cello, cornet, bass guitar, and percussion. Their star guest was friend of the family, Howard Wilkes aged 96, playing ukulele and lovingly filmed by daughter Jenny in Stourbridge. All the contributors had to quickly sharpen their digital skills, visual and audio, using smart phone technology, often starting with no experience whatsoever.

Julia set to work coordinating the work on the boat, travelling from east to west on the Trent and Mersey and the Staffordshire and Worcester Canals. Crucial discussions were taking place daily on Whatsapp, signal permitting. Even the voyage on the river Severn was partly spent in discussion with the team, about music issues. In the autumn, between lockdowns, some filming was possible on the towpath near Kinver. By January 2021, in lockdown three, filming was nearly complete but for some last-minute shots taken on the snow-covered quay in Stourport Basin.

The famous Stourport Basin clock tower even features in the story. At this stage, Julia embarked on the graphics for the video, turning the boat into an art studio.

SPOILER ALERT!

On screen we see aspects of Demelza’s gruelling search for true love. She decides that since all else has failed, she needs to turn, rather cluelessly, to internet dating. She finds it frustrating and limited, but is convinced she can find a way through.

She gets it into her head that she can attract a partner who shares her dream of dancing a perfect tango. She researches the tango and rehearses some moves. Finally, she finds a match who doesn’t turn up for the date. She is crushed.

The video features an instrumental with all the band together, although most of them have never met.

Inevitably there are outtakes, including Roxanne’s one-year-old boy, Walker, and pet dog Trojan who both wanted in on the action. The musical bloopers include technical issues with the trumpet valves and problems with tinned fruit.

Bridget spent many long hours using new-found editing skills and the piece was ready for launch on YouTube for Valentine’s Day. Huge efforts have been made on water and dry land, and all the team have appreciated the feeling of joining together across the ether to produce this innovative and unique piece of art and music.

One massive plus point for the necessary restrictions placed on us all during the pandemic has been the digital connection between the team, said Julia, who sees the project is a shining example of collaboration that has provided opportunities for structure, purpose and loads of fun for everyone involved as well as the audience. An uplifting and inspiring achievement.

When Julia and Ralph set out on their waterways quest all those months ago, they didn’t expect this would be such a significant element of their boating lifestyle! The team is keen to keep going, though. Maybe the next piece should be a sea shanty?

You can find the video on YouTube by searching Tango Number 4 The Loose Connections. Julia and the team would love you to watch, share, comment, and generally enjoy it!!

Julia and Ralph will be pleased if you would like to follow their adventures on Instagram on @boaty7.