I’m in my bunk on the tour bus. It’s post show and it’s one o’clock in the morning where I am, and 8 o’clock where my wife and children are. I’m trying to get some sleep before our big climb up Vail mountain in the morning, while Jules and the kids are off to Legoland. It’s breaking my heart that I can’t be with them, especially after the ordeal I have just put myself through with Big Country tonight.
I knew it was coming all day and I tried to convince myself that all would be OK with my voice for the show. But deep down, I understood that it wasn’t going to be there. It was hard meeting people earlier in the day, people who have traveled hundreds of miles, from Texas, Argentina, New York, Philadelphia and the UK, to see this band in Denver tonight. Everyone was so friendly and excited and it just put more and more pressure on me. I’ve performed many shows this year, and not once had a problem with my voice. I knew I was heading for trouble.
I gargled a ton of hot honey and lemon before the show and tried to warm the vocal chords up on the bus with my guitar (I even started to write a new song, would you believe it?). It just wasn’t there so I had to walk on stage and hope that the adrenalin would kick in and take me to where my voice can usually go. Not tonight Joesphine! As I started singing, it felt like sandpaper in my throat, which might have worked for Bob Dylan, but not for me and Big Country.
The added pressure of it not being my own band started to play on my mind. I could see the faces of the audience (I didn’t know what they were thinking but I could guess….). I could feel the pressure of singing for Stuart Adamson start to weigh heavy upon my shoulders. I’ve sung with this band for a long time now but tonight, the pressure was on like never before. My job is to sing his lyrics, how he would have sung them, and in my struggle I began to feel like I was letting the band, Stuart, and all the BC fans down. I had to work hard to stop myself sinking deeper into this mire of negativity, which is not an easy thing to do. Especially when a personal struggle is being played out while on stage in front of a live audience. “Alone, but in a crowd” is the lyric that springs to mind.
I was reminded of two Alarm shows in Baltimore and Boston (2004), when something similar happened and I couldn’t recover myself. It was just before I was diagnosed with Leukemia, which kind of made sense after the event. Tonight I have no excuse, yes I had some chemo just before I left for the tour, but that was twelve days ago. I’ve sung my heart out for this band, so tonight I did something I’ve never done before… I opened up to the audience and shared my experience with them. I’ve rarely if ever, had to admit defeat, but tonight I gave in and spoke to the audience about the position I was in. They could not have been more understanding. They lifted me up, to be honest. No one left, the band kept playing and backed me to the hilt. It was good to overcome my pride and be honest with the people in the venue. Liberating, in a strange way.
“A problem shared is a problem halved” is the saying that springs to mind.
With everything out in the open, I was able to stop worrying about ‘performing’ and concentrated solely on the singing. When ever there was a guitar break (and with Big Country, there are lots thankfully), I was back at the drinks station drinking the warm honey and lemon. I said a few prayers in between the songs and slowly but surely my voice started to come alive. The show started to become something more than just another gig.
I went through all the highs and lows tonight from wanting the ground to open up and take me down, to feeling grateful to be alive and being on stage with friends and family. Life teaches many things, and in times of adversity, you often learn the greatest lessons. Between all of us– the band, the audience, and myself, we turned a situation around and made it work. None of us gave in, gave up, or gave way. It wasn’t the best technical show Big Country has ever played, but it certainly was soulful, and from the bottom of the heart. That’s what rock and roll is all about.
My next problem is ….. Will I be able to sing when I wake up tomorrow? For all those people on Vail Mountain, who have engaged with the fight against cancer because of a charity I helped begin called Love Hope and Strength? Oh the pressure….
Love Hope Strength Video Trailer See the video here
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