Trying to work as a full-time musician/actor after university was a lot of fun. But even great songs like Mustang Sally lost their appeal after bellowing them out seven days a week to increasingly drunk and only moderately interested wedding guests, corporate crowds and Reeperbahn loiterers. Equally, the three hours a day of telesales to help pay the London rent didn’t help things. So after three years, something had to change.

Deciding that music was not going to be at the heart of how I made my living was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. It was only then that I became aware of what a barrister was and that it offered the possibility of a job which felt both socially valuable yet still offered the opportunity to perform in front of an audience. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that should appear in the government’s next artist diversification advert. But it worked for me.

Early life at the Bar meant that music took a back seat. But in 2014 I decided to abandon all covers gigs and start a band which would only write and perform original music. I met Oli Jobes, a local finger-picking guitar virtuoso, and between us we built up a bank of 15-20 original acoustic roots/Americana songs. We started off at open mic slots as The Lost Notes and soon received invites to headline club nights and appear at festivals. We brought in Lucy Mills to share three-part harmony vocals, Max Tomlinson on drums and Silas Wood on double bass.

In December 2017 we released our first album Run Free Right Now. With positive reviews in international magazines (Maverick Country Music Magazine: ‘Sublime… fearless and entertaining; extremely clever song-writing... wonderful’) our reputation started to grow, leading to three or four gigs a month.

One of the great things about performing music is that it takes you to people and places you might otherwise never visit. From the small folk club off a Black Country side street, to backstage on the bill with The Levellers, Teenage Fan Club and Nick Mulvey. On the acoustic music scene at least, whatever their life journey, most people who attend to play or listen all share a deep love of music. Audiences listen and drink rather than drink and chat. They are, by and large, fabulous, warm, welcoming places and a priceless antidote to the all-consuming stress of life at the criminal Bar.

Professionally, one of the hardest consequences of COVID-19 was the inevitable drop in court work commitments. But it also ravaged the live music industry. Like bands across the country, our summer of festival bookings and regular club gigs was decimated. All but one festival was cancelled. The mighty Beardy Folk Festival in Cleobury Mortimer soldiered on and it was magical. Everyone who attended, whether performer or audience, was reminded of the privilege, intimacy and deep joy felt by the shared experience of music. It has to find a way back.

But the pandemic also provided the opportunity to finish our second album. Pre-lockdown we had recorded the 50 or so live takes for each song. Editing all of that down to 13, four-minute, finished pieces was a marathon. Instead of gathering together around a monitor in a darkened room, it all had to be done via Dropboxing files and emailing ‘notes’. We assembled a great team including Mark Ward, a wonderful BBC sound engineer/editor, along with Nick Cooke, an ex-Sony Music mastering engineer favoured by the likes of Kate Rusby, and our French graphic designer, Cyril Terrier, who had done the artwork for our first album. There’s nothing like sweating over audio-editing software at 2am, trying to edit out loud breaths, lip smacks and errant guitar knocks to help you forget about professional woes and global pandemics. Between us, that process alone took over 1,000 hours. Then it was finished. Lowlifes & High Times was released on 5 December 2020. No repeat of the raucous launch gig we’d so enjoyed last time around. But it was out there.

While professional achievements bring a certain amount of satisfaction, for me, they don’t come close to this. Throwing your own creative work out to the wolves of the world is something you have to brace yourself for. But, equally, there is nothing like receiving a favourable review.

When BBC Introducing WM chose to play a track it was a moment of great joy and relief (BBC Introducing WM: ‘Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! I love it!’).

But there’s another side. The songwriting, rehearsing, recording and editing amounts to well over 2,000 hours’ work. Then comes the marketing and promoting. Hard copy CDs are produced and, inevitably, the album is made available on streaming services such as Spotify, Deezer, iTunes and the like. In my view, streaming services are currently killing new music. For example, when an independent band like ours sells a CD for £10, or a digital download, we retain most of that – split between five. When someone streams a song we get somewhere in the region of £0.005 – split between five.

I have the luxury of a professional income, which means I don’t rely on the financial success of original music to survive. But imagine what those figures mean for the professional members of the band, along with the thousands of independent artists who have the talent and determination to keep producing exciting original music that enriches all our lives? After thousands of hours of unpaid creative effort, their art is consumed in a way which makes their financial future entirely unsustainable. It’s even worse than a ‘mention’ fee. Buying a CD or other merchandise from an upcoming band will probably cost you less than a couple of pints. But, when doing so, you will be directly supporting the future of the creative arts.

All that said, I have no professional music qualifications and would not be able to support a family from band income alone. But I do have a persistent urge to write songs, perform with friends and stay creative. Music is a great companion and, for the best, it should be a viable way of life. For the future to be sustainable it requires the public to find ways of ensuring that those who provide the soundtrack to our commutes, gym sessions, parties and personal celebrations are sufficiently rewarded.

If you’re interested in hearing our music you could treat yourself to a CD or download it at, iTunes and Amazon etc. Or you could stream it. But, like every jury is told, remember the warnings. 

A banger of an album!’ MusicStyle: Undecided

’Delightful jazz folk sensibility.’ FATEA Magazine

‘Their debut announced them as rising stars, this puts them firmly in the brightest constellation.’

‘Their versatility, dynamics, proficiency and energy is clear... their joyfully melancholic folkie Americana sound... fits in amongst peers like… Fleet Foxes… Fairport Convention and… Crosby Stills Nash and Young.’ Rocking Magpie

Top image: The Lost Notes L to R: Max Tomlinson (drums), Ben Mills (guitar), Lucy Mills (vocals), Silas Wood (double bass), Oli Jobes (guitar).