Don’t let me fade away
The title of my story is also the title of a song written by me at a low point when I was in prison, it is about isolation. Engaging in the arts was life-affirming, it offered me a sense of purpose. I wrote songs prolifically during my imprisonment, voicing how I felt about being sent away.
I think going away, it actually did me a lot of good, sobered me up. It was losing my brother that was the hardest part of prison, but in a way, it made me stronger. After losing my brother and seeing how it’s affected my family and my other brothers the music helped me to keep going.
I found out about Prison Arts Foundation during my first week in Magilligan, I put in my application to attend the music and creative writing classes and then requested to have my guitar brought in – I was very happy about getting that approved. I had the opportunity to meet other people, play my guitar with other people and make recordings which I could take with me whenever I was released. A typical morning might be me, Paddy and another prisoner writing a song together on a certain subject, someone would write a line and then we would just see what happened. In the afternoon I could then be playing with a full live band; a drummer, bass, singers.
There were people who came to class that had never picked up a guitar before. There was one guy who was a fantastic singer, I told him about the classes, and next thing, he was singing with other guys. You had complete beginners and people who were much better than I was, they would blow you away with their talent. If music was ever cancelled, that was the end of the world, people were gutted. Music kept me going – because I was making progress.
Music brings people up. Music brings people together, most people like it, so in that way I got on with most people, and being able to do something collaborative, and that was good craic as well. I’ll never forget that. And I am still in touch with some of those guys.
Since my release I have been achieving success and recognition as a singer-song writer in my own right, I have worked and played with lots of musicians, so many people on the local scene. It seems to be word of mouth that gets things going, Facebook is good as well. Now I am starting to get offered paid gigs, I’ve played at the Sunflower Fest – it’s an intimate gig in a tent, but it’s hard to get into. I’ve also played at the Empire, Lansdowne Hotel, I’m slowly getting into lots of different venues. Sometimes I have two gigs in one week.
I have to pay tribute to Paddy Nash, PAF’s musician in residence, there were things I learnt from him which I incorporate into my music even today. Whenever I first came to Magilligan, I remember a prison officer saying Paddy’s a brilliant fellow, no one had a bad word to say about him. I just found him to be very good with people no matter where they were from. Even after I got out – to stay in touch with people the way he did, if there was an opportunity, he’d throw it your way. I just think it’s great that after prison, you get people who are willing to stay in touch, it’s a big bonus.
When I was released, I was able to get in contact with Paddy, and within a month, I was playing at a PAF art exhibition in Belfast City Hall, amongst other opportunities. I also recorded a song with his producer and guitar player; who’s also a music teacher at North West Regional College in Derry. The music diploma students helped produce my song as part of their course work. Paddy also took a video which was matched up with the music. It was great; the students were asking me questions about my song and what direction I wanted to take it in. I knew with him guiding the students it would be good, this song has been the most popular to date.
I was so appreciative of the courses, particularly the music course, and Paddy’s teaching and his effort, but also, I know what it’s like to be in there and for people who want to express themselves, whether its music or art or writing, they are all creative ways to express yourself, and it’s all very important.
After losing my brother, going to jail and getting out, working job after job that doesn’t require any thinking – that’s not a reason for getting out of bed – now I just want to get involved in everything music. My philosophy this year has been, I just want to do whatever’s out there and see where it takes me. You know, like the Jim Carrey film ‘Yes Man’ – I am a yes man for opportunities, to try and take things further.