Some years back I was booked for a three month contract, playing background jazz, five nights a week, in a restaurant at a popular holiday resort. Seemed like a great opportunity to earn some money and do some wood-shedding. My partner & I readily accepted and we were soon playing soft bossa novas and jazz standards between fake palm trees to empty tables.
The first couple of nights were great. The enormous restaurant was almost totally empty, but the hotel manager and the food & beverage manger both came to say how much they liked the music, and told to us help ourselves to food from the buffet when we were done. The week progressed and the hotel (and therefore the restaurant) remained empty.
Then things began to unravel. We spent the first week staying in a hotel room while we waited for staff accommodation to become available. Eventually we were relocated to a tiny one roomed apartment. We had been promised two furnished apartments. The place was dark & musty, covered in a layer of dust and teeming with cockroaches. The flat contained a moth-eaten couch and a bed. No cutlery or crockery. No TV. Not even a kettle.
We spent the day cleaning up the flat, and later after the gig, helped ourselves to food from the buffet as usual, a little disheartened at the thought of going back to our dingy room.
The next evening we arrived at the gig and sensed something odd was going on. None of the staff greeted us. They all appeared to be avoiding us. I called the F & B manager and asked him if something was wrong. He sat me down and gave me a lecture, telling me that the staff were pissed off that we were eating from the buffet every night. He said that it was a “privilege & not a right” and that if we asked once in a while he would probably say yes since “the food gets thrown away every night anyway”. I felt the rage build up inside of me, but managed to keep my cool. I told him that we had been under the impression that we were allowed to eat the food, but would never touch it again now that he had told us. I then took out my wallet and said that I’d like to pay for all the meals we had eaten.
Then trouble started from the hotel manager. He’d come to us in the middle of our set and say things like “The previous band played the Titanic song and the Spice Girls”. We tried to explain to him that we’d been booked to play soft, background jazz, that there were only two of us (a guitarist and vocalist) without backing tracks, and that he should perhaps take the matter up with our agent. The hotel remained empty, and the manger & staff continued to treat us like second-class citizens.
One night we arrived at the gig & the hotel was busy and bustling for the first time. Glamorous people were walking past in evening gowns, tuxedos, Italian leather shoes, wild outrageous hats, dark glasses and various forms of glitzy celebrity attire.
During a break I asked a waiter if there was a function on and he replied that it was the SAMAs. I turned to my partner & said “This is all wrong! We’re sitting playing to two palm trees and 50 empty tables, while the rest of the music industry is being wined and dined and receiving awards. We need to change this situation!”
Shortly after that night, our contract was abruptly cancelled. On enquiring about whether or not we would get a cancellation fee as stipulated in the agreement, our agent told us to “write it off to experience”. Reasons given for our contract being terminated included “playing out of tune, and dragging”! I was terribly depressed by all of this. We were both experienced musicians and had been gigging for years, but it was still a big blow to my ego and self esteem to go through an experience like this.
We sued, and eventually were awarded an out-of-court settlement, but the incident has always left a bad taste in my mouth.
And now fast-forward ten years… We have received two SAMA nominations!
This time I’ll be wined and dined instead of playing to palm trees and empty tables. This time I don’t have to ask permission to eat from the buffet. This time I get to stay in a clean hotel room.
Music isn’t a competitive sport and winning awards doesn’t mean that you’re faster, stronger or in any way better than someone else. For me these nominations are just a reminder of where I once was and where I am now.
Our two nominations: