I will remember 17th March 2020, St Patrick’s Day, for a long while. I should have been working in Vienna, but had been warned hours before not to travel, because, said my colleague over there, ‘public life is about to close down’. It seemed, at the time, a bit extreme. At home the previous evening I’d managed to catch our Prime Minister’s rather more vague suggestion that we should all try to ‘avoid the theatre’; instantly followed by the announcement from London’s West End theatre managements that they would anyway be closing forthwith.
Switching on my laptop the next morning I saw numerous messages, with new ones flying in constantly. Every one of them was about the cancellation of a concert, festival, workshop or other event, many of them way into the unknowable future. I felt light-headed to see all this interesting work disappear at once. A couple of the communications had a rather jaunty tone. ‘We’re sure you’ll agree…’ they cheerfully declared, as if we were suddenly freed from the irritating distraction of putting on performances. By contrast I felt much admiration for advice so quickly circulated by ISM and the MU, and for emergency funds instantly launched by Help Musicians UK and the PRS. Organisations like these are often undervalued, until you need their help.
These initial impressions of what will be a long haul underlined for me how musical freelancers exist at the bottom of the food chain when any kind of funding is distributed. So much of this work consists of one-off events with no cancellation fees. Associated problems I’ve experienced myself have included the difficulty of recouping advance travel costs undertaken for events not now happening; and the abandonment of projects halfway through which were going to be paid on completion. Quite a few freelance musicians live a life of hardship at the best of times. When this is “all over” it would be good to rebuild a musical profession which properly values their contribution.
Pictured – Not Vienna, but a lovely tree anyway, on Clapham Road, Stockwell.