A Musical Transformation

Adrian first got in touch with us after he’d been part of an event called “The Ukeclear Explosion” at which 150 ukulele enthusiasts had got together and raised about £600 for us, to help support music therapy. At that point, Adrian had never heard of who we were, so he looked up the work we do and has stayed in touch ever since. Now he’s kindly offered to share his story, a short piece he wrote a few years back as his life was changing. It deals with how music helped to change his life and why, as a result, he and his friends in the Bexley Ukulele Music Society support us to offer that opportunity to more people than ever before.

A Ukulele Transformed My Life

I am a man, a post-war baby, now aged 67 years.  I had a pretty successful working life thoroughly enjoying a career of 38 years with the same employer.  In September 2000 an opportunity for early retirement arose and I took it, together with a nice pension thank you. Within a month or three I found myself called upon to undertake some self-employed consultancy work within the same industry.  Having left the comfort of the 38 year velvet-lined rut, very nervously I took the chance and said OK. Once I found my feet it was great. It took me to far-away places including Tasmania (the wonderful little island State south of mainland Australia).  It also took me to Germany, Belgium, Austria and, though not quite so exotic – Slough!  Six years later, in 2006 at age 61, the Slough contract ended and I decided I’d had enough, packed it all in and joined a golf club the following Springtime, 2007.

All sounds pretty good doesn’t it?

One BIG problem… the demon drink.

Alcoholism is the most awful, misery-making place to be.  You can lose your family, your friends, your house, car and money. You lose yourself in a mire of pitcher plants, no apparent escape from their slippery mouthparts; prepare to die with the flies – sad, miserable and probably alone.

In the beginning, of course, I was an ‘ordinary social drinker’; the occasional pint or two with my friends, some wine with a tasty restaurant meal, maybe get drunk at Christmas.  Nothing wrong with that is there, almost everyone does it don’t they?

For me, ‘ordinary’ didn’t last.  By the time I was thirty I was abusing alcohol – I discovered whisky – a big mistake.  At first the expensive malts, then gradually down to those you might use in cooking.  They all do the same thing, seem to make you happy, but they don’t; they depress you, slowly and unrelentingly.  I became a functioning alcoholic, holding down a good job and helping my wife, I hope, in raising our two fine sons.

In February 2011 I was taken ill on a golf course and was in hospital before the end of the day.  Diagnosis: serious heart condition, Cause: alcohol abuse.  They sorted me out but I was deprived of my whisky for the eight days I was in there.  I came out and what did I do, bought more whisky on the way home – how stupid can a man get!  That’s the strangling grip the demon gets on you.

A two year struggle then began in earnest to try to kick the habit.  I tried all sorts: my GP, several organisations devoted to converting the afflicted, spent 8 weeks – & an arm and a leg – in a private recovery clinic, turning to God, counselling, self-help, neuro-scientists even… none were totally fruitless but all were to little avail in the long run.  Relapse after relapse after relapse.  Family and friends, good long-standing, true friends offered advice… why don’t you this, why don’t you do that, why not take a holiday.  All well and good but you don’t have the inclination nor motivation to do anything but go to the corner shop and buy another bottle.  What you really need is one of them to take your hand & drag you screaming to the travel agent to book that holiday.  The best I did was 53 days of abstinence; a mere tick, not even a tock, in a lifetime.  At the beginning of November 2012 I was on more than a bottle of scotch every day; on the 30th I went for a ten-day spell in another residential clinic.  I was collected from home at 9.00am; I’d already downed a quarter of a bottle and nearly cried as the rest gurgled down the kitchen sink. But that’s it I thought, I MUST crack it this time – not for days, but for the rest of my life.

I came out clean and dry, better but still not good, frightened & scared at the prospect of life without booze. The huge challenge now was how to avoid yet another relapse. Relapse again and the ol’ ticker might pack up for good. Terrifying.

After I left the clinic I continued with frequent counselling, stayed dry but still worried about the future.  One Thursday in February I emerged from a counselling session, aimlessly crossed the road and looked in the window of a music shop.  On little more than a whim, I bought my first ukulele.  Within days I was at a local pub (soft drink in-hand) making the acquaintance of a mixed bunch of people who got together each Monday to enjoy playing ukes.

What an evening, a turning point!

How the Ukelele Changed Everything

Within a week I had another uke, a very pretty little soprano made from mango wood, a delight to look at and a wonderful sound.  Monday evenings were FUN, a bit of a ‘larf too!  (I love a laugh, it’s a great medicine.  How can you be miserable if you’re laughing??).  Practicing was fun too… how can I… , who will help me… they all did.  My first gig within a month or so, in London no-less… I’m gonna’ be famous an’ I don’t drink no more!

Soon I was delving into dark cupboards at home, retrieved that guitar Dad bought me when I was 14, my old plastic recorder (from junior school!), a long forgotten mandolin, a couple of rusty mouth organs.  Best of all, my Dad’s cherished violin – un-played for fifty years, just two strings on it, case badly damaged from an almost disastrous house moving incident that could have put that cherished instrument beyond repair.

Hooked again… but not whisky – small musical instruments.

Dad’s violin has been lovingly and skilfully restored, it’s magnificent – worth a few bob too!  I had my first ever lesson last week at the ripe old age of 67.

But it’s not just about instruments; it’s the new friends, new experiences.  It’s about the re-cementing of family ties and the reinforcement of long-standing friendships.  New laughs, new enjoyment, ain’t life great!

I have perhaps been lucky.  Through some very distressing times over the many years of struggle and despondency, and despite their frustration, no-one has deserted me, not family, friends nor professionals who I seriously thought might ‘give-up’ on me. Indeed, I’ve been more fortunate than some.  My thanks go to all those loving and caring people whose advice & guidance went heard but not heeded for so long.  Now I hear, heed, accept and go forward.  I didn’t die either; thanks paramedics, doctors and hospitals.

My life has been transformed by music and especially by a quirky little four-stringed instrument called a ukulele.  I’ll not look back.

Thanks music.  Thanks uke.


If you’ve found Adrian’s story uplifting and thought-provoking, maybe you’d consider making a gift to Nordoff Robbins? Even the smallest amounts can make a huge difference. Donate online here.

And a big thank you to Martin Trowbridge from whom Adrian commissioned the illustration in this post.