2013 was a year of incredible highs and crushing lows. At the start of the year I was in the process of completing my HND in Music at Reid Kerr College, and Heart o’ the Run had hit the ground running. Ally McCrae had encouraged us to contact Celtic Connections at our college Christmas gig (December 2012) because he’d been impressed with our set. Within three weeks we’d been told we were to play the festival in late January, booked for the stage in Adelaides, a converted church on Bath Street in Glasgow.
Hogmanay had been and gone, and I was on stage performing with Sound Over Silence in Audio, alongside Momentus*, Monkey Puzzle, and Winterhold**. Our live sets had become increasingly active, mostly thanks to our 4 channel wireless unit; Mikey and I had a tendency to leap off stage and run around in the crowd, dancing with fans, starting pits and rocking out our tunes in amongst the audience. I didn’t notice it at the time, probably because of the adrenaline coursing through my veins, but I had seriously damaged my left leg. I didn’t notice it when I was loading my gear at the end of the night. I didn’t notice it when I was driving home. I didn’t notice it when I got into bed.
By god, I noticed it in the morning. I must have moved slightly in my sleep. I don’t remember waking up, I only remember the excruciating pain. My knee was red and swollen to twice the size it should have been. Being the man [read: idiot] that I am, I decided I’d just stick some ice on it and rest it… I was going on holiday with my brother the next day to Cumbria and I couldn’t be bothered with any fuss. It turned out it was a lot of fuss. I was a nightmare all week, in a constant state of pain and letting everyone know about it. I had brought my recording gear to track some ideas for Heart o’ the Run demos… that didn’t get a look in. When I returned I was taken straight to hospital. After being mistakenly diagnosed with gout, I learned that I had managed to tear my quad tendon just above the kneecap, and that I was to spend the next two months on crutches and heavy painkillers.
That certainly made my Celtic Connections performance more interesting. I’m not the kinda guy who plays guitar sitting down… nor will I sit out on the bench and let someone else take my spot. I did what any self respecting male [read: idiot] would do. I took a range of assorted (mainly prescribed) painkillers 20 minutes before stage time, parked my crutches in the green room, and rattled out the performance, albeit with a little less verve and panache than usual.
This was a significant gig for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it got my newly formed band noticed within the right musical community, which led to a number of higher profile bookings. Secondly, it was where my girlfriend to be decided she’d taken a fancying to me.
For the purposes of this story, I’m going to call her Jane. I’ve never dated a Jane before, so the name seems safe. If you’re called Jane, please don’t take exception to the rest of this article. It’s not about you. It’s about someone who’s not called Jane. I just needed a name. Calm it.
Our first date was an unmitigated disaster. Not because I did anything wrong, and neither did she. It was more the case that we didn’t have one. The night before our date my Dad had a heart attack and was taken to Hairmyres. I was pretty rattled by the whole thing. My head still wasn’t in a fabulous place since I lost my best friend, as I knew him, in a car accident, and I had been leaning a lot on my parents for support. Luckily, our wonderful NHS cardiac teams had the valve reopened and a stent in place within 10 minutes of my Dad’s arrival. 10 minutes. That’s amazing.
I managed to get out to see Jane a day or so later, unwittingly rescheduling our date to land on Valentine’s Day. We hit it off. I truly loved being in her company. We had a few drinks and went for a decent wander around town. I didn’t care that I was walking with a stick, especially when she let me have all the black olives in the dish while we waited on some fabulous grub at the 13th Note. Jane was a gifted artist, an incredible singer, and had a number of recurring roles on Scottish TV dramas. To top it all off, she was drop dead gorgeous. Within a couple of weeks we were seeing each other a few times a week, and had a couple of weekends away. The crushing lows through injury and familial illness had been trumped by an intense romantic endeavour. I was riding a high, and everything felt like it was falling into place.
That May, Heart o’ the Run travelled to Shetland for the Folk Festival. Our fiddler was a local, and she was keen to get home for a few days, and super excited for the festival. Her excitement was well placed. The less enjoyable part of the trip was the ferry from Aberdeen. Four members of the band, including myself, managed to get food poisoning from Subway we’d bought. We all bought the meatball. We all got super sick. No sleep on the boat that night… and we docked in Lerwick at 7am, having been awake for almost 24 hours. Seventeen hours later we took to the stage in the Islesburgh hall, having had absolutely no rest because everyone on the island was so damn hospitable and wanted to feed us whisky. I think that was the first (and only) time I’ve spent 41 hours awake before a show. On the plus side, I spent five days immersed in a supremely talented music culture that draws the most incredible talent in the world. All of this concentrated in a town hall on a rock in the middle of the ocean where the Atlantic meets the North Sea.
Our second show at the festival was simply phenomenal. I mean, we were on form on the night, but the other acts on the bill… there aren’t enough superlatives to throw at them. Son Yambu, a Cuban band from London, played a seriously funky set. Leon Hunt ‘n-tet, a bluegrass band from Guildford, had a chap called Hippy Joe, and he was singularly the best mandolin player I’ve ever encountered. He sang a song about dating a girl with a speech impediment called “Tongue Tied Jill” [in the 2013 Spotify playlist]. It was simply amazing. The Rambling Boys from Ireland were outstanding headliners. The mixture of original and traditional songs, combined with their excellent patter with the audience, was breathtaking. We really felt like an odd incorporation on the bill. The audience muttered as they spotted Jordan walking on stage with an electric bass. They gasped as our drummer removed his top mid set. But they were on their feet and dancing when we delivered our cover of Smooth Criminal. We got the place dancing. It felt like a party. It felt like we belonged.
I made my triumphant return to Glasgow, and headed straight for Jane’s flat. Everything was as we’d left it, and we carried on for another month or two before the cracks began to show. Jane’s Dad was re-marrying and Jane didn’t really like the idea. After a series of what seemed like complete emotional breakdowns it became apparent that there was an underlying problem. Eventually, she told me that she suffered from an addiction to alcohol, and it had been a long standing problem. She had hidden it very well up until this point. Her family had neglected to mention it, asserting that it was her tale to tell if and when she was ready. I didn’t find that helpful at all. I was in love with Jane, she maintained that she felt the same, and I wasn’t going to abandon her.
From that point on it seemed as if my knowledge of her condition gave her more license to exploit it. It’s hard to describe the feelings of being utterly useless, trying to negotiate my way through the letterbox into her flat when the blinds were drawn and she was on her third or fourth bottle of wine. At our lowest point I carried her from the flat to A&E at the Western Infirmary. I sat with her slumped in my arms for nearly 7 hours before they could find her a bed. Over the next three weeks in the ward I made sure she was eating fresh food (she refused the hospital food) by cooking it at home and bringing it in. I was there for her every day while she dried out in her light blue gown.
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After her release we spent the best part of a month doing everything right; clean living and a clean diet. I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol since I was made aware of Jane’s addiction [not the band]. I had been reading about methods for supporting recovery from addiction, and I was trying my damnedest to give her the best possible chance to do that. She relapsed back into it around her birthday, missing her own party in the process. The whole situation seemed completely nonsensical to me. Why would anyone continue to engage in activities with the knowledge that it will lead to their own very immediate destruction, especially given her recent extended stay with the NHS. She was articulate and intelligent, and a gifted creative being. I could not understand why she couldn’t see the writing on the wall.
After a short dry spell, events spiralled out of control again. It culminated at a party in an Uddingston mansion that was hosted by a close friend of Jane’s family. There were a number of her immediate family members there. That didn’t seem to matter, and they didn’t bother trying to stop her. The free bar didn’t help either. I tried to convince her to leave when the nightclub they’d erected in their back garden closed around 2am. Instead I watched her family wander out of the front door. Jane decided she was going to party on until daybreak. I was getting the cold shoulder, so I parked myself by the coffee machine on the breakfast bar trying to keep myself awake for the drive home.
Later that afternoon, the ensuing argument was the last I saw of her for two weeks. Jane decided that she’d had enough of me acting as a barrier between her drink and her lips. I was angered by her decision to break up with me. In retrospect, I was angered because I felt used. I had been there and sacrificed my time and my other commitments to support her. My reward for that was the cold shoulder and a gutless farewell by text message. It hurt because I loved her, at least I loved what I thought she was.
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After the dust had settled, I realised that I’d dropped the ball a bit. The commitments I had sacrificed to support Jane meant that I’d neglected my radio show and the management of my bands, Sound Over Silence and Heart o’ the Run. On one hand, SOS were still regularly rehearsing, but we were struggling with an unreliable singer, missing a series of practices with no notice. On the other hand, Heart o’ the Run’s lineup was proving difficult to maintain because we lacked the structured schedule of college rehearsals to keep us together. The HND was over. People had moved on. To make life just that little bit more interesting, one of my SOS bandmates had managed to get himself into a right state through a combination of booze and tramadol after a gig with his other band. One thing led to another, and he had ended up in front of the Sheriff in Ayr having liberated one of Stagecoach’s vehicles from Ayr bus station. Luckily no damage was done, or harm caused to others, so the silly bugger managed to get away with a few hundred hours community service. Half a decade of relentless gigging had ground to a halt. I felt disconnected from the live scene in Glasgow. It felt like the universe was trying to send me a message; something cutting my losses and taking a new direction. I decided that it was an opportunity to shift focus towards my academic pursuits, intent on completing my degree to the best of my abilities.
Back to ’09-’14: Sound Over Silence.
Back to Timeline.
*Momentus singer Michael Butler was also my radio show’s semi-permanent part-time co-host in 2012.
**I would meet Danny Rudden from Winterhold again when I started my BA in Commercial Music at UWS later in 2013. He would also perform with Sound Over Silence at our final show in February 2014.