For a glorious few weeks each year my life is pretty much exactly the way I imagined a career in music to be when I took my first naive steps towards self-employment in the creative industries (at a time when I wouldn’t have dreamed of using a term like “creative industries”).
Most of the year is full of stats, networking, marketing and a host of other euphemisms that basically mean staring at a computer screen trying to convince strangers you’re in some way relevant.
But this article comes from the road, written in the back of a van speeding towards Freiburg. I am on a European tour with my band The Bedlam Six, everyone is in good spirits, the sun is shining outside, we’re ahead of schedule, have a crate of beer left over from last night’s rider and our bellies are full of hotel buffet. This is when all the questionable decisions I’ve made since leaving behind the relatively secure academic prospects afforded to me by the University of Pennsylvania finally make sense. This is when I have no regrets. This is when I don’t feel like a fraud.
Because the UK circuit does its best to make amateurs of us all. Success is treated like some sort of lottery (only far more expensive), the assumption being that progress cannot be made without the intervention of some expert, some aficionado, a fat man with a cigar and a big car. Fiction. And dull derivative fiction at that. We are made to feel like witless chancers, snuffling through the detritus for a golden ticket. All pretending, all scared, all making snide little comments about the other scared and swaggering hopefuls, all communicating in second hand phrases borrowed from a different era. It’s maddening and tragic and makes me want to move.
And that is why everyone I know loves playing in places like Germany. It’s not because musicians are paid decent amounts and treated like professionals (that happens in the UK too once you get to a certain level), it’s simply that the system itself has been looked after, does not exist at the mercy of fame or fad, it is in good health.
It took a long time but my band gets treated very well in the UK now, our tour this far has been wonderful, organised by enthusiastic promoters, playing to great crowds in some really gorgeous venues. But to make it this far we had to struggle with every single jaded booker’s assumption that all we want to do is get drunk and pretend to be rock stars for an evening. Why does Britain hold this default assumption that everything is over, that all we can hope for is an evening’s posturing, a hodge podge of nostalgia and attitude, like the musical equivalent of a crumbling seaside resort?
A decade of haunting the UK performance circuit has finally got me something approaching a sustainable career. But one tour in Europe had me instantly slotted right into an infrastructure that appears to be designed and maintained to keep the live circuit in perpetual motion regardless of whatever flavour of teen angst is in fashion at the time.
Success in the UK feels like a fluke – like one day I’ll be found out, tarred and feathered and run out of town. On this side of the channel I feel like an honest man.
FIRST PUBLISHED MARCH 2012