It’s suddenly gone quiet on the other side of the curtain. I take a quick peek. The lights are low and the audience chatter has faded away. The compere is introducing us. Time to get ready. The singer picks up his bottle of water, the drummer picks up his sticks and I put the ear defenders on the baby and sling her onto my back.
The introduction is a little more concise than I was expecting and I’m still tying the double knot as we walk on stage. The guitarist strums the first chord, I pick up my fiddle and we’re off! Two songs in and the baby’s asleep. The crowd seems to be quite into prog-folk-rock. I can start to relax and crank up the diddly-dee. But suddenly the three-year-old is no longer happy to snuggle on grandma’s knee; she wants to be running across the stage, dancing, helping the drummer and…switching on my distortion pedal. While everyone’s ears recover from the sudden squeal of feedback, I tell her she has to go back to grandma. Cue full-on kicking and screaming tantrum centre stage, challenging in any circumstance, never mind literally in front of an audience.
I look to my left. Husband is trying to offer suggestions in between verses. I look to my right. Sister is tootling away on her flute. Behind her, her partner, also my husband’s brother, is playing keyboards with one hand, bass guitar with another, and frantically looking down the set list to see what will have to be dropped with me out of action. Behind me my stepson is lost in teenage drummer land. Before babies, sisters going out with brothers, all playing in the same band, seemed an ideal way to pursue an interest while still maintaining a relationship, spending time with siblings and fitting in a full-time day job. But add a baby to the mix and the flaw in this arrangement became all too apparent: all the obvious baby-sitters would always be busy on the nights we needed them. Staying at home with the baby was a perfectly good option but the alternative of bringing her along in the sling seemed the best of all worlds: I could still keep her close, and also spend time with my husband doing the second most important thing in our lives. But now there are two children and a whole new level of contingency planning comes into play.
I look to the front row where mother-in-law is trying to distract the tantrumming pre-schooler with, hmm, chocolate biscuits. No joy. And unfortunately she’s past the age of picking her up off the floor and walking around. There’s nothing else for it. I unwrap the sleeping baby and pass her to mother-in-law, and wrap the three-year-old on my back. I pick up my fiddle again. I’ve only missed half of one song. By the end of the next one, the big girl is asleep as well, and the rest of the set plus two encores goes according to plan.
“The most common comment I receive is, “Is that a real baby?” As if i might be carrying a doll on my back for fun, or, I suppose, artistic statement”
Of course, gigging with a baby isn’t just a case of pop a sling in the back of the van and off you go. Ear defenders are also essential, and I wouldn’t expect just to turn up and play someone’s wedding with two children in tow. We’re clear at the time of booking that it’ll be a five-piece plus baby, or a four-piece, and naturally some people want an adult-only celebration, or the venue doesn’t allow children. But I’ve been surprised at how many people welcome a band with a baby to be the talking point of their event. But some gigs are just too loud, or too formal, or too far away, and there are those times when a baby falls ill, or is teething, or is just not in the right mood to be traipsing round the country in the middle of the night. I think it helps that the rest of the band is made up of uncle, aunt and half-brother who understand that the children come first in a way that other hard-core musicians might not.
The right carrier can make a big difference as well. With my first baby I used a full buckle carrier, which was quick and easy to use and quite comfortable, but by the end of the gig I felt like my bowing arm had been lifting weights all night. With my second baby I’ve got much more into woven wraps. This brings more comfort and versatility – I can use the same wrap with both children, but adds another level of decision making to each gig. Which length to use? Which blend? Which carry? And, of course, which design will go best with my outfit? I’m still trying to find a one arm back carry that will leave my bowing arm free but still be supportive enough to last a whole night of fiddling.
On the Road
There is always the nagging question as to whether I’m doing the ‘right’ thing bringing my baby to a gig, and also what others might think. Being in the sling has been a daily occurrence for both my babies, including at band rehearsals, so it’s a familiar situation for them. Sometimes they bounce up and down and ‘sing’ along, but invariably they fall asleep. It’s understood that if they’re unhappy I’ll have to stop playing, but this hasn’t happened yet in nearly four years of bringing the baby along.
And there are many benefits for the children. Numerous studies have shown the importance of music in infant brain development, and my children experience it first-hand as a shared social family activity. I’m assuming that, surrounded by music, my children will become musicians too, but whatever their chosen path, I’m sure that the examples they have seen of teamwork, performance and creativity will stand them in good stead. And how many three-year-olds have appeared on stage at Sheffield Tramlines Fringe, loaded PA at Derby Beer Festival and been on a tour of Northern Italy?
I’ve not had any negative reactions at all. More often than not, I’m not sure people even notice until suddenly at half-time a baby magically appears. The most common comment I receive is, “Is that a real baby?” as if I might be carrying a doll on my back for fun, or, I suppose, artistic statement. Mostly people are very supportive, joking about the ages of the band members and sharing their own experiences of baby-wearing. At one gig a little girl presented me with a drawing which nearly prompted a band name change and which I’ll treasure even as my babies get bigger: a picture of five big people and a little person – The Band with the Baby.
Catrin plays with The Outlandish Knight Ceilidh Band as well as several others – see upcoming gigs at theoutlandishknights.co.uk