“The beauty of having Albert is that we see more of family and friends than before and I’d like a chance to start allowing those family and friends to support us as freelancers in real life.”
Welcome back to our blog series, talking to leading musicians who are also parents about their experiences of balancing their careers with family life. This week, we meet Martyn Roper, blues guitarist, who talks about how his busy gig schedule works alongside his wife’s freelance career, the challenge of working when breastfeeding, and the importance of friends and family.
How many children do you have and how old are they?
I have one child, a sweet and lovely boy named Albert. He was born in August 2018.
Tell us a bit about your work and how it is structured.
I generally work ‘one nighters’ which can be 3 to 14 (a record in one week!) gigs a week. 3-6 gigs is normal for me in a week. They range from weddings, parties, festivals, pubs, bars, restaurants, care homes, etc. At various times over the year my duo do longer tours for weeks at a time in arts centres and venues all over the UK. All weeks are different but 80% of the time I’m booked up Thursday to Sunday every week.
Tell us about your work/parenthood balance.
I make at least one full day a week where computers / phones aren’t really used unless in desperate circumstances and the aim is to get away from the house and out. During time at home I make sure we get out to do stuff even if just a walk and try and give my son complete attention for periods of time between work / rehearsal time. I usually structure this around meals and cooking.
Have you had to turn down opportunities because of being a parent? How did this make you feel?
Not sure I’ve turned things down but it does take good organisation to fit things in. I’ve been happy to let some gigs slide if a week was already well booked so we can have family time.
Do you have a partner, and if so are they also freelance? What effect does this have?
Chloé is a freelance graphic designer / web builder / photographer and I think home time with a baby can get messy at times. We’re 100% breast feeding so although I can do lots of shopping / cooking / washing etc baby needs to be with mum or near all the time which makes it hard for her to get a good run at work. On the other side the fact that we’re both in the house nearly all daytimes and free especially on Mondays to Wednesdays means that Albert probably gets more face to face time than working a 9-5 as his bedtime would mean only a few hours a day instead of the 10 – 16 hours he probably gets now.
Do you have regular childcare, and if so, in what form?
None, due to the reasons above. I have family nearby but visits tend to be social due to his feeding needs. I would like to be able to start passing Albert on a little bit more soon as the support of family could make it possible for us both to get more done and hopefully have more family time afterwards. Even if we’re in the house but they just baby sit him while we get a couple of hours to sort some admin.
Have you performed anywhere that made the work/parenthood balance easier?
Some venues and festivals especially in the daytime have been great to us and welcomed our boy and gone out of their way to make it as pleasant as possible for us.
What can promoters/venues/festival organisers do to help freelance artists who are parents?
The same thing they do to anyone to make their life easier. I think we’re all equal with or without children and its down to us to manage our lives and children as well as work.
Are there any organisations/venues/festivals etc that you have worked with that are particularly supportive of performers who are parents?
My work is varied so I wouldn’t take the baby to say a private wedding. The nice blues / jazz festivals are so lovely. Some of the dementia wards are very inquisitive once I mention I have a child, and we’ve all been invited in when I perform. We did this once and had a lovely afternoon at a home in Harrogate.
How did being a freelance musician affect your parental leave?
No such thing. I cleared a two week period (apart from one gig) around the birth but he was born over a week late so I had to find cover for a gig the day he was born. I had an afternoon wedding gig near Leeds the day after the birth so left the hospital for about five hours and came straight back ASAP.
Were you freelance before you had children? If not, what prompted the change?
For about seven years before.
Are you part of any online social groups for freelancers/freelance parents?
I’m not. To be honest, I don’t have time to do all the work I need to and am trying to find ways to minimise wasted time so more social media interaction that kind of ‘sucks you in’ isn’t good. The beauty of having Albert is that we see more of family and friends than before and I’d like even more of that and a chance to start allowing those family and friends to support us as freelancers in real life.
A professional musician since 2011, Martyn Roper specialises in 1920s, 30s & 40s blues, jazz and swing music on guitar, banjo, ukulele and double bass. He plays over 200 gigs a year largely between three acts; Leeds City Stompers (trio); The Washboard Resonators (duo) and solo sets, and lives near central Leeds. He likes collecting vintage guitars, cooking, reading and his two beautiful cats.