The life of a musician in Scotland’s capital


Paul Montague is just one of many who roam Edinburgh’s streets, guitar in hand, ready to sing for their supper. Whilst the creative arts are all too often regarded as nothing more than recreational pleasures, the city is home to a selection of strange creatures making a living from their art alone.

The first time I saw Paul was in the dimly lit surroundings of the city’s most charming dive bar, Henry’s Cellar Bar. He exuded a confidence, one that said he didn’t care; this was his craft and nothing else mattered.

A fedora hat covered a mane of unkempt hair and wide tired eyes stared out across the crowd. Clad in a suit and ill-fitting silk shirt, he looked rough yet ever so classy, like a beautiful hobo. The faint smell of cigarette smoke, wine and sweat lingered – the scent of the musician. Every inch of him screamed ‘the struggling artist’.

How sustainable is making a living as a musician?
You get what you give. In terms of finding venues willing to pay it’s just a case of getting out there and speaking to people. Approaching venues that don’t have music can also be a good way of getting more gigs.

What does your daily routine consist of?
The job requires staying out late a lot, so it can be hard to see the bright side of mornings and the majority of decent paying gigs can be quite long. An average gig tends to be between two and three hours.

Other than Edinburgh, where else have you made a living?
I’ve traveled around the West coast of Scotland and played in Europe. I think Germany is probably one of the most musician friendly countries, they consider musician as a respected profession – like a doctor or another profession you have to train for years to become. If you’re working close to musician union rates you only need to have about ten gigs a month to survive.

How accommodating is Edinburgh for musicians?
You have to build a good reputation but there’s lots of work out there. Sometimes it can be difficult as there are a lot of people who undercut other musicians. I find most residencies tend to be finite, so you have to keep looking, it can be very frustrating. You also have to play to a lot of drunk people, and you’ll get constant requests for music you despise.


Edinburgh’s iconic Jazz Bar

Who are the people/places who have helped you the most?

My first paid gig was playing with a bunch of jazz musicians in a folk band, the band leader gave me a job and the confidence to start playing solo gigs. The Jazz Bar have been good to me, so have a lot of small pubs. Most have changed their names. We used to be the house band in Opium for a couple of years and they used to pay us £100 an hour for every hour we were in the venue. 

Do you ever wished you had pursued a different path?
I sometimes think it would be easier to be something else, but I could never work for a bank and I’ll never stop performing. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to live this life?
Be prepared for a lot of hard work, a lot of rejection and a lack of financial stability. Or just move to Germany.

Recordings of Paul’s music can be found on Soundcloud


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