13 April 2015


I wonder whether those of you who attempt to play traditional jazz have come across many health and safety issues at gigs?

Apart from the obvious dangers of tripping over wires or stands or falling off a stage (really our own fault), I have found the following experiences to be the most unpleasant.

(1) Playing outside in very cold weather.

I have occasionally been in a band asked to play outdoors with no protection in freezing temperatures. This usually happens in the English winter (for example, at Christmas-related events) and, even if you wear your thermals, you can still end up bitterly cold and shivering. It is hard to play your instrument when your mouth, fingers and the instrument itself are so cold. I have seen banjo-players suffering particularly badly. Not only are their fingers frozen; their instruments go out of tune because of the temperature. And this does not happen only in the winter. It occurs sometimes in other seasons when the band is required to set up in a spot where it is exposed to sharp easterly winds. What a relief it is - at the end of such gigs - to get back in your car and have the heater on while you drive home and thaw out!

(2) Insect bites.

Garden parties on summer evenings can be especially scary. I remember our band being seated next to a substantial hedge on a warm late-August evening. The first hour was all right. Then out came the pesky little critters and they bit us like mad - all over our faces, hands and ankles. This experience taught me always to carry insect repellent in my accessories.

(3) Collapsing chairs.

I have seen two sousaphone players take nasty backward tumbles. Peter Jenns was on the back of a float during a carnival procession in Wisbech: the lorry moved forward suddenly and he was thrown over backwards and injured. He refused ever to take part in such an event again. The other - David Parker - was required to sit on a chair that had been placed on ground sloping slightly backwards. Lawns can be softer than they look. Half-way through the gig, poor Dave suddenly disappeared backwards. This also happened to me last year. One of the back legs of my chair dropped very suddenly into a crack in the lawn. This happened right in the middle of a tune, so my tumble must have looked very amusing to the audience, but I sustained a gash from my elbow to my wrist and my shirt sleeve was covered in blood.

(4) Sunstroke.

One summer afternoon The Nene Valley Stompers were invited to play for two and a half hours on a small stage at a village fête in Norfolk. I was a member of the band at the time. There was no wind, a clear blue sky and the sun beat down remorselessly on our heads. We were offered no cover. By the end of the gig, I felt ill. I had to drive home cautiously, take aspirins and go immediately to bed. It was more than a touch of sunstroke.

(5) Barbecue Smoke
You arrive at the gig and settle down to play on the spot allocated to you - on a stage or in a gazebo. All goes well at first. Then they start cooking the barbecue. A breeze blows the smoke directly on to the band. The musicians have no escape. They do not wish to appear wimps or killjoys by requesting a move, so they endure it. I'm not sure whether this is really a health and safety issue. But I know it is unpleasant taking gulps of air in these circumstances and that after a time the eyes begin to sting.