Hilton Cardiff Residency, Part 2, The Good-ish, The Bad and The ‘I’ve been Here a year now…’

Welcome to part two of this adventure into my 22 Month residency as the resident harpist at the Hilton Cardiff.

So, It got to March 2016 and I started getting discontented with it all. What had been a major part of my work had now become something I loathed doing and had very little benefits.

There are two main reasons why I was so irritated by it at this time. Firstly, I was completely ignored, by people dinning but also by the staff. I would come in for my regular spot and there wouldn’t be a place for me, they wouldn’t have that many bookings but they would’ve put a table where I usually played or something silly like that. They were all lovely but after a year of being there every single weekend there was no anticipation, I would always start bang on 2pm and I would have to ask every time for them to turn the music off so I could start… which would’ve been fine If it wasn’t so regular! If it was a rare and special occasion where I didn’t work there every single weekend, I could understand but if you know it’s going to happen why not just do it…? Similarly, on my first day there I asked for a glass of water (I know! WHAT A DIVA?!?!?!?!? GLAMOROUS!!!) but I went up to the bar every single time I was there and got a glass of water… It was only until August of this year, after a year and a half of being there, that someone actually just started putting a glass of water on the bar for me… It’s such an easy thing, I’m not J-Lo levels of ‘I need everything in my dressing room to be white’, but it’s such a simple thing that they didn’t bother with for some reason.

I wasn’t contracted to work there, I just turned up and hoped I got paid. This was discussed during our first meeting, and because I was a push over at this point (again, I was making so little money that I was more desperate to pay my rent than to make sure I was given decent living wage and benefits of working for a big company), At this point I’m sure even the florist there has more job security than me.  I will talk at length about what I would’ve done better in the final part of this series but for now I will say this. This year there will be more self-employed people than public sector workers, if we aren’t teaching them how to be self-employed people when they are in full-time education then we’re pretty much dooming an entire generation of people who will come out into the big wide world and get screwed over.


Next Week: Part 3, What Did I learn?

Hilton Cardiff Residency, Part 1. Starting Out.

Welcome, In this Three Part Series we will look back at my time as the resident harpist at the Hilton Cardiff and everything I learnt in that time.

Let’s go back to January 2015, I was busking next to Natwest of Queen Street and the lounge manager saw me and gave me his card.

A note about being an unemployed/self-employed musician just starting out is that you are always free to reply to emails and you think people taking more than an hour to respond is ridiculous.

So there was an email exchange and they had me in to play a trial. for three hours…. for free…. Firstly, If someone wants you there for a trial and aren’t going to pay you, only play for 30 minutes. Because if you are playing for three hours and they don’t want you then you have just waisted three hours working for free… and not in a ‘I’m playing a charity concert because I’m a good person’ “playing for free” way.

Think of it as any other profession, for example, if I were only going there as restaurant staff and they had be for three hours and didn’t pay me then that would be a ridiculous thing to do to a human being.

A (much more reasonable) 30 minute trial is what I did for Cathedral 73, and then they paid me for my time afterwards. The Hilton, did not. and it would’ve been fine if it had been an hour, but Three is a red-flag! and I should’ve known better. But I didn’t, because I was a young musician earning £200 a week busking on the street with a £500 harp that you couldn’t flick the levers and had to re-tune to change key. If you are going to do a trial there you need to be paid for your time, even if they hated you, you need to be compensated for them waisting your Saturday afternoon.

They booked me for another trial later that month in what turned out to be a private event…

Anyway, two months past and in March they booked me for Mother’s Day, for a four hour day split between myself and a pianist. From my performance, and because they couldn’t get the baby grand piano into the restaurant, I was booked for a regular spot, Saturdays and Sundays 2-4pm. I was paid £30 an hour, which at the time was a get! (Let’s remember during my first year of being a self-employed free-lance musician I made £8,000… and was charging around £50 for a wedding ceremony because my degree taught be the entire history of wagner and not what I should be charging for a standard event…)

On special occasions I charged £40 an hour for the four hours I was there a week, which was great for me! I had just come out of University and had no idea how to do business and ensure that I was treated properly. Similarly, they took 4 months to pay me at first. I started on 15th March and wasn’t paid until July. This late a payment could’ve been charged at 8% inflation for late payment but at that point I was more concerned about being liked and keeping hold of this job.

It wasn’t till one year later that I realised how raw a deal I had gotten.


Next week: Things Fall a Part… The Good-ish, The Bad and The ‘I’ve worked here for over a year now…’

Rep? Rep? Come here Rep!!!

Finding Rep is always weird because you basically have to be the worst version of yourself to do it properly. (Oh, BTW, we’re switching to monthly blog posts because I’m lazy… get over it) Here’s my guide to finding good solid adult Rep (It’s basically like buying shoes… this would also be applied to shoes)


Step One: The Lord baby Jesus in all his infinite wisdom gave you two ears and only one sound hole you shove crackers in to… LISTEN! listen to things you’d like to play and things that should good to you, you’re favourite genre, you’re favourite singer.

Step Two: Take away everything and just leave the tune. (If this is shoes, take off all your clothes and just wear the shoes) If you can listen to it then it’s gold! If you can’t it’s garbage.

Test: Let’s listen to some Bruno Marz and Hum the Tune.

The Verse is two notes. It’s awful, but the chorus makes it seem like there’s a tune and it’s worth doing but it’s really just one phrase repeated over and over again.

If you can hum the tune and it sounds good then do it! If we look historically at tune and the development of songs, there’s a reason we have all these folk tunes that have survived hundreds of years. They actually have melodies and movement that makes them exciting to listen to on their own.


Step Three (get it! steps like shoes!): Arranging!

So you’ve found the shoes/piece. How does that work for your instrument? Does that even work for your instrument? (for shoes this is a can you walk around the block and still feel your feet situation)

Nothing is ever arranged for Lever harp and singer. It’s just not, and if it is I’m too lazy to sit down and learn the notes the corporate machine wants me to learn! Maaan you don’t get it! you weren’t there! I’ve seen some things Maaaan, some chords with too many fingers to be played maaaaan!

No, in all seriousness, If I play repeated bass notes on a harp they sound a little tired by the third bar, so I’ll do an arrangement of the piece that works for my instrument and plays to it’s strength… ok… mainly just ascending arpeggios and glissandos for days! But I know what works for me! I can still feel my feet when I get home!


Step Four: Try it out! This is like wearing said shoes on a test run somewhere low pressure and easy! like, at your work where if you mess up that’s ok because no one is listening to you that closely, or while you busk because again, no one is listening. Go to the pub in your new shoes, go for a shop. Try out and see if it works before doing it in front of people who are actually paying to be there! Be curious!

Step Five: Some say ‘practice till you get it right’ others say ‘Practice till you can’t get it wrong’ but I say ‘what’s practicing? What? Who are you and how did you get into my… oh you want that quote…. ok… ummm something like “practice till you don’t have any memory of learning it”… that ok? good? great… bye.


Honestly, I have no memory of learning the pieces that I know so well. In my head when I’m playing Somewhere Over The Rainbow or Both Sides Now, or a Nightingale Sang in Berkley’s Square I’m just singing it in my head and my hands know what notes to make that noise happen. It’s pretty easy!


So, you’re new shoes/songs/pieces look great! and all in five steps. which is as many as it takes me to eat an entire cake! Little known fact but I thought I should share!




Have a great month!