It always amuses me when I read a performers biography on their website. They’re always written in the third person, as though someone else is writing about them when you know full well that, with the exception of the elite, it’s the artists writing about themselves, but making it appear as though someone else is telling their story.
So, just to be different, this is my story in my own words. I’m very new to writing original material and performing solo. In fact standing in front of a microphone, just me and a guitar, is something I never believed I could do until recently.
I spent half a lifetime in other areas of the entertainment business chasing the dream. Most notably in the magic world performing for corporate audiences, either as after dinner entertainment or doing close up magic. My enthusiasm waned over time and I left that world behind me nearly ten years ago now. The Credit Crunch of 2008 meant that even big companies who had money daren’t be seen to be spending it on lavish banquets, and many of the big budget corporate do’s moved in the direction of TV talent show contestants singing to backing tracks, followed by a disco.
The only thing I continued to do was to pick up a guitar at home with friends and family and sing a few Richard Digance songs at Christmas or summer barbeques. I’d always admired Richard from a distance and remember him well from his TV appearances in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Although, he cost me a fortune in 2006 when I was shopping for an acoustic guitar. I wouldn’t be without my Martin D-28 now, but I wished afterwards he hadn’t mentioned that was the guitar he played at a concert back then. As soon as I picked one up in the shop, I knew no other guitar would do!
Then came a night that changed everything. Let’s be precise, it was 9th February 2017. We went along to see Richard’s show at The Palace Theatre in Redditch. The first time I’d been to one of his shows since that expensive night in 2006 … which made for an interesting conversation opener when we chatted in the foyer during the interval! My wife told him that I played a few of his songs, and half way through his second set he dragged me out of the audience to play his Martin D-28 and sing one of his songs. Can you imagine it? Totally unprepared, suddenly thrust into the spotlight, stood alongside your hero with his very unique Martin D-28 guitar hanging around your neck. I just about staggered my way badly through his song Trainspotters, and was keen to exit-stage-left as quickly as possible. But three things happened in my mind on my way back to my seat. Three ‘Light Bulb’ moments if you like. Firstly, with his guitar safely back around his neck, Richard played me off with the guitar riff from the Trainspotters song. It was so much more than the simplified version I’d played and it made me realise that, with some effort, I could become a much better player. The second thought that went through my head as I reached my seat was ‘I wonder if I could write something original myself?’ followed closely by ‘I wonder if I could do it? Perform solo, just me a guitar and a microphone’.
And so, thanks to that chance encounter (for which I will be eternally grateful), my new life began. I’ve played guitar since I was a teenager, so I know my way around the fretboard, but I’d never put any work into claw-hammer style or finger picking until after that fateful night in Redditch. I began to write as well, and through various local venues started to perform again. Fortunately I wasn’t starting from scratch. I’d had 20 odd years of standing in front of an audience, although for a while it felt a little odd, and even longer for me to truly believe I could actually do this. Then in May 2018 I was joint winner of the Upton Folk Festival Acoustic Competition, getting my own slot at the 2019 festival, and for the first time having self-belief as a solo musical performer. Discovering the folk world has been a real joy too, I make a room full of new friends with every new club I play at and hopefully more festivals will follow on.
Over the past year Richard Digance has become a friend as well as hero (imagine that!) and I’ll be eternally grateful for his help, support, advice and encouragement in bringing me back from the dead. Meeting and getting to know him has been quite literally life changing for me, although he probably feels a bit like Baron Frankenstein, wondering what on earth he’s created! He also introduced me to Rob Carey, someone who’s become a best friend and collaborator in just a few months. Rob is a fantastic writer but not a natural performer; I’m really good at starting to write songs, but not great at finishing them. So between us we make a great team; Rob on the writing and creative side and me stood up delivering the finished product. I was going to say he’s my Bernie Taupin, but who would that make me?
Along with Rob, I’m steadily building a repertoire of original material. Mostly comedy songs (much to my wife’s annoyance, as she features in several!) with a few poignant and thought provoking serious songs also now creeping in to the set. I make no apology if my original songs and guitar style sound a little Digance-esq. After all, if you’re going to be influenced by someone, then it might as well be the best. And I’m enjoying immensely raising smiles, chuckles and the occasional eyebrow with audiences wherever I play.