“If I'd told you last year everything that was going to have happened in your life over the past six months, you wouldn't have believed me”, a friend mused over the phone. She was right. I wouldn't have wanted to know. As I stood in my Dad's dressing gown, watching the last of the evening light fade over the hills in the distance, my shaken mind felt another tremor.
2020 was set to be a 'career breaker' for me. A three month tour of Europe, interspersed throughout the year working for a German record label, was to have me seen performing all over the Continent, playing every evening to hundreds, and cumulatively thousands, of Blues fans, from Edinburgh to Berlin, Vienna to Hartlepool.
Between the legs of the tour, I would return home to Devon, where I drummed in two bands with my Dad, a professional Blues musician and writer, who had fifty years himself of stories from the road. In April 2019, when I got the offer of this tour, Dad was thrilled, despite a slight frustration that we wouldn't be able to gig together for a proportion of the year. His sidekick would also be gone for three months, for not only were we father and daughter, but also best friends.
In July, I went to Berlin to record the promotional video for the tour, and enjoyed a carefree summer, for once with the future looking financially brighter. But more importantly, I was finally able to claim that I was a ‘professional working musician’. I was about to do the thing I loved the most for a living; my ambition had come true.
Artwork by Emma Dutton
However, 2020 didn't turn out as it was supposed to, and nor did the rest of 2019.
On 13th September, my world collapsed in an instant, changing my life as I knew it forever, and causing me to wonder ever since how to navigate the rest of it.
It was a hot, beautiful day, and having returned from a family holiday just five days before, the buzz of Summer still lingered. Dad had done a solo gig the night before and spent the morning finishing an article for an American guitar magazine, whilst Mum and I worked a lunchtime shift at our local pub.
"On 13th September, my world collapsed in an instant, changing my life as I knew it forever, and causing me to wonder ever since how to navigate the rest of it."
After, I had visited several of my drum students, thinking that I was to go for a bike ride by the river with my Dad later on. Returning home around 5pm, I found that Dad had already gone out. He could be quite spontaneous, and had clearly forgotten our earlier conversation. Checking my emails, I found I’d been offered a wedding gig for the following night, and suddenly panicked at the 36 songs I had to learn. Neither my Mum or I had been much aware of the time, suspecting that Dad had popped to a supermarket on his way home, or that he had chosen to stay out a little longer than usual to enjoy the evening.
Around 7.30pm, whilst listening to the wedding set list,my Mum’s voice called urgently upstairs. She had been on the phone to the hospital. Dad had fallen off his bike several hours ago and was in A&E. With no ID on him, we’d been uninformed for some hours.
Dad had cycled this trail many times, and had never fallen off his bike before. What had happened, and why? I raced us both to hospital, not knowing the severity of the situation, numb with disbelief. My hope was for Dad to be conscious, perhaps with some badly broken bones. My fear of course was an obvious one. With a full harvest moon hanging low in the night sky, we soon learnt of Dad’s condition. A broken neck and a cardiac arrest, with the mystery as to why he fell remaining. I’d worried about my Dad dying for a while, suffering with anxiety since I lost my oldest brother Jonathan to cancer in 2012. I knew life could end abruptly, but didn’t imagine it might happen like this, nor this soon.
My brother Sam rushed home on the last train from London, and we spent a harrowing night in Intensive Care. If there's a defining feeling of isolation, it was the 24 hours we spent there. The void of the grey ‘family room’ was palpable, the only window facing a brick wall. Sleep deprived, we were not prepared for the unwelcome news the following day. Unable to breathe for himself, our worst fears were confirmed. There was nothing more they could do.
Returning home that afternoon, I wondered whether the taxi driver had any idea of the nightmare we had just endured.
"I will never forget the kindness and love shown by the masses of visitors to our tiny house."
Traumatised, adrenaline sustained us during the days and weeks which followed. Many evenings were spent sitting up the garden with friends drinking wine by candlelight, whilst daytimes were for drinking tea and talking, or not talking, depending on how we were feeling. I will never forget the kindness and love shown by the masses of visitors to our tiny house. The support was overwhelming.
Autumn drifted by. Reluctant to cancel gigs or let my drum students down, I reassured myself Dad would want me to keep going. In November, I recorded my first album in Germany for the record label. Having thought I was capable, I soon realised that the pressure was too much for me, as naturally the expectations of me were high and I was still feeling far too fragile. I realised that touring wasn’t yet an option, nor did I wish to leave my mother alone for three months. Being away from home, even whilst still in Europe, felt further away as never before. The reaction to my decision was not well received. With the owner of the record label claiming I was ‘letting my Dad down’, ‘using my Dad dying as an excuse not to tour’, let alone ‘ruining his Christmas’ now that he had to hurry to find another drummer, winter felt harsh.
"With deep purple evening skies and a loneliness like I've never felt before, the season matched my emotions."
With deep purple evening skies and a loneliness like I've never felt before, the season matched my emotions. Raw and unrelenting with unforgiving storms, we nurtured ourselves with log fires, scratch meals, wine and television. Nature pushed us further to take shelter inside our little house, the only place I felt truly safe. It seemed the darkest winter I have ever remembered, and at times it felt like we were living in the Arctic Circle.
Only after Christmas did the shock truly subside & reality start to kick in. The New Year wasn’t exactly looking rosy, but it was a chance to attempt our ‘new normal’, despite feeling my whole life, let alone the year, had started again in September.
With pictures and videos flowing on my social media of the tour I should have been on, my mood was suffering. With just a handful of gigs, a tricky year of anniversaries ahead and a new family dynamic to adapt to, life seemed - and remains - an uphill struggle.
Spring, bringing with it new life, has given me the chance to breathe a little. Never have I been more appreciative of the multitude of colours offered by wildflowers, or the beauty of birdsong. Having unexpected time recently has given me the chance to slow down, having felt I was doing too much too soon. The only way I’ve found is to take one day at a time.
Written by Lucy Piper