- Kirstin Innes
- 22 May 2007
Look closely at your electrician. Can you imagine him as a rock singer? What about your cleaning lady - does she exhibit in the Saatchi Gallery? And have you heard the one about the aerobics teacher with a book deal? For a variety of (mostly financial) reasons, creative types have always held down day jobs: Philip Larkin was famously a librarian, and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson works as a commercial pilot when not on tour. As the SNP come to power with a cultural manifesto that promises to ‘work harder to support Scottish creative talent’, Kirstin Innes talks to six Scottish artists about their secret occupations
Job 1 Lead singer, X Vectors
Job 2 Electrician
It’s been a good year for X Vectors. Their warped, caustic club tune ‘Now is the Winter of Our Discotheque’ is cropping up all over the place, and they’ve just finished a European tour with Klaxons. However, teetering on the cusp of success means they’re dependent on other sources of income. Vocalist Rory Connaghan set up as a self-employed electrician a few years ago and uses his skills to finance his involvement with the band.
‘I’m lucky - my regular clients understand what the band means to me. We’ve just had a couple of days off between gigs in Germany and Amsterdam, and I had to try and fit in a couple of jobs just to get some money. Being self employed, I’ve got a bit more freedom, but there are appointments that just get put off, and all that juggling is really stressful.
‘When I’m not working, I’m not getting paid. We’re doing all these international gigs, and the fees sound amazing, but we have to cover our costs. I think the last time we toured we got a packet of cigarettes and a few laughs each, and that was it. But there’s a point where you have to make a decision about what you’re most passionate about. And it certainly isn’t electrical work, I’ll tell you that.
‘Over the past few months, I’ve been able to start calling myself a musician, professionally: the band is definitely taking up over 50% of my time. I’ve no problem with the ‘electrician’ tag, though, and I haven’t got ‘musician’ on my passport yet. Maybe some day.’
Job 1 Stand-up comedian
Job 2 Nightclub duty manager, the Arches
Juggling two jobs has given David Bratchpiece a split personality. ‘Half the time I have to be the most responsible person in the room; other times I’m the mentalist up the front trying to make everyone laugh. I spend my whole life putting up with shouty drunk people. It’s easier dealing with hecklers than punters - there’s no obligation to be nice to them.’
As duty manager at the Arches, Bratchpiece is responsible for maintaining customer safety during club nights and gigs. He’s also been working as a stand-up since 2002. ‘I was already working at the Arches at that point, and they’ve been totally accommodating about my career. We’re putting on a Fringe show this year, and I’ve been able to take the whole of August off.
‘The money you make as a stand-up varies: I earn loads for 15 minutes’ work compering a corporate gig but then play my poor wee heart out to ten people in Newcastle and barely cover my petrol costs. I’ve still got the security of the Arches job at the end of the day. Besides, when people ask me what I do, I just tell them I’m Britain’s premiere Shaggy impersonator. The one from Scooby Doo, not the Jamaican dude.’
Laura Cameron Lewis
Job 1 Theatre-maker
Job 2 Secretary, Edinburgh City Council
‘It’s utterly unsustainable. There are only so many years that you can put all of your youth, all your resources into your work and get nothing back financially, then have your career stopped dead by a prescriptive funding system.’
Laura Cameron Lewis’ bitterness is tangible. In 2005, Highway Diner, which she co-founded with Kelly Crow, Chris Morgan and Kieran McLoughlin, had the Scottish theatre scene at their feet. Their site-specific street piece Works of Temporary Solace had won a Fringe First, they were nominated for a Critics Award for Theatre in Scotland, and almost everyone claimed to have seen their interventions with Franz Ferdinand in Glasgow’s art/rock den, the Chateau. Despite a string of acclaimed productions across Scotland and Europe, and a residency at the Arches, the company haven’t received long term funding, and are supporting themselves with whatever work they can find.
‘My boss is very understanding about the nature of my artistic work, but maintaining a balance can be frustrating. You can’t afford yourself the luxury of having creative thoughts when you’ve got a paid job to do. You have to wait till you get home, and often whatever creative impulse you had is gone because you’re knackered. If I were working alone, it might be easier, but Highway Diner work collaboratively and finding times when everyone’s energy is at the right level gets difficult.
‘There are existing structures of funding artists that work perfectly well in other countries - in Holland and Ireland, artists are given a wage. That makes so much sense to me. I trained for eight years to be a theatre-maker - the government invested in me to do that. Why then do I have to sign on the dole or work a minimum wage job when it wouldn’t take a substantial amount of investment to allow people to make work for proper amounts of time?’
Job 1 Independent filmmaker
Job 2 Cocktail waiter
Michael Callaghan has a CV most film graduates would kill for. At 22 he was in Hollywood, working on Sea Biscuit, The Cat in the Hat and Punch-Drunk Love. He then spent time working in London, assistant directing music videos and adverts. Two years ago, he gave it all up and moved back to Glasgow’s West End where he now works as a cocktail waiter, in between writing and directing his own short films.
‘I wanted life to slow down. The demands of London were getting in the way of what I wanted to do creatively - working on commercials is good experience, but you do start to wonder if it’s really going to get you anywhere. Waiting tables suits the way I want to live at the moment. I only do it part-time, so the money is just enough to live on, but it gives me time to write and research my next project, and doesn’t over-engage my brain.
‘You can’t wait around for someone to give you work - you just have to get out there and do it. I made Father’s Day on £500 from my own pocket; for the second feature, Nowhere, we were lucky enough to get a grant from GilmorehillG12, which will go towards distribution and festival fees. Besides, sites like YouTube mean it’s easier to get your work seen without funding.’
Links to Michael’s films can be found at www.myspace.com/mikcallaghan
Job 1 Novelist
Job 2 Community aerobics teacher
Most writers only dream of making a living from their art, but Laura Marney, the Glasgow-based author of No Wonder I Take a Drink, Nobody Loves a Ginger Baby and Only Strange People Go to Church has hit the jackpot. Why, then, does she spend her afternoons squeezed into lycra, barking out orders in a succession of community halls?
‘I’m not teaching aerobics because I need the money,’ she chuckles. ‘I’m doing it for the exercise and to get me out the house. Being a writer is the most unhealthy job in the world - you sit on your own, terribly depressed. The work is the most important thing, of course, so you have to comfort yourself, maybe with liquorice, or tatty scones … I was just putting on weight, and decided “right, I need to fix this”. So, rather than spend money on a gym I’d probably never go to, I decided to train as an instructor. That way, they pay me and I have to turn up!’
After years of working in professional management and as a drugs rep, Marney jacked it all in to enrol herself (and good friend Louise Welsh) on Glasgow University’s creative writing MLitt, where she produced No Wonder … and received a Scottish Arts Council grant
‘I moved to Spain, and did the whole writing in a garret thing, really living the dream. And it was really boring. Even if I was JK Rowling, I couldn’t sit in front of a laptop all day and not have the stimulation of going out and meeting people. I need to be active. After an aerobics class I feel great. Woohoo! Full of energy. You really need that balance in your life, between the cerebral and the physical. It feeds into my writing, too. I wrote my second novel in Spain, during that period of isolation, and it shows - all the characters are isolated. But with Only Strange People … I was in and out of community halls, interacting with some real characters, and I found that I was writing a book that had much more to do with a sense of community. Well, you use what’s at hand, don’t you?’
Job 1 Artist
Job 2 Cleaner
When she’s not busy working as a sculptor, painter and collage artist, Katie Orton, whose work is collected by Charles Saatchi, runs her own business, Green Rooms Urban Eco-Cleaning Services. ‘Cleaning suits me - it’s cathartic. My body’s engaged in very physical labour, but my head’s free to think. Besides, I need to be able to control my hours so I can go on artist residencies.
‘I’m interested in interiors and social spaces, and a lot of my work has a tactile, domestic edge to it, so it’s always interesting nosying in someone else’s house. It’s fun to play about with your roles in life too. As a cleaner, you have to be unassuming and quiet. As an artist there’s a lot of assertiveness and self-promotion. When you show work, you expose something, but when you clean you really want anonymity.
‘You can spend a lot of time applying to funding bodies and hearing nothing - it’s quicker to go out and use your initiative. In a perfect world, we’d all have as much as we need, but I think artists need to find the other side that complements their work. If we all stayed in our studios, we’d lose relevance to the outside world.’
Katie’s work can be found at www.embassygallery.co.uk