1. Hi Jack, The Blacksmith is a new venture for you, what can you tell us about it?
Hi! The Blacksmith is a return to writing and performing for me. I wanted it to be a simple approach, like it was when I first started out writing songs in my teens – just me and an acoustic guitar. The songs I have written are really personal. For the first time in a long time I placed no expectation or pressure on what I would create, and it was a really cathartic process.
2.You’ve had a fairly rollercoaster few years, what has been the biggest challenge for you?
The biggest challenge was learning to be patient. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I can’t sit still for long, so having time out from gigging, working and then having to start over has been a tough process, but one I feel has taught me a lot for the future.
3.What did you learn about yourself before, during and in recovery from your thyroidectomy?
I’ve learned a lot. In the months leading up to the operation, I was so driven to keep my music career moving forward I forgot to enjoy the moment. I wanted to make the most of the time I had left once I was aware I’d have to have the thyroidectomy, for my band mates and I, as the potential implications of that operation were so great. I was always looking to climb that next step on the ladder. I’ve since learned there is no ladder!
So now I enjoy each and every gig, being in front of an audience and the butterflies. I spent 4 or 5 days in St. James’ Hospital in Leeds. I was on the table for 6 hours! Without trying to sound dramatic, I made some big life decisions. I decided I’d leave the secondary teaching job that I was stuck in and invest more time in my private guitar teaching – where I felt I made more of a difference.
I also saw first-hand how hard the nurses, junior doctors and consultants work on the wards. We see no end of reports in the news about the state of the NHS, but it was a real eye-opener to have actual experience of it. There was one particular junior doctor who never seemed to be away, he looked absolutely shattered but he just kept going. Amazing! All in all, I’ve learned to be grateful. It seems such an obvious thing to say, but going through all of the rehabilitation made me so grateful to be able to use my voice again in my teaching, writing and gigging. I’m also eternally grateful for the support of my family and friends, they were just incredible.
4.What was the hardest thing about having to rebuild your voice?
It was emotionally draining. Some days I saw (or heard) real progress and other days I felt like I was back at square one, and I’d have the huge bouts of doubt that I’d ever be able to sing or work again. Dane Chalfin, who took charge of my rehabilitation, assured me that it wouldn’t be a straightforward process and that I had to be patient. Eventually I reached a point where I felt I could go out and gig again. I was a bag of nerves at the first one, but it went well.
5.Looking forward now, what are your plans for the future – short term and long term?
My plans are to keep creating music that I enjoy and go out and play! I also really enjoy the private and peripatetic music teaching I do, and I’m about to open a new teaching studio in Castleford, which is very exciting! I really like the stripped back acoustic direction I’ve taken for recordings and gigs, so there’s more music in the pipeline. There is no shortage of things to write about in these current times, after all.
6.You’ve got a gig at the #360RAW7 night in a few weeks, what can we expect from your set?
YES, I cannot wait!! I’m going to play a raw, bluesy acoustic set. I have a couple of new songs that I’ll be performing for the first time at that gig, so I hope people enjoy it.
7.Throughout your recovery from your operation, what kept you going and what advice would you give someone going through a similar operation?
My friends and family kept me going. When they saw when the situation was getting to me, they’d give me a clip round the ear and remind me that there are people out there suffering a lot worse. It was just what I needed, because it’s true. My cousin took me to Dublin after a few months of rehab too, that was fun! I listened to a lot of Tom Waits too when I was laid up and couldn’t sleep, that helped a lot.
I would advise that anyone going through a similar operation and rehab must do their exercises! Dane Chalfin (Voice Rehabilitation expert) gave me this range of vocal exercises I had to work through every day. On the days when I didn’t feel happy with myself and my voice wasn’t behaving, I had to keep plugging away at these scales and trills. Had I not had the discipline to keep doing these exercises, I don’t think my voice would’ve recovered to the extent it had.
I must say that every such thyroidectomy operation is different though. There are so many nerves involved in the mechanics of the voice, that every single operation and rehabilitation will be unique. So, the most important piece of advice would be to seek help from the professionals.
8.Will you be using your experiences of the last few years as inspiration for new material?
Absolutely. Already have. I’m keen to avoid the whole X-Factor sob story route, so I’m always just honest and candid when I’m asked about the whole situation. I keep the Violin in its case.
9.If you could collaborate with any musician alive or dead, who would you choose and why?
Good question! How do you pick just one?? By all accounts, Prince was an incredible musician and guitarist – so I’d like to get in a studio and learn from him.
10.Finally, tell our readers why they should check out your set and the other acts at #360RAW7?
It will be a great atmosphere. It’s great to be involved in a predominantly acoustic gig of this scale. Also, there are four acoustic acts that all have something different to offer. From what I’ve heard of the other acts since I was told I’d be on the bill, we all have a different approach to songwriting. It’ll be interesting to hear that on the night.
You can see Blacksmith and the rest of the artists at the 360 Club in Leeds on 29/03/19. For more information on how the get tickets click the link here.