Guest article by Jonathan Turner, chief of the excellent SoberPunks blog. This is part of our #MentallySound series, discussing mental health in music.
Somewhere back in August 2015 there was a standard weekend happening for me. Standard in that it had become the norm ever since the birth of Petrol Bastard in a Huddersfield pub in 2012; a crazy techno-punk band borne of a manifesto drunkenly written up between me and my bandmate Ben:
- Fast music only
- Live recordings only
- Repetitive lyrics so they’re easy to learn
- Tons of swearing
- Never write or record sober
- Never gig sober
- Never do anything sober
We both enjoyed some pretty hardcore drinking already, but this new set of rules made boozing the absolute centre of everything we did as a band. This was gunna be a crazy ride; a band BY the drinkers, FOR the drinkers. Songs about being drunk, written whilst drunk, and performed whilst drunk. WE ARE PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS AND WE REQUIRE BOOZE TO OPERATE.
We were animals, and believe me when I tell you that we fucking loved it. How could we not? Wreckheads up and down the country started gleefully repeating our shouty messages of mindless destruction and gay drunken abandon, spinning our records at violent house parties and in sweaty clubs, and so we got to spend every weekend being driven up and down the UK in the back of a van whilst we got twatted on cheap wine and spirits on the way to various gigs and festivals. Often we brought mates along for the ride, and usually we’d be so wrecked by the time we arrived at the show that we couldn’t even remember the lyrics. Should this have been a warning sign that things were getting unhealthy? Meh! People expected it this way. It was part of the show, which fans had paid good money to see.
We even fashioned our own pre-gig drink, which we christened TURBOFUCK and mixed in a kitchen pan with bits of burnt-on pasta: Cheap vodka, White Lightning cider, blackcurrant cordial, can of strong lager, and a sprinkling of pubes.
We guzzled it from old chipped Smarties cups and Leeds Utd mugs, dunked into the pan and thrown all over our faces. This shit was STRONG and got us tossed out of more than a few clubs for unruly behaviour, as well as getting us thrown off the Kunt & The Gang tour following a particularly violent live show where Ben broke a lad’s nose.
And so, on that cold August Saturday morning in 2015, there I was sat on my sofa – having already smashed half a bottle of cheap white wine – and looking out of the window for that lovely steed to pick me up: The Ford Transit of dreams. It arrived, I chucked my stuff in the back, we picked up Ben and a further cavalcade of lads all carrying clinking blue carrier bags, and then we were off on our merry way from Leeds to Glasgow. We were already completely battered before we crossed the border into Scotland, and the piss-bottle was being stretched to its limits, with waz being spilled all over our gear.
The show in Glasgow was due to be a pretty special one, as it was being opened with poetry readings by legendary DC Comics writer Grant Morrison (also the co-creator of recent TV delight Happy!). As it happens I don’t remember seeing him (despite pictures on my phone of us together), and I remember absolutely NOTHING about the gig. My next memory was of waking up on my sofa at home – still covered in black facepaint, and stinking of fags and booze. Video evidence of the gig quickly emerged on Facebook: I’d spent the whole show rolling around on the floor, screaming something unintelligible into the microphone. Something about ‘everybody is a nice people and we’re all friends of forever’ or some guff, over and over and over. I couldn’t even stand up. What a mess.
This is the way it always went, the partying and the drinking and the partying and the drinking, but there’s only so long that you can sustain that level of bodily abuse. Getting on the train to work with a black eye and stinking of whisky was funny the first couple of times, but pretty soon it got boring, then it got worrying. And OH GOD the hangovers. Soon they were stretching until Wednesday or Thursday every week, and people in the office were starting to notice that something wasn’t right. I spent my days slumped and sweating, trying to keep my eyes open.
The problem with being a weekend-warrior is that the issues it spawns become self-perpetuating: you drink, so then you’re too hungover at work to perform your job satisfactorily, so you get worried and unhappy, so you drink more to deal with the stress and unhappiness, and the next week the hangovers at work are even worse, so the stresses become higher, so you drink more, and so on, and so on.
It forces you down a spiral, and where you can land – or at least where I landed – is in a place of needing to drink to feel even vaguely normal. I perpetuated this kind of pendulemic drink/hangover/drink/hangover behaviour pretty relentlessly for a good 15+ years, and the normalization of drinking that was inherent with the gigging life meant that for the first 3 years of Petrol Bastard, from 2012 to 2015, I was a constant mess, and starting to really feel it.
Becoming ‘happy’ was no longer my aim in life – I just wanted to be ‘less unhappy’.
It was fucking rubbish. I had no savings, I was becoming quite the lardy chubster, work worries were grinding me into the ground, and my personal relationships were struggling as a result of my manic drinking and miserable hangovers.
I consider myself to be a mentally strong person, meaning I’m pretty resilient and able to keep pushing onwards when things get tough, but I was getting to the limit of what I could handle. My balls had been dangling in the fire for long enough, and they were starting to singe. If you know what I mean.
I admired the chaotic beauty we had built with Petrol Bastard, but something had to change for my own sanity, otherwise my brain would have popped and I’d have potentially ended up driving all the way to Dundee in my bare feet (little Alan Partridge reference there for all you 90’s comedy fans).
There was only one option available to me: put the booze down. And so I did, on September 8th 2015, after a particularly miserable solo drinking session where I caned a couple of litres of cheap red wine, and spent hours trying to remove a contact lens that wasn’t there (fucking ouch).
And so the gigging continued for a further 2 years, but this time with no alcohol going anywhere near my lips. Being the sober person isn’t very rock and roll, and it also feels somewhat fraudulent when you’ve built your brand and your fanbase on the back of drinking. There have been more than a few occasions where I’ve been passed a bottle of Buckfast or Jagermeister from an audience member mid-gig, and had to pretend to take a swig just to hold character. It felt pretty sneaky at the time, but eventually people in the scene started to realise that I wasn’t drinking anymore – and some amazing and unexpected benefits started to shine through; other band members were approaching me at gigs and gushing their own drinking worries at me. I became the man to go to for advice on getting sober, especially in the local punk scene.
Problem drinking among musicians was a much bigger issue than I’d realised – and it felt good to be able to help these guys out with tips on getting off the booze. I was getting this weird fuzzy warm sensation in my barse, and the more people I helped, the nicer it got. Mmmm lovely toasty undercarriage from doing nice things.
A year into sobriety I decided to start writing about my experiences of getting off the pop, as well as documenting some of the more ‘colorful’ tales from my drinking career, so I created my sweary blog www.soberpunks.co.uk which I still update regularly.
Through this I’ve been able to connect with a whole world of ‘problem drinkers’ – and more specifically, connect with people in the alternative music scene to talk about these things – a scene which arguably suffers more than any other at the hands of addiction issues. I suppose maybe angry music appeals to angry people, and angry people tend to self-medicate more often than content and happy people…?
So why am I telling you all of this guff?
Well, Shout Louder is primarily about music, but also has long been an advocate of supporting mental health issues under the #MentallySound banner, and although not necessarily a mental health issue in itself – it’s no secret that alcoholism won’t help with the majority of negative feelings synonymous with mental health issues – such as anxiety and depression.
Booze may give you a short-term escape from the bad thoughts that can cloud your mind, but in the long term it’s a depressant. Not only that, but drunken tomfoolery will also serve to do nothing but heighten any insecurities or paranoia you may harbour, whether it’s because you got battered and said something you shouldn’t have, or spent money you couldn’t afford, or got yourself in trouble with the law. Even small stuff like eating junk food, or missing a day at the gym due to a hangover, can put you in a place where you feel like things are spiraling away from you. Not good for anyone, nevermind someone suffering mental health issues.
As someone closely linked with the music scene – whether it’s as a musician, a gig-goer, a rockstar’s squeeze, a sound guy, a promoter or whatever – you are likely to spend a disproportionately large amount of your time around drink, and around drinkers. Mix this booze-exposure with the aforementioned mental health issues, and you’ve got a potentially precarious and messy situation on your hands.
It’s good to review the booze-angle every now and then, and see if there’s a way in which you could be making things easier for yourself.
The message I’m carrying here is simple: If you’re struggling at life, and you’re using booze to soothe those pains and forget your problems, then try a little test: Get off the drink for a few weeks, and see how you feel.
You might hate it, and if so I’m more than happy for you to tell me to fuck off. But what you might find, and what I found – along with the majority of people who take the plunge – is that a fucktonne of benefits will come out of the woodwork:
- Saving money
- Losing weight – Less booze calories, fewer bad food choices
- Focused mind – No more hangover brain-fog
- Better sleep – Basically, makes living easier. Also you’ll become mega-productive
- Better decision making
- Better relationships – Everyone loves a drunk bastard, but it’s good to have more than beer in common with your mates
I’m now into my fourth year of sobriety, and it’s hard to put into words just how much my life has changed due to putting down the drink – all for the better.
I found a job that I like, I got married, I bought a flat, I ran my first half-marathon, I started making solid new friendships based on shared interests like climbing and sports, I look younger than I did ten years ago, I have disposable income to spunk all over the place, the list goes on…
But there have been some downsides too – I’m not gunna lie to you guys. My band, Petrol Bastard, came to a head – which sucked. I honestly thought we’d be doing it forever, but at nearly 40 it started to feel like the gigging was a drag. We ended it with an awesome sold-out gig on Halloween 2017, and walked away knowing that it was a job well done. Better to burn out than fade away, right?
If you are a problem drinker, like I was, then becoming sober changes you. Yes, it can look from the outside like your ‘venom’ has gone when you stop kicking over tables in pubs, but all that happens is that you become the REAL you – the you that you want to be. You get back the time and the clarity of thought that alcohol stole from you, and with that you can turn your energies into whatever you want! Learn a new trade! Travel! Start a business!
People say you have to be into getting wasted to be a proper punk. I disagree completely. For me, the spirit of punk is about doing exactly what YOU want to do, and living life by YOUR OWN rules. Sobriety lets you do exactly that.
And so let’s all join hands, and repeat after me… THERE’S NOTHING MORE PUNK THAN BEING SOBER. THERE’S NOTHING MORE PUNK THAN BEING SOBER.
It’s all about taking back control of your own life. You may not need the words in this article. You may already not drink, or you may be able to drink without it fucking everything up for you. If that’s the case then I say DRINK ON! But for the others, for those of us who can’t pick up a beer without it leading to a whole world of bad choices and damaging thoughts, I say just this: try sobriety. It might be just what you need. Going sober is the greatest thing I ever did, and it could work out just the same for you.
Jonathan – www.soberpunks.co.uk
Shout Louder highly recommends checking out SoberPunks – it’s an entertaining and encouraging read that will resonate with drinkers and non-drinkers alike.
Explore our #MentallySound series for more articles about mental health in music.
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