A close up of an older blonde woman wearing large black headphones. She has her eyes closed.

Chrissie Cochrane is blazing a trail for others to follow

BY SOPHIE PERRY, IMAGES VIA INSTAGRAM

As a blind transgender woman, musician Chrissie Cochrane knows more than most about discrimination and the various forms it takes. 

Born in New Zealand at the end of World War II, 76-year-old Chrissie was blind at birth as her mother had German Measles while pregnant. 

After moving to England at the age of 11, Chrissie attended Linden Lodge School, a school for sensory impaired children, before going onto to the Royal Normal College for the Blind in Shrewsbury, which she left as a shorthand typist. 

She was 16 when she realised she had a talent for music, and enjoyed playing the keyboard. For a while she performed for a secondary income before ditching her day job in the civil service altogether and becoming a professional musician. 

Now, she’s preparing to release her new single, which she hopes will shine a light on the situation faced by trans people, saying she’s “appalled at the transphobia in the UK at the moment”.

Titled Let Me Out Of Here, it’s taken from the album of the same name, and encapsulates the trans experience. Chrissie explains: “The track deals with the conflict of a person realising they’re transgender and the relief when they do something about it.”

As well as facing discrimination for being trans, Chrissie has had to battle because of her disability, and believes it’s harder to be a blind musician today than it was in the 1950s and 60s, when she first started playing in bars and clubs. 

She recalls that during the post-war period, there were casual piano bars which would give her a go as well as pubs that she could walk into and ask for work. Nowadays, everything is much more organised and so she believes it is harder for blind musicians to get ad-hoc work. 

Research conducted by Arts Council England (ACE) into the diversity of their funded organisations found that disabled artists made up only 5% of staff in the music sector. Across the entirety of organisations funded by ACE, this figure only rose slightly to 6%. 

Chrissie says: “When you boil it down, the music industry is really all about image. Yes, musical talent helps, but image plus social media these days is really all you need.

“There is absolutely no reason why a blind musician shouldn’t do as well as anyone else online and that is where most of the work is done these days. However, discrimination can take many forms, not the least of which is the fact that much now is done visually – on Instagram, Snapchat or whatever – which mostly is inaccessible to blind and visually impaired people.”

Chrissie playing keyboards. She's wearing a white shirt with flowing sleeves underneath a light blue sweater
Chrissie at her keyboard. Images via @chrissie.cochrane

Chrissie firmly believes the discrimination faced by both blind and transgender communities can only be tackled through “co-operation”. At the moment, she feels “the only way to deal with it is to speak out against it” and “that isn’t co-operation” in her opinion. She says: “I’m for trying to stop squabbling. Everyone takes sides and nothing ever gets done.”

Chrissie feels that working together is the “only way that blind people will get on in the media, especially musicians.”

As well as her solo work, Chrissie is also a member of the Inner Vision Orchestra, the UK’s only professional orchestra of blind and visually impaired musicians, and she advocates for blind musicians through The Global Voice, an internet radio station which she set up 12 years ago. Primarily staffed by blind and visually impaired people, its offshoot TGV Productions is made up of members of staff from The Global Voice who have either keyboard or production skills.

An older blonde woman sits in a wicker chair in front of a keyboard. Her hands are clasped. She's wearing a brown, ribbed roll neck jumper and blue trousers
Chrissie hopes to pave the way for other visually impaired musicians

Chrissie’s aim is to help other blind musicians get their work out to the public by sharing her knowledge and experience around music production, allowing others to get their work onto major distribution platforms such as Spotify. 

Let Me Out Of Here is released on 1 May 2021 on Google Play, Spotify, iTunes and Amazon

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