A creative’s Covid curiosity, that could have killed this cat!

I’ve been desperately trying to stay positive during lockdown and have kept myself occupied with a myriad of activities, such as webinars, workshops, research and reading, especially in the area of personal development, which has interested me for some time now. One such course that I signed up for was Darren Hardy’s “Jumpstart” course, specifically aimed at changing one element of a person’s life that was unsatisfactory and with a view to permanently turning things around for the better. My Jumpstart Goal was to get physically and mentally fit, and it was fab.

At the end of the 6-week course, I had managed to stick to my plan, I was focussed, had joined an accountability group that met online every Friday morning to discuss our respective progress, was running three times a week, eating a better diet, going to bed earlier, drinking loads more water, reading new books, watching lots of motivational videos and feeding my brain with informative and interesting stuff. Not only that, but I managed to maintain this regime and slowly but surely, the weight was not only coming off, but staying off!

It was all going so famously well ……… until the second lockdown kicked in and the gyms were closed down -again!

Now the pragmatic types will say, “what’s wrong with exercising outdoors?” Well, in actual fact my Jumpstart journey started during the early Summer months, therefore I was running outdoors. Even though I hate running outdoors!!! Despite this, I was doing quite well and with the help of a Couch to 5KM app on my phone, I was getting through the sessions far better than I could have imagined and thanks to some very nice weather, my early morning run was quite pleasant – did I just say that?? – and I felt a sense of achievement having completed each session.

Ironically, my gym membership had been suspended during lockdown (hence starting the running regime outdoors), but as things started to relax and places were reopening, my membership was reactivated at the start of October, coinciding with the weather taking a nasty turn for the worst and with the clocks changing. Dark, wet, cold and windy mornings suddenly reminded me why I didn’t like outdoor running. “No problem” I thought, “I’ll see how safe the gym is and give it a go”. First visit back and it was like the Marie Celeste. Excellent and my running improved as I found out how much easier (and cosier!) running indoors was, especially when you have the added distraction of assorted TV programmes to help you through your session!

The gym closure once again in December however, managed to to successfully knock all the enthusiasm and drive out of me and this was yet another kick in the teeth that was enough to derail all my hard work up to that point. The weight is starting to creep up, thanks to all the excesses of Christmas and the previous exercise disciplines seem but distant memories now, although it’s actually only around 4-5 weeks since I last went for a run!

The final hammer blow though, wasn’t anything to do with fitness or exercise, but was work-related and my senseless curiosity following a rather depressing conversation with a fellow musician regarding the restrictions not allowing musicians (especially brass and wind players) to gather and perform or even rehearse together. This morbid thirst for facts about my inactivity revealed what freelance work I’ve been able to do (legally and within the Covid regulations) since the restrictions were imposed last March (2020). Fatal mistake! From end of March 2020 – end of of January 2021, I’ve done 14 days paid work as a freelancer! Still more than many I fear!

My point in writing this blog however, is to share the other important lessons that I’ve learned during this tempestuous Covid journey. Not just from Darren Hardy, but also the likes of Jim Rohn and many others, including my fab Friday morning accountability group, who continue to inspire and motivate me, despite feeling like I can’t be bothered some days. These lessons are many, but that it’s ok to fall off the wagon and deviate off the straight and narrow, don’t beat yourself up with a big stick over it, dust yourself off and get back on the horse and finally, be grateful for what you have.

Gratitude is something I believe we all take for granted, but when you see what’s going on in the world on a daily basis, you have to take stock and be thankful. I have to be thankful! I have a roof over my head, a loving Wife, food in the cupboards and thanks to my other non-freelance work, the ability to pay my monthly bills (just!) and long may it continue!

So when you start compiling a list of moans and groans – like I often do – just stop and think about how much worse it could be and then everything seems a lot better!

I will get back to running. I will be fit and healthier. I will do it! In the meantime though, here’s to my 15th day of freelance work, whenever that may be?

Stay safe, stay well and try to stay positive!

Are the Arts and Culture a waste of time and money – a luxury for the rich and the elite?

For those of you who are interested in continuous professional development (and looking to treat yourself for Christmas I can’t recommend this book highly enough. As a musician and business owner I try to push myself and my thinking beyond the boundaries of “normal” and this book certainly opens your mind to that.


Interestingly, the author refers to a study conducted by Michigan State University that “… compared Nobel prize-winning scientists with other scientists from the same era. The Nobel Laureates were twice as likely to play a musical instrument, seven times more likely to draw, paint or sculpt, twelve times more likely to write poetry, plays or popular books and twenty two times as likely to perform at amateur acting, dancing or magic. Similar results were found for entrepreneurs and inventors”.

And to think that the arts and culture are not classed by many politicians in the UK as viable and are a luxury? 

Thank you to all of you who have read my blog in 2020. It’s been an horrendous year for so many freelancers and people involved in the arts, including Music for You, but many have suffered far worse so I count my blessings that I’m still here – alive and well! Let us now hope and pray that the new vaccine will be the catalyst that brings an end to this Covid nightmare and sees us return to some semblance of normality very soon.

I wish you all a safe and peaceful Christmas and hope that you will be able to share some time with your loved ones. Now bugger off 2020 and let’s see what 2021 has in store for us!

Merry Christmas/Nadolig Llawen!

Coronavirus – The harsh reality of life now as a freelancer

The last few months will have been the most difficult many of us will have encountered in our lifetime. Up until late last year, most people weren’t even aware of Coronavirus or Covid-19, but by the time of writing this blog (August 2020) it will have affected most people across the world in so many different ways, causing untold heartbreak and suffering that will have a long-lasting legacy that, for some, will never be overcome.

My first “encounter” with C-19 was in March whilst sprawled on a sun lounger enjoying a much needed holiday  in Thailand. I started reading news reports of flights being instructed to turn around mid-air and return to their point of departure, as countries starting going into immediate lock down. This was quickly followed by a succession of e-mails and messages stating that a number of future music events were either being postponed or cancelled due to the uncertainty of what was happening.

Coronavirus

Fast forward to August and the landscape is so unlike anything anyone could have predicted, it borders on the surreal! No gigs, no rehearsals, no weddings, no concerts, no playing brass instruments indoors! No income!!!

Before I continue, I must be grateful. Grateful that I am alive, that I have not contracted C-19 and thankfully neither has any of my family nor my friends, therefore I have not suffered, as many thousands of people have truly suffered. I have not had to risk my life on a daily basis and don uncomfortable protective clothing (PPE) for hours on end in order to try and treat patients suffering from this terrible pandemic, nor have I been stranded in a foreign country (although it was touch and go getting home from Thailand!) or totally isolated from loved ones – my Mum might disagree with that latter statement, but we got there in the end.

Now to my reason for writing. This pandemic has caused another form of hardship and suffering. Regardless of whether you “do politics” or not, the harsh reality is that there has been a huge schism created between the “haves” and the “have nots”.

In an effort to maintain lock down and at the same time protecting jobs and the future economy, Chancellor of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that UK companies would be able to furlough employees, who would receive 80% of their income whilst staying at home, in order to reduce the potential spread of the virus. This seemed like a sensible idea initially, however once the criteria were scrutinised, it became apparent that this was deeply flawed, especially when it came to people who were freelancers, self-employed, company directors and those working on freelance PAYE (Pay as you earn) contracts.

Coronavirus disease outbreak (COVID-19)

Despite numerous funds and support schemes being made available, many of these above mentioned people were ineligible for ANY kind of support and sadly, I was also one of them! The Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), the Culture  Resilience Fund, the Urgent Response Fund, the Stabilisation Fund for Individuals, local Council Grants, Universal Credit, Job Seekers Allowance etc. etc. etc.

So many people in fact, they number in excess of 3 million workers and are now known collectively as ExcludedUK. People, many who had spent years investing both financially and in blood, sweat and tears to establish successful businesses, or who had recently gone to “the other side” and left secure employed positions to follow their dream and run their own business. No income, no support, no hope!

This little piggy couldn’t afford to go to market,
This little piggy stayed at home (due to lockdown),
Other little piggies had roast beef,
This little piggy had none.
And this little piggy went…
“Why are wee wee different to all the other piggies” all the way through this pandemic…?

Despite vociferous protests and pleading, the Chancellor was, and remains deaf to our pleas for help, despite the fact that all of us have worked and paid our taxes over the years and will be expected (rightly so) to contribute to the State taxation system in the future. So why should 3 million people be left to hang out to dry?

Over the last few months, members of ExcludedUK have not only had to endure financial hardships, whilst their family and friends around them enjoy Government support, but also the sort of bigoted and misinformed opinions that have really shown how little understanding there is of our plight and how the economy works, particularly for the self-employed. Comments such as “well you’ve enjoyed being paid cash in hand over the years, so stop whining!” or “you pay less tax than employed workers so what’s your problem?” really does cut to the quick and the inference that we are anything less than honest or transparent about our working practises, is quite frankly insulting.

To put the record straight, as a self-employed musician, I declare ALL my income for ALL the work that I do and pay my taxes as expected on time and in full, as do the vast majority of my law-abiding colleagues . Running a business means that I am the operations manager, the transport department, the marketing department, the accounts department, the customer service department and in charge of professional development and training. We DO NOT enjoy the perks and benefits of sick pay and holiday pay,  we often don’t get paid on time (sometimes not at all) and we are often seen as a vehicle for extreme bartering on our rates and fees.

The retort is usually “Why are you self-employed then, get out if you can’t stand the heat?” Simply, I wouldn’t change it for the world and enjoy every minute of it “living the dream” and doing what I love, despite the above problems.

All I (and my 3 million other Excluded colleagues) ask for, is parity and justice. Not too much to ask for surely – is it?

The new “normal” – Girl with mask to protect her from Coronavirus

So next time you see a family member or friend mention the Excluded in a social media post or hear it in conversation, don’t just walk on by as “it doesn’t affect me”. Please spare a few minutes to hear what that person’s struggles are, they are very real and they are possibly at breaking point. The stories that have circulated on the ExcludedUK chat groups are truly heart-breaking and if you can lend a sympathetic ear, it may have far more impact than you could ever imagine and help that person get through one day more!

My wish is that we ALL come through this safely, with our families and current jobs intact and AS EQUALS.

This blog is written as my personal story and is not intended to represent ExcludedUK or any other member of the group. There are 3 million other stories to be told!

For more details about Andrew Jones , please visit the Music for You web-site

 

What’s the point?

It’s sounding a bit of a cliche now, but these are truly unprecedented times. Not only for me, but for millions of people all over the world. The Covid-19 (Corona Virus) pandemic has affected us all in ways that we could never have imagined possible and has made us re-evaluate the things that are truly important in our lives.

A quick trawl through my social media channels has highlighted the very best and also the very worst traits of the human species. These have ranged from kindness, bravery and self-sacrifice to selfishness, arrogance and sheer idiocy. We have suddenly become virtual prisoners in our own homes – that is if we’ve been true to Government guidance about self-isolating and social distancing – with boredom and a lack of freedom to do what we want, when we want to and where we want to being the major focus of our lives. Unless you count stockpiling ridiculous amounts of toilet paper sufficient to deal with a worldwide dysentery a major worry!

Thankfully during this period of virtual lock-down, Mrs. Wife and I have been perfectly safe and secure here at “Trumpet Towers” – with sufficient (but not excessive!) quantities of pasta, tinned tomatoes and loo rolls to keep us away from the shops. She is an avid reader – a book a day is not uncommon – and I have my music to keep me going. Thank God for my music!!!

It’s funny how music always ends up being the “uniting force” or “glue” that brings communities together and puts a smile on peoples’ faces during times of adversity. Footage of residents in Italy (subject to lock-down) standing on their balconies and singing was broadcast all over the world and my friends at the Cory Band featured on national television, when their players recorded remote individual recordings of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”which were was then skilfully combined to make a complete band performance online, which vent viral (no pun intended!) overnight.

For musicians, whilst there is no replacement for performing together in public to an audience, or in a rehearsal, there is great comfort and satisfaction still to be derived from playing or singing at home on one’s own. Granted, it’s not the same, but it does fill the void and those endless monotonous days pass with less pain and angst, than those who don’t have a meaningful and fulfilling pastime to fall back on.

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Tools of the trade (Stomvi and Eclipse Trumpets)

So despite having my music – this saving grace, my refuge, my mental and spiritual sanctuary – this week having realised that I’d missed 2 consecutive days of blowing my trumpet, I had a moment of real full-on “what’s the bloody point?” The mind goes into over-drive. “I’ve got plenty of books waiting to be read, the attic needs clearing out and that box of archived memorabilia and “stuff” desperately could do with a sort out. Why bother practising? I don’t have any gigs in the book, there are no rehearsals I can attend, I don’t get paid to practise. Why should I bother?” So I didn’t and binge-watched “Murder 24/7” on Sky Crime or something similar.

The following day, having maxed out on my TV fix and now being thoroughly conversant  with Police custody procedures, forensic techniques and how much of a mug’s game crime actually is, I had a large reality check and got that Trumpet out for my daily parp.

Why? Because I realised that life without my music, in whatever form it takes – group, individual, home, abroad, practise, performance – is just a part of me. The period of no gigs and not being paid are (sadly) part of the territory, even when there is no pandemic to worry about. Indeed if musicians charged clients for the work “off camera” and “behind the scenes” in terms of preparation and maintaining standards we’d all be blinking millionaires. Imagine a builder excusing themselves from the family viewing of “Sound of Music” on Christmas Day to go and lay a few rows of bricks because they need to keep their hand in, as they’re building a wall on Boxing Day!

That said and done, it’s what we do, it’s who we are and it’s what makes us tick. Therefore by writing this blog, it’s been a cathartic experience. I’ve answered my own question really! The point is …… because we’re musicians and we love it!

PorthcawlPavilionBigBandPictures016

The Phil Dando Big Band Trumpet Section in action.

So the next time you ask a musician how much they charge for performing at a Wedding or to provide music for a Corporate Event, you’ll know that the fee doesn’t just cover the 3 hours the musician will be at the engagement, or the travel time and costs, or even to purchase the music, to arrange that special tune you requested or for buying that very shiny Trumpet. The cost reflects a lifetime devoted to the pursuit of excellence (I’m still chasing it incidentally!) and maintaining those extremely high standards, rightly expected by clients but demanded of the performers themselves.

I hope that all of you stay well and safe during these strange and difficult times and look forward to that first rehearsal or gig, whenever that may be.

Car Practice

Needs must! Martini practise session – “Any time, any place, anywhere”