Nothing bad will happen
Three months ago I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me I’d be playing solo at the same venue on the same night as Jon Gomm in 2015.
It still hasn’t really sunk in now, but it is happening.
I’ve been afraid of singing in public for most of my life. While I’ve played guitar with bands in front of so many people I got over any worries of stage fright, I still couldn’t bring myself to sing in front of even my immediate family or my best friends. I’d just freeze up. I couldn’t open my mouth.
Thinking about that now I can’t really understand why.
When I thought no one could hear me I sang all the time. I love playing and singing. It’s complete and total physical and mental engagement. Time disappears, and only the next beat or the next bar exists.
It might sound airy fairy, but it really can feel that way at times. And maybe that’s the root of the fear: letting go of your local awareness in front of a room of people is a scary idea.
But it’s the only way
If you want to write and play songs but you can’t sing them in front of anyone it’s safe to say you won’t get very far. And that’s fine if you’re happy to stay locked away; for a long time I was.
Maybe because I want to have something to show for the time spent practicing music all these years, and because time is quickly slipping by, I realised I had to confront this fear and figure out how to get over it so I could have a bit of fun with this musician thing.
I know people who freely declare they can’t sing, who have no inhibitions when it comes to letting rip. Sober or otherwise. The key thing to notice is that nothing bad happens to them.
Nothing bad happens
If you sing in public, even if it’s really bad, nothing else bad will happen. I know it sounds obvious and silly, but I had to repeat this to myself over and over again. Nothing bad will happen, nothing bad will happen.
At the end of August, my old friend Craig Harrison moved in to my living room for a week and we each recorded an EP of our own songs.
When it came time to do vocals, he went first and did a couple of tracks. Then I had to record mine in front of him. So I did. Nothing bad happened. I was reminded of a time a year earlier when I’d recorded some backing vocals on a band recording with my friend Jonny Goode. Nothing bad happened then either.
We finished recording on a Thursday. We heard about an open mic night that was happening at The Wildman, and Craig convinced me to go. We bagged our guitars and wandered down early.
I’m not the sort of person who likes to impose myself. Turning up anywhere with a guitar shows at least some intent to impose my music. Invited or not, I felt awkward.
We were greeted as we entered and made to feel very welcome. We’d get a nod when we were up. With beers bought, I nervously twiddled my sweaty thumbs while reading the subtitles on the silenced TV, trying not to imagine my imminent doom.
There’s a nice atmosphere at the Wildman open mic. A real sense of community, and I felt like it was a welcoming one.
Eventually it was my turn. Past the point of no return, I got up and played three of my songs that night. And guess what? Nothing bad happened. A few people even took the time to say nice things to me before I scurried away to the back of the room to relax and enjoy the rest of the music.
Once that was done I’d broken the barrier. It really was that simple. I sang in public and nothing bad happened. Of course nothing bad happened.
I decided the best course of action would be to spend the next few weeks attending every open mic I could find. Sometimes three per week, playing maybe 10 or 12 times.
And then I wasn’t really afraid of singing in public anymore.
Making the decision
The hard part of overcoming any irrational fear isn’t making the decision to face it head on, it’s sticking to that decision. I was lucky that a close friend of mine cared enough to give me the push I needed.
It’s literally been life changing for me. Since then I’ve done so many things I never thought I’d do, even though I wanted to.
Things I nearly didn’t get to do because I had an irrational fear of… what, exactly? I don’t know.
Of gigs and competition
On the 1st of November I played a gig supporting The Subways after winning an open mic competition at The Owl Sanctuary. I also supported Blossoms, a recently signed band from Manchester along with North London’s Decoy Jet.
Because I won the open mic competition BBC Introducing in Norfolk played one of my songs on their saturday night radio show calling it ‘beautiful’, and gave me a mention in day 10 of their advent calendar series.
I’ve met loads of excellent, talented and friendly people playing open mics. Once I staggered home in the early hours after jamming on Hendrix songs unplugged in the city streets with Malzy once the bars closed. That cat can play.
The icing on this cake of musical events is the support slot with Jon Gomm next year. The man is a phenomenal guitarist and being asked to share the bill with him is a massive privilege.
None of this could’ve happened if I was still scared of opening my mouth.
I’m working on new music, and now I’m wondering where to go from here. The thing is I didn’t plan any of this, so I don’t know how to do more. This first three months will be hard to beat.
All I wanted was to not be afraid of singing.
I got that plus a whole lot more.
If you feel like it have a listen on my music page.