Lara Simpson Gigging on Board the Carnival Conquest

Oak Tree Music’s violin supremo Lara Simpson is currently on a 6-month tour around the Caribbean, playing on board the Carnival Conquest. We asked her to describe her time there so far (and we weren’t jealous at all)…

“Being a cruise ship musician is a weird and wonderful existence! We’ve been here for 7 weeks now and it finally feels like normal life for us (even though we know it’s far from it).

After spending a few weeks at Carnival Studios in Fort Lauderdale rehearsing every day, we signed on as the new electric string trio on the Carnival Conquest on the 30th March. We had a day of meetings and enrolments before being told we had half an hour to navigate ourselves around this giant floating maze to find our instruments, our luggage, our cabins, get ready and make it to soundcheck. We didn’t even know front from back, right from left, up from down. It was crazy but we made it, probably looking like startled rabbits in the headlights on stage, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I guess!

Since then, everything has become progressively easier. On average, we play 3 sets a day, occasionally 4, which are either 45 minutes or an hour long. We play about half our music with backing tracks and half without. It’s a mixture of pop, rock, jazz and film.

It was an adjustment getting used to gigging every day, as back home I’d usually have 2 or 3 gigs a week, but it’s become normal so quickly! We don’t start until around 4pm, which means we are allowed to get off and explore the ports whenever we have the chance, as long as we don’t get lost in the backstreets of the island somewhere and join a cult or miss our gig.

So far, we have been to lots of places: Grand Turk, San Juan, Half Moon Cay, St. Maarten, Curaçao, Aruba, Nassau and Amber Cove! Sunbathing prizes go to Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay. Coolest and most colourful architecture goes to Curaçao and San Juan. Most exciting was St. Maarten, as we saw a plane beach, where the planes land a few metres above your head! We changed home ports to Miami recently, so now get to see lots of new places, such as Mexico and Jamaica. 

The music is going well. Our audience in the daytime is mainly elderly couples and families. We tend to play jazz, easy listening and tangos for them to ballroom dance to, which is lovely. As the sets get later, the audience gets younger and the drinks start flowing, so we tend to play more pop and rock with backing tracks. The biggest hits of the cruise have been The Devil Goes Down to Georgia (someone actually threw their shoe on stage in excitement when we first played it) and rock music in general – People love AC/DC on violins!

Working out how to use the desk has been a challenge, as there’s only one sound technician on the entire ship, who has a function band, horn trio, theatre show, Latin duo and Caribbean soloist to attend to, as well as us! We were pretty much left to our own devices, but it was a learning curve. We still get the balance slightly wrong sometimes, but we will get there by September! We are continuing to arrange new songs and do tiny miniature cabin rehearsals, so we can add new music to the set, as playing the same music for 5 months would numb the brain slightly.

I’m constantly amazed at the beautiful sunsets and the views of the open ocean every time I walk around the ship. We always remind ourselves how lucky we are to do this crazy job and play music for a living every day. I’ve met some hilarious and lovely friends, who I’m very happy to be spending the remaining 4 months on this crazy, isolated, floating hotel with (come back and ask me how I feel in August and you might get a different story). Fingers crossed we make it to September!”