So here we are again.

The Tale of Hightown Pirates

So here’s to tomorrow, all our tomorrows, for you and me, it’s just for today.”

(Just for Today, Hightown Pirates)

We don’t know what tomorrow may bring, we can guess, we can plan, we can dream, but we never really know do we?

Do we?

Summer 2015, the NME once called him Britain’s greatest songwriter, I call him a friend my 6yr old daughter thinks he says “Too many ‘grown-up words daddy”.

He’s sitting on my sofa playing ‘Something like you’ strumming slowly as Tabitha falls asleep on my knee.

So come on climb in, we know how it’s been.”

Yes we do, we both do but things are different now, older, survivors with stories to tell, stories of love, loss, despair and redemption, it’s big stuff, powerful.

“You should play your guitar more often Simon mate”

“I know Mick, it’s just..

“Just what? Just fuckin do it La..”

“Ok Mick, wanna hear a few of my songs?”

“Go ‘ead mate”

Five days later, I open the show as my friend plays a low-key gig here in Hackney, later reviewed thus.

“The assembled are here because Head’s songs about everyday life, escaping it, love and drug use are still some of the most gently seductive we have ever come across.”

(Kitty Empire The Guardian)

Yeah, of course they are.

Hightown Pirates were conceived in Liverpool, took our first steps in Hackney at the aforementioned gig, went on adventures in Europe with The Libertines in 2016, then onstage with Peter Doherty in the spring of that year.

After a show in Aberdeen somebody asked about my song Just for Today, where could they get it?

“You can’t, it’s not recorded I’m afraid, it’s an old song of mine, but still not found its way out into the world.”

“It’s a great song though, you should record it.”

“Thanks and yes it is, I’ve got a few more too.”

 

April 2016, Doghouse Studios Henley on Thames, I’m here with PD, he’s with his band in the studio, I’m with my thoughts sitting by the side of the river, I’d love to record here.

“Here’s to tomorrow, all our tomorrows..”

I get a call, someone wants to help me make an album, the person from Aberdeen.

I make some calls, old friends, companions, musical cohorts, other survivors, dreamers, people that believe in the impossible, a day at a time. I get a band, we have 4 rehearsals then go to the studio to make our album. We go to Doghouse Studios, of course we do.

We make our own magic, the chemistry is perfect, as is the absence of chemicals..

Its’ called Dry and High. Of course it is.

Meet Hightown Pirates, your new favourite band.

Hightown Pirates are a collective, who’s members include the following…

Simon Mason.

Matty Purslow.

David Aird.

Lilly Vasil.

Shona Paisley.

Jon Finnigan.

Mark Neary.

Eddie Wilson.

Josh Walsh.

Martin Smith.

Simon James.

Andy Diagram.

Anna Tosh Hall.

Andrew Winters.

John Gosnall.

John Rundle.

Ste Powell.

Martin Crew.

Laurie McMahon.

Becky Tucker

Tabitha Mason.

H.

MH

PD.

And you, just for today of course.

Welcome.

Our album, Dry and High will be released in May 2017.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YC1HjfY7OTc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTyCWbTZFzE9A21D63E-3B61-4648-A324-1FCDA9073364IMG_6540IMG_6483IMG_6481IMG_6479IMG_647764E5728D-0875-4F85-AD47-25541D6E695E

Hightown Pirates studio Diary. July 22-29th 2016, Doghouse studios Lower Shiplake, England.

Hightown Pirates….Dry and High.

Doghouse studios Lower Shiplake;

Oxfordshire England July 2016.

 

Day One; Wake 6am!

Still got bad throat; Yogi tea lemon honey.

Walk to the river listening to The Jams tales from the riverbank.

Stevie G impressions on the 5 a side pitch.

The sound of laughter

Barry brings the good/bad jokes.

Tesco for supplies, lady on the checkout  asks me

“What are you doing this weekend?”

Good question, to which the only answer I can give her is,

“Living the dream luv, living the dream.”

Mike the mechanic/Mark the engine driver.

Teaser of ‘If spring don’t’ with Lilly and PN on camera by the river;

FB seems to like it..Nick Drake/Traffic/Tull?

Having that, although none of the songs on the album (so far) sound anything like that, it’s a bit like asking someone to come for a walk and a nice chat up a quiet lane in summertime then letting them know you’re intentions may not be all that honourable, sort of haha

 

 

Start recording 2.30 pm.

1.Higher ground

Drums(Tama/Ludwig/Sabian/)

Bass (Rickenbacker) Fender Bassman.

Guitar Strat deluxe/MesaboogieF50.

 

  1. Perfect strangers.

Bass Harmony H25.

  1. Last Chance Saloon.

Bass ’66 Fender Mustang.

  1. Throwing Stones.

Guitar Epiphone SG

Bass Harmony ’62

  1. Two for Joy

Bass Harmony ’62.

 

We set off to meet Dr. Williams the keyboard player, due to arrive from France, he’s not where he was supposed to be, when he was supposed to be. He’s in Luton, or at least he was, we find him in a car park in High Wycombe. (of course we do.) despite the fact he doesn’t own a phone.

Tele Dave also gets lost but arrives to complete our motley crew.

My voice is still not working properly but seems to have responded well to non-singing singing of guide vocals.

“Oh to be in England in summertime”

The sun sets, the magic feels strong, there is laughter as I go to bed as there was when I woke up.

Day two.

7.30am…three recovering addicts spend an hour sitting by the side of the river, bathed in early morning sunshine, there is not a ripple on the water, only the vibrations of the music we continue to create back in the studio.

Quick trip to the village shop, (they don’t sell the morning star)..bacon sarnies fruit coffee and more laughter. Then we begin with

  1. Chasing Rainbows (Tabitha’s Song).

Bass Harmony.

Guitar Danelectro 12 string.

Dr.Williams demos some keys…I start crying it’s so beautiful as is Ms Langtree’s flute part. Joy and more joy. Get the song in a couple of takes, we move on.

  1. Don’t say anything.

Bass Rickenbacker.

Guitar back to Strat.

Get it first take, an accident becomes the ‘right’ intro…love it when that happens. Then we get it second take, the magic is strong. Why wouldn’t it be?

  1. Just for Today.

Bass Mustang.

Couple of drop-ins, nailed in two takes.

Break for lunch.

Super juice all round..

Saturday afternoon…Dave gone home to feed the goldfish, Toshie on her way down with more vibes, a 335 and Fender Twin.

Slight improvement in my voice, all will be well…when it’s meant to be.

Spoke with H, she’s coming to visit for the day tomorrow, I’ll get the gin in.

  1. East London Morning.

Bass Harmony.

Nailed in 1 take.

So now, Toshie arrives and meanwhile…

  1. A million Reasons….ah, the greatest ‘break-up’ song of all time?

We get it in 2 takes, of course we do.

So, on the first full day of recording we have laid down all the drums bass and 1st guitar parts, something we initially thought might take 2 days…it’s like all we need to do is close our eyes and be guided..

I guess from my own personal belief system, that makes perfect sense, It’s just one of many important things I often forget.

Quick trip to the outside world (Tesco) for supplies (bbq etc.) I’ve decided I don’t like the outside world and really don’t want to have to leave HQ again this week unless absolutely necessary.

Meanwhile Matty gets to work on his overdubs,  a happy and noisy walk in the park for him and our engine driver as they plug in various pedals etc. We begin to add shades to our picture. The heartbeat continues to grow stronger. Hard for me to recall ever feeling so content, very much looking forward to the arrival of Ms Tucker and her clan tomorrow. I do wish Tabitha could come sooner than next Wednesday though. The crew start the bbq as Matty and Mark continue to do weird and wonderful things with his guitar, the sonic dream team in full effect, Everywhere I see smiles and smiles and smiles oh yeah.

Dave returns from feeding his fish. His moment is coming as Matty finishes his work.

Chasing Rainbows. No words…speechless you’ll see what I mean soon enough.

Matty’s work is done, 9pm Saturday, Dave gets plugged in and picks up his ’52 Telecaster. He’s here cos we’ve played together for years in SBD’s and he knows his rocknroll. Bring it on Dave.

And yeah, he does. First two tracks down, if I was a teenager I’d go buy some drugs, round up my friends and go for a big night out while listening to these songs and singing them at the top of my voice. As it is, I’ll settle for a group hug, camomile tea and bask in the glory of another massive team effort form all of us here at Hightown Heights. The beast is alive and it’s gonna get you.

Clock off for the night at 11.30. The sound of happy laughing crew drifts out into the night, I think it’s time for bed at midnight, but suddenly get the urge to pick up my acoustic and dash into the studio. The chord sequence for ‘intro’ is suddenly morphed into a Nick Drake meets Syd Barrett, quintessentially English psychedelic songs, I grab Dr Williams and Rocknroll Dave, for keys and another acoustic guitar, Ms Lilly joins on flute and the song is delivered…ideas float about my dreamy head about what to write lyrically, it’ll come, there’s so much to write about isn’t there?

So I eventually get to bed at 2pm and drift off to the hysterical laughter of a very pissed/stoned Matty and Johnny whose work is more or less done for the week.

So, Day two.

”Music to kick your soul into the sky then let your heart catch it on the way back down”

Day three.

Dave back at it, laying filthy lines over the grooves and riffs already down. Toshie also gets her chance to shine on Perfect Strangers, a song so far removed from where it was before, I bit like it’s writer you might say ha-ha. We move through the day, it’s almost seamless again turn on tune in and let it happen. Mark controls the desk; the music is guided by unseen forces way beyond my limited comprehension. We are rising; nice message from RB, then Beverly Hills arrives with Jessica and assorted kids adding to our crew. The laughter increases H also comes for the day. Without whom, none of this would be happening but man, its fucking happening. H Johnny and Dr Williams decamp to the pub shortly after the sun is past the yardarm, we don’t see them again until it’s somewhere on the port bow, I think it’s fair to say they’ve enjoyed their day off. Back in the control room the ’61 Les Paul is kicking our souls apart, after a few false starts on Million Reasons, Dave gets the hit and a song I’ve lived with for longer than it would be advisable, finds its true place. Aye, aye and thrice aye.

Dave’s work done, we bbq, chill return to the control room for playback of what we’ve got so far, H sits behind me with Beverly Hills, smiles as wide as the Mersey, I look round the room, to see the same expression on all present.

By the end of day three, those who can are all at least 3 sheets to the wind, those that can’t are probably even more so, I love being clean and sober. Johnny keeps everyone in absolute hysterics I’m literally crying as once again I retire for the night with the sound of unbridled joy ringing in my ears.

Day 4.

It’s a flute and keyboards kinda day, climatically and not surprisingly, also our task inside the studio today. (Why anything surprises me here is actually a surprise)

Lilly steps up and brings the melancholy vibes silky and almost erotically asphyxiating, it’s a beautiful thing to listen to. I also pull the bones of another new song from the sky, grab Matty and his son Joe and send them down to the river to work it out between them, they return 30 mins later job done, we sit together and film it, father, son and old friend…nice moment, it seems we are beginning work on the next album while here putting this one down. I also run off the lyrical ideas for our ‘thank you and goodnight’ hidden track.

“Beverly Hills arrives in her van, she’s my woman and I’m her man”

“Tamsin and Laurie sat without a care, his broken eye and her copper-red hair.”

“Father and son out on the lawn, table tennis from dusk ‘til dawn.”

“Helen and Johnny, go up the pub, he drank too much and threw up his guts.”

“Paulie came here to get clean, arrived so anxious but left serene.”

“Marky came to play the bass, man the desk, send us to space.”

“Lilly came to play her flute, doesn’t smoke ‘em but rolls good zoots.”

“Dr Williams brought the keys, gave his wisdom then returned to Nimes”

“Davey brought his old Les Paul, riffs like Keef and honest soul.”

“Tabitha came with her Uncle Andrew the final touch to our happy crew”

“Hightown Pirates summer ’16, they bring the treasure we live our dream.”

 

Meanwhile we continue to get the keyboard parts down in the studio, while various crew take to the river in BB’s rowing boat to much hilarity and some obvious lack of nautical prowess. Thankfully we’re much better musicians than sailors. (Don’t tell anyone, but we’re not actually pirates either)

I should also point out that the bbq salmon came from Tesco’s, not the Thames.

Such a relaxed vibe today, very welcomed by everyone, the laughter doesn’t slow down at any point though, Jessica has won everyone’s heart of course, she is never without someone to play ball with and has also been in the Thames several times for a swim. I’ve decided to get Paul and Dave out on the river tomorrow morning early for a mid-river NA meeting.

Favourite song today? All of them, same as yesterday and the day before. So excited to see Tabitha tomorrow night!!

Having said that, listening to Dr Williams playing the piano over Chasing Rainbows, while I’m sitting next to Dave…ahhhh, yet ANOTHER one of those moments

Sit and play acoustic guitar with Dave before bed, couple of new songs almost in the bag..

Still no sign of my ‘higher’ vocal chords though, somewhat worrying but hey, let’s see what the next 24 hours brings, I sleep like a baby and dream like a villain.

Day 5.

Piano tuner summoned to sort out the old Johanna, due at 2pm leaving Dr Williams time to add Wurlitzer, and moog stuff. Spend a precious bit of his.n.hers time down by the river with Beverly Hills, the various members of the crew ease themselves into the day, a beautiful English summers day my voice still not where it needs to be, so keep reminding myself, if we don’t get the result here, we can do them at Marks studio. Patience Simon, patience, you’ve waited all your life for this, don’t snatch at it now. Uncle Andrew has managed to get Tabitha here by 5.30 today, so excited to see her and Ruth is also going to pop over as she’s just dropped nephew no1 at Heathrow for a job interview, it’s a family affair today for sure. We aim to finish keys, record acoustic guitars and maybe, just maybe get me singing tonight. Let’s see how we do.

Start on my acoustic guitar parts Ruthie and Paris arrive, as does the piano tuner! Get first two acoustic tracks nailed pronto. Admittedly I did write them but it still seems a bit unreal, all good.

Gully calls to say he’s coming over, another strand to this tale.

Thankfully I’m kept busy putting down my acoustic guitar tracks rather than clock-watching as I wait for Tabitha to arrive. Just finish the final one and step outside to be greeted by the sound of her laughter as she races up the track and throws her arms around me, I am complete. Uncle Andrew has driven her and JG over from London, we play him a couple of songs then he has to leave. He’s one of the kindest people in the world!

We have also shot a little iPhone teaser video today and will finish the percussion tonight leaving tomorrow to do last keyboard parts and then, all being well (my throat) we start the vocals. HP HQ still full of happy noises everywhere. As dusk falls the bbq is fired up again, 15 for dinner tonight I think ha-ha

Dave departs back to London, hoping to return Friday for a bit of BV’s maybe.

Day6.

Kicks off with 8.10am meeting of NA in the boathouse, ME PN and JG, quick row on the river with Tabitha to retrieve Jessica’s ball, a very chilled first half of the day Mark busying doing computer stuff I have no clue about so all and sundry chill, sunshine arrives mid-morning.

Work out wonderful BV’s to Chasing and Million, with Dr Williams Laurie and Tamsin, ready to try and put over whatever voice I’ve got today,  much anticipation form many about possible trip in Baz’s speedboat. I’m taking JG and PN to Hambledon AA at 6.15, see RB then back here to try vocals. No idea how that’s gonna sound, whatever happens is whatever happens, if my voice works fab, if not, need big rest then do them at Marks next week. We get to the AA meeting, the ‘fella doing the chair seems pretty content with his life lol. Back at HQ, the remaining crew are, once again jovial and a joy to be around, although most of them are at the pub eating when we get back. There is a sense that this part of the adventure is drawing to a close. I manage a vocal for ‘Last chance Saloon’ but again my voice is not repaired, so it gets a raspy 60 fags a day vibe, not necessarily what the song requires, despite its lyrical content.  It’s clear my throat is far from where I’d like it to be, will try again tomorrow. Tabitha exhausted in the most wonderful way, her being here is a joy beyond all joys for me as she plays happily all day with Bev etc. A few of us repair to the riverside way after dark to soak up the ambience I sit beneath the ‘swing’ tree strumming my guitar while some of those most important to me dangle their toes in the river if I could think of another word for magic, I’d use it now, enchanted maybe? It feels that way for sure. I sleep the sleep of a happy man, my ever-expanding version of the 3 little pigs the last thing Tabitha (and Bev) hear as we all drift off.

Day 7.

As it has been since we got here, the ‘state’ of my vocal chords is the first thing I think about, then stop thinking about, it is what it is..coffee, walk to the river, bit of brekkie then out in the boat with T, B JG and Jessica, captured nicely on iPhone film. Agenda for today, try and sing after lunch,  say fond fare-you-wells to Matty, Bev and Winters, attempt chasing rainbows to then allow for BV’s, it doesn’t happen, ok, I surrender, it isn’t gonna happen here, not this week anyway, so be it, I’m gonna enjoy what we have achieved, and wow..yeah, wow.

It’s quiet, just 3 of us here now, Me Marky and Dr Williams, Marky does his pro-tools stuff, our precious cargo saved, then saved again on hard-drives, the studio is taken apart, well the bits that Mark brought with him obvs, last few guitars/bass put away, tidying up done, it’s got a medieval summer feel outside, grey and moody clouds, we decamp to the Baskerville with Barry for the last supper, on me, it’s the very least I can do.

Fed and watered nicely, we retire back for the final night at Doghouse, were I not utterly convinced we’ll be back here again sooner or (not-so) later, I’d probably make more of an effort to suck up the ever-present vibes, but HP, we will be back, of course we will. I sleep, well, of course I do.

See ya next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life imitating art, or art imitating Life?

A man walks into a bar..

I say man, I mean deluded, fantasist with too many drugs in his bloodstream and even more in his pocket. There is a reason he is here tonight, but, as is often the case, he cannot see further than the next crumpled-up bunch of notes being shoved in his direction in exchange for the opportunity to talk shit and sweat profusely for £50 a gram.

It’s a ‘sliding doors’ moment, he gets in the right carriage this time and the supersonic train leaves Kings Cross (Water Rats) with him on-board, for the time being at least.

27th January 1994, was there then.

27th/28th April 2016…you coming?FullSizeRender (1)Tickets available here

http://www.wegottickets.com/too-high-too-far-too-soon

You’re My Waterloo

2015-10-27 21.26.10-1

Why does any one song happen to toss its velvet noose round our consciousness, pull us into wondrous musical asphyxiation before gently relinquishing its grip having seared itself onto our soul and kissed us like Morpheus on the warmest summer’s night?

If I knew the answer to that, I’d write one and of course, we are all smitten individually by different songs. Some people can write them, sing them, gift them to us time and again.  Sadly this particular talent seems to have evaded me, however the following is my clumsy attempt to understand why the song I currently have on repeat in my head has done precisely that.

 

I’ve recently had the absolute privilege of being up close and personal with The Libertines as we swaggered, staggered, tumbled, stumbled and sometimes fumbled through the UK and Europe. We ended in Vienna, but the heart of the matter, as far as this story goes, began in Coventry, in 1940, sort of.

You’re my Waterloo; I’ll be your Gypsy Lane.”

 

I happen to have the inside track on that particular lyric, its author informing me that the site of Napoleon’s last stand is coupled with a reference to a particular stretch of road in Bedworth, on the outskirts of Coventry. A lane, along which and way before ‘friendships’ had evolved into Facebook updates and WhatsApp messages, he would cycle to and fro to meet his best friend. Relationships of any kind required a bit more effort than a ‘like’ or emoji way back in the “sticky black tarmac” summers of his youth. (Yes I nicked that bit from Mr Weller!)

Gypsy Lane? When I was a kid, blessed with a fertile imagination and a Raleigh Chopper, a name like that evoked the possibility of being kidnapped, maybe by pirates, or gypsies or a platoon of German soldiers who’d been hiding out for 40 years awaiting orders to attack Weston-Super-Mare? I didn’t know any gypsies, nor, of course, am I suggesting they are prone to abducting adventurous, imaginative kids on bicycles as they peddled between each other’s homes. As far as I know, I don’t know any real Pirates either (apart from Mick H) and as for my German friends? They’ve got better things to do than hide in the woods near Weston for 3 decades. It’s the imagery though right? Yep I love a big fat dumb rocknroll riff or indeed the caress of well structure minor chords, but words and imagery, well that’s often the ether of any great song as far as I’m concerned and this is a great song.

                         “You’ll never fumigate the demons, no matter how much you smoke.”

I don’t think I need to explain how that particular sentence resonates with me, we’ve been there and done that enough already eh? Just in case you’re late to that particular sorry tale though, you can get it here.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1780576315/novelrank-21#customerReviews

 

So let’s stay with Coventry for now because that’s where the Libertines recent tour started and where the lyricist and his best mate went to school, it’s also where my mum’s life started and very close to where I was ‘educated’.

It’s fair to say, my mum is ‘getting on a bit’ and the two of us are currently spending time when I visit her, talking about her early life. As I’ve already mentioned, this song has lodged itself into my head of late and as I sat on the train, en-route to the midlands, I phoned my mum enquiring whether or not she recalled a Gypsy Lane in the Coventry of her childhood, she didn’t.

“Your grandmother had a saying Simon, ‘it’s a long lane that knows no turn”

She then giggled,

“I’m still not sure what she meant by that though

We then began a conversation that brought tears to my eyes and trust me, I don’t cry often enough.

Mum was born in Paradise, Coventry in 1932, her family lived in rented accommodation at 594 Stoney Stanton Road, it’s nowhere near the Gypsy Lane mentioned in the song, but as a child she recalls cycling through Foeshill and out towards Coombe Abbey, where her father had been born, his own father having being the gamekeeper there. In keeping with the thread of this missive, it turns out, the band and I spent the first night of the tour there, adding another strand to the somewhat tenuous link that ties me to this song, it’s certainly a part of that attachment.

I’ve spent more time with my mum over the past couple of years than I’ve ever done previously, although I cannot claim to have spent nearly enough, but we talk often. She’s 83, has suffered with Multiple Sclerosis for over 40 years, been divorced twice and widowed once. She doesn’t complain about anything other than the pain she endures as a result of the MS, and it’s rare to hear her talk about that. She’s not had an easy life but her childhood memories of Coventry remain, for the most part intact, unlike the city itself which was bombed to the point it became almost unrecognisable after the Luftwaffe visited in November 1940. I had the privilege of hearing her describe her memories of that night to me recently.

As she recalls, in what had become known as the ‘phoney war’ air-raid sirens were the norm but nothing like what occurred on the night of 14th November, 1940 had ever been witnessed before.

“The warning went off, next door had an Anderson shelter in their garden so we (her mother and little brother) went down into it with another family. I was 8, I don’t recall if I was scared though because I was too young to understand what it all meant. I knew I was going to be ok if mummy was there though.”

“There was nine of us and a bucket in the shelter, it was pitch-black outside we had candles of course and blankets, but it was cold, the first bombs started to fall and suddenly we all realised, we were scared.”

The raid finished the following morning, two-thirds of the city’s building had been either, destroyed or damaged, nearly 600 people killed and a further 900 badly injured.

“When the all-clear sounded, Mummy told me to walk up the corner shop to get some milk for our breakfast, I remember going out of the back gate and seeing piles of rubble everywhere, a ,lot of houses had been hit. I think I walked over a dead person lying in the street, I was crying. I got to where the shop once stood, but there was just a pile of bricks left, with smoke and a ‘burning’ smell everywhere. Everything was gone but in the rubble I saw an undamaged bottle of HP sauce, because there was no milk and I was unsure what to do, I picked it out of the rubble and took it back to mummy.”

“I walked back to our house, past the dead person and went to give my mother the bottle of sauce, she took one look at it, then me, then in her sternest voice said,

“You take that back this instant, we are not looters”

So she did, without question or hesitation and has been trying to do the ‘right thing’ for the rest of her life, again without question or hesitation.

I suggested to her that perhaps, this is the metaphorical ‘long lane’ her mother talked about and it having ‘no turn’ has really been illustrated by her own sense of decency, despite the hardships of her own life.

“I’ve never thought about it like that Simon.”

Which kinda makes my point I think?

 

For me, it’s impossible to imagine Tabitha (just turned 8!) having to take that walk, or indeed sit for 12 hours in a damp, cold shelter while countless bombs fall from the sky. My mum recalls this story almost matter-of-factly as she spoke I just sat there speechless. She’s never broken the law, borrowed money or spoken ill of other people, at least as far as I know. She’s a proud woman despite or perhaps because of the hardships of her life. We will not see her kind again, of that I’m sure.

So the Gypsy Lane of Peters youth, ignited a conversation about my own mothers childhood, it’s remarkable how these things can happen, even Karl’s piano motif at the start of the song seems to fit the story here.

I realise that the song itself, has absolutely nothing to do with the memories shared with me by my Mum but the fact it inadvertently gave us that conversation is reason enough for it to earn its place in my emotional hard-drive, however, as I said earlier, there’s more to this story.

                                    “You’re my Waterloo, I’ll be your Stanley Park.”

Stanley Park, for those of you (most?) who do not know, lies between Liverpool’s two famous (well one of them is) football stadia. Like the occupants of the blue half of the two grounds, it’s really a bit unremarkable save for the fact it separates the two clubs and is often the route for away fans heading to/from Anfield. As someone born in Somerset, I obviously support the mighty reds (There ya go blue-noses,1-1 on the piss-taking) in keeping with this story though, it’s the city of Coventry that is responsible for my attachment of over 35 years. Why? Simple! First match I was ever taken too, an historic 1-0 victory at the old Highfield Road ground for the sky-blues did not however convince me they were my tribe. The 7000 Scouser’s going mental in the away end despite the score-line, won me over that day, my dad had recently died, I was 11 years old and needed cheering up on a regular basis, so thank you Mr Dalglish etc., I’m a grateful glory-hunter to this day. I’ve walked across Stanley Park many times and like most parks, I’m sure this one has been the site of numerous battles of the ‘jumpers for goalposts’ variety as well as the occasional dust-up between rival fans over the years. It’s tribal, friendship and war, a red and blue Waterloo, until ‘yer ma calls you in for your tea.

Peters own ‘Ma, was born a few minutes’ walk away in Anfield, her mother, his ‘Nanny Liverpool’ lived there her entire life, somewhere along the line,there’s surely a link to his song Breck Road Lover?

 

 “Cos I’ll go, No I’ll go. I’ll go
I know I’ll go to Liverpool
Uh, oh, oh
Yes I know I’ll be loved there
She’s no scrubber
She’s my
Breck Road Lover
And we wash in dirty waters
And walk the streets where she gets her name”

Mothers, Coventry, childhood journeys, demons, the darkness of Hancock the despair of Judy Garland, survivors (of more than one life transient life) and the promise of happiness followed by a lyrical question mark. All of this laid out for me to discover as I’ve already mentioned, in the ether of the song. It was my ears, not my eyes that were captured at first, and then I watched the video, only to discover its location was one of mine and Tabitha’s favourite places in London. The black and white footage shot along the riverbed at low tide in Wapping, is precisely the location, my daughter and I go to pretend to be pirates! We scuttle down Wapping Old Steps and onto the sand and debris often, walking east, towards the Prospect of Whitby pub, where, ironically enough, there is a mock-up gallows to commemorate those Smugglers, Pirates and thieves unfortunate enough to have been hung there a few centuries ago

Three (good?) reasons to throw the rope indeed!

I love this song, thanks for the memories.

 

 

 

My one-man show, based on the memoir Too High, Too Far, Too Soon, return to the London Stage on 27th/28th April, for tickets and more information click here

Tickets details for the shows at The Water Rats

http://www.wegottickets.com/searchresults

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear John.

My own thoughts in response to John Stewarts ‘Dear John’ letter to AA.

 

OK, let’s get myself out the way first.

  1. Former apparently helpless/hopeless drug addict? Tick
  2. Multiple attempts over many years to try and stop killing myself and hurting others? Tick

(OK, I’m flattering myself here, for a long time I was far too self-centred to see the effect my addiction was having on other people.) I felt bad enough about myself, ‘god’ forbid I’d have to acknowledge the harm I was doing to those who cared about me!

  1. Long-standing attitude of “12-steps? It’s not for me” A belief, heavily enforced by misinformed, opinionated, professional drug/alcohol ‘practitioners’ working within the ‘recovery’ field? Tick
  2. Willing to try almost anything to stop using drugs in a harmful fashion (apart from abstinence obvs) while maintaining a desire to try and drink successfully and perhaps ‘use’ drugs as I once had, i.e. heavily but ‘recreationally? Tick
  3. Terrified that my life would be boring if I stopped using drugs and alcohol, while at the same time unable to admit that sitting, begging outside a kebab shop in Stoke Newington wasn’t exactly the most satisfactory lifestyle ‘choice’ available to me? Tick

Oh yeah, that word, ‘choice’, I’ll come back to that later.

  1. Comfortable in the company of other drug addicts but petrified of ‘normal’ people, the ‘real’ world and its inherent responsibilities? Tick
  2. Utterly incapable of sincerely asking for help but adapt in emotionally blackmailing people when I needed money to score? Tick
  3. Devout in my conviction that a ‘troubled’ childhood was the root-cause of all my problems and if I could come to terms with that, all would be well? Tick
  4. Desperate to talk about my ‘troubled’ childhood to anyone who cared to listen while at the same time apparently unable to be honest about my willingness to actually address it? Tick
  5. Confused for many years about my apparent inability to ‘fit-in’ to both my own skin and the world around me? Tick
  6. Too ashamed to admit I enjoyed using Heroin because it seemed to be the ‘solution’ to the previous statement? Tick
  7. See what I just did here? 12! Clever huh?

So, Dear John Stewart,

I read and re-read your marvellous piece in The Guardian and no! I’m not being sarcastic; I genuinely think it’s great. It’s great because it’s a well-written article which has ignited an interesting debate, both on the website and my own Facebook page where I posted it yesterday. It’s also great because you are writing about your own experience, unlike many, (but not all) of those who have commented on it. Many of those people have also chosen to avail us with statistics and opinions from ‘clever’ types with letters after their names and years of experience in the addiction field. It certainly makes for an informed debate, even if it’s (statistically) possible to prove pretty much anything, with statistics.

I was also delighted to read various comments by individuals such as you and I who have first-hand experience of wanting/needing 12-step recovery and those who have found other methods to be fruitful in their attempts to find a happier existence. After all, isn’t that the whole point of ‘recovery’?  To move away from being,

So desperate to get sober, that something could have been anything, I would have prayed to Lord Xenu, if that’s what it took.”

To perhaps replacing desperation with gratitude and not feeling press-ganged into believing in anything you/we no longer actually feel the need to?

In that respect, you’ve clearly ticked the box too.

I’m of the ‘opinion’ that if anybody gets to the point where they feel the need to attend a 12-step fellowship to gain support, then if they chose to stop attending because they eventually no longer feel they need it, job done. Nobody I know skipped into meetings like a lottery winner who’d ticked the box declining publicity prior to their windfall. There is a passage in a piece of Narcotics Anonymous literature which states,

When at the end of the road, we find we can no longer go on, either with, or without drugs, what is there left to do?”

So yeah, welcome to the last-chance saloon, in case you hadn’t noticed, happy hour finished a long time ago. Of course, where an individual has voluntarily walked into a meeting, it’s highly unlikely they won’t have noticed this already!

I agree with your statement that 10% of drinkers have some sort of over-zealous ‘receptors’ that enjoy the effects of, (let’s just call it drugs shall we?) in a way that other people don’t. I’m also one of that once happy, then fucking miserable, band of brothers and sisters. To use and oft-quoted line (sic) I’ve heard in NA,

“I love drugs; they just don’t like me very much”

True, sad but true, I could murder a decent pint of Guinness sometimes.

So why don’t ‘they’ like me? Why am I one of that 10%?

I don’t know and over the years, I’ve been less and less inclined to care, were anybody able to provide empirical, conclusive evidence as to the exact nature of addiction, they’d probably have more money than ‘Shorty’ Guzman (look him up) could ever have dreamed of.

You mention, early on in your piece, ‘rock-bottom’, I know a fair bit about those, I have also attended far too many funerals for a man in his 40’s, for people who also knew a great deal about ‘rock-bottom’. Sadly experiencing rock-bottom was clearly not necessarily a method of avoiding the ultimate one for many of my friends.  I’ve heard much wisdom and plenty of absolute nonsense while sitting in meetings over the years, one of the most pertinent ‘slogans’ to somehow penetrate my selective hearing was,

Every rock-bottom has a trap door.”

I like that one almost as much as I like much of what I’ve experienced as a result of working the 12-steps, to the best of my ability of course.

You want to know about my rock-bottom? You can read all about it here.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1780576315/novelrank-21#customerReviews

Yeah, I also got to the point where I’d have let Wayne Rooney bum me without any ‘lube, if it’d had meant I could start to feel better about EVERYTHING.

I’d like to think my ‘spiritual’ reward, or certainly one of them, as a result of reaching that particular depth of desperation, was being at Anfield a few years ago to witness my beloved LFC knock Utd out of the F.A cup. I think it says somewhere in NA literature that

Spiritual awakenings come in many forms.”

So a Dirk Kuyt winner is just as valid as any other manifestation of this particular idea, which is for me, one of the most attractive aspects of the 12-steps. It’s my recovery and my experience of it is as valid as anybody else’s, it’s a personal thing.

Like you, I also struggled with the whole ‘praying’ thing, I’m an atheist, usually more fervently on a cold, wet winter morning when my dog has left an early morning ‘surprise’ on the carpet. Truth is, as time has gone on in recovery, in tandem with not really caring as to why I’m 10%er, I also seem to care less and less as to what ‘god’ is, or isn’t.  I love a heated debate with those of a religious persuasion, but that whole bunfight is about as likely to be resolved anytime soon, as is the ‘addiction’ argument. I found it interesting to read though, that after your initial reluctance to ‘get with the program’ you became an evangelist. I’m going against an oft-repeated suggestion in recovery meetings to look for the similarities, not the differences here, because I didn’t.

I’ve never been much of a tub-thumper about anything, O.K. maybe when I had a decent batch of pills to shift back in the day, I could get a bit ‘E’vangelistic (excuse me) and I have a tendency to go to great lengths when extoling the benefits of listening to The Jam’s entire recorded output over a weekend, other than that? Horses for courses and YES, The Jam were ‘better’ than The Clash.

Aside from my lack of Taliban-style “My recovery is better than your recovery” (Jam/Clash again) I share you experiences of early recovery and all that entailed. Camaraderie, shit coffee, stale biscuits and candle-lit meetings in church halls, the sum total of which being, I found people I identified with and for the first time in my life, began to ‘fit-in’ with me too. What’s not to like about that?

Did I feel ‘spiritually awakened’ as you say you were? Well I certainly felt a lot better than I did injecting heroin and crack into my neck, turning yellow and smelling worse than the lump of poo my dog left for me on the carpet this morning.

You write about what you consider to be the ‘emotional subjugation’ inherent in AA, which you view as an admittance of ‘powerlessness’ over anything an individual may achieve/experience in recovery. According to your interpretation, everything that happens in recovery is therefore ‘gods’ will leaving us without any real say in the matter? That’s quite a big, nay, huge statement and aside from it meaning that it was ‘god’ not Dirk Kuyt, who provided one of my spiritual tickles in recovery, it suggests also that god is a ‘must-have’ accessory for those seeking a way out of the horrors of addiction? I’m going to have to challenge your interpretation of this facet of the 12-steps for no other reason than I agree with you, sort of. I don’t think finding ‘god’ is in any way an absolute requirement, it’s not really ‘necessary’ and should never induce the madness we see in people fighting over a cut-priced shit TV on black Friday is it? I’m quite happy with the 2nd step which clearly states,

“We came to believe, that a power greater than ourselves, could restore us to sanity.”

Like many people, the groups I attended seemed to fulfil that task effectively, my ‘understanding’ of all things ‘god’ has not really changed from it being, for the most part anyway, my fellow bunch of misfits. Why? Because at nearly 10 years clean, it hasn’t had to.

I recoil when I sometimes hear

“It was ‘god’ who kept me alive during my addiction.”

To me, this suggests that ‘god’ is happy to randomly throw around his ‘mercy’ and spare some lives and the devastation that comes with the loss of a loved one, surely that’s nonsense? Does he also oversee the acquisition of the shit TV for some, not others?

I have plenty of thoughts about a religious god; you can read them here if you’re interested.

https://simonmasonsays.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/never-trust-a-man-in-sandals/

You then go on to talk about the ‘Sinclair Method’, which essentially promotes the use of a chemical to ‘disinterest’ the alcoholics ‘receptors’ in their appreciation of grape and grain, isn’t this somewhat contradictory to your earlier soundbite about us 10%ers? Are you planning on having a drink and anytime soon? Have you got a stash of Naltrexone somewhere? I’ve benefitted from all sorts of ‘treatment’ over the years, including CBT, but none of that seems to make the slightest difference in my attempts to beat my on/off struggle with nicotine. The only progress I make is when I don’t ‘try’ to smoke at all. I ‘don’t know, maybe I’ve just not surrendered and admitted I’m powerless over it yet? As for AA/NA being the first-line of treatment in the UK? I worked in the ‘recovery’ field for 5 years and have to say, it’s anything but that. The majority of prescribing nurses I worked alongside, had no idea at all about 12-step recovery, for the most part, they seemed happy to dole out methadone or other substitute medication to people presenting with opiate addictions. My own experience prior to getting ‘clean’ was exactly this. “You’ve got a problem with illegal drugs? Here! Have some quite expensive/profitable ones to help you stop using the ones the government can’t make any money from. For the record, I’m not apposed in the slightest to substitute prescribing, when delivered in tandem with other clinical and holistic practices, I’ve not worked in the ‘field’ for a number of years now, so perhaps things have changed, I sincerely hope so.

I am in total agreement about the problem with predatory behaviour in 12-step groups, you are entirely correct when you say it needs to be addressed. In the same way an individual may not know the intentions of the person chatting them up in a bar, we also sadly do not know who we sit next to in meetings. Just because someone has got sober/clean, it does not mean they have morphed into a decent human being. The fact there is no ‘door-policy’ at meetings, coupled with the practice of forcing people to attend meetings as part of a probation order, meaning people are there for entirely the ‘wrong’ reasons,  can sometimes lead to the most appalling behaviour. All I can say, is that it needs to be addressed, as to how that can effectively be done? At my own ‘home-group’ we have a female ‘newcomer’ rep and a male equivalent, people new to the ‘program’ are strongly advised to stay close to those of the same gender until such time as they have developed or re-discovered the ability to maintain their own personal boundaries and see through the ‘operating’ of the slime-buckets who sometimes enter the meetings.

As for the overall ‘effectiveness’ of 12-step recovery? I’m never sure exactly where the stats used in this slice of the pie (chart) come from. There are as many articles written about its success rate as there are its apparent lack of such. So, speaking entirely from my own, hard-won’ experience I’d say this.

I went to my first NA meeting in 1989; I’d been living (and dying) in Los Angeles and had developed a serious problem with crack. I returned to the (then) crack-less vistas of Weston-Super-Mare, where my family GP mentioned something about a group of ex-drug addicts going to support groups. I was young, the country was bouncing the sound house music and there were lots of lovely E’s to be had. In my ‘opinion’, I didn’t have a problem with drugs, per-se, I had a problem with crack. As I’ve already said, there was none to be had anywhere I knew of so that solved that and after the first person at the meeting I attended mentioned god and total abstinence, I was off. I didn’t return for any ten years, by which time Oasis were making records which seemed to make my, by then, debilitating heroin addiction actually seem like a pleasure in comparison. I think this says more about the creative (cocaine-induced?) downward spiral of my Mancunian friends than it does the ‘stats’ relating to the success rates of 12-step recovery. I wasn’t anywhere willing or ‘beaten’ enough in the late 80’s, nor was I interested in abstinence until I tried every other possible alternative. Like I said at the top of this piece, I love drugs and alcohol, but they don’t like me. My early ‘recovery’ was similar to trying to move on from an ex who’s run off with another partner and is definitely (maybe) not coming back, it took a while for the penny to drop for me. I have many friends who also dived, nose/vein first into the narcotic slush-bucket during the 90’s and beyond. Most, thankfully managed to navigate their own way out of that particular chemical (brothers) conundrum, however, many are dead, some, as good as and some, like me, eventually staggered into the rooms of recovery.

The ‘rooms’ of recovery have many guises though, some are full of other people, trying to ‘work’ the 12-steps, others in different groups simply availing themselves to the support of people with similar stories, if not similar beliefs. Some ‘rooms’ are smaller, just a ‘professional’ and client, talking their way to a better, happier life.

I was recently attending the funeral of a much-loved, long-time NA member, who sadly lost his life due to a medical condition directly related to his long-term addiction. While it’s obvious that those of us in the fellowships do not have the monopoly on dignity, I have to say it was impossible to not be moved by the presence of so many of his fellow recovering addicts. Those of us who have, for whatever reason, cheated an early death, cannot fail to be touched in a truly profound manner when we congregate to pay our respects to a departed friend. It was clear to his family, that he was a much loved and highly respected man, demonstrated by the huge turnout for his funeral. We may well have our detractors, we may well also need to ‘manage’ our fellowships better than we sometimes do, but, when the planets align and we are at our best, I can think of no finer collection of people, with whom I’d wish to share my life.

Nobody has the right to tell me to not go, that it doesn’t work, or that I’ve somehow been conned, nor should ‘we’ tell anyone they should come because they are ‘missing’ out on something. In my experience, I chose to ‘learn’ how to take drugs from other people who took drugs; it’s my decision to learn from other people, who’ve found one of many ways, to not take them anymore.

At the start of this piece I mentioned the word ‘choice’ and said I’d come back to that later. For me, the jury’s still out on whether I had much ‘choice’ during my active addiction. For me, it falls into the same bracket as why I am one of the 10%ers John Stewart talks about in his article. I’m of the same opinion insomuch as it doesn’t seem, to me at least, to matter, I certainly have choices today, I might even decide to go to a meeting later!

Just for today, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never trust a man in sandals.

 

The following is not intended to change anyone’s mind about anything; sometimes you just gotta speak your truth.

The horror of the Paris slaughter, not to mention other equally despicable acts in Africa have rightly caused yet more outrage. It now appears the UK’s response to this is to drop more bombs, to “Take the fight to the enemy” because, obviously, attack is the best form of defence? Would I have any compunction about putting a bullet in the head of those that carried out that despicable slaughter at The Bataclan? Nope not if the opportunity arose at the time and it meant preventing the death of others. But here’s the thing, the question I struggle to find an answer to. Would I be prepared to execute them if they had been captured? Would I? Would you?

I’m not a politician, I’d like to think I’m higher up the evolutionary scale than that, for sure there’s a new/old kid on the block in Westminster, I like him, but he doesn’t need me to speak for him.  Nor am I a clever man, a Christopher Hitchens with a better haircut. I am not a theologian and you may be surprised to find, I’m only an atheist when I’m in a really bad mood. I’m a parent, occasional writer, part-time show-off, but mostly, I’m a parent.  That means I have by far, the greatest responsibility it is possible to have.  Why? Because it is and also because, sadly I believe it is our children who will bear the brunt of ideological extremism as the harbingers of destruction reach further into the society our parents/grandparents fought and died to protect. Those at the helm may well have blood on their hands and deep pockets filled with the profits of division and greed. I don’t though, neither does my daughter and I suspect neither do most of you who may read this. I’m not part of the problem; I’m not an avaricious politician and I’m not ‘god.’

 

 

I don’t believe in ‘god’, by which I mean the ‘god(s)’ that have been created by, written about for centuries by, appropriated into the same gender as and forced upon everybody else by, man. You know the ones I’m talking about, the badly dressed bloke(s) with the beard, prone to doing the ‘impossible’. If he was really god, he’d have shaved more often, enjoyed a decent pint and asked more women for their opinion before opening his mouth in his testosterone-fuelled revelations. That’s assuming he would have been a bloke at all of course. If ‘he’ was a ‘she’, I’m guessing we’d be looking at a completely different world. No women I know would be prepared to dress as badly as the pope or blow themselves up on the dubious promise of spending eternity in the company of 72 sexually inept virginal men. There would also have been equality in wages and working conditions probably about the same time as the first of our ancestors said,

“Fuck looking after this baby all day darling, it’s your turn, I’m off to hunt a mammoth with the girls, we might go out for a few celebratory ‘bevvies after too.”

What do I know about ‘god’ anyway? Oh yeah, I was made to read the bible at school.  Of course that’s not even half the story though is it? Some estimates put the number of religions currently being ‘practiced’ in the world at over 400.  My entire ‘education’ was conducted within a catholic school system, at no point were we afforded an insight into other belief systems. I’m guessing my religious teachers realised that the somewhat nonsensical curriculum they espoused, would, in-fact be made to look as utterly bonkers as the ‘other’ faith systems the minute any comparison was made. Even my tiny brain can join the theological dots and conclude that, they can’t all be right, so they are surely all wrong?

 

 

As for creationism? When a classmate of mine suggested that if ‘we’ were to believe in Adam and Eve,

 

“Then that means we are all descended from an incestuous relationship then sir?”

He was theoretically-silenced by 6 strokes of a riding-crop, his flippant but astute comment punished by the headmaster later that day. The same headmaster, who years later, was arrested, tried, defrocked and sentenced to a lengthy spell in jail for sexually abusing young boys, his evil practices going completely unchecked by the church for years. This is not the reason I don’t believe in god though, but it was the starting point of my own thinking on the subject, not that this was encouraged of course. ‘god’ knows what I’m thinking right? His intrusion into my ‘thought-crime’ does nothing to persuade me he’s someone worth getting to know. I hate nosey bastards like that, mid your own fucking business eh god?

So yeah, me and ‘religion’ nah, not having it at all.  We didn’t get off to a very good start and I’m still waiting to be shown some proof?

Oh yeah, the ‘proof’ it’s in a book(s) apparently.

So ok, maybe give me just the slightest reason to accept that people who propagate nonsense like this should be in any position to tell me how to live my life.

 

 

1 Samuel 18:25-27

David wanted to wed Michal, Saul’s daughter. He offered Saul anything in order to be able to marry Michal. For whatever reason, Saul wanted 100 foreskins. He told David he needed to deliver that number of foreskins by the next day. David went out and killed 200 men and collected that many foreskins. It was after the fact that he realized he had double the number he needed. Saul was impressed and he gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to David.

 

 

 

That’s about as ridiculous as the time the prophet Mohammed apparently decided to make a few structural changes to the moon by chopping it in half. (Maybe there was no footie on that day?) Said task undertaken on a winged horse obviously so he got home in time for tea and a cuddle with his 9 year old wife too.

The splitting of the moon is confirmed through eye-witness testimony transmitted through an unbroken chain of reliable scholars so many that it is impossible that it could be false (hadith mutawatir).[2]

 

OK, so that’s the slightly low-brow kinda cheap justification for my lack of faith in ‘god’, however if he/she can manage to keep Danny Sturridge Liverpool’s best striker, fit for an entire season, I’ll have a rethink.

If religion was put on trial, I’d like to think no judge and jury, in possession of the ‘facts’, would sentence the world to another second of it, yet alone a few thousand years. It’s a bit like smoking; before we knew how bad it was for us, everybody was at it.

Is it really bad for us though?

I’d say yes for no other reason than it’s got nothing to do with truth and everything to do with the opposite. At what point are we required to separate metaphor from fact? Apparently not until scientific evidence leaves the custodians of religion, no choice but to admit they’ve got it wrong. Then and only after all other ‘escape routes have gone, are we told,

“Ah, ok, the story of Noah is not meant to be taken literally.”

And it’s probably unlikely David collected all those foreskins and Leviticus was just in a really bad mood when he called for the murder of gay people etc etc.

I wonder if made up a few hundred t-shirts with

‘Leviticus can suck my dick’ on them, I’d make a few quid at the next gay pride?

As ‘real’ science advances, religious explanations back-peddle, although it often seems like trying to prise a confession out of a villain whose deeds have been caught on c.c.t.v.

“But it helps me make sense of the world and we need redemption”

Ah, I see, so we’re not capable of doing that anyway?

Oh yeah, the ‘concept of original sin’

Surely we innately know the difference between right and wrong, surely we can figure that out for ourselves?

“No”

“Why not?”

‘”Because it says so in the bible/Torah/front page of the Daily (hate) Mail.

Ah, so we need to follow the instructions, without which, at the very least, an unenviable ‘end’ lies in store for those who don’t.

So live in fear or..?

You get my point right? You can rebrand it anyway you like, but I don’t think it’s good for us, except in tiny weeny moderation, like at a gig or football or… something.

 

So yeah, it’s just like smoking. (Actually, smoking is never ‘good’ for you; it’s just less harmful the less you do it.)

These days, even though it can be a struggle, most people have chosen to confine the fags to the ashtray of history.  It has to be said though, that generally speaking, where people are less able to make informed choices i.e.; ‘developing’ nations, countries crippled by poverty etc. the big tobacco companies continue to expand their empires. It would appear that the masters of religion and tobacco both do well in such places.

(For the record, I’m still sucking on an E-cig, very much a case of progress not perfection.)

I’m convinced that the weather was shite for pretty much the entire duration as religion made its be-sandaled way from the warmer, but almost entirely illiterate Middle East into Europe.

“Do you believe in god mate?”

“Umm, which one? We’ve got a few”

“This god, he’s much better than yours and if you don’t believe me, I’ll fucking kill you ok?”

It’s like playground bullying on an industrial scale..in sandals.

The inclement medieval weather continued as did the need for distraction.

Anyone who has kids will tell you you’ve gotta be ‘creative’ when it’s cold and wet outside. Obviously you couldn’t amuse the barbaric population with an Alvin and the chipmunk’s box set, so Pope Pious and the psycho-monks saw their opportunity and grabbed it.

“Do you want a smoothie and some crisps with your eternal damnation, fear-driven servitude and other assorted fairy-tales children?”

“Can’t we just go to the park and play on the swings daddy?”

“No, it’s raining.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that hail will fall all over Egypt –on men and animals and on everything growing in the fields of Egypt.” 23When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24Hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation.25Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields –both men and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. 26The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.

 

 

“We live in Stamford Hill daddy, are we Israelites?”

“No!”

 

Back to being a parent, which is primarily why I’m trying to waste my time and hopefully yours, with this badly written god-bashing piece?

Tabitha asks me lots of questions about religion because we live amongst an ultra-orthodox religious community here in Hackney. My Hasidic neighbours seem nice enough, until they get behind the wheel of a car that is. To be honest, other than their insistence on driving like demented Egyptian chariot drivers pursuing the Israelites into the Red Sea; I don’t know much about them. They do what they do, Tabitha and I do what we do, it’s cool, it’s safe round here and also very quiet on Saturdays. It’s a ‘bit’ weird though, but not weird in a strap a bomb to yourself and blow people up kinda way, certainly not on the Sabbath anyway.

The dark and (bloody) middle-ages were a time when we knew little and killed a lot, in the name of what we knew little about of course. Not much has changed really, back then, ‘We’ just trusted that those people afforded an education in exchange for a life of piety and sacrifice (If you don’t include much of the Catholic Church) as they delivered us from eternal damnation  would not lie to us? Time moved on, the weapons got deadlier as the science got smarter. The better the science, the bigger the death-toll, as previously unassailable ‘truths’ were forced to back-peddle and become ‘metaphors’ rather than facts, at least where those of a progressive mind-set were concerned. Religious literature is not lies; it’s just people trying to make sense of things without recourse to facts. People believed because to not do so was unthinkable, they just didn’t know any better, but we do now. Except of course, for those of ‘us’ who apparently don’t want to accept fact over fairy-tale.

Ah, yes, the thorny subject of facts. We have a timeline these days, a way of framing and making sense of ‘stuff’. Put it this way, if despite everything we know about the age of the earth, fossils, DNA and the last time Liverpool won the league; if after all this you still want to say the world is only a few thousand years old..in my opinion, you’re a fucking lunatic. We have empirical proof, you have David and his 200 foreskins.

Does that offend you?

You can’t criticize any religion for fear of offence.

Ah yes, fear of offence! I’m fairly sure if you are of the easily offended persuasion, you’re unlikely to still be reading this? I happen to think, it’s entirely possible for people to hold religious beliefs and retain a sense of humour. Get over yourselves a bit eh? Surely god would want you to do that?  My friend Niall the Vicar is one such example, although as I’ve told him on numerous occasions, he’s better suited to caring for the spiritual well being of his flock than tickling their (spare) ribs.

I’m a libertarian, which is a posh word for minding my own fucking business and expecting others to do the same. I might not be overly happy about it, but people are and hopefully, will always be entitled to believe in whatever they wish, surely that’s a freedom we have make huge sacrifices for as a country over the years? The theological ‘fly’ in this secular ointment though is this, religion is inherently divisive. Yes you may well find quotes in the texts of the world’s major faiths that urge ‘tolerance’ of other people’s fairy-tales of choice, but here’s the thing; For the most part, when our most basic needs are met, we humans are decent and caring beings. When we stumble across something that makes us feel ‘better’ we like to shout about it. I’d go as far as to say, most of us would want others to experience it too. The theocratic ‘chemistry’ that elicits ‘well-being’ is potent, but it’s really only a placebo. Humans are pack-animals, faith makes us feel ‘part-of’, ‘connected’, and it allows us to belong, which is one of our species most rudimentary needs. We inherently ‘fear’ death because of course that is the ultimate separation. It’s easy to see how the promise of being re-united with those we have loved and lost is such an attractive proposition and a ‘promise’ made even more appealing when our mortal life is so short. Once people are scared, they are likely to believe almost anything. We all love a good horror story don’t we?

There’s no fear like the fear of god is there? Some of the stories contained within religious literature are quite good, although not many of them would get commissioned for a TV series ahead of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones methinks. I obviously cannot tell someone that their ‘personal’ experience of jesus is not real to them anymore than I could convince a Manchester Utd fan that watching Stevie Gerrard score against Everton is more fulfilling than seeing Wayne Rooney bicycle-kick the winner against City.

Is there a solution to all this, will we ever ‘learn’ to stop bothering a god that doesn’t exist and spend more time getting to know each other?

I sometimes wonder if, perhaps, with some gentle persuasion, those of a more moderate devotion to religion, akin to the ‘social-smoker’ on weekends, might begin to consider stubbing out their habit altogether one day. Of course, those who hold moderate religious beliefs are not the problem are they? Such believers are unlikely to be offended, or to cause outrage over their faith. I’m in no doubt I could attend a concert with my daughter without risking assassination by the alcohol drinking, chain-smoking Muslim shop-keeper at the end of my road. Yeah he believes in ‘god’, but he’s clearly discovered that being human and getting pissed every now and then is equally as satisfying as Friday prayers.  Wherever religion has been handed down as part of a cultural package, delivered by family and community for generations, when it comes under scrutiny, of any kind, it is seen as an attack. Its difficult engaging in meaningful conversation with creationists whose response to unequivocal evidence as to the age of the earth and the rational explanations we have now have for our evolution is a collective “I can’t hear you”.

Why can’t you hear us though? Because to do so would be seen as an attack on your culture? Then maybe the way forward is to begin to try and separate the two? If I had even the slightest idea how that may come about, I’d tell you, sadly I can only hope that people with far bigger brains than mine, try to do so and soon. At seven years old, Tabitha is as full of questions, as any parent would wish of their own kids. She told me there had been some ‘talk’ in the playground about the awful events in Paris last week, but she didn’t get involved because some of her friends are Muslims and she didn’t want to upset them. She told me that B***** one of her closest friends was really upset because a boy had said it was ‘her people’ who had done bad things in France.

“I told her, that what that boy had said, was part of the problem daddy, not her or her family.”

She’s never prayed in her life, she doesn’t need to because she understands ignorance as well as any 7 year old needs to. She finds the world an exciting place dulled only by certain homework she feels does not challenge her and her daddy’s attempts to convert her musical tastes to his own.

I want her to grow up in a world, where she can think, say, dress and ultimately believe what she likes without fear or feeling the need to justify herself.  Oh wait! She already does! Now THAT’S worth fighting for eh?

I remain convinced that she does not ‘need’ religious dogma to be able to experience this in the life she has ahead of her. Her ‘god’ will never be better than anyone else’s because she doesn’t believe in god. She may well change her mind at some point and that’ll be entirely up to her. As a parent, I’d like to think that if I refrain from the implementation of religion ‘belief’ and it’s myopic, primitive thinking, by the time she is old enough to ask the question pertaining to ‘why’ we are here, her mind will be open enough to see the answer. Religion is heavily dependent on answering that question, it dismisses the most horrific human tragedies as a ‘test of faith’, it holds up nonsense as ‘fact’.  History is stained with the blood of the innocent while people kill in the name of god, in the absurd hope of ensuring a place in the ’afterlife’. I hope she concludes that it doesn’t matter why we are here; all that matters is what we do while we are.

I think it was Gandhi, who said,

“If you think you understand ‘god’ you’re probably wrong.”

Which is quite possibly the wisest thing anyone in sandals ever said.

Actually I don’t know if he did because I wasn’t there, either way, it’s a good quote. If he’d been shuffling about being a cool dude 2000 years ago, he’d definitely be called god wouldn’t he?

 

 

 

Peace, love and The Magical World of The Strands.

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m a minor player in my own life story.”

3 nights 4 days of full-English breakfasts and cheap accommodation in the North-West.2015-11-11 16.35.50-1 2015-11-11 18.16.16-1 2015-11-11 22.02.48 2015-11-11 23.36.55 2015-11-11 23.37.50 2015-11-12 08.50.11 2015-11-12 09.21.59-1 2015-11-12 12.05.06-1 2015-11-13 10.21.20 2015-11-13 14.04.27 2015-11-13 19.33.18 2015-11-14 13.42.37 2015-11-14 19.20.54-1 2015-11-15 22.31.49 12193452_10153176473358016_6490668533818053804_n 2015-11-04 19.32.14 2015-11-12 13.38.15

First thing, it’s not the Y.M.C.A, it’s the Youth Hostel Association ok?  I thought it important to mention that before you get a vision of Andrew Winters and I, gyrating to some 70’s disco anthem dressed up as a cowboy or a traffic cop.  However, if you DO want to see what that looks like, we lost a ton of money taking this brief story-telling adventure between these (tale of) two cities, so send me some cash and I’ll see if it can be arranged.

The Kings Arms, Salford Manchester, 11th November.

I feel tired already having expended way too much mental energy worrying during the drive north. This is not due to any potential navigational errors, (Andrew has PRINTED a map!) but more so, the perceived difficulties I may have explaining away the contents of the boot of my car, should we come under the scrutiny of the motorway police at any point. I should point out that I have not been subject to any sort of police attention for a very long time and therefore my anxieties, as is usually the case, are perceived, not real. Truth is, I think I’d actually enjoy attempting to explain to any over-zealous ‘plod that the £1000 of fake money, 200 pills and packets of white and brown powder are just props for the show. Were they to check my criminal record though, I’m guessing we’d have a problem, anyways it’s all good and we arrive safe and sound.

The first thing I see as we pull up outside tonight’s venue is an Orthodox Jew strolling along Bloom Street;  Seeing as I currently reside in Stamford Hill, it momentarily feels like I’m on home turf, an illusion quickly dispelled by a furtive glance at the bar pricelist, we’re clearly not in Kansas anymore Toto.  Back in my drinking/drugging days, I once spent a weekend  getting trolleyed in Wigan, concluding it was cheaper to buy a first-class train ticket and a night in a decent hotel up North and get ‘on it’ all weekend than it was to remain in the capital and do the same thing in my, then, local pub. I once paid £35 for a quick pint in The Westbourne in Ladbroke Grove, although that had more to do with me not noticing they’d covered the cistern of the toilet with Vaseline to prevent idiots like me from chopping out a few lines in bog, than the actual price of the larger. I digress…

We unload the car then retire to the comfort of our YHA accommodation for a few hours before we’re required back at the venue for a brief tech run-through prior to the show. Andrew tells me he’s gonna pop out to drop some flyers off at a local recovery café,

“Don’t get lost” says I as he departs, walking into the backstage toilets rather than the exit.

“I already am.” He replies, we laugh, my nerves retreat, all will be well.

Ah, the show! My show! It’s all about me, of course it’s all about me, except it isn’t is it? For those of you who have already seen it, you’ll understand that it’s more;

‘This is me, but it could have been/ may yet still be about, you too. Or someone you actually do know, once knew, or may yet still get to know.

For those of you who were busy washing your hair/watching X-factor for all of the 35 performances so far, well, you’ll have to take my word for it won’t you?

That last sentence was written by my ego, while I briefly left my laptop unattended and left the room to make a cup of tea.

Was the theatre full? Nope! Half full? Nope! Did those who were there come and tell me afterwards that they found the show, moving, shocking, funny, informative and ultimately inspiring? YES!  Job’s a good ‘un then right?

Let’s tick a few more boxes too shall we?

Do I love what I’m trying to do with the life I’m fortunate to have?

Tick.

Was performing the scene where I describe the events on the night of my dad’s death 36 years ago, on the anniversary of that saddest of days, difficult?

BIG Tick.

While performing the show, does confronting the effect my behaviour as a junkie had on those that loved me, help those who’s loved ones are still lost in that awful existence?

So I am told…Tick.

Did wearing a T-shirt displaying Liverpool FC’s 5 European Cups for the entire 2nd half of the show in Manchester make me giggle?

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. (5)

So the first night was a success, I’d go as far as to say, every night we do the show is a success, whether it’s in front of a sell-out crowd, or on a night where people are busy washing their hair or watching X-factor.

Day two.

We are out and about in Salford, first stop obviously the pilgrimage (If you’re a Smiths fan) to the lads club for quick photo opportunity. Andrew had printed off another map which is both thoughtful and useful, were it not for the fact it has become apparent that neither of us can read maps. We find Salford lads club, I pretend to be in The Smiths (not for the first or last time) then we head over to the University to try and persuade some students that they might enjoy a night at the theatre later on. We walk past a sign outside the Old Pint-pot pub which declares,

“According to chemistry, alcohol is a SOLUTION’’

It neglects to say what alcohol is a solution for though, so I attempt to ask a couple of passing students their thoughts on that statement. Sadly, me, handing out flyers of, ‘er.. me, is not sufficient to convince many of them to remove their headphones and make conversation. Those who do stop seem completely incapable of assisting us locate the university’s media faculty, let alone consider what alcohol may, or may not be a solution too. Maybe they’re just too hungover/stoned to care?

We learn, much to our dismay, that despite having one the of most modern studio facilities in the country, Salford University radio station has nobody to run it this year due to a complete lack of interest amongst the student body. Perhaps this is a result of the use of other social media platforms, rather than the fact there are no decent underground/warehouse/free parties requiring radio promotion essential to their existence, like back in the day? It’s a moot point although I suspect it’s the former, at least I hope so, remember Frontline FM or Sunset (808 state) anyone?

Andrew and I find the media/performing arts building, storm the canteen, (in a middle–aged bloke kinda way) deposit flyers and leave in the hope we’ve convinced a few kids to come to the show later. We then head over to the Creation café on Chapel Street, a ‘recovery’ hub of sorts, similar to the marvellous Brink on Parr St Liverpool.

Showtime sees a bigger audience than Wednesday, there are tears, much laughter and a standing ovation as tonight’s show is dedicated to the memory of the Busby Babes as well as the 96, after all, football is never really more important than life or death is it? Post show drinks downstairs in the pub with friends old and new where My Bill Shankly t-shirt comes under a bit of light-hearted scrutiny, then back to the hostel, our work here is done.

Liverpool Bridewell, Friday 13th.

Martin Johnston and I discuss the theme, ‘Can music save your life?’ in front of a few close friends in Paul Fitzgerald’s fantastic bar. The horrific events unfolding in Paris which I only become aware of afterwards, make writing anything about our cosy discussion; seem ridiculous, so I won’t.

Andrew and I return to our third and final night at a YHA, where the mood amongst the guests is, as it must surely have been elsewhere, one of incomprehension, sadness and anger. I’m a proud atheist; I find the whole notion of god, ridiculous, so killing in the name of god? Just fuck off you despicable, cowardly bastards and take your twisted medieval lunacy with you ok?

Saturday 14th November, Palace Hotel Manchester.

Martin Johnston and I have been invited to bring our discussion to the Louder than Words music literary festival, curated by John Robb and Jill Adam. There are some pretty heavyweight writers and guest speakers here and I’d be lying if I said that, by comparison, I don’t feel a bit of a fraud.

I’m far better at ‘avoidance’ than I am at writing. I need to distract myself from the mental cavalry-charge in my head, whose bugles play a medley of ‘Loser’ by Beck and a terrace-style chant of “You’re shit and you know you are”.

An impromptu selfie with the drummer from The Jam and Paolo Hewitt cheers me up and bizarrely gives me the bottle to engage in a discussion arguing the various merits of the Liverpool/Manchester music/club scene with Dave Haslam, Richard Boon and CP Lee. Jayne Casey was supposed to be fighting the corner for Merseyside but sadly is a no-show, so Martin and I, take it upon ourselves to bring some sort of balance to the discussion. The Manc mafia (Haslam is actually from the midlands so my own woolyback credentials seem irrelevant too) clearly want to uphold their end of the East-Lancs rd as the epicentre of all that has ever been good in the North West. MJ rightly feels that their mention of the refusal of Mancunian mill-workers to handle confederate cotton, unloaded on Merseyside during the American civil war, alludes to some sort of ‘scouse racism and a purer ‘Manc socialist ideal. Martin’s brain is much bigger than mine, due to the fact that while I was battering my brain cells with drugs, he was assaulting his own with literature. He points out that in Friedrich Engels book, The Condition of the English Working classes, Manchester comes in for a bit of a kicking too if we’re talking the treatment of disenfranchised people and perceived socialist one-upmanship. I am reminded as to why he was my hero at school. Martin Johnston that is, not Engels, we’re not that old! I somehow manage to make a comment that seems to perhaps win the day when I quote from Paul Du Noyer’s (fab) book on the Liverpool music/club scene.

“Um, yeah, so in his book, Liverpool, Wondrous Place, Du Noyer says that Scouse bands have always had the ability to ‘turn rage into beauty’…what is Manchester’s riposte to this?”

They don’t have a response, nor do they have 5 European cups..We win.

MJ and I do our gig later, it’s well received and with only a few less in attendance than were sitting listening to a bloke who was in The Jam. I have to pinch myself; I’m also getting paid to  talk about The Jam, as well as The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Shack and a bit about drugs too.

Before Andrew and I head south down the M6, we get the absolute pleasure of sitting in on an interview with John McCullagh. I’ve spent much of the past few days discussing/performing themes from the past, McCullagh is very much an artist for the future, it seems the perfect way to end the trip.

I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to the following..

The late Phil Fox, for his encouragement and ongoing ‘presence’ in my endeavours. The Outside Edge theatre company that he set up and with whom my show continues its journey at all times, Siva and Susie, I thank you.

Andrew Winters for taking on the role of manager in all this, Lindesay Irving for helping with the costs.

Martin Johnston, Paul Fitzgerald, and all the (double) good people of Manchester and Liverpool for their continued support.

The Outside Edge Theatre Company.

Rockston Stories, an addictive cabaret.

“I was once asked why I had started the company. I remember mumbling a few superficial words. Then I got real. My addiction to drugs nearly killed me. My involvement with theatre and drama saved my life. I started The Outside Edge Theatre Company in the hope that other lives might be saved too.”

Phil Fox, artistic director and founder of Outside Edge. (1959-2014)

I’m sitting in a café on Hoxton Street, having a coffee with the actor Mark Rylance, we have a few minutes to kill before this afternoon’s matinee performance begins and we are enthusiastically discussing our own stories of the ‘therapeutic value’ we have both experienced as a result of overcoming the ‘fear’ that can seem all-prevailing, prior to taking the stage.

See what I did there? I just shoehorned my own limited theatrical endeavours into the same sentence as an actor, The Guardian (amongst many others) describes as “The greatest actor of his generation”.

Rylance delivered 420 performances of Jerusalem alone, so when he told me he ‘understood’ my own process through 30 nights of my own show last year, I could only smile and mumble a rather humbling “Thank you, shall we go and take our seats? It’s show-time”.

“Well, you are looking really well today Simon, I was a bit concerned when I saw your show, you looked a bit frazzled.”

Oh stop it already!

We finish our coffee and exit, (stage left.)

Hoxton Hall was built in 1863, the local area at that time being described thus;

“The city and its surrounding areas, such as Shoreditch, became dirty, noisy and overcrowded. The middle class fled the disease and immorality they associated with the poor and the overcrowded city.

So definitely no hipsters with Macbooks, ridiculous beards and tattoos drinking over-priced soya-lattes in the area back then; Jack the Ripper had not begun his murderous assault on the impoverished women of the area, a half-pint of gin cost two old pence. If you had some money, you could rent a house for the not inconsiderable sum of £100 a year if you were not one of the ‘middle-classes’ who had decided to flee toward a more ‘respectable’ area such as Stoke-Newington. History teaches us much, not least that it has a habit of repeating itself eh?

Building a theatre in Hoxton, was an attempt to create a place where the local community could perhaps, come together and escape the “disease and immorality” surrounding them for a few hours, (or perhaps partake of it inside rather than out on the streets?) Sadly the authorities disagreed and it lost its performance licence in 1871 due to complaints by the police and paradoxically became home to a temperance society for many years until, in yet another ironic twist in its story, it became a centre for adult learning in the hope it might help its scholars escape the areas unrelenting poverty.

So, the story of this particular venue is perhaps, the initial great promise of escape from reality, over-indulgence by its clientele, leading to an intervention, followed by the call to sobriety and ultimately the opportunity to better oneself through ongoing support and the re-kindling of forgotten dreams.

I think this seems like the perfect juncture to meet some of the cast of the current show.

I’d been drinking for 20 years, I started really young, I used drink to wean me off drugs, but the drinking got worse when I put the drugs down, the drink was my medicine.”

I’m talking to Charon Bourke who plays Aphrodite in the show, the minute she ‘welcomes’ us to the story, we are drawn in by an her, there is an almost androgynous menace to her onstage presence that commands our attention.

CB:

With the drugs, it became apparent, I remember thinking, this is it..I’m gonna die here.”

Charon is our conductor as we begin the dance of deception and dishonesty, denial and collusion contained within the script. The ‘redemption’ is of course, entirely due to the fact that the entire cast are in recovery themselves. The show was initially devised by Phil Fox prior to his tragic, untimely death last year, I have no doubt he would have been delighted with what the cast and crew have created.

CB:

“As an actor, when I was drinking, I never felt more comfortable than when I was playing a part, because I didn’t have a clue who I was, never stayed still long enough to find out, numbed it all out.”

I asked her about her journey into recovery.

CB:

I’d had a brief period of abstinence, went to AA sat at the back in meetings, didn’t want to be there, soon enough I started drinking again, but, the seed had been planted, my denial had been cracked, so after that, it’s like a vessel, if there’s a crack and you keep putting liquid in there, it’s gonna widen and widen, until it falls apart,  the denial falls apart.”

I have a theory, based on my own experience in addiction that much of what consumes ‘us’ as addicts/alcoholics, is our ongoing and ever more desperate attempts to avoid ‘fear’. When you wake up each morning with a raging drug habit or the brutal, calloused hands of alcoholism strangling the life from you, there is a particular terror that prevails.

CB:

When I went back to AA, I had that ‘gift of desperation’ they talk about, it’s a great motivator.”

SM:

If someone tells you, they’re not nervous or scared before they go onstage, they’re fucking lying right?

CB;

Or they’re not ‘there’, not present.”

SM; So, in recovery, as performers, we know this, we know what’s gonna happen right, yet we sign up for it, willingly, so what’s changed?

CB: Choice, I have a choice, I’m ‘here’, I’m responsible, present, I was always on the run before.”

SM: And of course, when we’re on that stage, there’s nowhere to hide right?

CB: Correct, but you know, to me, it does feel like a spiritual thing up there, I’m not talking religion, I mean, recovery has changed my life, it’s changed the way I connect with people.”

SM: Because when we are performing, it’s about being honest yeah? Acting isn’t really ‘pretending’ in that sense, it’s actually about being honest.

CB: Exactly, it’s ‘truth’, I used to think, that if I got sober, I’d be boring, as an ‘artist’, I’d lose an edge or something. I was wrong of course. In recovery, I’ve learnt to be ‘still’. I’ll never forget the first review I got, in sobriety, it said;

“It’s so lovely to see this actress grow-up, she has a stillness that’s rare in this industry.”

My impression of watching Charon as an actress in this show, is that, the ‘stillness’ she talks about developing, as a result of her ongoing recovery, gives her the command of both character and stage so apparent to those of us in the audience tonight.

The next member of the cast I talk to, tells me a little about how he came into the theatre company.

Shiv;

“Hello Simon, my names Shiv, I’m in recovery from long-term Heroin and crack addiction, basically two years ago I was in a detox unit when someone from Outside Edge, who is also in recovery, came into the unit to talk to the residents about the company. I was one day clean, on the same day; a recovering addict from Narcotics Anonymous also came in to talk to us”

SM;

I’m guessing joining a drama course wasn’t at the forefront of your mind at that particular juncture?”

Shiv;

“Ha ha, no, I’d never done any sort of acting in my life, but both these people had a massive impact on my life, I couldn’t see it at the time of course. I’d applied for funding to go to rehab, but had been refused, so I had a lot of time on my hands when I left the detox. I was still living in the same area I’d used drugs in, I couldn’t hang out with my old acquaintances so after a couple of weeks, I thought, fuck it, I’ll go along to that drama thing.”

SM;

“So were those early days hard, being in that environment with all the temptation and past associations?”

Shiv;

“Yeah, but I was accessing the local support services, going to meetings, but still, there was a lot of time to fill, I’d never had any sort of hobby before, I’d been using drugs from a very young age, so I thought I’d give this a go. For the two hours on a Thursday when I was there, I wasn’t thinking about drugs and all that other stuff, so I kept on going, I really started to enjoy it. After a while, I met Phil Fox who asked me if I’d like to join the Tuesday group, which was slightly different from the Thursday one, insomuch as it was a group that worked toward a certain goal, putting on a show, rather than the basic introductory course on Thursdays. I was 40 years old, I’d never seen a play in my life, but with Phil’s support and that of the rest of the people there, I did my first performance a few months later.”

SM;

I’m interested in the ‘dialogue’ going on in your head, prior to performing, what, if any, was the struggle there, for you?

Shiv;

“Fear man, fear, I’ll tell you honestly, a few weeks before the first show I was thinking to myself, I’m not gonna do it, I’m not going to stand up and make a fool of myself, you know? But Phil and all the others were so supportive. It’s mad isn’t it? When I took time to reflect on all the crazy stuff I did in active addiction, but kinda had to just do whatever was required back then. When I was out on the street, or in front of a judge, I was acting ay bloody arse off ha-ha, So, In recovery and certainly with the help of Outside Edge, I learnt to push through the fear, you know, just do it, it’ll be ok.”

SM;

My own experience of working together with Outside Edge was exactly the same, I know how I felt after taking the applause on the first night of my show, how was it for you?

Shiv;

“There’s an inner glow, I have to say the feeling I got was better than any drug I ever took, I mean that. Through the confidence I’ve developed through doing this, it’s helped me in so many other areas. I’ve got a job I’d never thought I’d be able to get, I stand up in front of people at Public Health England and deliver groups, it’s amazing.”

SM;

Thanks for talking to me Shiv.

The members of Outside Edge are a varied bunch insomuch as while ultimately they all stand and take the applause together, their individual journeys to the fully-deserved recognition from an audience on its feet at the end of each show all started from very different places. Different countries, different decades but with the common thread addiction and recovery that eventually brought them all here.

There’s an old adage about alcoholism that states,

“It’s an equal-opportunities ‘employer’; it doesn’t care where it captures you, Park Lane or park bench”

I’m talking to Liam Quinn, a softly-spoken Irishman who has that innate Celtic ability of story-telling and he delivers one of the funniest tales in the show. He reminds me of the Irish comedian Dave Allen with more swearing, he’s brilliant!

“I’d tried everything to try and stop using drink and drugs for years, nothing worked. Eventually, about 11 years ago I decided to try an in-patient detox. I had my last two massive lines of cocaine, finished off a half litre of vodka, a huge bottle of cider, two joints, then made my way up the detox, as one does, they didn’t have to give me any meds for two days!. Anyway, I got through that, did a day program and after a few weeks, it dawned on me, that I couldn’t carry on blaming the world for my problems, I realised that I was the problem. Once I realised that, things started to get easier. During the day program, Phil Fox and Outside Edge came and did a show for us, I was flabbergasted. The show involved audience participation, I stuck my hand up and I guess, from that point onwards, I was involved and that was it. Within six weeks, I was performing on that stage, in front of the next group from the day-program I’d just finished. I’ve been asked this before and I’ll say it again, I’m not saying I couldn’t have handled my recovery without Outside Edge, BUT, it was a good 50% of the help and support I needed.”

SM;

Thanks for talking to me Liam.

I had the opportunity to speak to several other members of the cast who, despite their various social/cultural backgrounds all said something very similar when interviewed.  Due to my own personal experiences, I was not surprised to hear everyone I spoke to talk about a sense of ‘belonging’ that being part of Outside Edge has given them. As it is in ‘recovery’ different ‘things’ work for different people, however It seems that for anyone seeking a sense of belonging with like-minded people who’ve trodden the often, lonely and demoralising path of addiction, The Outside Edge Theatre Company offers the opportunity for anyone, regardless of where they ‘come from’ to perhaps, for the first time in a very long time, to experience a sense of real purpose. You get to join the cool kids, the best gang in town, for me it was better than my childhood dreams of being in The Jam or The Clash! It’s therapeutic tribalism! Admittedly, it’s a pretty colourful and whacky tribe, but I should imagine, that wherever his soul currently resides, Phil fox would thoroughly approve, his legacy continues, he was quite whacky and colourful himself! He’s sadly missed.

Simon Mason.

cast OEhttp://http://edgetc.org/