For the past two years I have been leading a double life – part music editor, part mature law student, back to school after a decade as a journalist – dashing between two diametrically opposed cities to maintain a schizophrenic schedule, writes Camden New Journal music editor Roisin Gad el Rab
At times the lines have blurred…library sessions interrupted by music PRs calling to plug their latest project, newsdesk emails calling for copy 20 minutes before an advocacy exam, or telephone interviews with the likes of Boy George or Wretch 32 from my car in the College of Law car park.
At last, the hard work has paid off. In return for placing my social life on indefinite suspension, travelling between the bright lights of London and gentle, quiet Chester to study alongside students more than ten years younger than me and racking up nearly £30,000 in student loans, I received an LPC, GDL and LLB. Not a bad collection of qualifications for a mere 20 months work and a lifetime of debt.
Just under two years ago I was still a full-time news reporter and music editor at the Camden New Journal (CNJ) and Islington Tribune newspapers, splitting the days between photographing school nativity plays, interviewing politicians, covering the courts and going on police raids while dividing nights between town hall meetings and gigs…
The hours were long and the pay was low, but I loved my job, my colleagues, the intense investigations and political discussions and my music page covering the rich musical heartland of Camden Town.
But, forever at the mercy of landlords wishing to sell their rental properties, I faced eviction for the fifth time. Unable to save money on a local newspaper’s wage, I realised that it was time to give my other great interest, intensified by years as a court reporter, a real go – law. Quitting journalism and London completely would not be an option.
Instead, I continued as freelance music editor, attending gigs in London and studying at the College of Law in my home city of Chester – impossible without my parents’ support.
These past months have been intense; days at class, evenings at the library and nights interviewing musicians, writing up my ‘Record of the Week’ and ensuring my column is up to date. I’m well informed by Twitter, my contacts and spending as much time as possible in London between studies.
At times the course was heavy, demanding self-discipline and organisation. Staff at the college were extremely helpful. Time is precious and full-time students with part-time jobs particularly felt the pressure. Training contracts amongst my counterparts are rare and precious.
A few weeks before the GDL finals I found myself crawling under the thundering feet of a stampeding festival crowd to rescue my camera, fallen from my grasp when I was knocked to the ground in the chaos. The thought of preserving brain cells for the looming exams should have crossed my mind. But it didn’t. After being a journalist for so long, the addiction to getting the story, or in this case rescuing the perfect photo, took precedence over common sense.
I escaped unscathed and the photo, of a member of controversial rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All flying from the top of the stage at the Camden Crawl festival (pictured above), survived intact to take its rightful place in the pages of the CNJ.
Studying for the LPC, while remaining music editor required ultra-organisational skills and forensically detailed time-management. I secured a job in the college library, and would leave much of my writing until the early hours, frequently falling asleep at the keyboard but never missing a deadline.
Living across north and south had its advantages. Not all singers live in London. So when Paul Heaton (The Housemartins/The Beautiful South) offered to cycle from Manchester to meet me I said yes. When the trip couldn’t happen, I was able to drive to his home, visit his local pub and grasp a much clearer insight into his mindset than would have been possible over the phone.
Another time I waited three hours in my car outside the law library on the hottest day of the year for Bob Geldof to call. Only when I’d given up and begun driving through a tiny Cheshire village, did my phone ring.
Now I’m interning as a media law paralegal but with no guarantee of a training contract or even a permanent job – and I’m one of the lucky ones, grateful for the insight into a niche industry. Most of my friends are still searching for a legal job. In the meantime they work in bakeries, bars, safari parks and schools, while one drives an ice-cream van.
To those who worry about doing the GDL or LPC, take heart. The work is hard, and at times your social life will shut down but it is possible to see every gig you want and still secure a happy result. The greater concern is the debts, the risk of taking a huge bank loan with no guarantee of a training contract at the end, and even if you do get one, the fact that the trainee minimum wage has been scrapped means you may not be able to meet repayments even if you are given a training contract.
The most worrying aspect of this is that even more than ever, only those who can afford to will turn to law. And, from my, albeit limited, experience so far, only a tiny minority of those have any interest beyond the commercial realm and into the more human fields of legal aid, human rights or immigration.
Roisin Gad el Rab is music editor at the Camden New Journal (CNJ) and Islington Tribune and a media law paralegal.