Tales from the Post-Brexit Wasteland

It’s two weeks since Referendum Day, and you can hardly say there’s been a drought of news. The referendum result ran in favour of leaving the European Union. There have been resignations and sackings across the board (David Cameron, Nigel Farage, and a host of Labour shadow cabinet ministers, to name a few). There’s chaos in the Conservative and Labour parties with leadership elections on the horizon and enough backstabbing and betrayal for an episode of Game of Thrones.

The pound is still dipping (hitting a record 31-year low), the markets are still suffering (the FTSE 250, being more dependent on the UK economy than the FTSE 100, is still a way off from recovery) and Osborne’s policies of economic austerity look set to get even worse; things ain’t what they used to be, that’s for sure.

But to many, these are intangible issues. What does it mean, really, for the average person when one FTSE or another fluctuates? There’s been political infighting for decades – why is now any different? What real effects does this whole question of Brexit actually have on people?

The answer, it seems, is that the referendum result has had real, disastrous consequences for many people, and it’s only been a couple of weeks. I spoke to several friends and colleagues who have already suffered in the wake of the vote, and figured I would share with you some of their stories.

This may not be immediately apparent, but some names have been changed in the interest of anonymity.

***

The idea for this post was first inspired by a conversation with an old friend. Pablo Thunderguns worked as an executive headhunter in the fast-growing financial technology (or FinTech) sector. He told me that business had been slowing down rapidly in the three months preceding the referendum, and that there had been ‘some strong campaigning from all the major CEOs in the space to remain [in the EU]’.

Thunderguns worked for what he describes as ‘a start-up executive search firm…like a consultancy’, specialising in recruitment and ‘bringing [in] the best and brightest people’, but when clients started putting their recruitment on hold in preparation for a possible Brexit, he started to get concerned about his own job security. His fears proved founded, as he was soon dismissed with ‘uncertainty in the market’ given as one of the reasons. Though he received another job offer from a large, global FinTech company, that was rescinded a week before he was set to start due to the company ‘[pausing] all recruitment in the UK…with some fears that another recession could be coming.’

When I asked about the personal effect the referendum vote has had on him, he told me, ‘[it] has been really interesting. I was quite upset about leaving the EU. As a young person in the UK, it is part of my identity. Also, the inclusiveness that it represents with a huge number of international friends makes me feel like I’m part of something where I don’t belong.’

‘To add to this,’ he adds to this, ‘my mother, an immigrant from [outside Europe], voted to leave the EU. I went home recently and it was weird to see her again as she is the physical embodiment of why I don’t have a job.’

It’s a sad state of affairs, and Pablo Thunderguns was far from the only person I found who had suffered career derailment from reactions to Brexit. Velveteen Panther, currently living in Paris, applied for a job with a startup working on a language-learning app. Despite getting an interview with them, she was called on the day the referendum results were announced and told that, regrettably, they would have to retract the interview.

‘They were incredibly apologetic’, she told me, ‘but said that as they were trying to build a team they needed to know they had people who were reliably going to stay in France, and could legally do so. They said that Brexit made my immigration status in the future uncertain and it put too heavy a burden on them trying to work out what visas I may or may not need in the future. For a young, vulnerable company it was too much work, and too risky.’ Panther was quick to assure me that she bore the company no ill will – ‘As I said, they were very apologetic and sympathetic, but I understand how uncertainty is a big risk for new-generation start-up businesses’ – but summed things up rather sadly for me: ‘I was out of the European jobs market by lunchtime.’

Both commented on their plans for the future, and neither expressed much of an interest in staying in a post-Brexit UK. ‘Over the past months [I] have been applying for jobs in Australia, and have a final interview next week,’ Thunderguns tells me. ‘It’s something I’ve been thinking of doing for a long time, but now there’s no excuse not to do it. No job, no flat and an economy that is going down the tube.’

Velveteen Panther’s plans, meanwhile, are less concrete but just as determined:

‘I was in France trying to improve my French in order to take up an internship with the British ambassador in the European Commission, but I guess that’s out the window now. I am looking at jobs in London and Paris but I fear that London will start to become a less advantageous market if Brexit finally occurs. I am desperate to maintain my EU citizenship so [am] very tempted to stay in France working. I worry that the situation I faced above will happen again, but as a young person keen to be part of a dynamic workforce, I would rather be in the single market than out because I know there are more opportunities there. If that means trying to naturalise as a French citizen, and giving up British citizenship, that is something I am prepared to do. I am not prepared to accept a diluted form of free movement where British workers are expected to work inside the EU without the benefit of citizenship rights and protections. There have been so many complaints of EU migrants coming over [to the UK] to work, but they are just doing it because the market here is (/was) better than in Romania or Bulgaria. I will do as they did and go to a country with a better economy and better opportunities if that is what is best for me. I feel there are many other young, educated workers who will do the same.’

This, it seems, is but the tip of the iceberg – so many people have come forward to tell me of their own experiences or those of their friends, from paid internships being cancelled due to the ‘uncertain business outlook post-Brexit’…

PLid friend edited

…to work stock options plunging in the wake of the vote…

Nigel edited

…to whole firms collapsing, resulting in mass job loss.

Loz friend edited

Research and academia, too, looks set to suffer from the referendum fallout. A friend related to me the thoughts of an academic colleague of her mother’s, who explained that they were ‘[worried] about cuts in research funding…[making] the UK less attractive for researchers and [leading] to brain drain and fewer collaborations between the UK and the European Union’ (which looks to be happening already). On top of concerns that ‘academics and students from other countries will now think twice about going to the UK’, they also pointed out that almost half of their department’s permanent academic staff hailed from EU countries. ‘What will happen to us/them? Nobody knows.’ Another friend, a university lecturer, pointed out that, although she’s not run into issues yet herself, her department ‘will only be eligible for future EU funding (which is by far the biggest pot of money for good research) if we can guarantee that the UK will allow free movement of people within the EU’ – a guarantee that, with no clear Leave plan and a frontrunner in the Conservative leadership contest straight-up refusing to rule out deportation, no-one seems willing to give.

Others in academia have had budget constraints forced upon them by the volatile markets and crashing pound. MC LeBest, a senior library assistant, told me: ‘It’s a very minor hassle, compared to say, one of my friends being subject to hate speech, but my budget at work is understandably in pounds. However, as a museum with international collections, research material often has to be sourced from overseas (usually Europe or the USA), so my budget has tanked in real terms and we can’t afford as much, so the research suffers.’

And what of those still in education, hoping for more opportunities on the horizon? Big Bad McHandsome-Mann studied at UCL until his student visa ran out, and then began to study in the Netherlands. ‘I went to [the Netherlands],’ he told me, ‘to get naturalised and gain EU access back to the UK. Guess where I’ll be staying?’

All this is to say nothing, of course, of those who have or seek jobs within or related to the European Union itself. Magenta Bjornsson is currently doing a traineeship within the EU council, and fears that she will now ‘have to accept that this 5 months is the only EU career [she will] ever have’. Foxy Foxworth, meanwhile, is working on the European Fast Stream, a government grad scheme that trains people on EU skills and aims to get them into EU institutions or a career in the UK civil service. He told me that ‘all of our career prospects are obviously now in jeopardy and there’s a huge amount of uncertainty,’ and that ‘neither of these [options] is now a long-term prospect – the vote on the 23rd effectively finished our careers in that field.’

Foxworth went on to tell me about the curious paradox a lot of those on the EFS find themselves in, wherein the most relevant work in the immediate future looks to be that which actively undermines what they’ve been working towards:

‘There will obviously be a certain amount of work to do in the next 5-10 years as we unpick ourselves from the treaties, but this will eventually come to an end and we will be left stranded – experts in something that isn’t relevant any more. As such, those of us who have been specifically trained to be the government’s EU talent have very little incentive to lend our skills to the negotiation process. There are more people talking about leaving the country entirely than there are expressing an active interest in working in the new ‘Brexit Unit’.’

Foxy finished up with what I personally feel is a fantastic summary of what he calls ‘the stages of referendum grief’.

‘When I woke up on the 24th and heard the news I just felt sick. You could probably call that phase “shock”. Since then there’s definitely been some denial (“we can’t let this happen without another referendum!”); bargaining (“what if London stayed in, and everyone else can go?”); and anger – particularly towards those politicians who promised everything would be great in the event of a vote to leave and then turned out to have no plan whatsoever…By now things have settled down a bit more. You could call it “acceptance” – but only in the sense that everything is so uncertain at the moment that we really have no choice other than to try and keep going as usual and wait and see what happens.’

***

There’s still much, much more to say – I have a whole host of other stories and experiences from friends and colleagues, which I will be writing up shortly. But this post is getting a little long already, so I’m going to end it here for now, having covered most of the career- and work-related issues people have talked to me about. The message is clear, though: the referendum result, whatever may be done in the future with regards to an actual Brexit, has had real, reverberating effects on people’s lives. People living in the UK and abroad have already been cut off from potential livelihoods and opportunities, and whatever else you may think of the referendum and the EU, one cannot deny that this is a rather raw deal.

Next time, I’ll be talking to people who have suffered from racism and harassment in their day-to-day lives, and about whether and how the referendum result has affected that. Stay tuned.

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So.

UPDATED 28/6/16

Caution – some strong language ahead.

So. How about that referendum, eh? Pretty wild stuff. Pretty wild.

I’ve had a day or so to process the result (51.9% in favour of leaving the European Union, in case you haven’t been keeping an eye out), but it still makes my mind reel a bit. I feel disappointed, angry, but most of all I feel just a little bit sweary. So let’s get into it.

There are several things about this result that make me worried, but let’s start with the numbers. The total turnout for the vote was 72.2% according the BBC, which is historically high. That’s important on its own merits – people caring enough about the issues to actually get out and take an active role in democracy should be encouraged. But we shouldn’t miss the fact that this still leaves over a quarter of the electorate missing from an historic and important vote – almost 13 million people.

When I see a number that large I’m confirmed in my support of compulsory voting laws, which Australia, for example, has been making use of since the early 20th century. Don’t support any candidates in an election, or any options in an open vote like this? That’s totally fine – get down to your polling station anyway and spoil your ballot. I cannot stress this enough: this is an option. Your voice gets heard, and your politicians don’t get to sideline your views by saying ‘well, they didn’t vote so obviously they don’t care anyway’. I’m obviously not saying that every single one of those votes would have joined the Remain camp and seen us soar into victory, but it would at least have been (a) truly representative and (b) possibly a little more decisive.

Which brings me onto my next point – I, for one, feel extraordinarily uncomfortable about the closeness of the result. If everything goes ahead and Britain activates Article 50 to leave the EU (and there are a few dim rays of hope on that front), I don’t like the idea that 48% of the country is essentially being told to go and, if you’ll pardon the language, fuck themselves. I felt the same in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum a couple of years ago, where the results came out 55:45. I was totally in support of Scotland remaining the UK at the time, but I recognised then and now that much work needed to be done to improve the relationship between the country and Westminster. But when the results came in, it was treated as an overwhelming victory, despite the fact that almost 2 million people were so disillusioned with the way the country stood in the United Kingdom that they would rather brave independence than carry on with it. How’s that for the democratic process?

I don’t see why we don’t have something like a two-thirds majority rule on things like this (and it plays into our first-past-the-post system in general elections as well, but that’s a rant for another day). If a vote doesn’t hit that sweet spot, well, hey – perhaps it’s a complicated and nuanced issue that shouldn’t be decided by a disillusioned and overwhelmed public with no experience or in-depth knowledge of the issues presented and bogged down with misinformation and scaremongering from all angles? Perhaps it’s time to see what experts think (oh, hang on, never mind, Michael Gove says that we’ve had enough of these pesky ‘experts’ with their ‘facts’ and ‘experience’)?

In the run-up to the vote, the idea that this question should not have been a referendum at all was, to a lot of people, anathema. I suspect that many people are changing their tune on that front since yesterday, if reports of Leave voters immediately regretting their decision are anything to go by. Every fibre of my being wants to scream at these people ‘well, what the ever-loving fuck did you think was going to happen?’ for not realising that a vote to Leave was, surprisingly enough, a vote to Leave. But I get it. I do.

We, the British public, have been taken for a ride by the political class. David Cameron called this referendum in a cynical and short-sighted attempt to score some cheap political points, massaging our egos and saying ‘yes, yes, you’re all so smart, tell us what to do on this whole EU question OK? What’s the worst that could happen?’ The fallout has been devastating – pretty much the only good news (and in context it’s not even that good) is that Cameron’s little stunt has led to his resignation. Let’s run down the ways in which we’ve all (Leave and Remain alike) been fucked over by Cameron, Boris Johnson and the other lovely and colourful characters sitting in Westminster, shall we? Altogether now!

  • Nigel Farage – not an MP, not even an official member of the Leave campaign despite being one of its most vocal proponents, and yet inexplicably on every TV channel at once within minutes of the results being announced – has stated that the much-vaunted ‘give the £350 million we spend on EU membership to the NHS’ was a ‘mistake’. Now, since he has no actual political power here it’s difficult to say what this means for the Leave campaign as a whole – but if the country suddenly starts growing hospitals like an unsightly rash, I for one will be extraordinarily surprised (especially considering the real figure we pay to the EU is much lower).
    • UPDATE: this NHS back-pedalling has now been echoed by Iain Duncan Smith, which gives it a bit more credibility. Hooray.
  • MEP Daniel Hannan, another voice of Leave, has backtracked on his immigration policy, from ‘no more immigrants’ to ‘well, uh, we want to be part of the European single market so I guess free movement then!’, prompting Newsnight presenter Evan Davis to point out the gulf between campaign promises and reality. I would obviously like to make it clear that I support free movement and immigration – but when a bunch of people have just voted Leave in order to stamp down on that sort of thing, this is a colossal betrayal on the part of the campaign.
  • David Cameron has announced his resignation, with a new Tory leader to be elected by October, prolonging the break-up between the UK and the EU. I understand not wanting to go through with it after campaigning on the side of Remain, but on the other hand – this is your own fucking fault, you spineless giblet. This is what you get when you force a referendum on such a complex and emotionally-resonant issue as this.
  • The pound hit its lowest value since 1985 on Friday morning, and the markets have been struggling to recover since. Probably unrelated.
  • Despite promises of continued unity within Britain from both sides, Nicola Sturgeon has announced her intention to push for a second referendum on Scottish independence, and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has renewed calls for a vote on Irish reunification. Again, I’m sure that’s unrelated.

There’s more – plenty more. But I need to leave for a gig in 4 minutes, so I’ll wrap this up.

Whatever has happened, whatever will happen, remember this – if you feel disillusioned about what’s going on, whether you’re a Remain voter who feels disenfranchised or a Leave voter seething with righteous rage following the campaign’s furious back-pedalling, do something about it.  This website has several options, including direct contacts for political parties, organisation dedicated to governmental reform, and plenty more. Protests are happening right now (though you’ll likely need to look hard for them – somehow they never seem to make it into the mainstream media) – get out there and make your voice heard. If you don’t feel represented by the political class, tell them so. They sit in the House of Commons because we put them there, and we must make sure they follow our needs and wants in a truly democratic way. I’m rooting for all y’all.

UPDATE 28/6/16 – A few more points that have struck me the last couple of days.

  • That petition for a second referendum has been going crazy. I wrote at length about it on Facebook so I won’t get too into it here, but I’ll sum up by saying that my feelings on it are to treat it, in essence, as a real protest and challenge to the political elite lying to us, messing us around and expecting to get away with it.
  • There’s been an awful lot of information passed around concerning the age brackets in the vote – specifically, that older voters were significantly more likely to vote to Leave, while the young (who, it has been argued, have longer to live with the consequences of this vote) overwhelmingly voted to Remain. A YouGov poll from the day suggested that while 75% of those aged 18-24 voted to Remain, just 39% of those aged 65+ did.
    • This is a tough one, as it seems momentously unfair and is so easy to jump straight into ‘the older generation have fucked us over, I hate them so much’. This is dangerous territory, though, and ageism isn’t the way to sort this whole debacle out. I know plenty of older voters who, for example, voted Remain or voted Leave under false pretences. Just as, while there are xenophobic bigots who voted Leave, not all Leave voters are xenophobic bigots, there are plenty of older voters who aren’t out to wreck your futures. In addition, turnout figures have indicated that turnout amongst the 18-25 bracket was significantly lower than in higher brackets, which can’t have helped. We need to keep our focus on challenging the power structures and systems that led to a crisis like this, rather than squabbling amongst ourselves and ladling in ad hominem arguments – like a call for lowering the voting age as in Scotland, finding ways to enthuse the younger generation on the subject of politics, and making sure that people know there are better ways to protest than simply not voting (see above re: spoiling one’s ballot).
    • I heard an interesting suggestion that, amongst the even older crowd (we’re talking 80+ here) the vote was significantly more geared towards Remain – the theory runs that the generations who can better remember the perils of world wars were less willing to undermine the tentative peace of the European Union. I can’t seem to find much to support this though, so if anyone finds anything let me know!
  • Much has also been made of the idea of a pro-Brexit working-class revolt within the traditionally Labour heartlands of northern England and Wales – Owen Jones has written a lot about it at the Guardian. This has no doubt contributed to Labour’s own troubles in recent days, including the no-confidence vote, the results of which have just been announced. This, I think, is one of the elements that saddens me the most – the EU has been painted as the big bad bureaucratic behemoth that has been responsible for many of the plights of the working class, and to be sure it has plenty of problems and issues, but it seems to me that in voting out the political elite of Brussels, they’ve merely legitimised the political elite of Westminster. I’m sure I’m simplifying this particular issue though, so please feel free to comment about it!
    • Interestingly, it seems that the Leave vote was often strongest in areas most reliant on EU funding. I’m not sure exactly what this means – perhaps it’s that they had more interaction with the EU than other areas and got more of an insight into its inner workings, or perhaps it’s because it is easier to blame the EU, as a primary contributor to these local economies, for whatever problems have plagued them. Most infamous of these, arguably, has been Cornwall, who voted overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit but now stand to lose a significant amount of funding if it all goes through.
  • An odd little, mildly ironic addendum – it seems that new member states of the European Union have to adopt the euro as a currency. So if we leave the EU and decide, a decade or two down the line, that we actually want back in, it looks likely that we’d have to adopt that hated single currency that has so many up in arms. Sad trombone indeed.
  • My friend and I are on a small segment of Radio 4’s The World Tonight talking about our Brexit reactions. I’m somewhat disappointed that they only included the ‘angry, wanna break some plates’ soundbite, considering that we talked the issue through from various angles. I feel like it’s doing nothing to dispel the idea that Remainers are just throwing their toys out of the pram, and makes our justifiable anger out to be far more one-dimensional. It’s a shame, because it could have been a real platform for informed but non-officially-aligned voters like us to say our piece. Ho hum.

All in all, it’s been a weird and stressful few days. There’s still much we can do – protests and marches are happening right now, so you can get down to Trafalgar Square or Parliament and show your politicians how you feel. Half the population cannot simply have the voice ripped from their throat, not when there’s so much on the line. And especially not when it makes Donald Trump so happy (bonus points for him claiming that Scotland was overjoyed with the vote, when they as a country voted to Remain).

On Brexit and the Arts

I know. I know. You’ve had it with the constant posts about the imminent referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the EU. I have too, not least because most of the people I know are pro-Remain (as I am) so I get this weird frustration from reading and hearing lots of great pro-EU arguments and having no-one to shout them at because everyone already agrees with me.

But I learnt about the dangers of the social media echo chamber in the last general election – when Facebook was plastered with posts and videos denouncing the Tories and showing their support for Labour, the Greens, even the Lib Dems, fallen from grace as they are. It didn’t seem even vaguely plausible that the Conservatives could push for another coalition, let alone win an outright majority. And then the Conservatives won an outright majority.

Issues with our governmental and electoral systems aside (and believe me, there are plenty), what that experience taught me was how misleading it can be to make assumptions of how people will vote and think solely from the people you surround yourself with – a glaringly obvious revelation, I’m sure, but one that I’ve taken to heart. So here I am, penning a short post about Brexit in the hopes that it might reach the eyes of even one person on the fence or voting Out.

The perils of leaving the EU have been covered in great detail already, from the overwhelming support from hard-right leaning politicians such as UKIP’s Nigel Farage and France’s Marine Le Pen, to the difficulties and consequences of adopting the Swiss or Norwegian models for post-EU trade and immigration policies. So I’ll leave most of that alone. I speak from the position of a musician here (in case that wasn’t clear, in which case you probably came to wrong website, sorry) – and leaving the EU would be colossally bad for the arts.

One big reason, which several people have touched upon already (including my good friend Imogen Hancock in this lovely piece about the referendum), a large number of musicians in Britain come here from Europe. Some of the best musicians I’ve come across have come to the UK and made some brilliant music with friends and colleagues they met here. The fantastic More Ice and Honey was comprised, at its conception, of musos from France, Russia, Finland, Belgium, the Czech Republic and the UK itself. If you think a more isolationist, post-EU Britain is going to make it easier for European musicians and artists to travel here and interact and work with other like-minded people, you’re being naïve.

Furthermore, as the MU points out, it goes both ways – British musicians tour work abroad (an essential element of many musicians’ careers), and the EU’s open borders and visa-less travel have streamlined that significantly, not to mention the utility of the European Health Insurance Card, which guarantees medical assistance when travelling – over which currently hangs a big post-Brexit question mark. On top of that, health and safety and workers’ rights legislation from the EU has made musicians’ and artists’ lives significantly better, including copyright law that protects the intellectual property of artists.

And if you think that a Britain with more ‘sovereignty’ and under the benevolent eye of a Conservative government will protect the arts more than the EU has…well.

We have an education secretary who, depending on the time of day, either thinks that pupils with a grounding in the arts are ‘held back’ later in life or condescendingly purrs that the arts are crucial to an understanding of ‘Britishness’ despite (a) what the hell does that even mean, and (b) a categorical decline in arts uptake in schools.

We have a government handing down so many cuts to local council funding (including the arts) that it can’t even keep track of them and seems genuinely confused when they have consequences.

We have arts projects that rely on funding and grants from the EU – and I would be genuinely confused if we continued to receive that from outside the European Union.

Anyway. I’m probably rambling on a bit, so I’ll leave you with this Guardian article featuring several much more well-informed people chatting about the impact of Brexit on the arts. We’re a global society now, and we should be embracing that, not lusting after a bygone and worryingly imperialistic age.

The Leave and Remain camps alike have polluted this debate with misinformation and smokescreens, yes. Money goes in, money comes out. There are benefits, there are costs. The EU is a bureaucratic behemoth with plenty of its own problems, and there are few people denying that.  But voting to leave is like getting a sub-par meal at a restaurant and deciding to starve yourself to death in protest.

Interesting Things

It’s been all go here at Fagandini Mansions lately.

The biggest, most excellent thing of all the things has of course been the launch of the Happy Hour Collective! We had our launch party on Monday at The Miller in London Bridge, and it went swimmingly. The response from the audience was overwhelmingly positive, and we all had a great time. It was very gratifying to see the payoff for all the work we’d put in over the last few months. And thanks to the wonderful and excellent Callum Gillies, we have the whole thing caught on camera for posterity. We’ll be putting that up when it’s ready, but in the meantime you can catch the Martinis doing a couple of Disney-themed shows for Take A Seat Events at the end of November. And as always, if you’re interested in booking the HHC, drop us a line – we’re offering a 20% discount on all bookings until the end of the year!

In other news, you can also catch me with Down for the Count at the Bishopsgate Institute next weekend – as well as playing at Swing Patrol’s Super Swing Pit on Sunday 23rd, we’ll also be there for the BI’s 120th Anniversary ball on Friday 21st! And if you’re based up in Scotland, we’ll be trekking up to Edinburgh on Friday 28th November for another Swing Patrol ball – see you there!

For something a little more chilled out, stop by the Big Chill House on Pentonville Road this coming Tuesday (18th) to catch the ULU Quantet, a quantity of musicians featuring myself on trumpet and vocals! I mean really, what more could you ask for.

Anyway! That’s about all for now, we’ll see you soon. Stay in school.

It’s Happy Hour!

Ah, time for the quarterly update to the old blog. But with big news!

You’ll recall the show I mentioned last time, Rock the Jazz-bah, with their jazzy arrangements of your popular songs and your Gangnam Styles and the like. Well, I’m taking that idea and running with it, in the creation of the Happy Hour Collective (Facebook here, Twitter here, website to follow soon), a collaboration of (for now) three different groups: a revamped, rebranded Martinis (a new band in all but name), the Bloody Mary Brass Band, and the Brandy Alexanders. If you fancy checking it out (hint: you do), our launch party will be at The Miller, London Bridge, on November 10th! Details here.

And that’s not all! The 29th October brings a classy jazz jam night at Big Chill Shoreditch, hosted by the ULU Jazz Society, and also me. Come on down and check it out, it should be a blast!

And that’s not all! Down for the Count are, as ever, going from strength to strength, and you can catch us at various swing gigs over the next few months, including a monthly slot at the Super Swing Pit at Bishopsgate Institute (the next one of which is on October 19th, so get those dancing shoes on). On top of that, our excellent swing festival Rhythm Junction London went off without a hitch back in September, so keep an eye out for a reprise of that puppy some time in the future.

And that’s not all! Back in August I did some recording with a fella called Paul Carella, laying down some horn stuff on a few of his tracks for his upcoming EP. Well, as well as Paul just being a top guy, we’re shooting some video this weekend, and then he’ll be launching his EP on 7th November at Twickenham Theatre. Be there!

And that’s not all! I also updated the website, including the Bands page with details of the HHC and the excellent Equinox Quintet.

…That’s all.

Diamonds are La Voix’s Best Friend

In case you missed the violence-inducing number of status updates and tweets I inflicted upon the general public this weekend, I spent my Saturday playing with the London Gay Big Band and La Voix on ITV’s televised talent trap, Britain’s Got Talent. I’ll be the first to admit that I generally steer clear of this particular brand of TV – I normally catch the highlights (or more commonly, the lowlights) of BGT about a year down the line, at which point I question how some of these acts were even allowed on TV, let alone made it to the semi-finals. I take little pleasure from the schadenfreude of seeing abjectly terrible singers get ripped a new one by Simon Cowell on X Factor or American Idol. I don’t even understand why things like Next Top Model are a thing. And I would rather gouge out my eyes with a rusty spoon than watch TOWIE. I have a very strong and vocal dislike of reality television, is what I’m saying.

But in all honesty, Saturday was an absolute ball. BGT had already gone up in my esteem for having a class act like the LGBB through for the semi-finals, and all the other contestants there were genuinely lovely to meet. The production team were professional and friendly like you wouldn’t believe. The judges had nothing but good things to say about us (even the infamous fuhrer of reality TV, Simon Cowell himself) and even though we didn’t go through to the final, the two acts who did (the fantastic Jack Pack and Paddy and Nico – hell, even I wanted to vote for them) were absolutely great, and deserved every single vote they got. Nice.

In fact, the response to acts like the LGBB and Jack Pack is really great – we all know that swing music is enjoying something of a renaissance, with groups like Swing Patrol taking us back to the roaring 20s, 30s and 40s, that golden era of hot swing jazz, but seeing groups such as these go so far on national television and get such a positive reaction from the general public…well. It’s nice to see people enjoying it, you know?

At the end of the day, we had a great time on Saturday – a big thank you goes out to everyone who watched and voted, and even though we didn’t make it through to the final, at the end of the day, we played awesome jazz music on national television in front of like 11 million people. So that’s pretty cool.

Speaking of swing music, though, Down for the Count is heading up their very own swing festival in September! Rhythm Junction London will be hitting up Hackney on 13th September, and tickets have just gone on sale – the first 50 or so are discounted, so get on that now!

In other musical news, this week will mostly be comprised of rehearsal for upcoming show Rock the Jazz-bah, back at UCL. The premise is jazzed-up versions of popular songs. How can you go wrong with that? They’ve got stuff by Postmodern Jukebox and Jimmy Fallon’s Ragtime Gals on offer, along with plenty else. I’ve done a number of arrangements for this one, including a samba version of Gangnam Style, a bossa medley featuring Lady Gaga, Earth Wind & Fire, The Beatles and Maroon 5, and a kick-ass neo-ragtime (which is apparently a thing) version of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy. So come on down! It’ll be hella fun. Sunday 8th June, 7pm, in Mully’s Basement Bar on the corner of Gower Street – right by Euston Square, convenient!

Alright, Max out. I’ll see you all…on Sunday.

Eight Things That Rock About Being a Musician

It’s been quite busy lately, what with Down for the Count gigs (oh, and on that note, head over to the DftC blog for some words I put up there recently), some other things with a couple of other bands, and a trip with the ULU Big Band to the Montreux Jazz Festival. Recently, recovering from a particularly brutal weekend, I started thinking of a few of the less savoury aspects of the musician’s career – the unorthodox hours, the fending-off of groupies – until I caught myself, and thought, ‘Hang on, I’m basically living the dream here. There are far more positive things about being a musician than there are negative.’

Like government support. And unicorns.

So I thought I’d share them with you guys – this is for anyone who’s curious about what makes it worth it, and anyone who’s giving it a go but is starting to lose heart.

1) Meeting interesting people

The people you meet in the world of music are key to one’s enjoyment of it. Whether they’re a fellow traveller of your winding road, an agent, a client, or anyone, you’re sure to come across plenty of interesting types.

Networking is important, no doubt about it, so don’t be afraid to swap business cards or email addresses with other musician types, but there’s much more to it than that. An example: at a recent Down for the Count gig, we met a violist by the name of Brian Mack who, it transpired, had played alongside the likes of Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich. It was great to hear some of his stories, and just what we needed to break up the sets! So have a chat with the people that you come across in your travels – they’ll probably turn out to be pretty awesome. Speaking of travels…

2) Seeing the world

It’s all very well to want to stick around in London and never venture out any further than Watford, but you’ll be hamstringing yourself if you do that, professionally and culturally. A number of the function bands I’ve worked with gig all over the country, and a few even do some overseas gigs from time to time too. Sure, it’s a drain on energy and resources to drive to the other end of the UK for a gig, but along the way you get to see lovely swathes of the country that you might never come across otherwise. I’ve done gigs in Birmingham, Bristol, Portsmouth, Hastings, Oxford, Cambridge, Wales and plenty more. It’s awesome.

And that’s not even touching on that holy grail of musical ban(d)terousness – band tours. The most recent of these for me was to Switzerland, for the Montreux Jazz Festival. That alone was cool enough, but our hostel was right on Lake Geneva, treating us to beautiful scenery every single day to go with the balmy weather and fantastic music. Other tour destinations have included France, Spain, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and New York City, amongst many others. None have ever disappointed.

3) Discovering new music

Recently, Down for the Count have been branching out more into some old-school swing and dixie repertoire, to keep up with their new swing orchestra persona and the increasing popularity of swing dance groups like Swing Patrol. And I couldn’t be happier.

DftC provides plenty of awesome music for any occasion, but I had already discovered most of the previous jazz and soul stuff we do. When Mike started throwing more swing stuff into the mix, I found they were tunes I could really get my teeth into. I started listening to more and more of it, and discovered, for example, a love of Harry James and a renewed appreciation for Louis Armstrong.

Seen here forgetting which end of a horn to blow into.

It’s important to keep growing as a musician – wherever you are, there are always places still to go, and the discovery of new and interesting music not only keeps you on your toes, but broadens your horizons and provides endless enjoyment just as listening material.

4) The Spice of Life

‘Musician’ is one of those catch-all terms for a vocation that can encompass a world of different professions. It’s one of those careers that is exactly what you make of it, and which comes with a huge degree of what some might term ‘customisation’.

There’s the more obvious dichotomy between a ‘classical musician’ and ‘jazz/pop/soul musician’ that I’ve come across a lot, for example, but there’s so much more to it than that. Over the last few years, I’ve played in big bands, orchestras, jazz quintets, quartets, sextets and trios, function bands, pub bands, and in the pit for a whole range of shows. I’ve sung in choirs, as a backing vocalist, even as a soloist in my own right. I’ve taken up a baton and been an MD for a musical theatre production in a West End theatre. I’ve organised gigs, helped other bands and musicians get some work, done some teaching, arranged and composed music, picked up a few pinches of knowledge on the more technical side of things, and so much more.

Also this.

The sheer variety of stuff on offer in this business is astounding, and despite keeping rather busy over the years, I still feel like I’ve just scratched the surface and that there’s plenty more to come in the future. What other vocation can offer that sort of scope, eh?

5) Flexible hours

This is more of a personal one, I guess, and it applies primarily to those who aren’t holding down a full-time job alongside doing music. But still, it’s a big one for me – I love the hours. Which is to say, whatever hours you damn well feel like. I’m more of a night owl these days, but that suits me just fine – I’ll end up getting to bed late after a gig night, but then be able to sleep in til eleven. In fact…

5) Flexible hours Lie-ins

Yeah, that’s probably more honest.

6) The food

Oh God, the food. Sure, sometimes you get sandwiches three meals a day, but every so often you’ll get so well looked after by the client and the catering staff that you won’t know what hit you. Guinea fowl, gourmet cuisine, steak, oh, the steak!

Image

Steeeeeeeeeeeak

7) Encores

So you’ve just done a cracking gig. The band sounded as tight as an inappropriate simile, the vocals were off the charts, the sound balance was perfect. The crowd’s going wild, and undergarments in various flavours are sailing through the air. How could it get better than that?

I’ll tell you how: hearing that old French gem, ‘encore!’ These people loved the music so much that they’re demanding even more. It’s already the wee hours of the morning, but that’s not enough for them. Sure, you can play coy and pretend you don’t have, like, four encores lined up already, but they’ll get what they want. And you will love it.

8) I Really, Really Love It

This may seem like a bit of a generic cop-out of a ‘reason’, but it’s crazy important to me. I’ve been doing music-related things since I was 8 years old, and if I didn’t enjoy it I probably would have given it up a few years after that. But there’s something about playing music that I just absolutely love. It’s a combination of all the above reasons, with a little je ne sais quoi on the top, which just works for me. Through school and university, I happily gave up hours a day to play music, for no reason other than a desire to do it – and now people are actually paying me to do it. There was always a part of me that was afraid that I’d have to get a job in an office somewhere and that the music on the side would suffer as a result, but no. There are people in the world – a surprising amount of people – who will quite gladly give me real-people money to turn up and do something that I love to do for a couple of hours.

Living the dream, you guys. Living the dream.