What’s Something You’ve Let Go That Once Meant The World To You?
When I was 7 years old I was picked to do a solo in the school choir.
It was the first two lines of the hymn ‘Morning Has Broken’.
I was the only infant picked to sing alone and I was honoured. I remember the feeling of pride and the butterflies in my stomach as I stood up on the battered long wooden bench ready to take a deep breath.
“Morning has broken, like the first morning. Blackbird has spoken like the first bird…”
This was a first. A new sensation and phenomenon. I could see the reaction on the audience faces as I opened my mouth and nailed each note. My tiny freckled faced frame so small against the older children taking centre stage, but so big in presence.
It was the moment I realised I could actually sing.
Three Decades of Song
For the next 30 years singing became a monumental and central part of my life.
Even though mum and dad didn’t have the biggest of family budgets, they allowed me to hone my skill and encouraged my talent with professional singing lessons. My teacher was wonderful. The musical theatre star Alfie Boe was a pupil of his too and I even got to sing along with him at a concert (before he hit the big time).
I wanted to go to stage school but when I was 16 I auditioned for a soul band called The Feelgood Factor and got the job. Soon I was doing gigs most weekends at pubs, weddings and events. £50 here, £100 there sometimes £150 if it was a really good payer.
I hosted and presented events as a radio presenter and would throw in songs here and there. I was a lovely little trick. People knew my speaking voice from the radio but rarely realised I could sing. That same look of shock and awe on an audience face (like I’d experienced when I was 7) would prove to be the ultimate buzz.
I loved the attention. I lapped it up. I’d sing in proper nightclubs with a DJ on the decks, live sax and bongos. I appeared in pantomimes and semi-professional musicals; taking the lead as Sally Bowles in Cabaret or Maria in The Sound of Music.
When I went travelling to Australia and New Zealand karaoke became my hustle. I won cash, food and booze at open mic nights or karaoke competitions. I once even won £3,000 at a karaoke competition and was able to buy my first car.
I sang at friends weddings, funerals, birthday parties, charity events. I even dressed up as Disney princess characters just to release my inner Elsa, or Ariel or Belle.
Quitting the Band
I’ve written about this many times but in October 2016 I had a breakdown. One of the things I did in hazy two week period where I couldn’t mentally function is I walked out on my band. The same band I’d been with on and off, for 18 years. Like many things that crumbled around me at the time, I had just had enough and quit. Even though it was safe and familiar, I couldn’t face performing or many other things in my world that required me to wear a mask or fake it. I needed to hibernate from life for a while.
I always say that my breakdown gave me a wonderful gift in piecing myself back together. I felt like I’d shattered into a million shards but the journey I embarked on, and am still travelling, is examining those shards one by one and working out if they are still true, right and relevant for the new broken me. Will replacing these pieces help me feel whole again?
As an example, before my breakdown I hadn’t eaten meat for 8 years. In my recovery, I realised that not eating meat was me following someone else’s values and beliefs. It wasn’t what I actually believed, so the piece that represented me as a fussy pescatarian? Well that piece didn’t get to be a part of new me and get glued back in.
New me learned that my old need for always being right, or the unrealistic expectations I put on my husband or the fact I wouldn’t accept responsibility and often shifted the blame, well those pieces didn’t make the cut when it came to building new me. Those old parts of me had to go.
A New Singing Opportunity
In April 2017 I was offered the opportunity to pick up the microphone again. Looking back I can see this was too soon in my recovery to make a proper decision. It had only been 6 months since losing the plot but singing had always been such a significant part of who I was, I wasn’t ready to let that go just yet. So I got asked to audition for a new function band and I got the job. I loved it. It was so different to what I was used to and I could feel it was helping my shattered confidence return.
We rehearsed – a lot. A heck of a lot. It took me away from my family but I thought I needed it in my life. We did a photoshoot. A video. We created a brand, a website, a package. The potential money was great and the gigs were high quality.
Now during this whole time of rehearsal and perfecting our act, in the background I was still rehearsing and perfecting the new me. Rebuilding myself and navigating through new mental health challenges was a first. I still suffered anxiety attacks and I agonised over debilitating self-worth issues (I still do – show me any woman these days who has it all together though, right?). As a result I still sang with an iPad in front of me with all the words on. Even though I knew them off by heart. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I could see that iPad was a subconscious physical barrier to keep me safe.
In July 2018 we had a gig booked in and I mentioned to a brilliant coach friend of mine, Shari Teigman, that I “Really should probably put the iPad away”. She agreed. At the last minute I changed my mind. I used it as a crutch again.
A week later I got a phone call from the band to say they’d had a discussion and it wasn’t working out. I was fired.
I’d never been fired from anything in my life. The iPad was mentioned.
I was devastated. We were about to really push ourselves into the wedding market – a sector I’d been working in for a while and it was a sure-fire route to success. I cried. I was low. I felt shit.
I have always known I’m not the greatest singer and my actual voice is nothing distinctive or memorable but my stage presence and stage energy had always been praised. That presence and energy hadn’t been present in the new band, because I just couldn’t paint a mask on anymore like I used to.
A few weeks later I was asked to sing in my local pub. My friends are the landlords and I reluctantly accepted. The panic attacks for three days before the gig should’ve been the warnings I needed. I didn’t listen to my mind or my body. I was going to show the imaginary collective ‘them’ what I was capable of.
On my third track into my set my computer crashed and so did I. I didn’t know what to do, so I just left the stage, headed into the back behind the bar and sobbed. “I just can’t do this anymore. I’m not the same girl.” Big fat tears poured from my eyes and my hot, racing chest felt like it would surely squeeze me nearer to death if it contracted and constricted just an inch more. (I’m typing this out and I can feel that throat crushing lump take form and my eyes start to sting with tears. It was awful).
The broken ‘singing’ piece of me was well and truly loose and shattered. Never to be replaced.
That happened back in August, 6 months ago. I’ve had a long time to think about it since and ask myself if singing is what I want to do again?
I know that right now it really isn’t. I know now that getting fired and letting anxiety grip me was a blessing in disguise.
If I’d pulled myself together, nailed my confidence, ditched the iPad and stayed with the band I’d be in a miserable position where I’d be gigging every weekend and taking myself away from the family. That’s really not what I want right now. Not at this stage of my life as a mum, a wife and a person working hard to build her family home and achieve her goals.
I work too hard and too long in the week to then work all weekend rehearsing, traveling to gigs, loading, performing, unloading. It really takes a lot of time and for what return? Yes the extra cash is nice but I don’t need the validation and praise anymore from an audience of strangers.
Am I sad about it? Hell yes. I could easily have a good sob right now just thinking about it.
Could I still return to it? Yes when and if the time is right, of course I could.
For now though I’ll stick to singing on my Smule karaoke app. It’s brilliant by the way and highly recommended for anyone who loves to sing – whatever your level. You use it from your phone, tablet or computer and you sing into your headphones. It feels like you’re in a recording studio and you can sing with people all over the world or your favourite artist. It’s lots of fun and is good practice too.
Who knows if I will revisit it one day? For now I’m enjoying working on finishing my kitchen complete with disco lights, microphone and karaoke on tap. I’ll still get to spend my weekends singing and perform to an audience but this time I’ll be singing to the faces of my most loved people, iPad in hand AND I won’t need to get dressed up or colour my eyebrows in.