I grew up in Whitby mainly. A small, cold fishing town on the north east coast. I had been playing drums from as young as 3. Its all I ever remember doing and wanting to do. It was and still is a constant in my life to this day. There was something else that had been a constant too. A dark cloud, the hole in my soul, had been with me for as long as I can remember. I remember just feeling ‘less than’. Less than her, him, all of them and you. I never had a sense of equality with anyone, I just assumed I wasn’t as good.
I was very manic as a kid and my antics kept the beast at bay as a kid but when I started drinking at 14, I noticed the dark cloud seemed to lighten. The head noise subsided and the warm blanket of alcohol covered me in comfort and promised to take care of me always. Little did I know that this was an angel disguised as a ticking time bomb and it was set to go off at some point in the future. All it needed was something or someone to light the fuse.
I was in bands all through school and college but it was when I hit the college scene that I started to party hard. I played gigs and drank at every opportunity, though I didn’t know I was a binge drinker I knew I drank way more than ‘sociably’. I just put it down to being a fun loving, out going and gregarious late teen full of life and desire. We all got crazy. Its who we were and what we did or maybe it was only me that thought that. Either way, I knew one thing for sure. When I was drunk, there was no insecurity, I felt confident, I thought I was funny and I always went out of my way to be the centre of attention. I was happy for a while but it couldn’t last.
I soon discovered drugs through a ‘friend’ and started frequenting their house. I learned to skin up and rack ‘em out. Up, down, sideways and diagonal. As long as I wasn’t straight, I didn’t feel the torment of my youthful insecurities and woefully low self esteem.
Academically I didn’t perform very well and I excelled at sports but lost interest when the band I was in started to do well. That led to my first proper, paid gig in ’91 and with Little Angels from Scarborough, had a number 1 album and went off on tour supporting Bryan Adams in the UK’s stadiums. It was everything I had ever dreamed of, I had made it and it was the biggest middle finger salute to everyone who had ever doubted me. It also gave me something else. It gave me permission to be the bad boy I thought I’d always wanted to be and I embarked on a three and a half year orgy of gigs, booze, drugs, parties and disastrous relationships. Years later in 2004,Michael Lee, the drummer I replaced, was found dead at his flat after an alcoholic seizure.
After the Angels broke up I joined Skunk Anansie. Their first drummer Robbie France had been fired for alcoholism (and also died in 2012 from alcohol related complications.) Upsetting people, causing damage or trouble sadly became all too commonplace from the very start. I became the rock n roll cliché i’d always aspired to be. Life felt very uncomfortable when I wasn’t being idolised by fans or on some kind of other high. Skunk were very successful in the mid to late 90’s and I lived an ego led, abstract, unrealistic and unsustainable life on tour, often in isolation from my band mates, using and drinking in secret. I spent every night I could partying and every day promising myself ‘never again’ only to once again open a new bottle after the show and continue on my downward spiral. I often got back on the band bus after partying with our crew just before the others woke up and I became a master at hiding my addictive dysfunction. I promised and promised myself I wouldn’t drink before the show (a promise I eventually broke) and so gig days were agony and promotion excruciating as I tried to get through the day feeling so sick and tired. I dreaded being asked a question because all I had in my head was a beast screaming at me that I couldn’t answer a phone call, let alone give an intelligent answer to a journalists question. In fact I was just sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. It was groundhog day, I wanted to stop but I couldn’t, I didn’t know how.
I had my 30th birthday party in London, and my wife and newborn were out of town. I remember being in Camden and waking up a day later at home but that is all I remember. The next day I was called by a friend and told to get help or say goodbye to the band. I was defined by the band. I was nothing without it or rather I had no idea who I was without it. I had no sense of self, no self worth and no confidence to speak of unless I was behind the drums. Up to 2001 my drinking and using progressively escalated to the point where I was dependant. I was completely lost in a fake world I’d made up in my head and was enabled by the business I worked in, a business that actively encouraged dysfunction, addiction, mental health and death because it sells more records. I was adulterous and left my marriage, my son, my house and was almost completely broke. I was an angry, self centred, ego maniac with no self-esteem. Whatever was left of me, I lost that too. There was however a tiny part of my being screaming something out, through a dense fog from a far away place. It was trying to tell me to get help.
I’d hit rock bottom.
I wanted to kill myself on the really bad days but thankfully, somewhere inside I had too much desire to live. I couldn’t continue to feel this bad so I sought help, initially seeing a charlatan on Harley Street. I hoped if I could do and say the right things to the right people I could cling on to my band even though in my heart I knew it was over.
‘You’re an addict’ he said ‘you need to talk to other addicts if you want to get well.’
But I’m not ill, I had an amazing childhood, who the fuck do you think you are?
‘Call this number, go to a meeting.’
A friend of mine, the drummer John Lee, with whom I had many ‘good times’ with (my 30th included) committed suicide. I was asked to join Feeder two days later and accepted.
Over the next 2 years I was in and out of ‘the rooms’ (12 step meetings) trying to be sober whilst recording and touring with Feeder. Desperately trying to be a sober rock star but never really managing to make the two work hand in hand. Something, a higher something, kept me going. I moved out of London and out of my usual circles. I went to regular meetings, I saw a therapist who made me realise my problems weren’t the substances themselves but the dysfunctional processes underneath them which needed addressing. I ended up in 5 fellowships at one point in order to get identification with all my ‘isms’. My son came back into my world when I was ready and I started to live life on life’s terms not my own. I bought somewhere of my own to live, things slowly got better and on 24th September 2003 I had my last drink. A year later I met a very understanding and patient woman, who ten years later would become my wife. She gave me space for the new me to grow into. Space I desperately needed.
I have been sober now for almost 13 years and have written, recorded, toured and promoted my way through most of that time. If things get tough I know what to do. Its a natural response. I’ve learned to spot the signs and I’m so grateful for the people in my life who understand me, my addictions, my depressions and just accept me as I am, a grateful recovering addict. Others aren’t so lucky. Stuart Cable died in 2007 another friend and another needless death. I mention these names not to impress but to illustrate how close I was to the same fate. All of the drummers I took over from died from this disease so I am so grateful I escaped it’s clutches. Not by much. The 3 times I’d woken up vomiting in my sleep were very close calls. These were my peers. I saw them regularly. It could so easily have been me, but it wasn’t and I owe it to them to try to ensure that those who suffer similar problems have a soft place to land. A place that will understand, not judge and listen carefully to what they need.
Music Support is a result of a few humble addicts having the same idea at the same time. It exists to replace the fear of ‘I don’t know what to do’ with the action of ‘I need to call Music Support’.
My hope is that Music Support will become a lighthouse for those still out there searching in the fog, a beacon of hope for a solution to their dilemma that has so far eluded them.