So much has happened these past few weeks that I’d almost lost track of the number of “challenges” to raise mental health awareness that I’d actually completed; but after a swift recount, I can confirm that as of today, the number is 110.
The 110th task (which took place last Saturday) to receive a tick was “to sing with a band” – a big enough challenge in itself, but something that was also arranged without Elaine’s knowledge so that the event would come as a total surprise…
As has been the case for the majority of the hundred-plus challenges, I had to ask for help. I know it’s that same old reference or link to the first time I sat in front of my GP and tried to explain just how low I was feeling … but it remains every bit as relevant as it did when the very first task was attempted back in January 2014.
On this occasion, I got in touch with Carl Pemberton to ask if he might be willing to get involved. Although we live just a couple of miles apart, we didn’t know each other; but if you thought Carl’s name was familiar…
He was one half of Journey South, who finished third in the X Factor back in 2005 and whose eponymous debut album reached the top of the charts the following year.
As well as running his own studio, Carl now sings and plays guitar in a band called V12; and he kindly agreed to help me get on stage and sing a song at one of their upcoming gigs.
If he’d heard my voice in advance, the answer may have been different, but after choosing a song (“All the Small Things” by Blink 182), I drove down to meet my new “band mates” (Jason and Adam play bass and drums respectively) and Carl’s wife Vic who was in charge of all things managerial and technical.
We had a quick chat about the reasons behind the challenges before a first full run-through of the song. At this point I should say that my singing voice is actually really deep (and incredibly manly … obviously), and I had to sing an octave below Carl. As an 11 year-old, I was in the school choir and had an angelic treble voice to match my equally angelic looks. Sadly (as I’m sure you’ve already guessed) things went badly downhill in both the vocal and facial departments during my teens. My voice hasn’t deteriorated too much over the subsequent decades … oh well; one out of two…
The first attempt went far better than I expected – as did the second – and Carl and I arranged to have one further session a week or so before the actual performance (which was to be at The Fox Inn in Guisborough on 12 May).
Elaine had been at work for that initial rehearsal, but that wouldn’t be the case for the next one. I made up what I thought was a plausible excuse to pop out for an hour, and Carl and I duly recorded an acoustic demo version of the song which would help me practice on the trips to and from work during the week.
Carl reassured me that I was not only in tune, but actually the two different pitches blended together surprisingly well. In fact, he told me twice because I didn’t believe him the first time…
I wasn’t totally convinced the second time if the truth be told!
Anyway, the plan was that Carl would do a bit of an introduction and get me up on stage during the second half of the performance at The Fox. The only problem was that as Elaine was still blissfully unaware of what was about to happen, Vic, the band and I would all have to ignore each other so as not to arouse any suspicion!
Once the evening got underway, V12 sounded fantastic; but with every passing song, I was getting more and more nervous. The biggest of a number of worries was finding the right first note – start in tune, stay in tune; but what was becoming clear was that at full volume, I almost certainly wouldn’t be able to actually hear if I was in tune or not!
Elaine knows me incredibly well and she later admitted that she was wondering why I was wearing a black t-shirt (was it just to look “trendy”?); why I hadn’t gone to say hello to the band (because I’m a sociable chap), and why we hadn’t left at half time (I usually get tired…). However, the possibility that I might actually get up and sing had never crossed her mind.
Carl said a few words, and on hearing my name, all the pennies dropped at the same time. “You’re not…?”
Up on stage, it was just a case of going for it. A short guitar intro, I opened my mouth … and it was Barry White meets Blink 182 – sort of!! As expected I couldn’t hear my voice, but I didn’t sense that I was off-key, and Carl wasn’t giving me any funny looks, so I just decided to do my best and enjoy the next two-and-a-bit minutes.
And I definitely did – even though it all went in a bit of a blur. There weren’t too many in the audience – in fact the whole of Guisborough was really quiet for a Saturday night – but the reaction was great (or so I was told; I actually can’t remember!). As I returned to my seat, the first thing I had to do was to apologise to Elaine for the previous weekend’s white lie; Vic then came and sat down with us, relieved I think that she no longer had to pretend we didn’t know each other!
The gig ended with covers of two U2 songs – far from easy to play or sing, but the guys nailed them … really impressively. Afterwards, it was introductions all round and a chance for a chat and a couple of pictures, before the curtain came down on the briefest of careers as a rock singer.
I honestly can’t say a big enough thank you to Carl, Jason, Adam, and to Vic as well. V12 are a superb band made up of three top-class musicians; they absolutely didn’t have to get involved, but I’m so glad that they did – and it was a memorable experience.
This blog unintentionally coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week, although really this week shouldn’t be any different to the other 51 as far as talking about mental health is concerned. I know how difficult it is to be open about how you feel, and how much courage it can take to ask for help; but I also know what can be achieved if you can find the strength to take that first step.