Back at school, I was not academic in the slightest, and to honest was probably a bit of a pain in the arse, so it’s not often that I connected with a teacher. But, by far the biggest early personal influence on my career in music was a teacher and “musician in residence” at my school called John Gill.

Until I was 14, music at St Benedict School was taught in a very regimented way by a frankly awful teacher called Miss Chester, who extinguished a lot of budding musical talents by banning pupils from the music department for seemingly no reason at all. (I was one of those banned but always managed to sneak in when she was having her dinner.)

But when John Gill arrived, he was a revelation – he was into our kind of music, had a very can-do attitude, spotted talent early and put on incredible lunchtime concerts every month called Garage Shows.

At a Garage Show, the idea was that anyone could get up and perform; it didn’t matter how good you were or how rehearsed you were – just get up there, give it what you’ve got and receive a rapturous welcome from a few hundred of your peers.

For me, those shows were intoxicating. Mr Gill would bring on half a dozen acts over an hour, playing guitar alongside them and throwing in his own songs, which soon became cult classics around the school. I’d sit there brimming with nerves until he’d summon up the band and we’d get up and make a racket.

I recall playing the shows with immense clarity. I remember the sterile school hall lights shining off my battered old drum kit, the power of my drums reverberating through the hall, 800 or so kids squeezed in (this being pre health and safety regulations), and many more looking through windows.  Looking out into the audience and seeing people – friends, enemies, girls, teachers – visibly impressed.

The shows gave me masses of confidence as a musician, and got me girls. At the age of 14, there was simply nothing better!

I was a fairly impressionable teenager, and John Gill said two things to me that he probably wouldn’t even remember now, but they’ve stuck with me.

At one early Garage Show, he watched me play my knackered old 70s kit with ancient battered skins and cheap cymbals that sounded like saucepans. He came up to me afterwards and said that I got more musicality out of my drums than the other school drummer who had an enormous eight-piece sparkly Premier Signia kit with Paiste Signature cymbals, costing about £5k, all in all.

This delighted me no end as I was already having slightly Freudian issues with the size of my kit compared to the other guy’s, but it also installed a belief in me that you don’t need the latest equipment and modern gadgets if you have an intuitive feel for the music.

The second instance was just before I left school was when he took me aside and told me that if I pulled my finger out I could easily be a professional musician.

“It’s up to you. It’s either that, or get a proper job.”

Last month, John Gill retired and put on one final Garage Show. It’s a testimony to his influence on people’s lives that former pupils travelled from hundred of miles around just to play a song. My band was one of them as I managed to get my old mates who now live in Cardiff and Bristol to pop up to Derby for the evening.

So thanks, Mr Gill.  I did get a proper job.  And then I said “screw that” and took your advice instead!



NB: I can’t actually find any pictures of Garage Shows, my old bands or Mr Gill at the moment, but here’s a picture of that old drum kit, about a year later, when I’d picked up some extra cymbals and a blue Dixon tom.  Mmmmm.