Performing live when you’re on the autistic spectrum and have mental health issues.


I understand you enjoyed my last blog entry and that is why you are reading this one. Thank you.

Perhaps, you may have missed the previous blog entry and decided to take a whim on this one, thank you also.

I had someone ask me after the last blog entry, why I gave up gigging for a couple of years. So here it is, another wild ride of self-indulgence to tell a tale of sensory overloads, depression, what I think about when I engage socialising mode, possibly why I was late that time we were meant to do something and a probably a dollop of ego-centralism.

Why did I gig in the first place?

I used to love gigging, standing on a stage with room for feet and pedals, maybe space to bop about. The way the ensemble intensifies a wave of sound around the room, the applause of an audience that might have been listening. Performing live would give a rush of endorphins like no amount of gym attending or chocolate cake consumption ever could.

Photo by John Coles
Performing at Godiva Festival 2015

When off stage, things are awkward, people are difficult to talk to or understand in a conventional sense. I may pick up on a small detail, which might indicate something about you; but what do you say? Am I boring them? Does this person think I’m strange and will avoid me in the future?

Heart is racing when leaving the house; clamming up, radiating heat of a thousand suns yet somehow cold all the time, whiffy pits even though I’ve just got out the shower, “I know the door is locked but I must spend the next half an hour checking, 1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4” says what a friend once described asthe cruel mind squirrels, burring the nuts. Clearly signs of anxiety: “but what ya gonna to do….”

Then there is stepping onto a stage. The background playlist through the P.A system is overwhelmed by an excitement or expectation from a group of strangers, beverages in hand; conversations take a u-turn back to the evenings’ proceedings. Most of all, the endless chattering of a neurotic internal monologue is parted to post performance conservations, as this precise moment is reserved for a delightful and forever pleasurable hyper-focus. The answer to why I don't smile on stage.

There was a not so interesting film called Focus once, maybe Hyper-Focus could be the sequel, and you know, can be a good film.

Anyway, people, (and by people I mean once or twice), used to ask if I got nervous when performing. The truth is, it is undoubtedly the one time I was not anxious. I suppose you could have called me in those times, a performing introvert.

Circa 2014-2016 this all changed.

What all changed?

The projects got smaller in scale, the audiences shrunk with them even though the people within got cooler. I found lugging equipment around became more of a hassle, the games of Tetris. Next time you go see a band play live, just take a look at the large speakers, the lights, the drum kit, the keyboards, the big complicated looking boxes with flashing lights, which you’re not sure what they do. Remember all of those devices and think, someone, somewhere, managed to cram all of that into a fifteen-year-old hatchback.

The late nights take their strain too. I am naturally a night owl. I don’t mind mornings, I just wished they happened later in the day. Despite preferring a late night to an early start, the truth is, I like to be in bed for them, reading, watching YouTube videos, amongst other things.

The space on stage got more crowded, those years became a way of learning how to play the guitar in some strange contortions. I would then look back at social media and realise I would not be visible. Whether there wasn’t a light on me, or my face is behind a speaker.

There was an open mic I was hosting that was the real deal breaker for me. August 2016, I had just realised my first album, “Groaning Up”, I said down the mic “thank you, good night”. In my head, I said to myself “that’s it, never again”.

The back cover to Groaning Up

I stopped leaving the house as much; the ability to care about anything had vanished, my world had changed from doing something I loved to not know what to do. The obvious problems with OCD, which I was kind of in denial about for 10 years, had finally come to the forefront. So I went to the doctors, now I’m on treatment yet still working on it.

The thought I still can’t shift:

Why should I be out in a random pub somewhere when I could stay at home and just develop a following over this Internet thing people keep talking about?

With my autism, my house is my environment. I have everything in its place, I don’t have to deal with loud or sudden noises, tuning into conversations on the other side of the room, missing the one in front of me. My house has no Florescent strip lighting creating a blanket of harsh bleach over everything, or stage lighting on the low ceilings, angled into my face – they’re just low ceilings. Space invaders do not invade my self-confessing rather large personal space. The smell of stale yeast on old oak tables and worn carpets is not there, well, maybe the worn carpets but they don’t smell of the booze of yore. No flies buzzing around, no windows open. No wafts of Marlboro lights, you know, the click ones, no one can handle it without menthol.

When at home, people don’t feel uncomfortable that I would rather have a pot of tea than a pint. My home is warmer and I have complete control over how everything will sound.

Musicians reading this will understand, if you have monitoring at a gig, you get a mediocre of a what’s usually just a line check, you then get the other bands do theirs, by then, its all changed to suit them, then the audience comes in and absorbs the reflexions in the room; it all sounds completely different to the sound/line check before and now you can’t hear anything. You yonder to hear your que for the next bit and therefore you’re not enjoying it. Why bother?

At mine, it is recorded as best as I can, put my songs on the Internet. Bob’s your uncle. Everything is appropriately tuned & timed for the song, everything has a space in the mix, no stress of how I dress, no queue for the bar while I’m playing guitar, no material unless it makes me feel.

Everything is also under my control, a big thing for me. I only collaborate with people if I feel it is the right time. I play most of the instruments, if you hear saxophone, it’s Kirk Hastings, and if you see fantastic artwork it is Emilia Moniszko. Together, they make Blunt & Brave

I like completely bypass the rehearsal process, oh my, we haven’t even touched on rehearsals. They are SO boring! They are so long, in a small smelly room, everything is too loud for the size of the room, you can never E.Q things just how you like it.

Florescent lighting, having things repeated over and over again, verbally and musically. It’s in my head, I see it, correctly, I play it correctly (ordinarily), why is it so time consuming?! With my own music, it is usually either Kirk or myself, I write it in my head, I play it on the recording, no more than 4 takes typically, just to get it good enough, then Kirk comes and plays his bit, he always provides something stellar. No rehearsals, it’s great! Why wouldn’t I just want to make my own music?

That being said, it is still hard to find motivation to make music, if you follow my music, you might find this bizarre as I’m currently releasing a song every Friday. The truth is I know not many follow my songs, which in turn makes it harder to try. That being said, would I make my songs any more listener-friendly for the sake of it? Nope.

There is a large part of me that would love someone else to collaborate on all the promotion side of things. I have lots of material I would like people to hear before I shuffle off this mortal coil and frankly, I don’t have a clue how to get it in front of eyes and ears. Please get in touch if you know how to do this marketing malarkey.

Whinge whinge whinge, moan moan moan.

I know I could say at this moment that I could say how, I have had a good life and I have been fortunate sometimes, however; it doesn’t always feel like it and after all, what else am I going to write about?

Thank you very much for reading this far. If I do another entry I hope you follow that one too.

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