Brain Attack Music

A true story of stroke survival

What is a stroke?

A stroke is categorised as an ABI (Acquired Brain Injury).  Yes, it is a brain injury.  A stroke is an issue with one (or more) of the arteries in the brain.  Broadly, there are two types of stroke – an ischaemic stroke is a blood clot and a hemorrhagic stroke is a bleed.  (Mine was ischaemic).

Either of these causes loss of blood supply to the brain, which (after a few minutes) means that parts of the brain die, i.e. the person suffers brain damage.  This potentially causes a whole host of physical and mental conditions, if the person survives and doesn't die.  Every stroke is different and affects people in different ways.


Why call the project Brain Attack Music?

In May 2013, I suffered a major cerebellar stroke plus complications.  At the time, I had no idea what a stroke was.  I was to learn the colloquial phrase for stroke was 'brain attack'.  Having suffered one (and it is a true suffering), it seemed a far more appropriate phrase.  Most of us have an idea what a heart attack is.  Pretty serious.  Life threatening.  However, to try and repair a damaged heart we can perform surgery to rectify the issue and even carry out a heart by-pass.  We can even perform a heart transplant.

But, a damaged brain is a totally different matter.  No by-passes or transplants here.  So, a stroke survivor, a brain attack survivor, will probably have some permanent brain damage.  And have to live with it, whatever that disability may be - physical, mental or, more likely, both.  It's therefore very likely that the brain attack survivor will have psychological post-stroke 'issues', as well as physical ones.


Why are you doing this project?

I wanted to help raise awareness of brain attack (stroke) and raise some money for a stroke charity.

My personal experience was that I was a relatively fit and healthy 55 year old musician.  A player and teacher.  I played drums in different bands and taught in schools and privately in my home studio.  I played in function/wedding bands (for income) and progressive rock bands (for fun). 

A typical gig would involve loading up all my gear into my car, driving to the venue (possibly a drive of several hours), unloading my gear and carrying it in to the venue (maybe up several flights of stairs, or a few hundred yards across the car park), then setting up a full drum kit, sound-checking, playing for 2 or 3 hours, then dismantling everything, packing it all away, loading it back in to the car, driving home soaked in sweat and arriving back in the small hours to unload the car (again) before going to bed.  Trust me, you had to be strong and fit to do that!  And possibly a bit mad.

So, my stroke, my brain attack, came right out of the blue.  I developed complications which meant I needed emergency brain surgery.  All this turned my neatly managed world upside down.  It was like being thrown off a merry-go-round.  Your life is on the merry-go-round, you try desperately to get back on it, but you are just not able. After months of trying you realise your life, as it was, has completely gone.  Disappeared.  And it ain't coming back.


What is the album Eruption about?

Very simply, it's the story of my stroke (my brain attack) - my experiences, my thoughts, my emotions.  It is completely autobiographical and 100% true, from my perception of events.  I must stress this last point as, on a regular basis, I learn more about what happened when I was 'missing'.  I have about 5 missing days when I have no memory whatsoever of things that happened.  I was conscious for some of this time, even conversing with my family, but as I have no memory of it I haven't included any of it in my version of events (but there are parts where I have imagined what was going on).  Before I release "Eruption" on CD and download, I will release an EP (mini-album), entitled "Ejecta", in order to promote and create interest in "Eruption".


How would you describe the music?

I first got really interested in music in the early 1970's, so I am heavily influenced by the music of that time, particularly so-called 'progressive rock'.  Music with recurring themes and motifs, like in classical music, really appeals to me.  I also like world music and ambient soundscapes.  Music that evolves and slowly reveals itself to the listener.  A good melody is also important, as are some dynamics and atmosphere.  So, in summary, it's part rock, part ambient, part progressive, part orchestral.  It's hard to pigeonhole.  Closer to Alan Parsons than to Gram Parsons.  Closer to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" than to Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story".  Closer to Jeff Wayne's "War Of The Worlds" than to Paul McCartney's "Tug Of War".  Well,  that's cleared that one up!  Please go to the 'Listen' menu so you can "try before you buy".


How do you write the music?

Very, very slowly!!  Between October 2013 and February 2014 I wrote all the lyrics.  This was all I was able to do at the time.  I couldn't do much else.  I had double vision at the time so I would write a few words with one eye closed, then open that eye and close the other one and write a few more words.  After 5 minutes I would be exhausted.  When writing the words, I would hear the music in my head.  I physically started writing the music about a year after my brain attack (June 2014) simply because I was now able to do so!  When writing the music, I focus first on the melody and basic tempo and rhythm.  That eventually leads to sketching out the arrangement, song structure, etc.  

Once that is done, I start 'colouring in'.  ('Guest' musicians will add their parts after this).  I equate it to doing a jigsaw.  You start off with the corners, then the edges.  You sort all the other pieces into common colours and then piece them together.  For me, due to my 'limitations', it's an iterative process and takes a lot of time, particularly as I have to work in short chunks of time (30 or 40 minutes, maybe) due to my neuro fatigue.  If it's bad, I may only be capable of doing an hour or so per week.  So, it's an extremely protracted process.  I often feel like giving up!  For me, it is very, very hard work but also very enjoyable and rewarding - ultimately!


If I purchase Eruption, where does my money go?

I am funding everything apart from the cost of mastering, printing, manufacturing, artwork, etc, so all profits from the project will go to a stroke charity.  I am very keen to try to support young people who survive brain attacks.  Babies can suffer strokes.  Even in the womb!  As an example, when I was in hospital I met a 17 year old young man who had suffered a stroke.  He will need lifelong care and support.

Hopefully, a young brain attack survivor can rebuild their life, but they will need a huge amount of personal courage and determination PLUS a great deal of support, for a very long time.  It is unbelievably tough to do this recovery stuff on your own.