Paul performing to residents on the dementia unit at Glastonbury Care Home. Not a trumpet in sight as Paul plays and sings a beautiful rendition of the classic Cat Stevens song 'Moonshadow'
GCH residents really enjoyed listening to the flugelhorn piece: Feelings by Morris Albert.
Wells City Band has travelled a remarkably long way in a year. It’s been a privilege working with them - their debut concert at Cedars Hall (November 22) was a joy. A full band, no deps, big audience and a brass band doing what it does best serving it's community.
Wells City Band
Paul joined Wells City Band in Autumn 2021 and was appointed as Musical and Artistic Director.
WCB is a brass band based in Wells, the cathedral city in the Mendip district of Somerset. The aim of the band is to serve the community by playing concerts and at events such as fetes, festivals, local celebrations and generally entertaining the people and visitors of Wells.
It is a fun and lively band, with its members thoroughly enjoying learning the skills that Paul has been able to bring to the band. Please find out more here Wells City Band
Glastonbury Care Home
Paul enjoys volunteering each week at Glastonbury Care Home, bringing music to the bedside of residents who cannot leave their beds is a particular passion. He also does group sessions with the activities team. The residents absolutely love the chance to hear live music and the benefits are felt on every visit, both by Paul and the residents. The power of music never fails to bring so much joy and comfort.
Each month the care home produces a newsletter to which Paul is a regular contributor, below are the articles that Paul has written. They are all very thought provoking, heart warming pieces, written from the heart. Paul feels so honoured and humbled to be able to give this magical gift to the residents who are facing the ends of their lives.
If you would like to find out more about volunteering at Glastonbury Care Home or read the monthly newsletter please click here.
SHAKE RATTLE AND SING
A year ago my father was admitted to a care home in Kent. A long commute from Somerset up and down the A303, M3 and the joy that is the M25.
When visiting my father it had a deep effect on me but in one way I hadn't expected. Shame. I realised with utter shame that as a professional musician of 35 years I had done very little to give any of my time to these wonderful people at the later end of their lives. Driving alone back up the A303 after a visit to dad I realised what was so shameful was I had all these musical skills as a trumpet player, piano player, guitarist and songwriter and through music should have, and could, bring so much well being in a host of ways that I had never thought possible. The question that nagged me over and over again was where had I been for 35 years for our elderly? Why hadn't I found an hour a week or even a month to go and give my time as a musician to those who had given all their lives?
My father said on one visit he had experienced his best day ever in the care home because two ladies came to sing to them. He said they weren't very good (!) but it had made him forget about himself and about being old for an hour as he sang along. Driving yet again back up the A303 at 11pm that was it for me. It was time for Paul to stop talking about it and step up and importantly volunteer not be paid. In my head if I'm paid to play music my mind shifts into professional musician mode. I just wanted to make music with the residents, residents just like my dad. Before Christmas I found myself volunteering at Glastonbury Care Home twice a week in music sessions.
As a musician I had worked with all sorts of people, children and animals, on all genres of music, in different countries, in all sorts of venues but never ever had I worked with elderly residents in a care home. I was out of my comfort zone. Playing a trumpet solo at The Royal Albert Hall live on TV was less terrifying. I actually like being out of the comfort zone but on my first visit to GCH I would have given anything to be comfortable.
I was learning on the job how to musically communicate with these remarkable people. In four months I have learned so much from them and the staff and about me as a musician. I humbly witnessed the well being emotional power of music and its untouchable magic. Music is emotional and sings the soul of every human being and I soon discovered with the GCH elderly residents it can be so much more powerful than even I had experienced as a professional musician.
We meet twice a week on a Tuesday and a Thursday for an hour. The residents sing a wide variety of songs together from Elvis, The Beatles, to songs of the great musicals, to folk tunes to ABBA. During the sessions the residents have access to a host of shakers, rattles, tambourines to feel and play the beats and rhythms of the music. If they can't hold a shaker or cabasa, no problem, then their clapping hands or tapping knees are great body percussion.
What has struck me is how so many of them can remember the lyrics of these songs and from memory, decades later. As they will tell you, I have trouble remembering the lyrics and I have the music in front of me, which causes great hilarity between us as I make up lyrics. Even if lyrics can't be remembered then a good dose of 'la la la' or humming does just fine, something I resort to in my desperation in the middle of What A Wonderful World to find that change from D minor to Db major.
Through these music sessions and the joy of music making together I have come to know the residents well such as Ruth, Delphine, John, David and many more. At the end of the sessions chatting with them and listening in fascination to their stories and experiences of their families, their lives and their memories is a pleasure. Making music has brought us together as unexpected friends as well as music makers. I have learned much from them and the staff at GCH, some of whom often pop in and join in a song or two notably with the Nah Nah Nah ending in Hey Jude, the greatest song ending of all time and GCH do it well!
As the weeks go by we will be adding more songs to the GCH playlist, songs suggested weekly by residents and staff, and I will add more percussion instruments but above all we will keep enjoying ourselves as we shake rattle and sing GCH from its roof to its foundations. Thank you to music!
Pass GO Collect £200
I've been playing bedside for June in Sharpham who recently asked me how I came to be at GCH. After reciting the tale of my dad being in a care home until he died in March and how utterly ashamed I was I had never stepped foot in a care home until dad was admitted, June asked ‘is it what you expected?’ To which I answered ‘no nothing like’. June followed in with ‘why was that?’ I responded ‘to be honest June I hadn’t anticipated finding so much care from those being cared for’.
As I travel twice a week on The Bedside Tour 2022 the unexpected has been the genuine warmth, love and care shown by residents which has humbled this battle hardened, battered professional musician. They bring me home to me. I’m regularly given care and advice such as:
"Are you eating properly? You could do with more veggies"
"Don’t go out in the cold with your hair wet you’ll get a chill."
"Paul you're looking tired, go to bed before midnight."
"Paul stop dashing around you’ll burn out."
"Make sure you get your feet measured properly"
"Remember to enjoy what you have and don't worry about the future."
"Make sure you wear a vest."
"Don't forget mothers day."
All good stuff my mum said including don’t forget Mother’s Day(!). Except they are not my mum. I used to think there’s not much I will be able to offer the world when I pass go at 75 collect £200 and fall into a wheel chair to watch endless Homes Under the Hammer … wrong.
They may not be able to cook my mixed veg for me, knit me a vest or blow dry my hair or buy that mothers day card I forgot yet again because I’m dashing around but they give so much more. It is priceless and bizarrely give what can be missing from those that can cook me a broccoli bake. From their bed or an armchair they radiate genuine, kindness, thoughtfulness, wisdom, naughty banter and quick humour. What leaves a lasting impression on my journey home is they do all this not because they want anything in return from me. A new concept compared to my working world. They just want to pass the good stuff on and it's free. Why? Because they have been where I have been. They went out with their hair wet and got a chill, left the vest at home or bought shoes that looked great but really hurt!
June has been saying that I would be a good match for one of her grand daughters who lives abroad. I said that's a long way to go on a blind date to which she said ‘not when you see her it won’t be!’ Lovely June great company in her nineties!
Last week I sat in a bar with a fairly young pro trumpet player in their late thirties and all they could talk about was trumpets. I sat there staring into my beer wishing I was sitting chatting with June about anything and everything including how to cook broccoli, laughing about my wish to have a hair style like Roger Taylor when he was 20 and learning to stop worrying about the future. Wish June played the trumpet...
Music is Memories
It is a year since musical shame galvanised me into taking my first step as a music volunteer in a care home. I’ve never done things by half so my first offering was an entire brass band. As the band were setting up I nervously took time to speak to some of the residents. Apart from my nan my social interaction with this generation was virtually nil.
I will never forget John. John was a wheelchair bound gentlemen who had asked me if he could be seated by the euphonium player. I asked him why he wanted to sit so close to a euphonium? John said he had played the euphonium at school and was terrible at it but had loved the social time of playing in the school band and for this one hour he would forget he was old and restricted by his wheelchair and would only remember being young in the school band.
I will never forget Anne. Anne asked me what instrument I played to which I said the trumpet. Anne said all the cool good looking men played the trumpet (of course). Flattered and blushing I asked her why she thought that? She told me the love of her life had played the trumpet and they had been very happy together until Anne decided to say goodbye to her trumpet man. Seventy years later she said she still doesn’t know why she did it. Anne said she went on to marry someone else and although their marriage was ‘good’ she never truly loved another man like she had 'her trumpet player'. She never saw or heard from him again but throughout her life every time she hears the trumpet she still thinks of him and how much she still loves him.
I will never forget Barbara. Barbara had been a music teacher and conducted many youth brass bands throughout her career. She asked me was I the conductor? I said I was. She said when ever she hears a brass band it still makes her smile no matter how much pain she is in or how lonely she feels.
Our favourite music transcends a life time and for John, Anne and Barbara it was the sound of a particular instrument that was an important sound track to their lives. The sound of brass still evoked in them love, happiness, youth, a smile and for that brief moment in their week it made them forget and only remember the good in their lives.
Music can't be seen and can't be touched, just like the human soul, and that's exactly why they are the perfect partners and why one can't do without the other. I never saw John, Anne and Barbara again and I sometimes think of them when I am playing and how one day it will be me. If I'm lucky to make it to a care home like GCH I hope a rock band will come to play. I won't be able to head-bang but I will sit as close to the lead guitarist as possible, smile and recall the days I didn't think about being old except when I saw my nan.
LIVE TO JUMP and JUMP TO LIVE
‘I wanna see every hand in the air Cardiff and you jumping! You’ll be too old to jump one day.’
I'm currently in the middle of the live gig trail to see my favourite rock bands. I love it. Support bands don’t often leave lasting impressions. But at a recent gig a support band not only really captured the essence of rock music but also left an unexpected impression on me. It’s difficult to meet a band after a gig but I was lucky enough to meet the lead singer of this band in the bar. I did the usual fan gushing. He replied with the standard ‘thanks man, means a lot.’ Cue selfie. I asked him about telling the crowd to jump while they still can. He said his Gran is always telling him to enjoy what he has while he still has it as one day he won’t have it at all, guaranteed.
Midnight drive home it’s pouring with rain. As usual I had no music on, silence makes the evening music special. It means I think - a lot. I started thinking how I hadn’t expected a 20 something old long haired, leather jacket, hard rock singer to be touched enough by some one of senior age to say what he said. Why was I surprised when he referred to his Gran on stage ? It was the word ‘guaranteed’ that shook me. Everybody’s life from baby to forty to beyond is touched by someone in their senior years. This long haired singer in a rock band, living his dream was no exception. He was subconsciously passing on his Grans' message to people he, nor his Gran, even knew. Hundreds of people at the gig were unknowingly touched by someone of elderly age.
The long haired rock singers Gran taught me her life should be about celebrating all she has experienced and learned from successes and mistakes to make sure I enjoy life to the full whatever the challenges or difficulties. How unbelievably precious is that? But only if I pause, take the time to listen and actually act.
I sat in my kitchen at 2am ears ringing, neck and legs aching reflecting on a great gig. As I slouched ever deeper in the chair and into a milky drink suggested by my 92 year old mum I thought that maybe I’m getting too old to rock live. Then I remembered the gran whom I had never met pass on an important message to me that night in Cardiff. Paul rock till you drop! Grab every chance presented to you to be genuinely happy for they are very rare.
The time will arrive when its my turn to pass on to those following on behind me the simple but beautiful message; while you have the chance to jump and raise your hands do it big, relax, enjoy every single second of it, love doing it, don’t over think it and don't live to regret you didn’t do it because by then it’s too late to jump no matter how much you want to or how hard you try it wont happen - guaranteed.
Live to jump and jump to live!
BREATHING IS FEELING
Volunteering as a musician seemed obvious and easy to me. I would turn up every play a few tunes, make residents happy, walk away, get on with the rest of my week without a thought of GCH until I wandered back to do it all again. Even with all the 34 years of professional playing my naivety showed quickly just how wrong my pre-perceptions were. What I hadn’t realised playing music with these wonderful residents is just how much I would learn about music, how much I would learn about myself and about my life, past, present and most importantly my future and just how as a professional musician I had lost the deepest connection of music to the human soul.
As a professional musician you have your instrument, you get up on stage, you perform, people clap or boo and worse (if they so wish) and then you wander off to the next gig, the audience wanders off to their lives. In many ways you are never really certain of what emotional connection you have made with an audience because it's a performance with lights, stage, sound system, conductors, backstage crew, audience out front musicians backstage or onstage - it's a show, an entertainment. Then wrapped around this show is the huge pressures and stress of being as perfect as you can on every performance. After all this is how you pay your gas bill and for your baked beans. If you are not good you don't earn. This has been my 35 years of music making.
Sitting with a guitar singing at the bedside of residents at GCH is the polar opposite of this. It's just me, a guitar and a resident with a life story to tell surrounded by all the pictures of their life. Playing music at such close quarters to another human being without any of the paraphernalia that usually goes with any musical performance is music at its rawest. It is music at its most human whoever you are and wherever you are at whatever stage of life from a mother singing to her new born baby to an elderly person sharing a memory. It is music coming from one heart through fingers and voice and touching another heart deep inside where nothing else can reach and with nothing but nothing in-between.
I had often driven away from GCH not feeling virtuous in any way shape or form but always wondering if, I am lucky enough to make it that far in my life and I am in a care home as wonderfully caring as GCH, how would I feel when I can no longer do all the active things I love to do now and sharing them with the few closest and dearest to me? What will I feel when I hear a trumpet, a guitar, a piano, the songs of McCartney and Lennon, or my favourite bands Bon Jovi and Aerosmith but I can no longer play those songs anymore or even sing along or enjoy dancing around the living room awkwardly but in a happy fantasy of pretending to be up there with John, Paul, Jon and Steve?
What I have learned and has touched me so deeply from sitting with these amazing residents playing music isn’t about perfection or lights, stage, cameras, gloss. It never was. They have taken me full circle to the time I first picked up a trumpet at 11 and then a guitar just because I loved to do it and it stirred emotions inside of me from happy, to unrequited young love, to teenage rebellion. It was an amazing escapism to shut my eyes in the dark lying on my bed dreaming I was up there with John Lennon singing Imagine not because there was a huge crowd and I was signing autographs but because that song and the way he sung it touched me for life and I wanted to be part of that song and that feeling.
Watching and feeling the reactions of the residents at GCH as I strum and sing or blow another weird shaped trumpet for them what I have learned is if you can't smile you can still smile inside. If you can't sing you can still sing in your heart. If you can't clap your hands or tap your feet you can still feel the pulse in your soul. If you can't dance you can still boogie in your mind. If you can't remember you can recall and if you can't open your eyes to see you can still see the happiest, most amazing memories from your life and the people you loved the most.
But most important of all I have learned from them is the belief and hope that if all I can do is breathe and nothing else then I will still feel music deep inside.
It's been a month of music making at GCH where brass has been sounding prominently around GCH and in particular the trumpet.
As well as Wells City Brass Band providing the musical pageantry backdrop to the jubilee party, all shapes and sizes of trumpets have also been played, talked about and sung along to at music circle time. Fanfare trumpets 120 years old used in Westminster Abbey, a 200 year old post horn, a piccolo trumpet the smallest trumpet right through to an original goats horn to demonstrate how in prehistoric times the forerunner of the trumpet sounded! On these amazing instruments residents have sang along to Blue Moon, Chattanooga Choo Choo, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, listened to performances of famous trumpet tunes played at royal weddings, and felt and joined in the rhythm of well known jazz standards as well as stories and anecdotes about the trumpet and professional trumpet playing.
GCH Music In A Word
Following a visit to GCH I was back at the theatre that evening. Feeling fairly sorry for myself as all I had for supper was a garage tikka wrap I started the inevitable trumpet warm up routine.
After a few lip flexibilities a colleague on sax shouted across the pit to me.
‘Alright Paul, what you been doing today?’
‘Playing at Glastonbury Care Home for the residents’ I replied
‘Why? What’s in it for you?’ came back from the other side of the pit and is if to hammer the point followed up with;
‘It’s like that episode in Friends when Joey proves to Phoebe there is no such thing as a selfless act’
I was stuck for words. Laying in bed that night I thought volunteering music at GCH was a totally selfless act. When I play music I always receive something, a wage. On top I might get bonuses like a bottle of wine, flowers, chocolates, free meals, lots more gig offers, huge applause, ego boosting comments and so on. At GCH this is not the case and rightly so. Therefore what did I get out of it that makes me practice new songs the residents and staff request and draws me back through those doors.
Two days later I’m back at GCH this time with guitar in hand as one of the new initiatives is taking music to the bedsides of those that can’t, or find it very difficult to get out of bed. I travel the upstairs corridors and play a song to Terry who after the music sinks in opens his eyes at me for the first time. Next stop Delphine who tells me after I play Moonshadow there were too many sad words so we enjoy playing and singing Beatles songs together.
My last visit before I set up the keyboard to play to those that can make it to the day room is to John. Every time I walk in and sit down by John’s bed he tries to clap - it’s clearly an effort for him. I always have the feeling that John had been a very kind generous man all his life.
I open up with Moonshadow again again and every time I sing the word Moonshadow John mouths the word right on cue throughout the entire song. As I hold the last guitar chord John tries to clap again. It’s difficult for him but he tries. He then looks me straight in the eye and for what seems like an eternity he conjures up the considerable effort and energy to say a word and suddenly he finds that energy and in a very gravelly voice he says ‘magical’.
And there it was, John had given me the answer of why I keep coming back to GCH to play music with the residents and staff.
Returning to the pit again that night and a garage chicken wrap for supper my colleague on sax asks the same question.
‘Come on Paul, what do you get out of playing in a care home for free?’
This time I’m not stuck for words and I only needed one, John’s word.
‘Magical’ I replied
This time it was my sax colleague who had nothing to say.
RIP John 2022
I will be there at your side to remind you
Recently I was a guest at a meeting of amateur musicians. In a break a woman in her 70s turned to me and said ‘Paul how is that music can speak to me in a place I can’t touch?’. I thought it was a wonderful question. I told her I was watching the film Bohemian Rhapsody for what must have been the 20th time in three weeks. On this 20th time for the first time I cried. The tears were unexpected and also at the moment in the film where they started to roll. My tears came when Freddie Mercury started singing the song Love of My Life to 180,000 people in Argentina. During the concert Freddie was unsure whether the audience had understood a word he had said but as soon as Freddie sang the opening line: Love of my life …. 180,000 sang their soul in every word, in English.
It is probably one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It is a song that touches deep where words cant go alone. Its message is simple: every person wants that love in their life in any of its different forms. It's the way Freddie delivers the song. He is living and believes every sound he makes. Freddie has been there, he feels, he knows, he hopes, he remembers. The five lines sang by the 180,000 that caused my tears to start are so simple:
When this is blown over
And everything’s all by the way
When I grow older
I will be there at your side to remind you
How I still love you.
It is this unexplainable part of music delivering the emotions of words that creates something so unique in us and belongs to us and us alone. This can be to 180,000 or at a residents bedside with just a guitar.
Talking to the staff, playing to the residents and seeing the care flowing every second when I'm there at GCH Freddie’s message is alive and flourishing. If he were to walk Into GCH I'm sure he would have sang this song and with the same belief as when he first sang it to his then girlfriend Mary Austin who was always the love of his life. They could never be as Mary wanted but Freddie never loved anyone more. It's a beautiful song because where anyone is in their life, whatever is happening, whatever part of their journey they are on, how ever low or excited true love that cares will always be the most wonderful feeling and when music brings that message home to us I’m afraid I can't explain it other than to show you my tears.
It Started With A Hum
Paul: What would you like me to play for you on Thursday Sue?
Sue: I like the shows anything from the shows
Paul: what about King and I?
Sue: that’s a lovely show
Paul: (embarrassed) my brains seized up Sue I can’t think of any of the songs …
Sue: no I can’t
Paul: What are we like! .. oh I know, how about I Could Have Danced All Night?
Sue: ( laughing) I can’t remember that song or any of the words
Paul: it’s ok I’ll hum it and you can hum along
I start to hum very roughly and then quickly Sue joined in snd proceeded to sing every single word of the song from beginning to end. Me? After first line I failed but I lalala along fascinated as I listened and watched Sue sing to me. Her face happy and her eye contact with sparkled. When she finished we bath laughed.
Paul: I thought you didn’t know any of the words?
Sue: Neither did I.
Paul: but you just sang every word and the right tune
Sue: … but I have a terrible voice now
Paul: no you don’t, it’s beautiful because you felt the music and lived the words.
Sue is not the only resident with dementia I have come across that can recall accurately and deliver a song.
How amazing is it this? Despite the onset of dementia where residents find it such a challenge to remember basics of their lives they can remember music and lyrics often years after not hearing the song let alone sing it. As I hummed that first line somewhere in Sue the sound of music connected deep with in her soul and then for the next few minutes she music transported Sue away into a beautiful space where music was speaking to and for her and she was feeling it’s emotion.
But there is more because what happened next was the song unlocked a whole set of memories for Sue, her brother playing the guitar, her dad playing piano in the front room in Birmingham and recalling herself singing with choirs. She recalled her sister working in a shop and their time living together in their twenties and what a wonderful sister she had been.
I Could Have Danced All Night has in its lyrics:
I could have spread my wings and done a thousand things
I've never done before
I'll never know what made it so exciting
Why all at once my heart took flight
As Sue sang those words I couldn’t help but think, looking at the joy in her eyes and her smile she was spreading her wings again and felt she could do a thousand things.