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Going deaf didn't stop my passion for music

Posted on March 27, 2019

This is a fairly difficult blog post for me this week, I would like to talk about something that happened to me back at the tail end of 2015 and I am still learning to deal with it to some degree today.

I had just completed a pretty long European tour, working as stage manager and back-line technician (guitar tech etc). The tour was a pretty impressive package if you are into extreme metal music; it was the ‘Deathcrusher’ Tour featuring Carcass, Obituary, Napalm Death, Voivod and Herod. As you can imagine a pretty noisy and chaotic package of bands. It was a really fun tour; with some standout moments including one of the best shows I think I have ever worked on. However I found it pretty grueling, being stage manager/technician meant that I was first in the venue every day and usually the last out. Making for some insanely long days. Even after long nights of partying and sometimes no sleep at all.

This tour was a particularly hard one for a number of reasons, long hours, I partied harder than I should have, five bands and crews squished into two pretty old and unreliable tour buses and no real personal space or escape. There were some very memorable moments, including playing in France just days after the Bataclan nightclub shooting, where one of my friends who was a merchandise seller lost his life. The tour finally finished up, I came home, hugged my wife and kids, unpacked my suitcase, washed all my black T-Shirts and went straight out on the road with another band ‘Orange Goblin’.

Orange Goblin have always been one of my favourite bands to work with, a bunch of real characters that are always so incredibly grateful for the work I could do for them. The tour was going to be great fun, Bill Steer from Carcass was opening each night with his other project ‘Gentleman’s Pistols’ and my own drummer from Keepers Brew Stu Fisher (Hole, Courtney Love, Ozric Tentacles etc.) was filling in on drums for them. On paper this should have been the best tour ever. However, I was tired, my brain was pretty fried and I hadn’t really accounted for how mentally exhausted I had become.

On the second or third date of the tour we headed to Portsmouth, just down the road from where I live in Southampton, which meant my wife Chrissy was going to be able to come to the show, so I was super excited. The bands sound checked, then we headed over the road for a pint and a roast dinner. This really was turning out to be the perfect day. Before long it was show time, ‘Gentleman’s Pistols’ had finished their set, it was time to clear them off the stage and get ready for Orange Goblin. This is when everything changed. I still have nightmares (literally) about the next hour and a half.

Now for those of you that don’t know Orange Goblins music, they are pretty much rock n roll personified, big loud heavy riffs. In fact I used to joke with Joe the guitarist how his guitar amp setup alone was louder than the whole of Carcass! I turned on his Marshall stack, plugged in his SG and started to line-check. But something was wrong. The tone was dull, quieter than normal and certainly not right! I tried dialling in more bite and top end, but it was no use. I believe (my memory is shaky on some of this) I asked Joe to check his amp and weirdly was told everything was fine and ready to go. So the band walked on stage to the usual thunderous applause and kicked off the set.

The guitar still sounded really dull, no top end at all. Then the drummer’s cymbals seemed to disappear almost completely, I remember this very well, as it really was the strangest experience. One by one all of the instruments started sounding duller and quieter, then … nothing, absolutely nothing, except for a tinnitus type ringing and a general feeling of unease. I couldn’t hear. I was deaf!

Luckily my wife Chrissy was still at the show and was able to drive me home and get me to the hospital, where I was put on quite an extreme dose of steroids to try and repair any damage to my ears as quickly as possible. Audiograms were taken and I was given hearing aids. Within a few days, I could hear enough to converse with people as long as I had my new hearing aids in and was facing the direction of whoever was trying to talk to me. So of course, like an idiot, I went straight back out to finish the tour.

I set up the stage each day, re-strung the guitars, then left the building at stage time to avoid anymore volume, handing over the stage to Ben Bowers who was tour managing and teaching for the opening act, luckily Ben himself is a well seasoned and qualified tech and I knew the band were in good hands.

There was one more night on this tour that I will never forget. We were in Manchester and my very good friend Rob Heilig (incredible tech and engineer) who lived locally came out to grab some tacos and a beer with me.  While we were out and about one of my hearing aids managed to fall out, I put on a brave face and just made sure I was pointing my ‘good ear’ (the one still with a hearing aid) towards anyone trying to converse with me.

We wandered back to the venue, where I believe it was Martyn, Orange Goblin’s bass player, standing outside. Martyn asked how we both were and what we up to, I explained that we were looking for my missing hearing aid. Martyn’s face looked rather apprehensive as he pointed to a small bunch of plastic and electronics that were smashed into pieces on the floor by our feet. “It’s not that is it’?” … Of course it was. Up until this point I had dealt with this all seemingly well, I had been fighting away all the negative voices that had been creeping up in my head. However upon seeing this, I lost it, I cried, I walked off and screamed at the absolute hopelessness. This night will probably haunt me for a longtime. This was me at my lowest, I was crushed just like that tiny little audio lifeline that was in pieces on the pavement. Thankfully the tour was over in just a few days, and I returned home to my family broken. As you can imagine, when something like this happens, there were a LOT of hospital appointments, Doctors, audiologists etc., hearing aids followed by new hearing aids, followed by more damn hearing aids.

This is probably a really good point to tell you guys about my daughter Daisy, I have four children, three boys and one girl. At the time Daisy would have been around ten years old. Daisy has hearing complications and has done since she was very little. So much so that she has worn haring aids in both ears now for many years. She lip reads brilliantly and deals with the whole situation amazingly. This was my inspiration to carry on, if my little girl can deal with this stuff everyday, how dare I make a fuss about after just a few weeks. I had always told her it didn’t matter and that she can do anything she wants. If I didn’t try and do the same then I was a huge hypocrite.

It was also at this time that I had also decided to reopen my folder of demo ideas for the new Keepers Brew album. (My own music project that I had just started work on for album number two, ‘Constellation Automation’) I had to find a way to still make music, music makes up so much of who I am, it was unthinkable that I could just stop.

My good friend and great drummer Steve Mitchel had recently started renting a place just a stone throw from my house. We decided that we would set up a little studio in his spare room and see what happened. In the past I had written the first Keepers Brew album on my own at home and then taken it to a commercial studio to polish and produce. I knew however that this time, I needed to work with someone I could trust. We set about finding ways to still be able to write and play music.

I should add, that by this point I had regained a small percentage of my hearing and with the hearing aids and/or my in ear monitors that were tuned to my audiogram to help fill in the missing information, I was able to hear some sounds. Not all sounds but it was no longer just a blanket of silence.

I started out by adding a ‘Subpac’ to my studio rig. A wearable sub speaker that is silent and allows you to feel the bass against your body. For a bass player this was incredible, it felt like I was standing in front of a cranked bass stack. I could feel the punch; this was a very good start!.

The next step was to add some better audio visualisers to my DAW (Logic: Digital Audio Workstation) so I could now feel and see the results of my playing. I was now seeing, feeling and sometimes hearing the bass. This new perception opened up a a new set of issues, none of my current basses were quite doing the trick for me, mostly because they were all so different, I had gotten to a point where I liked to use a different bass, depending on the genre/nature of the track I was playing. However, as I was learning how to trust my body, my eyes and my hearing aids I needed something very different, something balanced and versatile. I wanted to switch from using multiple basses to just the one. One that I could understand through and though and trust to give consistent results. After much deliberation, research and talk with bass designers and builders I purchased an awesome new custom bass from Overwater Basses.

The wonderful people at Eden bass amps sent me a lovely posh preamp unit (World Tour Pro Pre-amp) and I started to build the rig that I use today. With these new tools and the trust I had working with Steve, I began the long and strange process of writing the album.

‘Tune in’ for part two of this blog, in a few weeks, where I go into more detail on my studio/live set-up, my not so gradual hearing recovery and how the mental health fallout from this experience helped me to spiral into some pretty dark times, how I am learning to cope with my mental health issues and what the future holds.

For more info, check out these links

By greyum.may

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