It sounds like the perfect job for anybody and in many ways it is ; a good opportunity to get away to some beautiful places and have fun, earning decent wages in retail, hairdressing, casino, restaurant and bar work, possibly generous tips if you do your job well.
In my case, joining a showband on board ship was an incredibly attractive idea the more I thought about it, with a nagging thought that I might not be quite up to standard. However I wanted the experience and was willing to try.
I forget exactly how I got the job but it was probably through the usual music paper ads. I didn’t audition but there was a lot of procedure to go through.
For the first time I had to buy a tuxedo and went through all the forms for immigration and visa for America. Three other young guys and myself met at the airport and flew out on Virgin to Montego Bay, Jamaica where we joined the Regent Star. I didn’t feel over confident with my sight-reading and the show material was daunting. The other guys had studied at Leeds music college and had honed their chops as they say! This was my introduction to jazz as it should be played, and I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I hadn’t had the grounding for it at that point.
The hardest number was Billy Joel’s “Root Beer Rag” which the production show used but I mastered it eventually.
It was a fun band and despite the high musical standard required things were relaxed on board and you just had to observe certain rules and regulations – dress codes for dinner of course – but musicians in the main showband were highly regarded and included in every party which went on, either in the Captain’s mess or crew mess, and that was most nights after the shows. The formal night was the hardest work, and that began with Captains Cocktail Party in the afternoon followed immediately by two sittings of the meal and production show and a dance set to round off. I had fun on stage with a number called “Midnight in Moscow” and also “Theme from Minder”.
Musicians do drink a bit of course and the six of us got on well with some great humour.
The bars were open on all decks throughout the day and evening and it wasn’t difficult to sign off for rounds of drinks and then must pay a huge bar bill that week, so caution was needed. Days out in port in places like Montego Bay, Ocha Rios (Jamaica), Cartegena (Colombia) and Aruba were paradise.
The second of the two Caribbean cruises on the Cunard Princess was a little bit different. A different style of music and this time a four-piece pop covers band with a girl singer. Our venue was the disco lounge and a half indoor/outdoor room. We docked regularly at the Mexican Riviera ports (Mazatlan, Puerta Vallarta, Cabo san Lucas, Cozumel and Acapulco), Curacao, Grand Cayman as the boat sailed through the Panama Canal from east to west and back, at one end Fort Lauderdale, Florida and at the other San Pedro, California.
Compared to the cruise ships of now (this was 1988) the Princess was about a tenth of the size, but still accommodated 950 passengers.
So three months on each boat enjoying the sunshine and once again after this brilliant experience I was ready to move on to another musical project, which turned out to be a few seasons playing Holiday Centres (for another blog!)