As I waved goodbye to England through the airplane window I could not wait for my new adventure to begin. I was 21 years old and on my way to Thailand, a journey that would change my life forever and shift my gears onto a wonderfully musical path.
I started playing guitar aged 16 and played my first Open Mic a year later, with the encouragement of my Italian guitar teacher who had taught me a few strums and picking patterns. ‘The Flowing Well Pub’ in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK, my home town, hosted a wonderful open mic night, where anyone of any ability can get up on stage a play, and I fell in love with the scene. The whole idea of people cheering and supporting each other, even when they’ve only just begun was magical to me.
After my first performance the pub cheered and clapped for me, I don’t know if it was because they could see I was terrified or if what I had played was actually not too bad, but the feeling of the applause, and the pride in myself for breaking through the fear and standing up there with my heart on the line, left me completely hooked, I knew instantly that music was the path for me, and I would do everything it takes to make it happen.
I attended every open mic I could find after that. I tried out new songs, meet lots of people and I realized very quickly that music is a beautiful way to meet people. I always loved to meet strangers and turn them into friends. Which can be very hard to do sometimes, but I discovered that all I needed to do was play a few songs in a pub and people would then want to talk to me. They’d come and tell me they enjoyed my set and the conversation would start.
After studying performing arts in Abingdon, I left my home town and moved to Worthing on the south coast of England to Study Music Performance. I gained a Higher National Diploma but left the course two years later feeling quite lost. I found the Musicians, and even some of the teachers, on this course very competitive and not very friendly, which was something I was not used to at all. Being from a background of supportive open mics and performing arts where everyone helped each other and performed as a team, this new world of music was a huge reality check for me.
I could not find my place and the course did me more harm than good, I was still cutting my teeth and I had a lot to learn. I was not a natural singer and I didn’t know a thing about music theory. But I was determined and I knew I had all the fire in my belly to learn these things.
After this course my confidence had taken a big blow and I was left walking the streets of England wondering if my music career would ever leave the ground.
I had a musician friend who had recently moved to Northern Thailand, He kept calling me to tell me to jump on a plain and visit him.
One day I had an epiphany, I bought my ticket for six weeks in Thailand and left the UK, aged 21 with no idea what the future, or the world, had in store for me.
Of course I had the time of my life but more importantly I began to meet musicians who didn’t have massive egos and I began to realize that the world of music doesn’t have to be cold and harsh. I just had to search for the right musicians in a world of fakers, that’s all.
I met musicians from all over the world and formed my first band within the first few weeks of being in Pai, a small town in the north of Thailand.
I met the writer of the Thailand Lonely Planet Travel Guide, Joe Cummings, who taught me everything I know about Thai culture and he also played a mean guitar.
He joined my band on lead guitar along with a Thai Drummer and bass player. The original line up for the ‘Tonic Rays’ was formed.
After my six weeks was up and my fight home was looming closer, I decided I didn’t want to leave. Everything I ever wanted was right here; I’m making music, playing with great musicians and having the time of my life. I ripped up my ticket home and stayed in the land of smiles.
Fast forward, three years, thousands of gigs and an album later, which made it to number 6 in the American billboard charts, and I had truly lived the dream with The Tonic Rays. We had been through a couple of international line-up changes. We had a Japanese drummer at one point, went through a few bass players, one Israeli and even a guy from Denmark at one point. But we found our perfect bass player in the end, a sweet Thai guy called Sun.
But Joe and myself where the core of the band and we toured Thailand and south East Asia for three years until I decided it was time to come home.
I had the most valuable experience in Asia, I discovered that I could form and front a band, and that if I could just find the right musicians in the UK then I could do it all again.
It was hard to find my feet once I’d landed back in the UK and paying the bill was very hard. But I slowly began to meet more wonderful musicians and formed another band called ‘PaperFaces’ which lasted five years. We recorded three Ep’s and played hundreds of gigs up and down the south coast of England.
We did everything we thought we had to do to ‘Make it’ we entered completions, played showcases, traveled to London, hired managers, promoters and publishers, we played festivals and got our music out as much as we could.
When the band fell apart I had no idea what I would do. After all that hard work but I found myself right back to square one. I didn’t want to go through it all again from scratch. I didn’t want to put my faith in other people again only to be let down because of other commitments.
I went solo for a while, deciding that I could not rely on other people any more. But it was lonely and I got into music to play with other people, there is only magic on stage when you have someone to share it with.
I started asking people to play individual gigs with me as session players with no commitments. I began to realize that this was a great idea and a winning formula to form a band. I knew plenty of amazing musicians who could learn my sets and play a few gigs with me without the pressure of feeling like they had committed to a band.
And so ‘The Purple Shoes’ were born. For each gig I ask my chosen players if they can make it to the gig and if they cannot then I have back up players who can take their place. This way I will always have a band and never have to turn down a paid gig because other band members can’t make it.
Over the last three years I have formed a rock solid band out of some of these players who I now call my perfect line up. But there is still no pressure on myself or on the rest of the band to stay or go.
I never have to deal with a broken band again and no one has to let me down.
I always wanted to right a solo album which I could be totally in charge of. I have written and recorded ‘Things Have Changed’ using musicians who I have worked with throughout the years. People who have taught me everything I know about music and have helped me grow. These people are mostly underground, but I have found that most of the great musicians out there are unknown, and playing in small bars hidden across England.
This album acknowledges some of the best musicians I have ever known and had the pleasure to work with, who have just as much right to be rich and famous as all these musical puppets that we see on TV and Radio these days.
This album goes out to all those struggling and ridiculously talented musicians that the world just doesn’t know about, because the music industry is so messed up. It’s all about who you know and not what you know. But these gems are out there, and I found them, and I put them all over my album so that I can listen back and remember how lucky I am to have met such a wonderful bunch of musicians. And what a privilege it is to know them and have them on my album.
This album is unique and raw and straight from the small town of Shoreham-by-sea, UK.
And it’s knowing that I am one of a small percentage of the population to not only have seen, but to have lived behind the curtain that makes this whole crazy thing worthwhile. But perhaps even more importantly than all of that, it’s YOU, the listener that makes all of it matter.
I look forward to many more sometimes hard, sometimes ugly, always worthwhile experiences along this musical journey. Here’s to hopping that you are part of that journey.
If you’d like to hear the most recent milestone of that journey, click here to listen to my most recent album, ‘Things Have Changed’.
Thank you for being a listener and for making it all matter.