By Eamonn Keyes
Life can be very strange, which I’m guessing most of us over the age of 18 know by now.
This is the story of one of those stranger things that is hard to explain away.
It took place in about 1992 or 93 and I’d forgotten all about it for about 10 years and had begun to question whether it had only ever happened in my imagination. However, there were witnesses, and when I checked, yep, it actually happened. The week that I could sing.
At that time I was at a loose end musically, and I’d started going to open-mike sessions to play along and keep my hand in, so to speak. I’d met a singer/acoustic guitarist called John Crawford in Belfast, a great entertainer and now sadly deceased, and he told me that there was a good jam session in Downpatrick Folk Club, about 25 miles away.
Downpatrick now has the reputation of being a good music town, with three excellent bands emerging in the past 30 years from this small town of just over 10,000 people, these being:
Ash, with one silver, three gold and two platinum-selling and chart-topping albums in the UK Charts, as well as 18 top 40 singles.
Relish, a superb band who never got the success they deserved due to poor label support, much praised by Brian May of Queen and Larry Mullen of U2, but who sold one of their songs to Westlife, reaching number 2 in the Charts, and who went on to work with Paul Weller and Sinead O’ Connor, managing her up to her death.
The Answer, who I worked for several years with, and who had two top 40 UK albums.
This lay just a couple of years ahead but gives some idea of the musical environment I started frequenting and the standard of musicians I would regularly play with.
Eventually this session moved to a bar on Church Street, which I think was called Dick’s Cabin, now Whisky Mick’s. It was pretty good, and I enjoyed getting up to play along with some very good musicians in what was now called The Jam. I also met Gregg Coyle, a very talented guy who I’d played with several times, notably in 1978 with a Thin Lizzy tribute band (before there were tribute bands) and for whom I went on to produce a solo album- ‘Moondog’ around 2004.
Gregg is also the main witness for the defence regarding the events described here.
I was handy with a guitar or a bass, but usually enjoyed playing the latter more at The Jam, and I never really sang because I knew I really couldn’t do it with any proficiency. Harmonies, yes, but that was about your lot. I knew my limitations and had learned to avoid them, something I still have as a life lesson to this day. Mostly.
I was a single parent at that stage, with my son aged about 7, and I got up as usual to get him ready for school, but I’d taken a day off from work, and I planned to do a little bit of music in my tiny boxroom studio. That’s when the weirdness started.
I was playing around on a synthesiser and starting softly singing a melody. The sound that came out was not my voice. It was effortless, pitch-perfect and with a great consistent vibrato. I was stunned by what I was hearing. Where had this come from? I tried again, louder, and it was even more impressive. I went from stunned to gobsmacked.
I’d never dreamed I could sing like this and although it took a lot of effort just to stay in pitch when I sang harmonies, this required virtually none from me.
I spent the rest of the day trying things out, seeing what I could do. My vocal range had increased, and the top notes sounded great. The lower notes were smooth and richer than I had ever heard resonating in my head. All sorts of things were now possible, and my imagination went into overdrive as I thought of what I could now do musically.
How did I sound? The memory I have of the singer closest to my voice is Paul Carrack, ex Ace, Squeeze and Mike and The Mechanics. A voice probably best for Blues and Soul.
Next day was the same, and I was buzzing with anticipation as that night I was going to The Jam in Downpatrick, and that would be an ideal opportunity to try it out.
I was very nervous when I arrived, but settled down waiting for it to start, and I tuned my guitar and tried out a song my brain suggested would work with my new voice. It was ‘How Long’ by Ace, and as I played it and started to sing out came That Voice again. It was effortless still, I could bend, slur and sustain the notes easily, and as I sang Gregg came up behind me, and I heard him say “well, well, well, I hear that somebody has finally learned how to sing”.
I was very pleased because Gregg was a hard taskmaster and always very critical.
I can’t even remember if I did sing anything that night, but I have no direct memory of it.
It could be hard to get a slot as some people would stay up on stage for ages instead of rotating to make room for others, and I think that was the case during that night’s jam.
I spent the next few days singing and looking for the most appropriate songs for my new voice, but bizarrely for me during that period I never recorded anything, despite being in a recording studio.
What I did remember was a deep feeling inside after a few days that this was only a passing thing, and instead of joy I felt melancholy, with feelings of loss similar to knowing when a loved one is leaving soon. I would get up each day and sing, but with less joy as the days passed.
After a week I got up and it was gone completely.
I tried to get it back, but everything seemed different, even my larynx wasn’t working in the same way. Over the following weeks I worked myself hoarse trying to bring it back, that the spell would return, using all sorts of breathing, racking my brains trying to replicate the feelings I’d had when singing.
When I was working with Gregg on ‘Moondog’ over a decade later, I mentioned it to Gregg. Yes, he remembered it well. I’d almost gotten used to the idea that it had all been a dream, so the affirmation was good to have, but all the more baffling.
To this day it has never returned, although every so often I still try to resurrect the feeling, but without any success.
I do sing now, regularly and with more confidence, but it’s hard work and requires concentration and self-discipline to be even acceptable, and it is not a patch on the effortless soaring I’d had for that brief, glorious week.
I’ve spoken to voice tutors whenever I encountered them, and the answers differ, from some saying I just needed the right techniques, which they of course could provide, to others insisting everyone has a voice and I’d just found mine and would do so again.
I never have, though, but I have come to terms with the fact that I never will at my age, and I’m comfortable with that, but will always still have a little residual regret remaining.
I really don’t know what caused it. I’m not religious, but I do have a spiritual side of sorts and I am always open to explanations or suggestions.
This event was supernatural in the real meaning of the word. It wasn’t my natural voice, but it changed to something else which was extraordinary for a very brief period without cause or reason, giving a dramatic improvement to it.
As I grow older I get the feeling that in being creative we tap into something in the universe, and at that point I tapped into something I simply couldn’t hold for long.
These days as I fall asleep I very often get several songs or melodies simultaneously going through my brain, all vying for attention, and none of which are identifiable as something I have heard previously. Imagine having half a dozen radios set to different music stations placed all around your living room. I’ve got to the point that regardless of what hour it is I get up and sing these into my phone, giving context of rhythms and what I’m hearing. These little mumbled snippets from 2, 3 and 4 AM have formed the basis of some of the most recent and some of the best songs I have written and recorded, with the result that I am more prolific now than I have ever been in 50 years of performing music, with 7 songs so far this year and more awaiting development.
If anyone has any ideas around the causes for this strange happening please feel free to expound on them, they’ll be welcome.
I’m just really glad I didn’t sign a multi-million pound recording deal during that week.
I’d really have been a disappointment the following Monday.
The Answer- https://www.theanswerrock.com