And the band played on

For musicians, summer means al fresco performances. But the British weather and unruly audiences can conspire to dampen spirits, says Jessica Duchen

At their best, outdoor summer concerts are fun for everybody. At their worst, the conditions in which the musicians have to operate, combined with long journeys and difficult programmes often catastrophically under-rehearsed, all for payment that is little more than an insult, can mean that disgruntlement is the best they can hope for.

A rank-and-file musician is usually paid £80 for such a day, including the performance, a three-hour rehearsal and the time it takes to travel to the often out-of-the-way venues. These concerts are known in the profession as "muddy-field gigs". The biggest hazard - which will come as no surprise - is the British "summer" weather. We have all shivered our way through such concerts under umbrellas.

"You spend a lot of time leaping around after the sheets of your music as they blow away," Jane, a harpist, says. "One time it rained so hard that a lake formed in front of the stage, and outside buses were turning over in the mud."

Michael, a violinist, tells stories of driving rain across the platform during Rossini's William Tell Overture - "Never had the storm music seemed so appropriate!" - and doing gigs "wearing long johns and jeans under my concert suit".

Jane faces all kinds of extra problems in transporting her instrument: harps are large, expensive and heavy. "I always try to drive the harp up to the stage's back entrance, and once I drove over the central power cable and all the electricity went off! I often have to be towed back to the road afterwards because otherwise I get stuck in the mud with the car wheels going round and round. And if you're on a beach you have to watch out for the tides." Things can get worse still. "A few weeks ago," Jane adds, "a bird shat on my harp. Right into the mechanism. It's almost impossible to clean it out."

One violinist recalls a Last Night of the Proms programme during which his valuable Italian instrument was damaged by some flying Smarties from the audience. Another musician has just experienced an outdoor concert in the north of England at which an excessively jingoistic presenter, clad in a Union Jack outfit and hat, found it amusing "not only to make quips slagging off 'Frogs' but also to pick out members of the orchestra to humiliate. He was saying to the audience things like, 'This is Mary; she got her roots done just in time for this evening,' or, 'This is Lizzie; she's pregnant - ooh, we know what you've been doing.'

"Nobody ever asks if a presenter peddling racist attitudes and personal insults is OK with us, and there's absolutely nothing we can do about it."

So much for the compères. A big-name singer can earn thousands of pounds while the orchestra plays for peanuts. That's fine, says Jane - as long as the soloists really can sing. "I did a concert with one famous singer who actually couldn't sing," she recalls. "He'd had to have some of the music transposed down because he couldn't reach the high notes. We started off laughing, but by the end he was so bad, and being paid so much, that it stopped being funny. He was kind to us, but at one point in the rehearsal he said, 'Sorry, I've got some technical problems', and the first horn called out, 'We all know that, mate!'"

All the players I speak too are keen to stress that muddy-field gigs can be useful and, on a good day, enjoyable. They are an excellent way for young musicians to jump in at the deep end, learn the repertoire and perform on minimal rehearsal.

"You never know which the good gigs are going to be," says Michael. "The ones that sound the most glamorous are frequently the worst, while ones that you might think will be dubious can be wonderful experiences. One of my best was a free local-authority gig near Huntingdon with a little chamber orchestra. It was cold, but we had the most fabulous show. That was because the conductor, John Wilson, was terrific. He insisted on us using loads of vibrato to get a big, fat, Hollywood tone - it sounded fantastic; it was great music-making, and the audience loved it."

Sometimes, though, it's all just too much to take. "Once we were in a big park at the end of the season when the weather was chilly," Michael continues, "and it was a bad date all the way through. There was a generator the size of a lorry churning out diesel fumes right next to the stage. We had a huge programme, almost three hours of music, including [Wagner's] "The Ride of the Valkyries", which sounded ludicrous on a tiny orchestra with virtually no rehearsal. I was sitting on the inside third desk [row] of the first violins, and the lighting strip stopped just in front of us, so my desk partner and I couldn't read our music and we got colder and colder - lighting helps to keep you warm.

"As the evening went on, my desk partner became more and more furious. And at the end, in the 1812 Overture [by Tchaikovsky], the fireworks were right next to us, and when one huge one went off beside us, he just lost it. In front of 6,000 people. He stood up in the middle of the piece, got his fiddle case out from under his chair, wiped down his violin and bow meticulously with a cloth, put them away, jumped off the stage and went home! Afterwards he thought he'd be sacked. But he'd had such a terrible evening and been so angry about it that the management didn't dare go near him."

These musicians fear that audiences will come to such concerts and assume that "that's what classical music is". As Jane says: "Some outdoor concerts are good. But usually you turn up, you freeze, you have only a top-and-tail rehearsal, there will be a bad soloist who's married to the director, and it's amplified so you don't know what it really sounds like.

"These concerts are part of our job. They're good experience, people enjoy them, and we shouldn't be too precious about them. But surely not at the price of people thinking that that's all there is to classical music."

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower