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TX: 27.06.06 - Disabled Musicians
 
PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4 
THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY. 


WHITE
Now Stevie Wonder, Ian Drury, Ray Charles perhaps, but after that how many disabled artists can you think of who have made it in the cut throat world of rock and pop? In particular how do you get started in a business which involves constant travel, raised stages and a mare's nest of wires and equipment once you're up there. But it's a problem which is now being addressed. An organisation called Attitude is Everything, initially set up to help fans is now turning its attention to the artists. Artists like 20-year-old Blaine Harrison.

HARRISON
I was born with spina bifida and I had several operations when I was - between the ages of about 5 and 10 I guess and the last one of those unfortunately meant I needed to use crutches and for a while I used a wheelchair.

WHITE
Blaine's band The Mystery Jets is already gaining huge popularity, having hit the charts with their single You Don't Fool Me Dennis. With influences from every decade since the '70s their popularity seems partly based on their eccentricity - how many groups do you know who have an age range of 35 years, Blaine's dad is in the band too, and a disabled lead singer?

HARRISON
I started off as a percussionist and a drummer mainly and I could have gone on to be a good drummer but I kind of - I kind of chickened out in a way because my feet were never fast enough to play punk drumming or anything like that and I really wanted to do that, I wanted to have feet of thunder and I just couldn't do it. And so I just decided you know I'd just start playing with my hands instead. And I still do that live when we perform, I've created my own drum kit out of metal tins and dustbin lids and things, just things which sound different.

WHITE
You still hear the odd dustbin lid in your work don't you?

HARRISON
Yeah, yeah I guess you do.

MUSIC

HARRISON
Access to venues isn't really something that a lot of promoters really think about when they're putting on gigs. We've had gigs where I've found it quite difficult to actually get on the shoulder height stages. Which is why we actually played a number of gigs for a charity called Attitude which focus all their time really on putting gigs on in venues which anybody can get into.

WHITE
It's problems like this which led Suzanne Bull, the founder of Attitude is Everything, to turn her attention from making gigs more accessible to the fans to thinking about the needs of the acts themselves. It was a happy coincidence which brought Suzanne and Blaine together at the same gig.

BLAINE
I had one flyer left, I said to the person with me - Who do you think looks the most trendiest and would benefit from this flyer? And we had to give it to Blaine from The Mystery Jets, they then contacted us back and said we'd love to play your club nights. So we put them on at the Spits and we probably got the best audience that we ever had and you could tell then by the sort of type of music industry people that came up to watch them. Then we put them on again at Bar Academy, Islington and it almost sold out, we had our first kind of like frenzy, our first kind of like mini riot at the door type thing.

WHITE
It's a road other musicians have travelled in a less forgiving age and Blaine is happy to acknowledge a debt to other disabled musicians.

HARRISON
One of my favourite artists is Robert Wyatt, you know, and he's someone who - he wasn't born with a disability but he became paralysed I think at about the age of 25 or so and he's gone on to make some of my favourite music, some very, very inspiring music. To me he's someone who also proves that you don't need to be necessarily able bodied and you don't need even to perform physically, you don't need to dance about the stage, you can actually just - I mean there's this performance of him from the Old Grey Whistle Test performing the Ship Building song which was by Elvis Costello and he's just sitting there in a wheelchair just holding this mic and it's absolutely amazing, it's captivating, he doesn't even need to dance or kind of twiddle his hands and yeah he just sings.

MUSIC

WHITE
Robert Wyatt found himself in a wheelchair after a fall from a fourth floor window during what he admits was a pretty wild party. He'd been a drummer in the cult early '70s band Soft Machine but realised that after the accident if he wanted to stay in the business he'd have to do something else. But something else turned out to be a remake of the Monkey's hit I'm a Believer, which got him on to Top of the Pops.

WYATT
I did it two weeks running and I can't remember - it must have been the second week that the producer said well could you get out of this basket thing here, it's not really suitable, we don't feel as a family viewing programme, to have somebody sitting around in a wheelchair. And I was so shocked, it was a horrible feeling suddenly being told that you were unsightly, that you were not really for family viewing.

WHITE
But even without such antediluvian attitudes Robert soon realised that the sheer drudgery of touring and performing with the total lack of concessions to access at the time made it a non-starter.

WYATT
The roadies would spend a quarter of an hour getting you into a position on stage then you suddenly have to need a pee and you'd wheel off stage pulling cables out of the back of guitar amps as you went, knocking over music stands and not being able to get round the array of amplifiers. And it all became a bit nightmarish and I lost my nerve and I have to admit Peter that I gave up doing live gigs, I actually crumpled under that one. I wish I'd done more of that now but I just - I just lost it - I just lost it I have to say, yeah.

WHITE
And it was examples like this which convinced Suzanne Bull that it was no good just preaching about accessible venues. Although they were only a small charity they'd have to demonstrate what they were preaching.

WYATT
We have to do it rather than just say it, we have to actively do it as well. So what we do is set up and run Club Attitude, which is a bimonthly club. We ramp the stage, we've got signed performances, we've got audio description for the first time at our live gigs. So we say if we can do it and we're very, very small promoters then other bigger organisations, companies, festivals, venues, promoters can do it as well.

WHITE
Too late though for Robert Wyatt who dealt with the problem by turning himself from a live stage performer into a backstage songwriter.

WYATT
I suddenly realised very quickly and it made me laugh that I was getting a very early lesson in what it's going to be like to be very old. You're kind of removed a bit from the traffic. And I learnt to get interested in little things going on around me, I mean this sounds really corny, but the changing seasons, I never noticed - the seasons don't change when you're on the road, it's just one dressing room and another dressing room, and you don't even notice stuff like that.

WHITE
But even a songwriter sooner or later has to get his music recorded and this is when Robert Wyatt, recording his songs in a mate's top floor flat, has had to demonstrate real dedication to his art.

MUSIC

WYATT
The scariest bit of recording was these four blokes carting me up the staircase which was so narrow they can't even carry me side to side banging our skulls together as we go round corners. I mean last album I was actually in Phil's studio for weeks and there's a camp bed thing that I can get on to and I live in the studio.

MUSIC

WHITE
Robert Wyatt. And I've been talking to other disabled musicians about making it in the image conscious world of rock 'n' roll, including soul singer Teddy Pendergrass and Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen. You can hear that in I Don't Need No Doctor at 8.30 tonight over on Radio 2.

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