I was born in Marske-by-the -Sea, a small town in the North of England. My Grandmother still lives in the same street where I was born. We moved to the neighbouring town of Redcar when I was about 2. My Dad was a Chef, .my Mam a Waitress. My brother and I spent all of our time playing football. Redcar is a funny town. Perched on the edge of the North York Moors,on the mouth of the River Tees,framed by the cold and intimidating North Sea.To the North it is sandwiched between Middlesbrough by a gaping plain of steel works and chemical plants. Looking south there is a tall succession of cliffs trailing to Whitby. I was born in the North Riding of Yorkshire. When I was seven they changed the areas name to Teeside. Less than ten years later they changed it to the Borough of Langbaurgh, in the County of Cleveland. Cleveland is an old English word that means "cliff-land."
School was quite wonderful up to the age of eleven when they separated friends and sent us different ways based on a test result. I made it by a squeak to what was then called Grammar School. My Dad died when I was eleven,just a few months after I changed schools in fact.I loved sport. I was far too scared to get involved in anything too wayward. I conservatively rebelled (my Mam probably didn't notice) as a teenager by getting into weird music and left wing politics. At the age of 16, punk happened and my life changed. No,I didn't wear safety pins. I was interested in the spirit of rebellion, the outward manifestations I always regarded as being superficial. Still do in fact.
As a conscientious working class kid I felt that I had to get a job. I wasn't any good at science so training (as most of my peers did) to be an apprentice at British Steel or I.C.I was impossible. A careers teacher pointed me in the direction of Occupational Therapy because he knew I was interested in music, art and helping others. With typical Spybey anxiety I set out to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1980 (a modest 40 miles from Redcar), finishing my course in 1983. I then went to live in a small railway town called Darlington. For the next nine years I lived in and around the County of Durham before finally emigrating to Canada in 1992.
During those nine years I was very active in the Animal Rights movement. It was there that I ran into Ben from Zoviet-France. I'd been involved in music before that,although only one of those bands had been serious. It was a strange pop band called The Euphoria Case, based in Middlesbrough in 1985. It's founder was one Richard Sanderson,with whom I had been friends since I was about 10 years of age. Periodically from the age of 14 onwards, Richard and I have made music together. In 1995 we did a couple of shows together in London,England. Richard is now heavily involved with the London free-improvisational field. He's a toy-user too.
Music making has always felt like a fun kind of activity to me. I've never learnt to play any instrument (apart from the drums and that was a long time ago). Until recently,I didn't take it seriously. It simply fits into the way I think and act. I've never academically studied art.However, I have been going voluntarily to art galleries for years . I have also painted, although infrequently. I started to like work that challenged me as a viewer. Work that was difficult to define. My tastes in poetry, writing and film were also drifting in that direction. I began to use art, drama, writing and music in my work as a Therapist because I found that the clients I worked with, despite their problems, had enormous reserves of inventiveness. They could access their creativity in a joyfully direct way. In contrast, most of the trained artists I came across were abjectly miserable, creatively (paradoxically) stifled by their years of education. By discovering the work of Joseph Beuys in 1986, I came into direct contact with someone who was able to crystallise my ideas, carefully fusing together the threads between my work as a therapist with that of my own artistic endeavours.
For the last ten years, I have tried to develop my own creativity. To harness it's power if you like. I've ran into several brick walls and made one or two wrong turns but essentially, I feel no different than I did 10 years ago. In the company of trained musicians, experienced technicians and equipment afficionados I feel abjectly out of place. When I set my gear up at shows I hear the giggles of the technical guys. I immediately switch off when people try to teach me about what this switch or that button does.I t never stays in my brain for longer than a few minutes. I have developed a few skills but essentially my approach to music making is still the same as it was 10 years ago. I happen to believe, like Philip Glass I guess, that there is infinite mileage to be obtained from a limited resource. Take a look at the sky sometime. How do you describe what you see? It is never the same experience twice . It's a constant, prominent and permanent part of every ones experience.Yet when we look at it, do we all experience the same thoughts and feelings ?
One of my favourite journeys as a child was the train ride from Redcar to Middlesbrough. A twenty minute, eight mile journey through marshland and industry. One could see herons and foxes. The decay of deserted docks. Steel works belching out white hot metal and acrid fumes from coke ovens. Bored workers would write chalk slogans on the red-rust of seemingly deserted buildings. Over a period of years, these words became tainted by pollution and rain. Throughout the infamous Thatcher years the docks and the shipbuilding yards closed forever. The steel works were drastically reduced in size. Thousands of workers lost their jobs. The journey isn't the same anymore. The air tastes cleaner. They've built a new football stadium on some of the deserted land. The one existing blast furnace is a museum of steel-making. The heart has been ripped out of this once proud and vibrant area.
I struggle to make music that echoes this train ride. To utilise sound from unlikely sources. To create textures . To document decay. To explore the dynamic between industry and nature. To challenge the long-held belief that art is owned by middle-class people. To play. To work with others co-operatively.
Sometimes it works.
View additional " early years " photos.
|(doing) (being) (melding)|