Dale Truscott spoke with Sydney-based freelance trombonist Nigel Crocker about his playing career and the art of being a successful freelance musician. Nigel performs regularly as a guest trombonist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and other leading ensembles.
Dale: A Google search reveals one of your first regular gigs in the early 80s was with Aussie rock icons Hunters and Collectors! Can you tell me a little about your work with the band and what memories you have of that time?
Nigel: That came through trumpeter Jack Howard who was a mate from National Music Camp days. He was a fan of the newly formed, little known band and was always telling them it would sound great with horns. As their fan base grew they started playing bigger venues with bigger budgets and Jack got a call. He knew I’d played in pub bands in my hometown Perth so he roped me and a bunch of other mates in.
It was totally different to the Perth scene where I’d played in fusion and covers bands to the Uni/Surfie set with everyone rolling in from the beach in their sarongs and thongs, singing along, getting rowdy – the odd crowd fight etc. With Hunters it was late night gigs (sometimes not going on til 3am) in dimly lit underground warehouse basements, playing to would-be poets and artists dressed head-to-toe in black and doing their darndest to look cool and aloof. As the band evolved they found a much more genuine following among the beer drinking working class, but by that stage I’d left to go work at Channel 9 on the Don Lane Show band. Four guaranteed calls a week and the subsequent commercial gigs that came from that. There was plenty of freelance work around at that time and I wasn’t cut out for the rock and roll lifestyle. Besides the guys wanted me out ‘cos I was attracting all the groupies – oh no. Wait – that wasn’t me. That was Pete Best with the Beatles.
Nigel (standing on the right) in 1968. (“Ahhh the 60’s. Rock’n’roll, drug-filled orgies, hippies, Ban the Bomb, Vietnam anti-war rallies, university sit-ins etc. When I tell my kids how wild I was back then they don’t believe me…….”)
Dale: After winning a permanent position with the TSO in Hobart in 1984 and spending six seasons with the orchestra you decided to move north to pursue a freelance career in Sydney. Was it difficult for you to swap real job security in Hobart for unsteady freelance work in Sydney?
Nigel: It was a really tough call. Orchestral playing is my first love and I also really enjoy being part of an ongoing artistic process. In a full-time orchestra the collective is striving to improve year by year. However my girlfriend (now wife), Rebecca Lagos, had scored a percussion job with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO). I knew what I was in for having moved interstate before and I wasn’t looking forward to trying to break in to another city where I hardly knew anyone.
The first week I called up a contact – Gerry Ramage – who I knew by name but had never met – to enquire about some teaching work. He asked if I’d be available to play Anything Goes at the State Theatre the following week. I rocked up and was sitting next to one of my childhood heroes, Ed Wilson! Gerry wasn’t even on the show. He was playing 42nd St up at the Regal but they were desperate and deps were scarce. A couple of weeks later George Brodbeck, who I also hadn’t met, called to see if I could dep for him on 42nd St (both shows had three trombones). I was rapt to be getting good work so quickly and was very sheepish and apologetic when I had to call George back a few days later to explain that I had double booked myself. I forgot I was getting married on that night!!! Whoops!
Even though this was after the freelance heyday (which was probably the 70’s when there were TV shows and many RSL clubs all with live bands and before the synthesiser/keyboard takeover of jingles and musicals) there was still a fair whack of work around in the early 90’s.