I am sure I was not the only person reading this who watched the Prime Minister's final press conference of the Covid19 lockdown era. For all of us, this was a period unlike any other in our lives. I lost an aunt, a friend lost a daughter and our studio lost a much loved customer to the disease. For those conspiracy theorists out there, who claim no one has died of the disease, please note that none of these passings were expected, although as we all know, only the Good Lord knows the hour of our death. All I know is that people who were fine at the start of the year are gone and they tested positive for the virus.
Things have gradually been easing up. Last Tuesday, we reopened our music studio business for limited solo practice sessions. Since then we've had around 50 customers pass through the door. In cash terms, this accounts for around 7% of our normal turnover, it is unsustainable to operate at this level in the long term but a necessary first step to get us back on track. We anticipate that things won't be anywhere near normal levels of business until at least September, but who knows. We have a plan in place to manage this situation. At this level of trade, the income pays the wages of the cleaner, and buys me a curry from the Mill Hill Tandoori to eat when I get home. Fortunately my excellent team are on furlough, so they can pay their bills. We did not reopen for the cash, we are doing it because musicians, especially drummers, need to play their instruments, make noise and be free from the distractions you get in your bedroom. We recognised that many need the opportunity to get out of their 'bubble' and it is clearly good for mental health to play in a studio. About half of the customers we've seen are professional musicians, who have had recordings and tours cancelled, who have had little or no income for three months. Some have taken advantage of the furlough scheme, some haven't. The fact that it only paid out for the self employed in June caused many a great amount of financial pain, not everyone has sympathetic Landlords. I spoke to one drummer, who spends his life touring the world, playing with some of the best known artists. He told me that he'd had to tap his parents up for cash, just to survive. This is a virtuoso on top of his game, someone who has appeared over 100 times on TV, played with some of the best know artists on the planet and someone, who in normal times, is able to pick and choose his jobs. As with many musicians, he had a busy autumn and winter, took off January and February and was just getting ready to commence a world tour in March, when lockdown hit. His expected earnings for 2020 went from very healthy to zero in the space of two weeks. The tour has been postponed to next year, but the mortgage payment, the electricity bills, the finance payment on the vehicle, the food bills, none of these have gone away.
On the day we opened, he booked two six hour sessions. We had a long chat. He had been stuck in his flat for the duration. His girlfriend and child live elsewhere in London. He hadn't seen them, except by Zoom for the first few week. His girlfriend was isolating with her elderly and ill parents. She was, quite rightly, unable to see him. He has an electronic kit, one which he played through headphones, but as any drummer will tell you, this is just not the same. At the end of the two day session, he said that "it has been the first time I felt human for three months".
There were a few similar stories from our customers. Perhaps the most heartbreaking is one who is a professional tour manager. Again, he's had no income. To add to the woes, his van was broken into. Clearly there was an attempt to steal it which was interrupted. Sadly the criminals did over £1,000 worth of damage, a huge sum when you have no money coming in. As far as I am concerned, people who take away a persons tools of the trade are scumbags of the worst kind. Doing it during a pandemic is even worse.
Another customer replied, when asked how they were coping said 'gasping for breath'. It will be interesting to see what happens when we emerge on the 4th. Will the pubs be packed, with queues around the corner? Or will we all be too scared to venture out. I contacted the singer in my band, to ask when he'd be ready for rehearsals. His response was that he felt the restrictions had been lifted far too soon. He isn't ready. I suspect that he won't be the only one.
People have asked me how I am? The truth is that it hasn't really affected my mental health greatly. Since 2011, I've been living with the monkey of cancer on my back.My big concern was the MRI scan I had in May. That was my main worry and once that was out of the way, I was able to relax a tad.
For the first month of lockdown, I was drinking too much and not doing anything apart from walking the dogs, cooking and sunbathing. Then I realised that I'd put on weight and I needed to pull my socks up. It was nothing but laziness and sloth. I wrote a blog stating that I was going to sort it out. I went back to my 3-4 days off alcohol a week, cutting out the snack and doing the 10,000 steps. My weight is now back under sixteen stone. I want to get it under fifteen, but that is a hill to climb. Getting the studios reopened has given me focus and recording our song of support for Black Lives Matter also gave me a boost
So now the studios are opening and sooner or later we will have live music back. I am itching to play. The False Dots last performed over six months ago on the 14th December. It is too long.