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Welcome to our new People of WaterBear series. A chance for you to get to know more about the industry veterans you'll learn from at WaterBear. Asking everything from how they got started, their inspirations, lessons from working in music and much more.

First in our series is Head of Guitar, Sam Bell, a leading UK session guitarist and educator.

When I was 5/6 years old, I was obsessed with early Rock’n’Roll and I saw the West End Production of the Buddy Holly story. I love the show, but I was more pre-occupied by the musicians recreating the sound of the music I’d listened to on my parents' vinyl player at home. It was magic! I wanted to do that. I started writing cheesy little songs, playing for family & friends. I'm still doing that now!

Life in general! I love being in nature, I love 90’s video games, I love abstract art and comedy. Musically, I’m really into what top session players get up to, how they can be creative under pressure. I keep going back to Hendrix, Paul Gilbert, Vai, Tame Impala and Talking Heads. It's cheesy to say that I love all music, but I can find something I enjoy in most genres as long as it's got heart.

I write tunes for progressive metal band Mask of Judas - we have an album called ‘The Mesmerist’ which I’m proud of. It's very over-the-top 8-string guitar stuff. I’ve also released my own singles/EP’s of progressive instrumental guitar music. A few years ago, I made a low-fi synthwave-inspired EP called ‘The Earth Completes Another Rotation’. I’ve also been involved in creating lesson courses for LickLibrary. This is always fun; last year I taught a course on Rush’s ‘Moving Pictures’ album. Previously I’ve made courses  featuring Paul Gilbert, Paganini’s 16th Caprice on Guitar, 7-String Guitar Secrets, Tapping Arpeggios and much more. I'm currently creating a course on David Lee Roth’s ‘Eat 'Em and Smile’. I’ve played many guest solos on various people’s albums, mostly in the Instrumental Metal/Rock genre. And I’ve done many sessions from home for all kinds of things - from Rock Operas to Singer Songwriters. I love it. I also helped structure the Guitar Techniques course for WaterBear!

I’ve been fortunate to have had some wonderful times in music. To be honest, I’m always proud of the people I get to play with, hearing how it all comes together. I feel lucky to play and work with some wonderful people. That’s what I’m proud of. One moment personally that took me back a bit was getting the job at LickLibrary. Andy James got me in to do some 8-string stuff for the magazine. From that moment my career changed a lot. He was very kind to give me that opportunity.

One of my tutors in my early 20’s was a fantastic player and all-round super gentleman Paul Bielatowicz. He put me forward to Bruce in the very early days of the creation of WaterBear. Meeting Bruce and learning about his vision for WaterBear was very refreshing; I’ve learnt a lot from Bruce. I love the vibe of the whole thing and I love being part of this amazing team. It’s a huge honour. The students are wicked, they keep me on my toes. They always introduce me to new music and ask really insightful questions. The standard of player these days is fantastic. It's an honour to play a small role in helping students on their musical journeys.

There was a time that I had drunk so much Matcha Tea before a show (I had previously done a 500-mile round trip as designated driver) that when I went on stage, after the curtains opened, I couldn’t move my feet or legs! I couldn’t feel my heart beating and everything was super slow. I thought I was passing out! Don’t overdo the caffeine!

Deep down I feel as though there is going to be a huge return of live music after this pandemic has passed. People are thirsty for it. The shows might be in smaller venues, there may still be restrictions. But I think everyone is going to appreciate it much more. It's going to mean more to a lot of people here in the UK.

Michael Sembello – ‘Bossa Nova Hotel’. He wrote ‘Maniac’ (which is on that album). He learnt guitar from Pat Martino, who wrote a bunch of stuff for Michael Jackson, George Benson and many others. He played guitar on Stevie Wonder's ‘Songs in the Key of Life’.

Big thanks to Sam Bell! Check out our unique departments and other amazing tutors here.

I come from a very small village outside of Reading and I was never surrounded by musicians.  I thought I was going to be a footballer as I had the chance to play for Reading Young Royals, however, a few obstacles and injuries got in the way of this. But looking back, I was interested in music before I even knew it. My mum was into the sound of Motown and I wouldn’t go to bed unless there was music playing when I was young. Primarily, I wanted to be a drummer but there was no way I'd have been allowed a drum kit in my house. So I picked up a guitar instead. I studied music GCSE and A-Level, however during my GCSE's I was told that I would fail at music as I couldn’t read it. We could never afford guitar lessons when I was growing up, so everything I know is self-taught by ear. My tutor was very strict and ‘old school’ with how you grasped an instrument and scrutinised the way I had learned, however, I worked hard studying my theory and I passed.

Unfortunately, my A-Levels didn't go as planned. I used to help look after my grandfather during this time but he sadly passed away the day before my music A-Level exam from bowel cancer.  I was very close to him so naturally, I went into quite a dark place after this; I wasn’t focussed on anything, especially my music. My mum moved away shortly after this to Tenerife – she has muscular dystrophy so for her, moving somewhere hot was good for her. To top things off, the day before my mum moved away, I was made redundant by my retail job which was my only source of income. This was a scary time for me, which made me focus more on what I needed to do to get by from day to day and keep myself alive, rather than what I wanted to do. At this point, I very much believed that I would just be a bedroom guitarist.

Anxiety has always affected me in my life and often stopped me from doing things that I wanted to do. I think this might be why I like rock and metal music so much; to me, it’s a way of letting things out. I also felt like I fitted in with the ‘outsiders'. So at 21, I was working in retail and sales however, I started to write songs using a USB recording interface. I was never one of those guitarists that just wanted to shred, I was much more intrigued by the melody. I started to write soundtrack styled music, which was picked up for a short trailer for Reading’s 48 hour Film Festival. I spent a couple of years doing this before I realised that all I wanted to do was play live. Thankfully, this was one aspect of my life that didn't get affected by my anxiety.

I played alongside a few musicians but the bands that were formed never really lifted. However, my bassist and I continued to write and we put out a guitar and bass playthrough on YouTube and so many people wanted to get involved. This is when ‘Transients' was born in 2017. The band started to move forward really quickly from then, however, I began to suffer quite badly with panic attacks with my day job. One day I came home and just burst into tears because I just felt like I had nothing left. I then saw a video by Damian Keyes talking about this new college that had just opened up. So, from the support of my girlfriend, I quit my day job and sent WaterBear a speculative email, not expecting to hear anything back due to my poor grades, etc. I spoke with Bruce and he could see how passionate I was about music and gave me an offer. This blew my mind because for so long my anxiety and lack of confidence in myself had put me off ever pursuing a career in music. A plan was then made for my band with the help of Bruce and WaterBear, which then turned into our first EP. Our first show turned out to be a headline slot, which was very unusual for a brand new band – and it ended up selling out! I’d never played in front of people before which was huge for me.

So, now I'm here studying at WaterBear, I was in the first-ever BA pilot group and I’m going into my second year. What’s great is that if I’m having a bad day, the flip learning that is offered at the college means that I can still be a part of it and not miss out too much. Transients have gone on to play Breaking Bands festival and BLove festival to name but a few and the band is picking up fast. To top it all off, I ended up coming out of my first year at WaterBear with 3 1sts and for someone who was told when they were just starting that they wouldn't succeed in music, this was a boost for me.

I feel like I have a lot to give in regards to the business side of things. I'm interested in building campaigns, however, I'm not entirely sure yet. Whilst I'm studying, I want to look at ways to expand my skillset with lots of different income streams and have a portfolio career.

My advice for anyone that's been in or is in a similar health position to me would be to just talk to someone. Look at all of the options that are there, look at places like WaterBear and come and talk to the people and see what they're offering. There are a lot of things out there that are available that people don't necessarily know about so, just don't let it win and keep going.

People of Water bear are characterised by great team spirit and perhaps we are drawn to work together by shared convictions, and a certain spirit of adventure. No one embodies those characteristics more than 23-year-old drummer, singer and trailblazer Jodie Amos. This is her amazing story: 

"I missed 8 months of my course - and I was in a wheel chair for a year. It gave me time to really think about what I wanted to do and what I was able to do. I think this is what gave me my drive."

I was brought up with my Mum and Dad on the Isle of Wight, listening to Rock Music which is where, aged 10, I got the idea about drumming. I was also obsessed with the Disney Tarzan soundtrack when I was little, which was all Phil Collins, who I love. I liked the idea of singing and drumming.  When I was young, I used to hang around with boys a lot, and they all wanted to play drums when we had the option of learning an instrument of our choice. There were 30 of us drummers who started, and that first Christmas when I was 11; I was given a drum kit.  It was hidden in my Nan’s loft and I thought it was just amazing.

 I also picked up piano and saxophone to the eventual detriment of my GCSEs however, I went on to Platform One (music college on the Isle of Wight and great friends of WaterBear) to study a two-year BTEC. I had no other interest in anything. 

The opportunity came for me to demonstrate my multi skillset when the lead singer in my band ‘BaDow' left just as we got selected to audition for a main stage slot at Bestival. I was used to singing backing vocals so I gave it a shot singing lead and we got the gig! I was on the main stage at Bestival at 17 years old and I’d never gigged as a singing drummer before. It was amazing.

 All things have their ups and downs and during this time, I started feeling pain in my hips which affected my drumming.  I had put all my eggs in one basket with my drums/music, I didn’t have any other qualifications, and this was really worrying. I couldn’t carry my kit because I couldn’t lift it, and people commented that I was ‘a groupie’ or said I was ‘getting the lads to do the hard work’ for me. I didn’t have an answer to those comments, as I didn’t know why my hips used to dislocate or hurt so much. Eventually, I saw a specialist in London and I found out that I had Hip Dysplasia. I had seven procedures before they acknowledged that this was a worst-case scenario situation, and as I was too young to have a hip replacement, I had to have major operations. This was during my second and third year of the degree and I had both hips broken, repositioned and pinned in the correct place.  I missed 8 months of my course - and I was in a wheel chair for a year. It was devastating, however it gave me time to really think about what I wanted to do and what I was able to do. I think this is what gave me my drive.

I chose to have my hip operations annually in January so I could recover and still gig during festival season. I remember being lifted from my wheel chair onto my kit for an audition for the Isle of Wight festival. I could only use the bass drum leg as my left hip had been operated on that year, so I locked off the hi-hat and played through the pain. I put myself through it. I spent a year of my life in a wheel chair. I got stares and I lost my independence and my dignity. I graduated having had the screws taken out in time, which was great but throughout that period I hadn’t been able to push my band as much as I’d have liked.

I hated to admit it, because it was all I’d known, but in order to pursue a career, I knew I had to leave the island.  When you are brought up there you are so sheltered but you don’t even realise it. It was a huge leap of faith to move to Brighton at 23 to work at WaterBear.  I was amazed that shops stay open after 5pm and I thought if I walked anywhere on my own I’d get mugged or worse. But I’ve changed, I feel stronger, I’ve done that transition and I’m happy with what I’ve achieved.  At 23 after major operations and graduating from my BA and MA, working in an industry I love for a company I love - that’s very rare.

 My future? I love event management, festivals, playing and organising and I want to experiment more with the kit, bringing in keyboards, as well as singing. I would say to others on the Island (and beyond) not to be afraid to ask for what you want. When I was chasing this job I was always worried that I was nagging. (Bruce comments ‘it was borderline’ then laughs). I also scored a tour manager job with YouTuber George Holliday by going the extra mile. 

I’ve always been told that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. You just have to go for it, what’s the worst that can happen?


WaterBear Masters class of 2019

Ben Ash – "I was too nice to be a 'bad boy', but too bad to be a normal guy."

It's very strange, but I still remember hearing 'Phantom of the Opera' by Iron Maiden on a Lucozade advert and at the same time really digging the Jive Bunny and the master mixers mash-ups of old 1950's rock n roll.

My mum was the person who encouraged me to listen to music, we used to watch Top of the Pops together and I remember loving everything about it. My first exposure to death metal was hearing Cannibal Corpse on the movie Ace Ventura and being really into it. As a teenager, Mum used to go to car boot sales and pick up a selection of death metal tapes and bring them home for me. Unknowing to her, selections like 'The End Complete (Obituaty), 'Spiritual Healing' (Death) and 'Symphonies of Sickness' (Carcass) were amongst the selection and all classics.

On the strength of the opening Riff to 'Live Wire' by Motley Crüe, I wanted to play guitar, so much so that my first book I ever bought was '25 great Van Halen Guitar Solo's', not the songs, just the solos. I had no idea what a chord was because all I wanted to play was solos!

My Grandad Jim Ash (RIP) enrolled me at a music college, which is where I met Bruce. After graduating with a Higher Diploma, I was on my own, painfully naïve and didn't realise that now was the time to put the work in. I ended up working in a garden centre, and also working at an off-licence and various other retail jobs and I felt like I had no direction. I found it difficult to understand why I was not yet successful so I started to make YouTube video's to promote myself as a tutor. One of the topics was 'Unsung Guitar Heroes' who were not in the spotlight and putting my spin on what made them great in my opinion.

During this period, Jeff Walker (vocals/bass player for Carcass) saw one of my videos that I had made on Bill (Steer, guitarist for the band).The band was going through a line-up change, and looking for a new guitarist. They got in contact with me and I played with them a few times in rehearsals. After a while, I realised I had got the gig, even though no one actually told me directly.

So, I was now playing shows across the UK and America to crowds of 15,000+ people and the first year was truly stunning. However, the rock n roll lifestyle came at a price. My friends back at home were no longer inviting me to events because of my new behavior. I was too nice to be a 'bad boy', but too bad to be a normal guy. I soon realised that I was drinking too much and my health was suffering. I developed a severe case of Alopecia through stress, as well as other health issues leading to me being truly unhappy. I also realised that even though I was there in body, my mind was elsewhere, meaning that I was not actually in the room.

Due to these issues and others, after 5 years, I decided to leave Carcass for my own well being. I decided to come away from the touring circuit to get back into an education role after contacting Bruce who informed me about the developments of what is now WaterBear | the College of Music and focus on study, as well as individual music projects. I had no other band to go to so this was a massive decision. This had done a full circle – I came into a massive band from nothing and I'd left a massive band back to nothing. I needed to regroup and rebuild myself and karma was to be on my side after the storm.

Halfway through the course another gig came up, with Norwegian Black Metal band Satyricon. At this point, I'd decided that I'd been there and got the T-shirt with touring and was trying to change my life. The universe had other ideas. I was invited back to the touring cycle with another well-established extreme metal band that was of the same generation as Carcass but from a different genre. In between gigs and rehearsals I worked on finishing up my Masters dissertations, which was very challenging, but without it, I doubt I would have taken the gig (or any other for that matter) due to my fractured mindset.

But here I am now, I have got my health back, finished my Masters, played main support to Slayer with BOTH Carcass and Satyricon. What next? With more balanced experiences under my belt, I am going to pursue practicing as a current musician, not a 'has been'. I feel very fortunate that despite the ups and downs I traveled the world, met/worked with some of my childhood heroes and with a firm foot forward in the future. As I say to everybody, keep rocking, stay inspired, be safe and never be afraid.

"During my work at WaterBear it never fails to humble me when I look at the quality of the students on the programmes. ‘Students’ seems such an unsatisfactory word to use, as I learn at least as much from them as they do from me. But I suppose that’s what it’s all about:  a community of like- minded professionals concerned with social enterprise, being creative and getting things done together.  Living life on our own terms.

 However there is an inevitable element of personal struggle inherent in a creative life lived well.  Take interviewee Dan Hicks for example, today I found our he had a bad motorbike smash in 2011 leading to severe brain trauma and endured many years of recovery. Today he had compiled a MA and is back to working in music full time.  This is his story".

Bruce Dickinson, July 2019.

Dan Hicks MA Music Industry Enterprise and Innovation class of 2019

I grew up in a very creative family, throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90s my Grandad was a session bass player, seven years on the road with Eric Clapton as his bassist, he worked with Henry Mancini and Joan Armatrading to name a few. So right from a very young age I was surrounded by musicians and that creative life. From 3 months old I sat on my Grandad’s lap and he would grab my arms and pretend to play drums, I got my first kit at four, played in church loads and started my first band at 14. I played drums until I was 19 years old, session stuff and first small tours at the age of 16. I felt like I had no choice, I wasn’t pressured in to it, it was just in the blood.

 It was either do music and give it a go, or be miserable.

 At age 19 I found I loved singing even more than drums. That’s where the band Mordecai started and I found my place at the front of the stage. I really found my stride at age 21 when I started playing guitar as well.

Everything we ever did was DIY, except my old man managing us, which looked professional for the gigs that needed it. We never had a label or booking agent, always DIY. Even now, I’m reluctant to sign a deal because there’s a lot I know I can do myself.  From 2005- 2011 there were the usual line up changes, but we made progress gigging a lot, working with Producer Chris Tsangarides (Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest) and pushing tons.

But in 2011 I had a nasty motorbike accident, afterwards my memory lasted 30 seconds and the doctors suspected a brain hemorrhage, my hand and foot were badly injured and the doctors said I probably wouldn’t be able to remember lyrics or play guitar again. My IQ had dropped down to 63. That was 8 years ago and I was 25.

The physical recovery wasn’t too bad at all, they pinned my hand in traction for 8 weeks and I put my guitar next to the TV. I wanted it out. I didn’t put it away. The day they took the pins out they gave me exercises to do. They said it would take 6-8 weeks to be able to touch the tip of my fingers to the pad on my palm, and then I could consider playing guitar again. I managed to do that in 6 hours and was playing guitar that day. I wasn’t going to have anyone telling me what I and or can’t do.

I was diagnosed with having PTSD as a result and had to have four year’s worth of psychological brain training.  The main issues I had were coping with highs and lows of emotions. I would watch an advert on TV and it would make me cry. Being in the music industry is tough enough as it is, without that. And the industry was changing fast. I suppose my brain training allowed me to cope and get on with it.

A year after the accident, in 2012 through Andy Copping, we got our first slot at Download Festival and were booked two years running with no management, label or booking agent. In 2013 was the Red Bull stage, we played to about 6000 people, but that was the time that the industry was turning, and after Download it felt like we couldn’t get a look in anywhere decent. We still had to choose between playing for £30 or for free, or not at all.

2015 we released the EP ‘Valour’ with Producer John Mitchell (You Me at Six, Architects, Enter Shikari) at Outhouse studios. Working with John was the best studio experience I’ve ever had and the result was the best release Mordecai had produced.  Then Metal Hammer cover mounted the single on their ‘Best Of British Unsigned’ CD. But two weeks later Metal hammer wouldn’t even review the EP. We realised how fickle the industry could be.

We played shows with bands like Fightstar, Opeth and Wes Borland and had done pretty much every major rock festival in the UK at least once - Ten years of hard work, great experiences, huge gigs and supports and yet we found the Industry still didn’t want to know. So we slowed it down and in 2016 I more or less gave up on music.

I had two years of playing 3 or so show’s a year. I wasn’t in a good place. I’d lost motivation for anything creative. We were all very burnt out with it all. What kicked me back into gear was a relationship ending, which meant that not only did I have to rebuild everything from ground up, but also it meant I could start fresh. The big push was also from a phone call with Nikki Smash (The Rocket Dolls). He reignited the fire, introduced me to WaterBear and everything that was going on. He kicked my arse. I told him I was done with music and his response was ‘no you’re not’. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without Smash’s input.

I started Caine in 2018 and we’ve been through some inevitable line up changes. This year we played Breaking Bands Festival with a couple of friends standing in, they only had 2 weeks of prep time. Everyone in the band had ten plus years touring experience and it felt great. Especially having Nikki there, someone who had my back. It felt very fresh and the response was fantastic.

Now I have given up the boring day job. I’m turning my dissertation into a book, Caine is heading in to the studio soon and I have rekindled a fire for a project that we’re revealing at the end of the summer. I’m working part time in a college as a performing arts technician and going out more and more as a Tour Manager and guitar tech with some great bands.

The journey that I’ve gone through, I wouldn’t change anything. Crap as some of it was, without the recovery from the accident and the let downs I’ve had from the music industry I probably wouldn’t have experienced things like Download in 2013 or completed a Master’s degree for instance. I wouldn’t change a thing.

I was born in Kuwait to Egyptian parents and moved to Bangor in N. Wales aged 3. At age 9 we moved to Saudi Arabia, because of my Dad’s work. Saudi is (Rasha pauses and chooses her words carefully and finally decides on..) patriarchal. Women weren’t allowed to drive or vote when I was there. Plus, they didn’t nurture creativity as it was a ‘call to the devil’. It felt unfair and it turned me into a rebel, however I was a rebel that got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and ended up rebelling on my own health…

Anyway, at 17 I had a chance to get back to the UK to study. I did everything a teenager did, just a bit compact. I had a lot of fun and the parties took over from the studying. One day I got a knock on the door, it was the police. I was in the UK on an Egyptian passport with a student visa and they wanted to deport me for not attending college. Biggest reality wake-up ever as I had no idea how fragile my passport was and just thought I was like any of my friends who were also experimenting with occasionally bunking off college.

I appealed and at the same time I began to question my identity. The appeal went on for two years. In the meantime, on the way to Glastonbury via Bristol I met a band called The Moonflowers, they taught me how to play music. it was like WOW; my freedom of expression had begun. I started to play in bands and tour, but it couldn’t go anywhere because of this deportation thing, so I decided to leave first and sort out my papers, before they kicked me out. 

I went back to Egypt and it took three years before I could get back the UK. I came back with a quest for all things music. I was searching for the answer to the question ‘What do I need to know to keep this expression going?’ I did a music technology BTEC, a degree, 2 masters and I played in umpteen bands, usually about 5 bands at once. I put on shows and tour managed and also taught music (performance, technology, culture and business). It was a holistic approach to quench my thirst for knowledge. 

Interestingly, teaching gradually took over as my passion. Teaching kept teaching me plus it felt like a gig and I could really challenge peoples, and my own, ideas. I became obsessed with the next question which was ‘how can we flourish?’ I wanted to know how humans could sustainably self-actualise which is what Ive ended up focusing on in our Masters programme.

In our Masters, we get to explore sustainability in the creative industries. We define our own measures of success, explore our values and what motivates us and unpack the reality of our ever-changing industry. With this foundation we visualise our chosen future and design the steps we need to get there?

Our current masters students are about to hand in their final submission and what I’ve learnt from them is that there are just no boundaries in terms of possibilities. The jump of knowledge, potential and confidence in their future has been … just amazing and a privilege to witness!

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Why We're WaterBear...

- ‘Water bear’ is the common name for a Tardigrade.
- Tardigrades are micro creatures, found everywhere on earth.
- They are the most resilient creatures known.
- They can survive and adapt to their surroundings, even in outer space.
- Their resilience and ability to adapt and survive inspires us in everything we do. We love them.

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