Being a musician … at Christmas
My name is Pete, and I’m a musician.
No, not the glamorous, Top Of The Pops, Wembley Stadium type of musician, but the other kind, the kind you never hear of, who are in a constant state of scratching around desperately trying to make ends meet, whilst being shafted by car insurance companies who think we’re all like the first kind. We’re not. We go about our business like most normal people do, except there’s a tendency to be driving long distances at times most ‘civilians’ are asleep.
I say ‘scratching around’, it’s not quite like that at this time of year. In fact, it’s a little bit ridiculous, at least for me at the moment. Recession? I’ve never known it so good. Everyone wants music at Christmas. I’ve turned away more work this month than I’ve been able to take on. Where was it all in the summer when I stared bewildered at the bank balance wondering how it was all going to add up. This Christmas, however, is unlike most. Most of the time I would currently be ensconced in the world of pantomime. It’s bizarre, it’s other worldy and it’s quite unlike being in any other show at any other time of year. More relationships have failed at Christmas than any other time.
It’s strange on a number of levels. If you think about it, there’s very little reference to Christmas in a pantomime, it just happens to happen at the same time of year.
Rehearsals start with a room full of strangers in mid-November and by early December you’re playing the same random selection of badly sung pop songs, and classic music hall hits twice a day to a room full of screaming primary school children who have no idea what’s going on but laugh at the slapstick and the fart gags.
You’re more often than not away from home and dealing with the freezing cold cheap digs with no Christmas decorations by drinking heavily with the same group of strangers who are in a similar position who you perform twelve shows a week with. Most provincial theatres aren’t really equipped for harsh winters and so you can move from freezing digs to freezing theatre to warm, enticing local pubs with strange opening hours.
It’s work though, essentially good work, so one tries not to complain. But it’s hard when you’re doing two shows on Christmas Eve, then driving hundreds of miles to celebrate Christmas in a cold house you’ve not been in for weeks, which therefore doesn’t have any decorations, crossing fingers that the pipes haven’t
You wake up on Christmas Day morning, tired, confused and striving to not get too drunk because you know you have to get up at the crack of dawn on Boxing Day to drive back to the theatre to do another two shows, and endure the inevitable Secret Santa with aforementioned strangers and carry on doing two shows a day until you repeat the sorry process on New Years Eve, ready to be back doing another two shows on January 2nd.
By now, Christmas is long gone and you’re still doing two shows a day until mid-January, by which time the group of strangers aren’t strangers but have become rather strange and the whole thing a little bit sour.
By now all anyone talks about is how little work there is in January and February and how they’ve got a lovely rep job in Swindon for three weeks in April and how their agent is close to getting them on one of the big soaps.
The musicians meanwhile are deteriorating rapidly, their relationships failed, their dalliance with one of the dancers on the wane once they realise said dancer is joining a cruise ship for six months, on £300 per week and will effectively never be seen again.
More and more time is spent in the pub, which appears to stay open later and later as more of the fee gets spent on the local vinegary brew, and the musicians realise they’ll be back to Grade One instrumental teaching before they know it, except they’ll be a stone heavier, considerably more cynical and bitter than they had been in late November and with quite literally nothing to show financially for the eighty performances and therefore the literally hundreds of choruses of “You Can’t Stop The Beat” and “Amarillo”.
Don’t get me wrong, I love panto. It’s made me who I am, both good and bad. But not doing it this year has afforded me time to do all the other work I’d normally turn down. I’m still too busy to do anything Christmassy, other than dust the tree down and put it up much earlier than I’ve done in a decade.
And please, please understand me. I’m not complaining about being a musician. True, I don’t love it, but I much prefer it to anything else I could possibly think about doing. It’s just not quite as glamorous as some people make out. Especially at Christmas.
:: Pete Faint blogs at everyonesanidiot.wordpress.com