Rishi Sunak has been mocked for saying musicians could retrain.These pros have taken up the baton 

When theatres and concert halls closed, thousands of musicians were stripped of their livelihood, not knowing when they might perform again. 

Indeed, this week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned that many will have to seek new careers — prompting outrage from performers. 

But as ANTONIA HOYLE reveals, some musicians have already made some very big job changes, while they wait for the curtain to rise again…

Lockdown drove me to deliver for a living  

Tony Robertson, 49, lives in Huddersfield with his wife and their three sons. Tony is a conductor and trombonist currently working as a Hermes delivery driver.

Tony Robertson, 49, lives in Huddersfield with his wife and their three sons. Tony is a conductor and trombonist currently working as a Hermes delivery driver

My musical life started with the trombone aged 11, after I spotted the instrument in a band at our local village fete. Later, I learned to conduct while studying at The Royal Northern College of Music and I have been working as a conductor with brass and wind bands.

Managing 26-plus musicians with egos is a double-edged sword. If someone goes off-kilter it can be stressful, but you get to control the performance. 

Meanwhile, with my trombone I’ve toured with American band Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and appeared in the 2019 Downton Abbey film. 

As soon as lockdown was announced and my concerts cancelled, I looked up driving jobs. 

They appealed because of the flexibility and I was offered a job with Hermes that day.

I lost around £2,500 of musician income in the first couple of months of lockdown, but now I’m earning between £1,000 and £1,500 a month working four-hour shifts, five days a week. 

The money’s not as good as musician work, but the pay is more regular, and although I deliver up to 150 parcels a day, it’s up to me what time I start and finish.

I’ve got to know my customers — people look at me differently when they realise I’m a professional musician. 

My baton hasn’t been out of its case since lockdown, but I’m hopeful the music industry will get back on track. It seems crazy that aeroplanes can be packed but auditoriums are still empty.

I dream of music on 2am Sainsbury’s shift 

Rosanne Duckworth, 31, is a trumpeter from London, now working for Sainsbury¿s online department

Rosanne Duckworth, 31, is a trumpeter from London, now working for Sainsbury’s online department

Rosanne Duckworth, 31, is a trumpeter from London, now working for Sainsbury’s online department. She is engaged to Trystan, 32, a head chef.

None of my unsociable hours as a trumpeter could have prepared me for my new job, packing Sainsbury’s groceries for online customers between 2am and 8am. This isn’t why I invested £70,000 on six years of further music training.

Like most musicians, my mental health has suffered in the pandemic — not just because I’m not playing, but because the camaraderie I shared with other musicians has been taken away. When you’re performing so closely together you form very strong bonds.

As well as playing for function and soul bands, I’ve played in various West End productions, including shows such as Wicked and Little Shop Of Horrors. When the curtain goes up and the pit is pitch black, the atmosphere is electric and I’d come out filled with adrenaline.

When lockdown started I was teaching trumpet privately and had numerous engagements booked. Now I feel like a caged bird.

In April, I applied to the online department of Sainsbury’s in Sydenham, South-East London. Times are so tough I’m grateful to wake at 1.15am for my 2am start.

In the West End I earned around five times the amount I earn at Sainsbury’s. I’ve had to cut back on everything from food to clothes. I’ve started a macrame business, alterKNOT, selling plant hangers and wall hangings, which has helped release some creativity. But I won’t give up my musician dreams. Music is in my veins. 

I’m known as the fiddler on the roof 

Robin Martin, 41, is a violinist from South-East London, now working as a builder

Robin Martin, 41, is a violinist from South-East London, now working as a builder

Robin Martin, 41, is a violinist from South-East London, now working as a builder. He is married to Emma Tring, 41, a singer. They have two sons; Sid, nine, and Arthur, six.

On my first day my fellow builders nicknamed me ‘the fiddler on the roof’ as we took tiles off together. They leap around scaffolding while I’m climbing ladders like a granny. But being part of a team again is great.

I’d wanted to be a professional violinist since performing at the proms with the National Youth Orchestra aged 17 — I started learning aged five. Nothing can beat the thrill of being on stage, knowing that as much as you’ve rehearsed, anything can happen. 

When concerts are televised it’s even more of a thrill. During one particularly low moment in June, when I heard a concert that I had played in on the radio, I actually cried at the memories it brought back.

Luckily, the BBC paid me for the work I had been booked for that month, and my wife was still on a salary. I was also entitled to the self-employment grant, so we avoided immediate financial disaster.

But with no idea when concerts might start again I needed to start looking elsewhere.

I applied for jobs at the Royal Mail, Aldi and Tesco but was ignored or rejected. My confidence was knocked and I felt useless until last month, when a friend suggested I work for his building company. I had no experience of building but he knows I’m a hard worker.

I’m now earning £100 a day — less than the £150 I would get for a shift with a BBC Concert Orchestra — and my wife is scared of the power tools I’m wielding. 

My fingers are used to picking out notes on a string, not prepping steel beams. But at least I’m only five minutes from home, am improving my fitness and I get to be outdoors. 

Emily Cockbill, 36, is an oboist now working as a waitress

Emily Cockbill, 36, is an oboist now working as a waitress

Waitressing serves up a sense of purpose 

Emily Cockbill, 36, is an oboist now working as a waitress. She lives in London with her boyfriend, George, 39, an aviation engineer.

Even after my work with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Welsh National Opera was cancelled this March, I still thought we might be back performing by September. When it sank in that we wouldn’t, I was dismayed. 

I didn’t just need another job to pay the bills but for the structure work provides. It was tough to go from being incredibly busy to wondering what my purpose was.

After a couple of months of applying for supermarket jobs and not getting offers, I found waitressing work in a local cafe through a friend. The owners are lovely, and I started alongside a double bass player and clarinettist.

I enjoy being around other people, but this obviously isn’t what I got my first-class degree at The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and postgraduate degree at London’s Royal College of Music to do.

I’m on minimum wage — compared to £150 for a day’s work with an orchestra — and because the hospitality sector is suffering too, my shifts have just been cut to one day a week. Luckily my boyfriend moved in this June, so we’re able to share bills.

Playing the oboe has always made me happy and I miss my musician friends, though we meet in parks to practise. I was entitled to the Government grant, but think more should be done to support freelancers as well as arts institutions. The music industry is part of our culture. We have to fight for it. 

Book deal banished my work blues 

Katy Cox, 40, is a cellist who has signed a book deal since lockdown. She lives in Bridgend in South Wales with husband Jay, 49, a bass guitarist, and their children, James, ten, and George, eight.

Katy Cox, 40, is a cellist who has signed a book deal since lockdown

Katy Cox, 40, is a cellist who has signed a book deal since lockdown

Although I play with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Welsh National Opera, it’s my work for celebrities such as Sir Elton John and Take That that most interests people. 

For ten years I’ve also played with Michael Buble, whose UK tour I was booked for this summer when lockdown was announced. Since then, my cello has been gathering dust.

Of course I’m worried about money, but two years ago I started writing a novel about a musician trying to claw her way back into show business after having her second child.

I’d finished it by lockdown, but am a perfectionist and didn’t think it was good enough to let anyone else read. In April, however, I thought ‘screw it’ and sent it to ten agents. Miraculously, one signed me within a week and in July I landed a two-book deal.

My first novel — M Is For Mummy — is out in spring 2022. I’m so excited about writing I’m sometimes up until 2am working on ideas. But I’m still a cellist at heart, and terrified I’ll never play professionally again. 

Spice work if you can get it 

Shaun Thompson, 54, is a clarinettist now producing curries from his home in Crystal Palace

Shaun Thompson, 54, is a clarinettist now producing curries from his home in Crystal Palace

Shaun Thompson, 54, is a clarinettist now producing curries from his home in Crystal Palace. He is married to Fiona Griffith, 48, a viola player/teacher, and has two children; Joseph, 15, and Ciara, 13.

Had someone told me last year I’d be preparing curry to earn a living after 35 years as a clarinettist, I would have laughed.

My work was constant until March but I was employed on a freelance basis so when lockdown happened it came to an abrupt end.

I think it’s great so many of us are doing different jobs, but I don’t think musicians should have to diversify — a world-renowned skill set is going to waste.

I’d studied music at the Trinity College of Music in London, and played for the London Symphony Orchestra aged just 23. 

As my contacts grew, so did my workload. I was often working seven days a week. Two weeks before lockdown I was in Paris with the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Now, I fear social distancing will make either large orchestras or audiences unviable for the forseeable future.

I don’t see why the Government self-employment grant can’t be renewed specifically for the arts.

I’ve always enjoyed cooking. When lockdown restrictions were eased this June we had four friends for a ten-course curry in our garden — for once I had the time, after all.

Our impressed guests said I should start selling it. So weeks later, I did, to locals through a WhatsApp group I set up. I put out my menu on a Sunday night. Last orders are on a Tuesday. 

I spend Wednesday buying food and Thursday cooking. We do some deliveries, but encourage people to pick up their food on Thursdays and Fridays.

My signature dish is cinnamon beef. I always do a dahl, a rice, and a different vegetable every week. This week it’s sprouts with ginger, chilli, garlic and tamarind – you probably wouldn’t get that in any other curry house.

Preparing around 20 orders a week for 40 people earns me around the same £150 day rate I’d be paid for a musician’s shift.

Do I miss music? Definitely.

But at least I’m doing something else I love.

Add Comment