Songs That Changed My Life – Pt.1

Songs are powerful. They have an ability to change emotion, an ability to make people feel safe, an ability to make people move and even, sometimes, the ability to make people stop altogether. There’s nothing else really like it.

I think that for every person there is at least one song that they can go to that, regardless of how many times they hear it, they’ll always love. It can be for any reason, too; it may remind you of a loved one, it may remind you of a holiday…it may just have an amazing guitar riff. Whatever it is, you are emotionally tied to that song. Whatever meaning it has to you, it belongs to you. That song, written by somebody that you may never meet, is an important part of your life.

This will become the start to a run of features I’ll do on my blog regarding the songs that are important to me. “Songs That Changed My Life” is titled so because, in some way, each of these songs did just that.

The first song I will talk about is one I have mentioned on this blog before, and the one song that means more to me than any other. It helped me to deal with grief, and it gave me the belief that I could “come back”.

The song is ‘Machines’ by Biffy Clyro.

simon neil machines

The first time I heard ‘Machines’ was on hearing Biffy’s fourth album, ‘Puzzle’. I’d been blown away by the album – it may have lacked the quirkiness of the first three albums but the songs were so strong and it sounded so huge that I found myself in love with it pretty much from the off. I’d always loved Simon Neil’s lyrics but on ‘Puzzle’ it was different. These were honest lyrics, these were the strongest lyrics Neil had written.

I was part of the Biffy Clyro fan forum when ‘Puzzle’ was released. Everybody knew that the majority of the album was about Simon Neil’s Mum passing away and the immediate song that highlighted that was ‘Folding Stars’ in which Neil sings, “Eleanor, I would do anything for another minute with you ’cause it’s not getting easier.” It is such an emotional song and the message was abundantly clear. For many, it was the standout song but for me it wasn’t. Initially, the song I was hooked on was ‘Get Fucked Stud’…it just rocked. It still does.

As time went by and Biffy started to grow in popularity, I decided to introduce one of my new Uni mates to the band. I lent him ‘Puzzle’ and he later came back to me talking about how powerful it was – saying that ‘Machines’, the album closer, had him in tears as he thought about his Granddad, who had not long passed away. I’d always liked ‘Machines’, I loved playing it on guitar, but I wasn’t tied to it and didn’t appreciate it as much as some of the other songs on the album. I think, at the time, I just wanted loud music and ‘Machines’, a beautiful acoustic song, wasn’t top of my list.

As time went by, ‘Machines’ slowly became a favourite. Due to my Uni mate talking about the song and his emotions towards it, I’d focused a bit more time on it and grew to appreciate just how much of a truly powerful song it was. I also felt like I finally understood the hope it tried to present in the lyric, “Take the pieces and build them skyward.” I felt like I finally ‘got it’ but, in reality, it wasn’t until the passing of my own Mum that I honestly did ‘get it’.

Mum passed away very suddenly. None of us expected it, we couldn’t prepare for it – we had five days of hospital and that was it. She was 55, a really young age, and it was really tough to comprehend what had happened. There was no way to understand it. It was life being life, and it was life being incredibly cruel. Personally, I didn’t really know how to deal with it and unfortunately ended up suffering with anxiety/panic attacks and, essentially, sinking within myself. It’s a weird thing…I’m the first to say to people they need to talk to others but, in this instance, I couldn’t. I didn’t want to discuss my emotions with family because we were all feeling it; and I couldn’t face in to talking to friends. I was hiding.

I remember the first time I listened to ‘Machines’ after Mum passed away. I was in the shower and had my music on shuffle and the live version from Wembley started. The song had taken a whole new meaning to me. The opening lyrics, “I would dig a thousand holes to lay next to you, I would dig a thousand more if I needed to” just had me. And the chorus; “I’ve started falling apart, I’m not savouring life. I’ve forgotten how good it could be to feel alive” connected to me like never before. I related to them…I felt them. This was my life at this point.

In the five days spent at the hospital with Mum she was asleep the whole time. We knew the likelihood of her pulling through was incredibly slim, despite the amazing efforts of the doctors and nurses at Papworth Hospital, but we still held hope. I’d sit with Mum…we all would…and we’d talk to her. I just hoped that she could hear anything we were saying. More than anything I just wanted her to wake up and tell me to stop being so soft.

The second verse of ‘Machines’ always takes me back to those days.

“Crazy as it sounds, you won’t feel as low as you feel right now.
At least that’s what I’ve been told by everyone.
I whisper empty sounds in your ear and hope that you won’t let go…
Take the pieces and build them skyward.”

In that shower, listening to those words, I broke down. No song had ever made me cry before but ‘Machines’ did. I realised that I’d never understood the song properly until now…I’d wished, really, that I’d never had to understand it…but here I was, 28 years old, crying in the shower to a song by my favourite band.

The final lyric to that verse, also the final lyric to the whole song, have become the most important lyrics that I know. Everybody deals with grief differently; some people just carry on, some really struggle. As sung in the chorus, I felt like I had fallen apart, I wasn’t enjoying life…but those lyrics helped remind me that life isn’t always bad (“I’ve forgotten how good it could be to feel alive”). “Take the pieces and build them skyward” gave me a sense of hope that I could pick myself up. If I had fallen apart, fallen to pieces, that lyric was my motivation to pick those pieces back up and rebuild. They encouraged me to find myself again. There are no other lyrics that have ever done that to me.

‘Machines’ is more than a song to me. It’s a reminder of the worst time of my life, and a reminder that from the despair, the grief and the darkness you can build yourself back up.

(You can listen to the song – the Live From Wembley version – here)

Birth, Anxieties and Facing In To Mental Health

Pixar-Post-Inside-Out-Joy-Cheers-Up-Sadness

There was a moment in the aftermath of my son being born whereby all the midwives and nurses had left the room allowing my fiancee to have a shower and for us to have the first time alone as a family. At this time, I’d never really held a baby for that long. I certainly hadn’t felt comfortable holding a baby in the past and I was extremely nervous about holding my boy for the first time. Basically, I didn’t want to drop him.

I imagine it’s a fear that many new Dads have. The thoughts of “will I balls this up?” are always there, ever present, planting seeds of doubt. I had a moment of guilt. I’d watched a baby be born (a baby weighing over 10lbs at that), I’d seen the enormity of what the female body goes through during delivery and here I was, thinking, “Adam, don’t drop the baby.”

Fortunately, I didn’t. For the first time in my life I felt genuinely comfortable holding a baby, my baby, and immediately I was besotted. Here in my arms was a purple (he was a big lad and he came out quick), perfect little boy. My fiancee, once everybody had left the room and we’d had a few minutes with our son, got up and went to have a well deserved shower. I had my first bit of alone time and faced, for the first time alone, tears.

On birth, he didn’t cry. The only cry we had was a solitary cry as he was passed in to his Mother’s arms. Nothing else, really, until this moment. I’d gone from hoping I wouldn’t drop the baby to suddenly thinking “What do I do now?” I kept thinking of the few antenatal classes we’d been to and it popped in to my head that the nurse doing the classes said, “You have to think, these babies have never seen a face, never been outside, not seen anything…it’s initially probably very scary for them being away from the womb.”

I held him close, gently rocked and instinctively started going “sshhh” and whispering a made up song (tired, jumbled words about the world being scary but it’s okay and we love you…or something) before just repeating “It’s okay…it’s okay…” as he fell to sleep in my arms for the first time.

This would turn in to what I’d do (minus the made up song…although they’d still sometimes creep out) every time our boy was crying and I was on duty to comfort him. “It’s okay…it’s okay.” Sometimes it worked, other times it wouldn’t but that’s babies. We’ve been lucky because our little boy is, for the most part, seemingly very happy and that’s absolutely brilliant.

As a new Dad, I’ve started to look at things in life a little differently. My priorities have changed completely. Life has changed completely. It alters your perception on some things, too. You start to look to the future, thinking about what it will be like, not so much for yourself, but for the child. Some of my biggest anxiousness now hangs around the world my little boy (and soon little girl) will grow up in to. Things are so different to when I was younger, and because of that ‘unknown’ factor it sometimes terrifies me. These are parents’ anxieties, I have learned. I have no doubt that when I am 62, and our little boy is 32, I’ll still have similar anxieties.

One thing that has arrived since I left school is social media. We live in an age where people do their best to present an almost false life on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. It can be dangerous, it can lead to bullying, narcissistic personalities…but, it can also be good. Fewer days highlight that more than World Suicide Prevention Day, that we had on the 10th September.

Twitter was awash of people sharing their stories and their experiences. Words to help people, let others know that they are not alone and there are other options. Several of my Facebook friends shared posts. The main statement always being “It’s okay, not to be okay.”

It made me think back to my son’s first day when I sat gently rocking him whispering, “it’s okay”, over and over. It made me think of the amount of times I’ve comforted anybody and said either, “it’s okay” or “it’ll be okay, things will be okay.” It’s the ‘go to’ comfort comment, but, I wonder, how many people saying those things actually believe things will be okay? And, more importantly, how many of those people we comfort by saying “it’s okay” actually think it is okay and things will get better? I fear sometimes that we dismiss mental health too quickly by saying “It’s okay not to be okay” when really we should say “It’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way.” There is a worrying lack of real support for those that suffer with mental health, waiting lists can be huge – by constantly telling people it’s okay to not be okay are we potentially risking people ignoring their mental health and shrugging it off as “one of those things”?

I’m as guilty as anybody for shrugging off my own mental health. I can think of times when I have seriously struggled, but not done anything because I’ve taken the stance of either “I’ll be okay” or “this is just normal”. The worst time for me was, without doubt, the passing of my Mum. I remember being sat with my Dad in a hotel when she was in hospital and feeling my chest getting tighter and tighter. It carried on for some time and when we got home I went to the doctors and ended up being given an ECG. It came back normal and it was explained to me that I was probably having anxiety attacks. Nothing more was done because at this moment in time it was okay not to be okay. Of course it was. But the months after that? In the August of that year, 8 months later, I went to the doctor regarding my stomach and got diagnosed with stress related IBS – we talked about my Mum, briefly, before the doctor talked to me about other doctors suffering the same condition. I remember him saying “It’s one of those things, unfortunately, it affects the best of us.” It’s okay not to be okay.

I’m not meaning this as an attack on the people that say “It’s okay not to be okay”. For what it’s worth, I completely agree. I do, however, think it’s fair to worry that we normalise it as being something it is not. I think about friends I’ve had, some I’ve lost, and I wonder if they hadn’t faced in to their own mental health issues because they also dismissed it as a bad day. We need to do more to make people aware of what is out there to help. Yes, we do need to let people know that it’s normal to not feel well, it’s normal to have moments where you struggle and that it can be brought on by almost anything or nothing at all.

But we also need to know when saying “It’s okay”, as I did with my young lad on his first day, isn’t enough.

Car Park Celebrations and the Joy of Darren Moore

Sunday 21st April 2002, West Bromwich Albion are playing Crystal Palace at the Hawthorns. It’s the last game of the season. A win and Albion are promoted to the Premier League, putting them back in the top flight of English football for the first time in 16 years.

I was 15 when that game took place, with all my Albion supporting life filled with watching us lose to Stoke (all the time), struggle against teams like Port Vale and Stockport, and toy with the fear of relegation. The team I started supporting in the Nineties, managed by Alan Buckley, were not good…but they were my team. I’d never expected this day in 2002 to come.

I spent the game not at the Hawthorns, but instead sat in my Dad’s car in a Tesco car park in Great Yarmouth. The September prior we’d moved to Lowestoft, so didn’t go to quite as many games. I remember listening to the radio and Wolves, who we’d raced ahead of after being 11 points behind them in March, took an early lead against Sheffield Wednesday. Pressure was on…Wolves were the only team that could catch us and how typical of Albion it would have been to catch up from 11 points behind to lose out on the last day…nails were getting shorter, the car was becoming unbearably hot.

And then it happened. Goal for Albion. Both me and my Dad jumped out of the car and started jumping up and down screaming with joy, “Yes! Yes! Yes! We’re going up!” People off to do their weekly shop looked at us like we were insane. We definitely looked it. Dad went up to one of the people going by and said, “It’s okay. We’re Albion.” And I remember thinking that they had no idea what he was talking about.

We went on to win 2-0, and Wolves drew 2-2. I remember after the match hugging Dad, both of us absolutely jubilant, and walking around the shop looking for Mum feeling like nothing could knock me down. I was so proud. I was so happy. All my mates had supported Villa, Manchester United, Liverpool…they’d not watched the struggles I had, they’d not been through the pain of watching your team lose to Crewe Alexandra on a cold winter’s night…and that just made it better. This was years in the making, the reward to the hard work.

The second goal was scored by a man that was already an Albion legend, Bob Taylor. The first, the goal that started the party, came from a defender we’d signed at the start of the season. He’d gained a bit of a cult like following, people loved him. He was massive, he was strong, and he had, apparently, a resemblance to a character from the Pot Noodle advert called Big Dave. His name was Darren Moore and, just like that, that goal transformed him from fan favourite to a set in stone Albion icon. A legend, a hero…a loved man.

Fast forward to Saturday 1st September 2018 and Moore is now the head coach at Albion, having got the job after impressing in a caretaker position and almost…ALMOST…pulling off a miraculous second ‘Great Escape’.

Moore has now been in charge for 14 games, winning 8, drawing 3 and losing 3. It’s a win percentage of 57.1%. It’s a brilliant star for any manager, let alone one who is getting these results in his first job in charge.

Despite that, Moore still has doubters. And, when you consider the points sensibly, you can understand the concerns. Despite a great start to managerial life, Moore’s inexperience does creak through. In searing heat, Moore will only use one substitution even though it can be painfully clear that a number of players are exhausted. He persists with a central midfield of Jake Livermore and Chris Brunt, both good players but not great when playing side by side. Game management comes across as a bit weak, we still concede late goals on a regular basis.

However, despite this, Moore has still been getting results. In the Premier League he oversaw Albion beating Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford, today he constructed a 2-1 win against Stoke. The playing style we’d become so used to at Albion over the years – a style that drove me to stop going altogether – has changed. We look, at times, genuinely exciting. And yes, sometimes it doesn’t work. Even in games we dominate, the defence sometimes looks so unstable it threatens to cost the game. But overall, the football is better.

The club spent three years losing it’s identity. Now, with a club hero in charge, they’re getting it back.

Every time I drive by that Tesco in Great Yarmouth, I think about that day in 2002 and smile. Darren Moore will always have a place in my heart because of that day, too. His time in charge of the club, regardless of how it goes, won’t ever change that.

And the more I think about it, even with my own criticisms of some of his decisions, I’m glad Moore is in charge at Albion. He’s helped me love the club again. It’s not always perfect…it never is perfect…but it’s Albion, it’s my Albion.

And if Moore doesn’t succeed over the season, so be it. But if he does continue to get the results, and it does go well, then there is nobody I’d rather have in charge at the club.