I must have been about twenty-five or six, living in London and spending most of my waking hours eating, sleeping and dreaming music. My day job as a sales representative gave me the freedom to disappear off the radar (on a sales call – not!) and grab whatever free studio time I could for myself. Nights found me in sweaty rehearsal studios or on stage at venues as diverse as Gossips in Dean St Soho with an enthusiastic crowd, or in a dodgy pub somewhere in South London with no punters, the landlord and his dog. A beautiful friend, Vanessa (now deceased), worked for Virgin Records and she was a great fan and supporter. “Go to New York!”, she’d say – “they’ll love you there!” She gave me contacts, rang them for me and encouraged me in every way possible. But my moods used to swing wildly in those days and I could get set on a very different train so easily… Enter one “boring old hippie”, as his housemate, Victor, a musician friend used to call him.
The first day we met I invited both Gary the Hippie and Victor the Mod Muso along on a surprise summer ‘picnic’ in the country, which was in fact a nudist holiday camp in Kent that my pal Helen, a young journalist, was reviewing. The guys knew nothing until we turned into the gate and encountered some middle-aged tennis players in white trainers and socks – and nothing else. Meltdown! By the end of that golden day of sunshine, snorts of laughter and shy glimpses of naked flesh, I was smitten. Gary was a tall, quiet, gentle musician and painter – penniless, but lovely. A Canadian friend called Ed the Cowboy sent me a message saying, ‘Hey! If you’re planning to go to New York, why don’t you come here? It’s my school reunion…” The heady mix of new love, the long, hot summer and the feeling of freedom to go anywhere and do anything led to me changing my plans entirely. I booked a trip to Canada. I then had a major meltdown and refused to go unless Gary came with me. So, the dream of being ‘found’ as a budding music talent in New York gave way to a chaotic, and wonderful, trip through Calgary, The Rockies and Vancouver with Gary – hitch-hiking, camping, busking, playing small gigs for money, working under assumed names and discovering the incredible kindness of strangers. We got free lifts, free accommodation, were taken in by students in Lake Louise and by a wonderful old lady in the Okanagan Valley. And we played music, music, music – not for success, but for the sheer fun of it. At the time I didn’t give the missed ‘opportunity’ in New York a second thought. My motto, if I had one, was “life gets in the way”.
I came home to the UK, travelled in India for a while and then married Gary and we had a much wanted baby. My moods became even more ‘labile’ or unstable. In one of my darkest hours, I found myself detained in hospital and served with papers for divorce and sole custody of my daughter from my then ex-husband. I got better, fought back and managed to stop proceedings even going to court, but I became terrified that too much excitement or stress could put me in hospital again or lead to me losing my child. I had already experienced the pain of the loss of my first daughter through adoption when I was a schoolgirl – I couldn’t go through it again. Music settled into a hobby, but always more than a hobby, because some part of me was still that girl, young woman, young mother who had dreams, and who wanted to be the best version of her creative self she could possibly be. Perhaps part of me will always need to sabotage the chance to really succeed. I’ve written and recorded two albums with my good friend and producer Pete Ardron in London, and a third co-written with Simon Ferrigno and the wonderful Rainbow Nation, but none of those albums ever got the push they deserved. After each album I suddenly felt the urge to disappear to another continent – Canada, India and Australia – so far!!! Recently I started recording again, but managed to leave things so late I didn’t have time to even print a few CDs before I left on the latest sailing trip, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. I’ve switched some of my focus to writing in recent years – two novels published so far – and I wrote and produced a play, Moodswings. But singing is like breathing to me, and when I get a chance to shine, I still desperately want to, even if I’m crippled with nerves and self doubt, or worries about being too old or not good enough. I’ll sing anywhere – a bar, a boat, a street corner, a shop window (!) Wherever, whenever – still I sing.
Last night, thirty years after my original plan to sing in New York, I sang in New York! It was only an open-mic – but what an open-mic! Ashford and Simpson’s Sugar Bar in the Upper West Side was absolutely buzzing. Valerie Simpson sang super cool harmonies from the floor and the host for the evening was Chaz Lemar Shepard, a fantastic singer and and actor. The level of the performers was way, way higher than anything I’ve ever heard anywhere else. The band could have been my dream band, with stunning guitar, drums, keyboards and bass – they were on fire. There was a moment when I wanted to just slip out with my guitar before my name was called and disappear into the night. But I didn’t. I knew I wasn’t going to set the place on fire with a self-penned folk song no-one knew, including the musicians, but I wanted to do my best. I could have copped out and sang a well known classic, but that wasn’t the dream… Later, when several members of the band came to talk to me and say how much they enjoyed my song (one of them has co-written with Gary Barlow), it dawned on me that sometimes, to make your dreams come true, even if it’s only a baby part of your dream, you just have to have a little faith – and do it.