“I have come to believe that there are infinite passageways out of the shadows, infinite vehicles to transport us into the light.” Martha Beck
On Saturday 28 October I played my last gig with The Warning Shadows – a Halloween special at The Blue Moon in Cambridge. We were headlining and the room was full, which made me feel nostalgic, but I felt that my decision to leave the band, made weeks before, was right. I had a couple of problems with carrying on, one being the music – heavy psychedelic rock – but my fundamental rationale was to protect my recovery. Old friends of mine will certainly find it ironic, but I decided I had to leave the band because there were too many drugs.
Rock and Roll is a strange world. Drug abuse is not only condoned but expected. People like to see these musical misfits living on the edge. They make heroes of them. For many years, imbibing insane amounts of pharmaceuticals was part of my creative and performing process. It was all wrapped up together. My addict brain now tells me I am being hypocritical for using this as justification for my departure but I have travelled a long way since we formed the band nearly three years ago. When we first started playing together, I was still drinking a bottle of whisky a day.
How things change
Two of the other band members are comparatively clean-living, talented musicians, one of whom is my oldest friend who I will continue to play with in a new band; my issues centre on the third. It is sad that this man is probably the most talented musician I have ever worked with. As the front man, he is lead vocalist and also plays guitar and violin (he is also a great drummer). When he is on form, his musical brain is quite phenomenal. Unfortunately, his musical brain is severely hampered by rampant drug use, although It is impossible to say whether he is addicted to one particular substance. This wasn’t a problem for me at the beginning: as he had all the dreams for the band and a massive amount of the talent, I was fine going along with it. However, as I began my voyage of recovery and my confidence grew, I began to feel less tolerant.
The other three of us were also beginning to suffer the consequences of his increasing drug use: the time we spent sitting in our rehearsal room waiting for him to get his shit together and embarrassing gigs when he was too out of it to play properly. At one gig in particular, with cotton wool stuffed up his nose to stop the blood leaking out (due to a three-day coke binge), he brandished a whisky bottle on stage and slurred and stumbled his way through his singing and guitar parts. My wife commented at the time, that he looked like his face was going to slide off. This was the first gig my daughter had been able to attend for some time; it turned out to be something I would rather she hadn’t seen. In retrospect though, I am glad she witnessed it; it made it obvious to me that this incongruity of lifestyles had to be addressed.
Recovery comes first
I have tried hard not to sound angry or bitter in this piece. I hold absolutely no anger or bitterness towards him and am grateful for the times when it was enjoyable. When we all played well, we sounded great. I certainly don’t wish to be judgemental – goodness knows I have behaved in similar ways in the past – but The Warning Shadows stopped being fun. He is well-aware that I am in recovery, yet at a recent gig he held a large glass of whisky under my nose saying, “Go on man, have a drink”. Later that night he pushed a wrap of coke into my hand. I had already decided to leave the band when this happened, but it left me feeling very hurt. I like to think that he was not maliciously trying to undermine my recovery; I am certain that he meant it out of generosity. He is just unable to think outside his intoxicated bubble.
I achieved all I wanted to in the music industry many years ago. The reason I left, back in 2003, was excessive drug use – mainly my own. I have no further ambitions or expectations than to carry on writing and making music, simply for the fun of it. I just can’t be around this sort of behaviour anymore on such a regular basis. It puts my recovery at risk. My only sadness is being unable to use the stunning poster that Aaron Lee Perry designed for us. I have already begun playing with another band. We play reggae, which is far more up my street, so I can still enjoy playing loud music every week, free from pressure or regret.
“There’s no story if there isn’t some conflict. The memorable things are usually not how pulled together everybody is. I think everybody feels lonely and trapped sometimes. I would think it’s more or less the norm.” Wes Anderson