My journey: Living the life, through dark times and light.
When I was ten years old, my school awarded me a certiﬁcate for poetry. I still clearly remember the poem to this day. The pride I felt from that small achievement must have spurred me toward being creative with words, because I am still a keen writer today (of lyrics anyway). That said, my grammar is appalling! I guess I have always loved the creative side to language, just never the rules. Maybe that’s why I was always drawn towards punk music, even from early on.
During my second year at senior school, when I was twelve, my stepfather Arthur took me to see my ﬁrst live show. It was Hawkwind; an old space rock band who have been touring since the 1960s (and who Lemmy used to play bass for, pre-Motorhead).
We saw them at what was then the Hammersmith Odeon (now Eventim Apollo). I wore my school uniform to try and look smart (silly) and Arthur threatened to punch a guy for passing me a spliﬀ. Smokey environments in those days made it much easier to mask the smell of drugs and I wouldn’t have recognised the diﬀerent smell at that age. You didn’t need to smoke anything yourself anyway; we were probably all high as kites just being in the same room as others who were.
At the age of fourteen, I wrote my ﬁrst song. Pretty depressing little track if I remember rightly, but at least I was keeping it real. That’s important, I hear!
By sixteen I had joined a band, played my ﬁrst gig and recorded a demo in a real studio (you had to go to a studio in those days). Then, after circling the sun seventeen times, I ﬁnally picked up my ﬁrst (handmade) guitar and even stacked up my ﬁrst live review! It’s funny to think now that the only mention of me in said review, was in reference to my terrible mic control (still a bloody issue today, lol).
As an eighteen-year-old, I got to play on the same stage as Blur, Oasis, Pulp and many other successful indie/rock bands of the early/mid 90s, at the then infamous Army & Navy venue in Essex. Alright, alright…not at the same time, okay? But still, it was a real privilege to play that gig and at such an important hot spot like the Army & Navy too. Anyone who was anyone played there. I remember that was also my ﬁrst experience of band rivalry… but that’s a story for another day.
When I was twenty-one, I moved to Brighton, where I met some true lifetime friends. I played in dozens of bands, in what I still consider to be one of the most creative points in my life. I also became incredibly self-destructive. Brighton can be a decadent place and it was easy for me to fall into the trap that the music and club scene can set for you. Lots of alcohol, drugs and casual relations. Brighton = Party Town!
One evening I remember watching a mate’s band at what was then called The Freebutt. They were about to play, when some lairy herbert tried to take the band’s set list oﬀ the stage in front of them.
Without thinking, I kicked him up the arse and told him to put it back. He didn’t like that, and once the band started playing, he ran up and elbowed me in the mouth. Somehow it didn’t phase me too much. Instead (and in the same moment), I struck back and sent him to the ﬂoor.
Moments later, his friends started running in. But the manager at the time — Will Moore (if you’re in a band in the UK, you’ve probably sent this man a demo at some point) stepped in and barred me from the venue. A real bummer when I discovered that this was the very bloke that I needed to send my CD to, in order to get it heard.
Brighton is a party town, but it is also a small one. Two years later and somehow, we end up working together at the Prince Albert pub. We even started a band together. This band was rather unfortunately (but also, rather brilliantly) named Leonard and Bubba’s Delicious Goo Goo Cluster. It was (and still is) a crazy redneck comedy bluegrass band. To date, we have had a cracking time as Leonard & Bubba, playing tons of cool shows and festivals around the UK and Ireland. We have supported the infamous Chas n Dave; partied and played for the Scissor Sisters; been on the same bill as Primal Scream, Cuban Brothers, Gogol Bordello and even The Beastie Boys.
From a musician’s perspective, so far so good right??? Well, maybe not…
When I was twenty-five, an A&R man (from a major label) told me, quite frankly, that I was now too old to get signed to any label and that I shouldn’t bother pursuing a career in music any longer. WTF?
This knocked me down hard, and for a good few years I lost all conﬁdence in my ability to become successful. I didn’t even want to continue making music. I was never classically trained, so if my creativity wasn’t welcome, then I figured that I really didn’t have much else to oﬀer.
I continued to write songs, but the bitter taste in my mouth remained. My day job was sucking my energy, driving me to drink more and more and creating so much stress in my life that I had started having panic attacks every day.
This continued for about two years, until one afternoon — driving back from a garden party that we had played the night before in Malvern — I had my biggest panic attack ever. I thought I was having a heart attack, because both my arms went completely numb and my back was all pins and needles. It must have been convincing, because the rest of the guys immediately phoned 999, stopped the car and lay me out on the ground in a car park (dismal, eh?)
An old woman who had seen us, drove in and came to hold my hand. I mean I WAS DYING! At least, that’s what I thought.
Seconds before the paramedic arrived, I said to myself, “This is it. My last few breaths…”
I remember looking up to the sky. It was a gorgeous day — blue sky with small white clouds. A ﬁtting end too, I strangely thought.
The paramedic arrives. He takes a good while to come over and just sits in his car writing. By now I had started to wonder why I was not dead yet. The paramedic gets out of his car and saunters over. His ﬁrst words were a question: “How old are you, mate?” I answered that I was 28. “Oh, well you’ve had a panic attack, aintcha?”
I immediately began to feel okay. The blood rushed back into my arms and except for a little embarrassment, I felt almost normal again.
“What?” I asked him.
“A panic attack, you donut. Look at you, you’re in the peak of health!”
I thanked him, and the lovely little old lady. Then, as way of celebrating, we all went to the pub for a few beers before the long drive back to Brighton. Except Will of course, as he was driving.
I realised that my panic attacks were related to my alcohol consumption, and that my alcohol consumption was due to my stress at work. More stress at work led me to drink more and it all created a vicious circle, one that I was struggling to break on my own.
So, I went to visit the doctor and explained my issue. He immediately prescribed diazepam, which I was somewhat reluctant to take. Due to my mother’s illness I hated the idea of prescription medication. I even avoided painkillers, because I feared they might be some kind of gateway drug to the terrible Prozac that everyone seemed to be on at that time. But I was in dire need of relaxation, so I took one. It felt quite nice. But that was it.
The next day a friend of mine took me along to one of his acting classes. I never needed to take another one of those pills after that! Something happened and after just one acting class I made the decision.
I might be too old to be a musician (by some people’s standards), but I certainly wasn’t too old to be an actor. That’s what I’ll do, I thought happily. I’m sure most of the skills are transferrable anyway.
So, I kept it up — I took speaking lessons (because I had developed a serious mumbling habit), I started performing in plays, and eventually, I even got a place at a top London acting school. Yesss!
Fast forward… I graduate, and I get paid work as an actor. I make a living from it. How crazy is that?! And as much as I really enjoy my new job, I still write music and I still yearn to play. So, I joined a ‘for the fuck of it’ band. A really fun bunch of guys, who like to drink and swear and play funky punk music. And tell jokes and fart and all that kind of boyish stuﬀ that I had been missing the previous few years.
We were called Kick the Moon, and there was really something quite exciting about us on stage. We really came together and wrote some great songs. Me being me though, knew that it wasn’t enough. I wanted a career. I loved acting but felt a little like a puppet playing through somebody else’s story.
Writing and performing my own material, and the buzz of playing music live, was still what excited me the most. The other guys weren’t about to drop their stable careers for a piss-about band, no matter how popular we were or how good the songs. For them it was just a laugh.
Once again, I was losing all hope of a music career, until (at the age of 36) an old friend introduced me to a band named Die Antwoord (you have undoubtedly heard of them, by now they are international superstars).
When I found out that these f***ing amazing creative guys had broken into the industry at an even older age than I was, my hope and passion were instantly revived. I got back on the horse and this time decided to go solo.
Going solo has taken some time to iron out. I mean, who exactly am I after all these years, all these experiences and all this time? Finding out was fun; I experimented with a whole bunch of silly ideas, trying diﬀerent music styles and costumes. One of these projects led me to another band, briefly. We even produced an album together and did a few shows. We were called Henshin X, an electro-pop-rap hybrid act.
The album is called ‘Lunacy’ and it is still out there (check it out!) It is not for everyone, but I am proud of all the work that myself and especially Ceri Davies (the main composer and producer) put in. We did some fantastic artwork and a couple of cool videos too.
It was about this time that my darling wife was offered a full-time role in an ongoing TV series in her home city of Helsinki. Well, that was that — I had to go with her. She is the best thing that ever happened to me and there was no way I was ever going to let her get away. So, we moved to Finland!
I was unemployed for quite a while and I had plenty of time to do some soul searching. Finland has given me time to reﬂect on what matters most. It has given me the space and opportunity to experiment and play and discoveragain.
I still get some odd acting work, but better than that, I have had the opportunity to play lots more music. I even troubadour on some ferries between Helsinki and Tallin, playing thirty-five shows per week.
As for becoming an artist once you are older than 25? The world of music has changed. The industry no longer just wants pretty, dumb talent who they can manipulate. Now they will manipulate any age, ha ha!
I now realise that I don’t need the industry. People don’t care what my age is.
Good music is good music, and all I have to do is…well, make good music, I suppose.
Age isn’t a curse, it’s a blessing. Age has given me a rich and diverse set of skills to draw upon for my art, music, video and live performance.
I will discover my own audience and I will share my art and music with the world… because that is who I am, and this is what I do! It’s what I’ve always done. I am an artist and an artist must NEVER GIVE UP!