F is for Freelance
It has been noted by many a wiser mind than mine that Homo sapiens is a creature of habit. In the main, the average sentient being appears to find comfort and solace in the security of a defined routine. It might be only the employment of the same numbers when purchasing the weekly lottery ticket. The order and certainty of a regular job. The weekend shop. Or reading The Daily Mail on the weekday commuter run. Or a newspaper. The crossword. The inevitability of yet another ridiculous home defeat at White Hart Lane. All this and more helps to create the illusion of permanence and continuity in a wicked world, which in reality has the capricious capacity to cause upheaval and chaos on a whim.
In this respect, the life of a self employed musician is no different to that of any other individual in a freelance profession. And, if you’re a big fan of certainty, well maybe it’s not for you. In a nutshell, unless you find yourself temporary shelter from the stress storm in a West End show, a lengthy tour or a permanent teaching position, you simply have no idea of what or who is going to happen next. If anything.
The phone may ring. Or it may not. Colleagues and artists, contractors and companies, studios and concert halls drift in and out of focus in a kaleidoscopic, dream-like state. You may wrestle with the diary in a desperate attempt to force clashing dates to fit like the ugly sisters’ shoes. Or you may gaze at a week-to-view page that is as pure as the driven snow but with a tenth of the charm. You may work for days or years on end with a team of hand-picked musicians – and then you may not work with them again. Ever. It happens.
In the end, you, your fingernails and your duodenal ulcer learn to cope with it. With luck and a fair wind, you stumble upon a nucleus of kind souls who find your musical contribution acceptable, useful and to their taste and are prepared to tolerate you hanging around their projects. Sometimes they even pay you. Eventually, you discover that there is a sufficiency of these sainted individuals. Enough, in fact, to provide you with the means to eat on a regular basis, most weeks at least. And in essence, that’s about all you can hope for. It’s called a career. And then, some of these inconsiderate ingrates have the temerity to die. Or worse still, to retire. Or start to use their 21-yearold girlfriend instead of you. Or a sampler. Or a girlfriend who owns a sampler. And you soldier on, manfully. Well, there’s no alternative, is there? I mean, who’d want to leave showbiz?
All of which leads me to this month’s Star Tale Of The Unexpected. In the midst of feeding the coffee and pouring the cat one average morning, the phone rang hopefully. It was Keith Mansfield. The king of TV theme tunes himself (think Grandstand, The Big Match,Wimbledon Tennis and a list of credits as long as an NHS waiting list). I last worked with Keith about 15 years ago. He is semi-retired these days but composers and arrangers like him never quit. They merely check their royalty statements. “How would you like to come down to Sussex and play on an album next week?”
“Sure. Delighted. Who is the artist?” “Salena Jones.” A lady who I last saw a mere 25 years ago at the airport after our return from a three-week tour of Japan. And a great jazz singer. “Well. We’re married now, as you probably know. So I’ve written all the charts. See you next week!”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is living proof of the old adage first coined by a Mr C Berry of Memphis, Tennessee.“It just goes to show – you never can tell.” By the way. I went to Sussex. The sun shone all day. The tunes were fab. The arrangements were super slick. The food was Delia-esque. I had a ball.
Wot? Give up showbiz?
Our hero ponders the joys and fears of session work; and proves that good contacts are vital...
In the main, the average sentient being appears to find comfort and solace in the security of a defined routine.