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Busy days and bicycles

I’ve got into the habit of doing a cycle circuit in the morning after breakfast. Up Ferme Park Road over into Crouch End, up Wolseley Road towards Highgate and then down and up Stanhope Road with a final run down back home. It’s quite a workout, with three hills (Wolseley Road is a bit of a killer half way round), and I’ve been timing it.

At 18 minutes 42 seconds first time round I’ve been knocking seconds and minutes off. Best time 17 minutes so far. It seems like a good way to start the day although sometimes get back feeling a bit spaced out. I’m riding a bicycle that me and my brother and sisters gave to my dad about 20 years ago to replace his rusting heap of a bike. When he died about 8 years ago I inherited it. It wasn’t an expensive bike when we bought it, and it’s now a pretty old and cranky, but true to my dad’s philosophy I’ve been keeping it going. I often use it to cycle to gigs, with my trombone strapped to the back, and a pannier full of microphone, music stand, pad of music, dinner jacket and whatever else I might need.


That life seems like a world away now. It’s been just over a month since my last gig. Over about 20 years of being a freelance musician I’ve built up my network of gigs, musicians, agents, bands and such over the years – these are all people that know what I can do and can offer. I’ve reached the point where I average nearly 300 gigs every year. Often I’ll have two gigs in a day, sometimes even three. Logistics can often be tricky and timings can sometimes be tight. I’ll also be worrying about musicians I’ve booked turning up at the right time and place, and worrying about leading the gig. I might have to set up a PA system, meet an events organiser with their own requests, make sure I’ve got the right instruments and clothes, manage things going wrong, find food... Sometimes I’ll have a long drive home late at night, after a long and tiring day, and with an early start the next morning.

Today I should have been driving to the New Forest and leading a tea dance for a birthday party in the afternoon. I was to be fronting a quartet that I had booked months ago (after dozens of emails agreeing it all and fixing the band). I’d already written out “When I’m 64” for the band to play, a special request. I was to be providing the PA, calling all the songs, playing and singing, and fielding the inevitable crazy requests. As soon as we were finished we’d have packed up as quick as we could to rush up to Woking to play for a swing dance event. We’d have finished there after 11pm, so after packing up again and getting on the road I'd be home at about 1am, depending on any late-night roadworks. The actual gigs would have been fun, but the day might have been tiring and stressful, involving hours of preparation. Sometimes I dread days like this!

As I was lying in bed last night I was reflecting on my busy life before Covid, and wondering if I might be a little kinder to myself in future if the music business picks up again.

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