With all that's going on in the world at the moment I have decided that I need to try and be as positive as I can with all aspects of my life. So this is the first such step.
Whilst on tour last month I was checking facebook and one of my primary school classmates posted the sad news that our year 6 teacher Mrs Lang had sadly passed away. For those outside of the UK, year 6 is the final year of our primary education system and you're aged 10 and 11 in that year. Mrs Lang had been teaching year 6 for the whole time I was at the school, I have no idea how many years she was there before that, but I'm assuming it was a long time. She retired at the end of the year in which she taught me. When you started the school aged 4, you couldn't help but being a bit intimated by her and you definitely didn't want to be on the wrong side of her. That said, she was a wonderful teacher and had a beautiful energy about her, especially when it came to music. She led the school singing assemblies which happened every Wednesday morning and every Friday afternoon, but in my mind we used to sing at least one hymn every assembly and she was there sitting at the piano pounding out the keys every time. Her enthusiasm for music was so clear. She looked so happy behind that piano and belting out whatever song we were supposed to be singing. I distinctly remember being 4 years old sitting in the assembly and thinking, "This singing stuff looks fun, I'm going to try it" and so I did. But I didn't just dip my toes in the water, I jumped in head first. I was belting out the tunes and singing as loud as I could, and I loved it! What a feeling!
Now, by the time I'd got to be in year 6 I was already playing guitar and piano and had even performed in a class assembly so the seeds were definitely starting to sprout. I remember our first day in year six and in the top corner of the blackboard were the words "I CAN". Mrs Lang then gave us a big speech about how she never wanted to hear the word "can't" in her classroom. I really enjoyed having her as a teacher, and I think she saw that I was very much the performer. She gave me the role of Mr Scrooge in the Christmas play and I was the Pharaoh (the part everyone wanted to be) in our summer musical version of Joseph and his Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat.
Now, I'm not one of those people who believe they had that one teacher who changed everything for them. I was very lucky to have had a number of very inspiration teachers right up through secondary school and university, but Mrs Lang was definitely the first to inspire me musically, so her death certainly stirred some emotions. It made me realise that I probably should thank some key people in my life for how they helped me, so I've been trying to hunt some down. Now some teachers make finding them online very hard and I understand that, but I'll keep trying.
In particular there was a guitar teacher at my secondary school called Joe Dooley. Now this was a guy who had been performing for years had toured numerous countries and was an all round nice guy. He used to put on concerts for all of his students which were absolutely brilliant. They were a chance for everyone to get up and show their families what they were up to and to be inspired by the older students and seeing what they were doing. I first went to one of these whilst I was still at primary school as my brother was having lessons. I wanted to be on that stage. I was watching people have so much fun and the music sounded brilliant to my untrained ear. Joe had a knack of finding songs for people of all abilities, so everyone sounded great. At first I had lessons on my own, but after a while Joe paired me up with two other guitarists in my year, Chris Miles and Paul McCann. Now I didn't really know these guys as they were in another class, but we got to know each other through these lessons and eventually I formed my first band with them. We had some good times rehearsing in each others houses at the weekends and we started writing songs and doing some small gigs both at the school and a small music club called The Hermit in Brentwood, which allowed young bands to play there and even paid them to do so! These times really were golden, there is nothing quite like being in a small room and making loads of noise with your mates, the fun I had in doing this is one of the main reasons I decided to be a musician. Although I was very confident at the time, my face didn't always fit at school, so I didn't have many friends and people always seemed nervous around me to begin with due to this, but I doubt I would have become friends with these guys and formed a band had it not been for Joe Dooley. He was and is a huge inspiration to what I have become. I found some contact details for him and have reached out. Maybe I'll end up doing a gig with him!
When I was at The Guitar Institute for university I had many great teachers. Their sheer ability alone was inspiring without factoring in how impressive their CV's were. By this stage I was fully committed to a career in music, so the teachers here had a very different affect on me. The one who had the greatest impact on me though was Justin Sandercoe (of JustinGuitar fame on youtube), who I had for one module whilst at the institute but then I had a few private lessons with him. We stay in touch and occasionally go to gigs together. At guitar school there are loads of players who want to play really fast and be really showy with their playing, but I prefer a different kind of guitar playing. My guitar heroes are the likes of The Edge from U2, George Harrison and Neil Young, and this made me an very different from most of the other students. Justin had a shared love of Neil Young and we bonded over the fact that we were both at the same gig at Hammersmith Apollo when Neil Young was touring his Greendale album solo and acoustic. The show was mesmerising for all the right reasons and truly inspirational. Justin told me that after that gig he decided he wanted to try the solo singer songwriter thing himself and I've always loved his songs. The greatest advice that Justin gave me was that when you write your own songs, sing in your own voice. I'm paraphrasing, but I recall him saying something along the lines of, "if you sing in your own voice then no one can tell you it's wrong. They can say they don't like it, but it's not wrong, because that's how the song is supposed to be." This really struck a chord with me, and in 2010 when I started my own singer/songwriting journey, this is what I set out to do. It took me a bit of time to really do this, it's harder than it sounds, but once I was doing it, I definitely felt more confident in what I was doing.
As I said, I have many people in my life who have influenced me and I've had many teachers who have pushed me on in one way or another. I'm grateful to all of them not just the three who I've mentioned. I owe it to all of them to keep trying to be better and never give up at trying to achieve the things that I want to do. I will never be someone who says "I can't"