“I want to be a part of a wave that sees disabled artists rise to the top of the music industry”.
The only idiosyncrasy I have is that I suffer from a degenerative condition called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which has left me wheelchair bound.
I don’t want an X-Factor reaction with Coldplay playing over a vignette of me crying and sobbing about my life’s troubles. Nobody wants to see a ruddy, chubby-faced Northerner cry, it’s not good for my faux-macho pride. However, I would like to discuss my journey in music thus far and how my disability has come to be a barrier when trying to make a dream of mine a reality.
How I became JD Weaver
During my youth, I had always sensed I was different, like somehow I just didn’t belong. Whether it was teachers saying I didn’t join in or doctors saying they believed there was something strange with my development, I somehow had a hunch that I wasn’t quite ‘normal’ – if normality exists.
After years of tests and doctor’s examining, I was diagnosed with a DMD, which I didn’t understand nor could I spell at the tender age of nine.
As much as this is difficult to trudge over again, it has an important part of my development as a songwriter/musician. For years afterwards I hid the anger I felt from being a child, my disability changed everything for me. I went from socialising a lot to slowly spending less time with outside world and a lot of the relationships I formed with my able bodied friends changed or seized to exist. I became a stereotype in my head, I felt less than useless and so I needed a release.
My release was music. Despite being brought up on great music, mostly rock, I had never really believed I was capable of anything within that field so I decided to put it to one side. However, when the reality of my health became known to me it gave me incentive. I thought to myself, “what does life have in store for me?” and “what can I achieve with my life?”. For a lot of disabled people diagnosis isn’t the hardest part, it’s the rebuilding of your life afterwards and trying to find your place in spite of something so seemingly devastating.
For me, I saw I had the opportunity to write about my life experiences from a young age and genuinely deal with it in a way that didn’t lead to self destruction. It seems so strange that I am speaking about a child/young man, it feels like I should be speaking about someone a lot older. When you’re a kid you never think you can get sick, you’re indestructible in your head, but life tells you otherwise. I learnt quickly that you may not get what you want, but to let what you have stop you doing anything disrespects all those people who have come and gone before you with similar problems, yet lived fulfilled lives.
After some pondering, I began to record bootleg demos from my room and some with people I had met over the years. There was something within them, something raw that could be awakened I felt. I had a small song called ‘Sunshine Perspective’, although by far not an example of great musicianship, it had sort of a cult following around the Cheshire. It was in fact written as a homage to one of my friends at the time, who I won’t name because don’t want to embarrass her. That was written after battling my health and having a lot of issues, it’s about getting accepted by people and how it made me feel good. I’ll take happiness as I’ll admit it is a rarity for me. I have constant battles with my mental health and depression, but every now and again something small will make me smile, leading to a ‘Sunshine Perspective’. This can’t be heard at the moment, but I would love to rework it now I am performing at a much higher standard, and work it into later projects.
I kept plugging away for a year with labels/managers but I was probably naive in thinking off the back of a unheard of demo that I would become the next Ed Sheeran. However, the right people heard it and producers really were complimentary about my work and offered their support/help in getting an EP recorded.This, unfortunately, came to nothing due to budget and the fact that my disability affects travelling.
Recording an EP
A few months went on and I was put in touch with Roundtable UK, a charity who support varying projects in the UK. In this instance I began speaking to a man named Paul from Worcester Round Table, due to the fact at the time I was a student at the University of Worcester. He was a kind man and believed in my vision and what I hoped to achieve, and so he helped give me the £2,000 I needed to afford recording costs.
Instead of looking broadly, I found contact with a local producer named Bob Cooper, who worked with mostly indie bands around Manchester and was a producer at Airtight Studios, famed for being a recording space for artists such as KT Tunstall. This was a great experience, but as a disabled musician it was hard due to the lack of access to the studio. I had to rely on my father picking me up over a step and helping me in. It was frustrating, when you’re disabled you always compromise and you never have it your way, with accessibility being a huge issue. This doesn’t affect my opinion on the music and Bob himself, he is one of the best producers you can work with and was actually compassionate to my situation and wasn’t just there to make money. We wouldn’t leave that studio with a piece of trash, we worked tirelessly to make it as kick-ass as possible, and I feel we really made something to cherish.
Thus my first EP ‘Where Eagle’s Fly’ was created, which explores my feelings, through a native character who I feel represents what intolerance can do to people. We have so many native people who have been targeted and attacked unfairly solely on this basis that they are somehow different, which I can relate to. I am in a minority that often is targeted as being weak and insubordinate to society. If we all realised that human’s share indifference and that we all are part of a great race, the human race, then maybe just maybe we could have a world to be proud of and one that has little room for improvement.
For me, I feel a close bond to native people and I am hugely interested in their history and culture. I woke up one day and my whole life changed, I went from someone who was accepted by society and now I feel like someone who is shunned by society and the bottom of the pecking order. That’s why I made it a concept EP because I did not want to not talk about my disability as it would alienate audiences who weren’t disabled, my music is about bringing people (all people) together regardless of ability, gender, race/creed etc.
I wanted to widen the net, metaphorically speaking. I can make a wider social statement, which is: ‘a lot of people are often treated unfairly solely on the basis of the fact they are deemed different’.
I’d love to live in a world that I could be more proud of, who knows in time we may speak in a more positive light about society, but for now there are many people left in the wilderness.
Now I am looking for labels and management after opportunities to travel to USA fell through again due to health reasons. However, as much as I feel I have achieved a great EP and have had extensive plays, highlights being plays on the Justin Wayne podcast and an appearance on the WCRPB blog (Princeton University), I genuinely feel there is a lack of respect towards disabled artists.
Labels feel they can’t market you and those that think they can’t want to market your disability over your own potential. I’d rather someone buy my music for me rather than out of sympathy.
I don’t gig much due to access which also affects promotion, which leads to a lot of professionals not taking me seriously, it’s a real vicious circle being a disabled artist. It almost resembles society in a weird way. I can’t get the exposure I desire so I look for help, when I reach for the help it’s torn from me. Similarly, I have a statistically shocking less chance of employment regardless of qualifications, when I look for financial assistance I am demonised and/or it is cruelly taken from me.
I want to be a part of a wave that sees disabled artists rise to the top of the music industry, although it may not happen during my lifetime I hope that we can rise from what society says the community is capable of.
I need all the support I can get and would appreciate the love, maybe just maybe I can get signed to a label that represents music, rather than the money. At the end of the day to quote my favourite musican John Butler, ‘your wealth now is your health but you’re a long time dead’ (from Gonna Take It). I interpret this as meaning money means nothing, but acting morally and giving people the chances they deserve no matter what background they come from is really how we can be fulfilled.
I hope I don’t let disabled people and any of you who’ve been kind enough to read this down.