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An Interview with Phillipa Leigh: Adapting Live Music to fit the New Normal

An Interview with Phillipa Leigh: Adapting Live Music to fit the New Normal
Eleanor Clavin explores the theme in an interview with Phillipa.
'With restrictions easing, it's hard not to notice how the pandemic has significantly impacted people's work lives. In particular, live performers have had to adapt their work to suit the new world and continue to practise their art safely. 

Phillipa Leigh is a singer songwriter from Pinner who has resourcefully adjusted her day to day life to suit the coronavirus restrictions. Before the pandemic, Phillipa would play at gigs, weddings and parties across various venues including Ronnie Scotts and The Oxo Tower. She also has a full licence to busk on the London Underground which she used to earn money and practise her skills. This was soon put on hold due to the pandemic and after finding herself without a job, Phillipa was forced to find alternative ways to pursue her passion. 

It seemed at first that there would be no hope for work. However, Phillipa quickly realised that if others could adapt their job roles to suit the stay at home guidelines then why couldn't she? 

Using the wonderful resource of the internet, Phillipa began to online busk by posting a video of her playing the ukulele each day on YouTube. People were able to donate, comment and share, helping to support Phillipa and provide her with greater recognition. Fast forward to a year later and she hadn't missed a day of uploading. 

Although some things have had to be put on hold (for example plans for Phillipa's new band, Southern Beauty) she has mostly managed to continue her work through her imaginative videos. In the process, Phillipa has also helped many others by providing entertainment and escapism from pandemic life. One of her new projects includes streaming breathing exercises and meditation every weekday at 11am. Through this work, Phillipa has positively impacted the lives of others and redefined her career as a musician. 

I spoke to Phillipa Leigh to find out more about how she started and how the change has impacted her life: 

1) How did you get into music? How did it become a job? 

I developed a passion for music from a very early age. As a family we listened to many different styles of music from classical to pop and my parents took us to lots of concerts. I started piano lessons at five, but my dyslexia meant I was unable to learn to read music. My sister and I would often sing together so music has always been a part of my life. I graduated with a degree in acting from the Royal Academy (RADA) where we were given a lot of vocal training. Whilst I was working as an actress, I sang with a few buskers and blagged a few gigs. I met my partner Phil, who is a pianist, when we were both performing in productions at The Edinburgh Festival, and we began to gig and write songs together. I decided to teach myself to play the ukulele so that I could accompany myself when Phil was doing other things and I got myself a licence busk on the London Underground so that I could practise as a day job. 

2) Tell me more about your new band ‘Southern Beauty’!

Southern Beauty is a jazz trio consisting of Alison Wheeler from The Beautiful South on lead vocals, Phil Southgate on piano and Phillipa Leigh on ukulele and backing vocals.  

We met quite randomly. A contact of Ali’s saw me busking and thought our styles would gel. Phil and I were fans of the Beautiful South and love Ali’s voice so we all got together for a jam and threw some ideas around. We perform a mixture of classic Beautiful South re-imagined into the jazz genre as well as our renditions of jazz standards. We managed to get a few gigs in before lockdown happened and we’re really looking forward to fewer restrictions so that we can perform together again. 

For more information and to have a listen please check out our website: www.southernbeautyjazz.com

3) Do you think that enough has been done to help musicians during the pandemic? What have been the biggest challenges? 

That’s a tricky one… Everyone has been affected in some way and it must have been very difficult for the government to make their decisions. Of course attempting to prevent as many cases as possible was the initial priority. I have been very lucky to have remained healthy myself throughout this period and I only know a small handful of people personally who contracted COVID and thankfully none of them were even hospitalised. Knowing that people have lost their lives or their loved ones puts things in perspective and I am grateful for my friends and family.  

Moving forward I am hopeful that people will still want live music at their weddings, birthdays, anniversaries etc. but I am a bit concerned that many music venues, pubs and restaurants etc. will take a long time to recover  and, of course that will have a massive effect on people like me who make most of their income from these smaller venues.  

As my day job is busking I am keen for tourism to resume and I hope offices reopen too so commuters can reappear rather than everyone working from home.  


It is important to stay positive. During lockdown I posted a video of a new song every day for over a year. I tried to put the “time off” to good use and I have been building my own ukuleles - I have youtube videos of these too, made from diverse items including a cereal box, a coconut and an ostrich egg.  Right now as we are easing back to “normal”, I am posting daily breathing/meditation sessions live on youtube every weekday at 11am. They are free to join in and everyone is welcome. They draw on my RADA training and experience as a vocalist.  I am building a little following and its really fun, so whether you want to improve your singing, manage stress or strengthen your breathing muscles for good health, I’d love to see you there. Just log on at 11am to www.youtube.com/ukulelipa (where you can also catch my uke builds and singing any time) 

4) What can people do to support you and other musicians? 

If/when a gig is advertised - go to it! Show your support. If you are planning a party consider hiring a live musician/band. If you know of venues that have had live music in the past and you would like them to book some musicians, tell them. Buy your favourite band’s CD’s and any other merchandise: www.ukulelipa.dizzyjam.com 

In the meantime watch my videos on YouTube here:  www.youtube.com/ukulelipa

If you enjoy them, please share them with your friends and on your social media pages. It’s a huge boost whenever someone subscribes and also having more subscribers can help with getting gigs in the future so if you want to help me please do consider subscribing! 

I run my YouTube like an “online busking space” meaning all the content is completely free and is there to be enjoyed by any and everyone and (although there is no obligation) if you would like to leave a tip it is always very much appreciated. This can be done via PayPal: https://paypal.me/ukulelipa  or my Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3515926&fan_landing=true where people can pledge a monthly amount to help keep me going. 

5) How do you think that your music has impacted others?

I would like to think that as an artist I make people think but mainly I hope it can make people happy.'

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