When I was five years old I asked Mum and Dad if I could have a piano in the house. Dad replied that because there was no room for one I couldn’t. He was right of course but being young I got over that pretty quickly because after all, I still had my imagination to play with.
All through primary school I was writing stories and poems plus, making up songs to go with the poems and drawing pictures to go with the stories. Back then I was an unstoppable ball of creative energy.
It wasn’t until I reached high school that my interest in music really came to the forefront. The school I went to had a very good music program which I was most keen about and it was there that I could really begin to immerse myself in all things musical.
My chosen instrument to learn was saxophone (hey, it was a pretty cool instrument to play in 1983) however, they were all snapped up by other students so the next best thing was learning the clarinet, which I continued to play until I left high school.
Most of my recess and lunch times were spent hanging around the music room practising my clarinet and teaching myself piano. It was an environment in which I really felt I belonged to. Through music theory lessons I was introduced to sheet music, manuscript paper, treble clefs and a vast array of notes to play with.
I wrote my first song a few months after my best friend showed me an A chord on an acoustic guitar which was given to me on my 13th birthday by my Dad, perhaps to compensate not providing me with a piano all those years ago. Having the ability to teach myself guitar at home allowed me to take music home with me after the school day.
Add to that the thrill of writing a new song with each discovery of a new chord and my life was pretty much complete. All of my school friends were budding musicians, my whole life at that time seemed to be revolved around music, it couldn’t get any better than that.
As I left high school (in 1987) and with the spectre of the real world settling in, music became something that allowed me to escape the day to day pressures of living. Music made my growing up a more tolerable experience.
I started up bands which seemed to endlessly rehearse but never played any gigs and at the same time picked up the bass because I could never find a bass player of my own. I was champing at the bit to get out on stage and do my thing but it seemed to be the other members who wanted to make sure everything was “perfect” before setting foot on the stage.
At one time I even had a whole band leave me en masse 24 hours before we were supposed to play a gig. The things I’d put myself through for music.
Wherever I was working at the time I’d carry around a small notebook and pen and scrawl down song lyrics and songwriting ideas at every opportunity. i spent the rest of the time daydreaming what it would be like to play music professionally.
That was my idea of Heaven on Earth and it was my goal to find it.
My first taste as a professional musician came in 1994 when I joined yet another band and went to Sydney. We went in convoy with swirling romantic notions in our heads of making it big, bolstered by the fact that the biggest agency in Sydney had decided to put us on their books. We decided that nothing would stop us.
“We’ll play as a cover band to get some money coming in then we’ll start an originals band afterwards” we said to ourselves, “we’ll be able to do both.” Wrong!
After being shunted around every corner of Sydney playing in every shitty dive you could imagine the agency dropped the band after 12 months. We didn’t know this but at the time but we were “that band from Adelaide” that played the venues that no-one else wanted to play at.
With no real Plan B in place and poverty knocking at our door, the band split.
It was at that time I gave up playing music and tried to have a go at living in Sydney as a “normal person.” Four years later, after a nervous breakdown I came back to Adelaide in 1999 with my tail between my legs and the dark cloud of shame and failure in my soul.
Even in those really dark times, music never left my side. It would knock on my door but I just wouldn’t let it in. After a few months of not leaving the house (I was living with Mum and Dad at the time) I decided that I’d had enough of this wallowing and that not having music in my life was like living with an amputated limb.
The next time music knocked on my door, I opened it and embraced it with open arms and from that moment on my life was rebuilding.
I was still working day jobs but I was also in bands that had some drive and determination and were wanting to go somewhere. I started to find myself in situations that turned into great opportunities for advancing my music career. In 2006 I had another opportunity to really make a go at playing music professionally which I took with both hands.
“Yes it’s a cover band” I said to myself, “but still, I’ll be doing nothing else.” So, I ran with it and FIGJAM was born. We got our demos together, got out and about and networked like crazy, we played everywhere and for the first time in my life I felt that I was in control of my musical direction plus, I was making a living out of what I loved.
I was a self employed, professional musician.
Even though I was doing what I loved I still came across the same type of ungrateful, difficult, tight-fisted and clueless client/customer that you hear about but think “Nah, I’m a musician, that won’t happen to me.” I started to realise that in my drive to make a living out of music by playing covers I was forgetting the real reason why I wanted to play music in the first place.
Music was starting to become a job and I was starting to burn out.
I hit the wall around 18 months ago and pulled right back from playing gigs which gave me some time to think. I realised that I made the same mistakes I made in Sydney all those years ago. I didn’t have any balance in my life and trying to play covers to fund your originals is not as easy as you might think.
So where am I now? Well, right now I feel like I’ve come out the other side of a long black tunnel. I’m really happy with where I am.
I’m finally doing my CD and that has given me a whole new lease of musical life and I’m starting to play more original gigs now rather than waiting for “the right time” to do it. Doing the Open Mic Network has enabled me to see the real value of a community and to objectively see what opportunities can be found and created for it.
I’ve come full circle. I’m looking at where I am and what I do musically with a fresh pair of eyes and ears and for the first time in a long time, I’m excited about the future.
It comforting to know that music has never let me down, its always been there to pick me up, dust me off and be the means for me to get on with my life. I would hate to think of who I am and where I would be if I didn’t have music in my life. It’s been there for me for as long as I remember and now, just by being true to myself and my chosen craft I have a way in which I can honour and repay the muse.
And repay her I will… In full.