Rob Maddison: Music, therapy and accessibility
Posted by: The personal injury help and advice team
In the second part of our exclusive interview, Rob Maddison chats to us about music after injury.
Did your relationship with music change after your injury? Do you find it a form of therapy?
My relationship with music became more intense than ever after my injury, because music has always been such a huge part of who I am. When you’re struggling to adapt to being disabled, the last thing you want to do is give up anything that forms part of your identity.
Before I had even considered the physical challenges that I’d have to face in order to regain my life in music, I was overwhelmed with support from all my friends involved in the Nottingham music scene.
I had barely been out of rehab and the amazing people at BBC Nottingham got me in for a radio session, so I had a real kick start and it was a fantastic welcome back.
I pretty much picked up where I left off with writing and producing music, but having to adapt to playing drums without the use of legs was quite a challenge.
I had a friend who was an orchestral percussionist and that gave me the idea of using multiple sticks in each hand so I could cover the same amount of beats that I would normally be playing with my legs.
I continued in developing my band ‘Spaceships are cool’ and it wasn’t long before I had assembled a seven piece live band. We ended up playing shows all around the world, so the music really did become pure escapism for me.
You’re an ambassador for the music charity Attitude Is Everything, is accessibility in the music world changing for the better?
Shortly after I started to play music again, I then faced the reality of venue accessibility or lack thereof. It was a huge shock to the system.
About 80% of the venues were now impossible for me to get in without being carried down or upstairs and finding an accessible toilet was like a quest for the Holy Grail. I quickly found myself being proud of my plucky band carrying me up crazy flights of stairs and, at the same time, becoming really angry at the lack of provision for disabled artists.
It wasn’t long after this that I was contacted by Attitude is Everything, who wanted to know if I’d be interested in playing at a stage they were running at Glastonbury festival… “hell-yeah!” Meeting Suzanne and the Attitude is Everything team really opened my eyes to the accessibility challenges that face not only artists, but deaf and disabled audiences as well.
Over the last few years, I’ve certainly noticed some really good progress with audience accessibility to live music.
On the whole I haven’t really come across any deliberate barriers to disabled artists in the music industry, but it remains a fact that we are still getting a raw deal in terms of venue access, travel and accommodation.
In a 2013 Huffington Post article, you asked “where are all the disabled musicians?” Do you still feel the same?
Sadly, I do feel the same. Even though charities like Attitude is Everything, along with industry bodies UK Music and PRS, are making a great deal of progress, the music industry and media still have to work harder to provide opportunities for disabled artists to breakthrough.
The music industry on the whole has traditionally been a socially progressive one and yet it can still feel like a bit of an exclusion zone if you’re disabled. So you still don’t see many, if any, high profile disabled artists. There are around 11 million disabled people in the UK so it’s simply impossible to believe that there’s not a whole bunch of amazing stars in that lot.
Awareness is key, but how do you inspire young people to pursue a career in music when there’s nobody up there doing it? Personally, I find that it’s a real catch 22 situation. You don’t want to be known simply as ‘that disabled musician’ and yet if you aren’t making a point of it, how do you raise awareness?
A tricky balance must be struck. Disabled artists should never be a side show, and the industry has to be fully integrated to become truly inclusive.
Your work will encourage younger generations to share their passion despite disability. Who or what inspires you?
I guess for me there’s different types of inspiration; what inspires me as an artist can at times be totally different to what inspires me in other aspects of my life.
As a musician I’m inspired by anything that pushes the boundaries. I don’t believe that any artist should be told that there are limits to what is and is not possible and I think that translates well into my everyday life too.
Our ability to break through the boundaries that divide us is constantly inspiring. If I had to make a list of people who have inspired me over the years, I’d probably run out of paper.
Read part one of our interview with Rob here.