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
frozen.

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

Eurovision 2011: Charlotte Church? Really?!

Seemingly spam messages have a habit of either being complete rubbish or having a scintilla of truth about them, I always find.

Don’t be misled by the sender of this message not being able to punctuate properly. Focus more on the sender’s YouTube channel on which a seemingly hastily put together video displays nothing more than a series of phrases oozing excitement about the forthcoming UK selection programme.

The fact is someone somewhere actually thought to write the words ‘Charlotte Church’ and ‘Eurovision’ in the same sentence and send it to me via YouTube. That says something. It either says somebody working for the BBC thought they’d try their hand at a spot of social media/PR misdirection (if so, it’s a clumsy effort) or …

…. could Charlotte Church represent the UK at Eurovision next year?You have SO got to be having a laugh. You are SO taking me for a fool. Aren’t you?

Mind you, around this time last year everyone was banging on about Gary Barlow writing for UK Eurovision. What a spectacular disappointment that turned out to be. And in case you doubt me, remind yourself of what we actually ended up with.

Oh yeah, of course. I’m forgetting. Josh Dubovie was a nice bloke, wasn’t he. So that makes him and songwriter Pete Waterman very nearly forgivable for their contribution to UK Eurovision in 2010. Yes of course. I should be nicer. Less scathing. Yeah. Sorry.

Yes. I’m being sarcastic.

BBC Radio 3 in HD Sound

Oooooh. Christmas has come early. And I find myself adding someone else to this year’s oh-so-special Christmas card list as a result.

BBC Radio 3 is now in HD sound, available via the BBC Radio 3 website or here. I am beside myself with joy. It’s the first of two consecutive days on leave. And this happens. As I say. Christmas has come early.

This exciting new development comes after a brief trial during the tail end of the BBC Proms this year. Radio 3 Interactive Editor wrote about it back then. I got excited about it too on this blog, writing about the implications for live performance, radio mixes and listeners.

At last. The future has finally arrived. Now, can we all settle down nicely and just lap it up.

Pass me my glass of Merlot.

PS Now that BBC Radio 3 is in HD you’ll naturally demand an increased range of voices on the network.

With that in mind I am very keen for as many people as possible to flood BBC Radio 3 Controller Roger Wright with demands to have my name added to the presentation roster. It was on my Christmas list, after all.

TV: Graham Norton Show So Television Episode 8.7 BBC One

Bloody Hell

Graham Norton was understandably excited about the line-up for episode 8.7. Barry Manilow seemed like a big draw. And – in keeping with  Justin Bieber’s appearance in 8.6 – fitted the increasingly obvious criteria for the top billing. Whoever it is must have weird, slightly freak-show characteristics.

Maybe I’m being a little mean about Manilow. He is after all a multi-millionaire, famed for ballads which have over the years broken many middle-aged housewives’ hearts. Or is that description itself as tired a cliche as the look Manilow himself sported on the sofa?

He is a fascinating character, not least because hardly anything above his top lip actually moves when he talks. Whoever it was who did work on Manilow’s face, they’re obviously not as good as Joan Rivers’ facial architect. Manilow’s relative quiet demeanour and slightly frail posture – he’s a good deal taller than I realised – makes the unnaturally young look incompatible with his age.

That doesn’t make his appearance on the Graham Norton Show pointless or wrong or dissatisfying. Quite the contrary in fact. There are limited outlets for global superstars and what few there are there are even fewer which expose some form of reality. Like Bieber last week, the audience is left with a nagging doubt: that we don’t actually understand the real person beneath the celebrity veneer, even though what we’re seeing is probably as close to real life as the guest in question leads anyway.

The real star of this particular show was stand-up comedian and panel show regular Sean Locke. At various points, Locke’s dry humour succeeded in both cutting through the glimmers of pizazz emanating from the other end of the sofa and acting as the perfect foil to crossover ‘classical’/’pop’ singer Katherine Jenkins who makes my blood boil. In case you’re wondering why she was on, she’s promoting the Doctor who Christmas Day episode because .. she’s in it.

Locke’s rant on people who complain about TV at first seemed a little dated. On reflection, it perhaps underlines how compliance still haunts entertainment shows like Graham Norton to the point where some of the joy can be bled out of the creative process.

If that is the case, then the ‘realistic celebrity appearances’ such has been displayed during this series of the Graham Norton Show might continue to be ensured by careful selection of guests. Such a strategy certainly seems to be paying off thus far. I’ve certainly moved on from being irritated by the constant promotion – in fact, it’s dealt with just the right amount of humour now.

Nice opening sequence too – the Copacabana thing. Shame about Ann Widdecombe though. She’s great entertainment. But I’m getting a little sick of seeing her everywhere. And, I don’t even watch Strictly Come Dancing. I suspect someone somewhere probably insisted.

:: Watch Episode 7 of the Graham Norton Show via the BBC Programmes website.