When I started secondary school, there was a sort of open day in the music department. The music teachers showed off their instruments, hoping to lure a room of 11-year-olds into taking up their chosen subject. I was taken to the violin and the piano – for years, I had fantasised about playing both in front of an adoring audience, and started lessons.
But I was hugely frustrated that I wasn’t able to just reel off some Salieri or St Seans right away. Concentrating on learning one note after the other was a nightmare – even the short 35 minute-long lessons were a real slog. Within ten minutes, my brain was elsewhere. Usually fantasising about that adoring audience again.
For half the week, I’d be staying at my dad’s place. A very angry man at that time who would explode at the slightest thing, his view of my music lessons was one of utter indifference. He did get hold of an old rickety piano which stood awkwardly in the dining room, but despite that show of support of my goals he was…bizarre about it. One day when his mum was over, he was fixing something in the kitchen and I sat at the piano trying to practice.
“Sarah,” he snapped after ten minutes of my fumbling fingerpresses, “don’t you think it’s a bit bad that people are working and you’re playing about on a piano.”
The tone of voice was one not unlike that which would usually pre-empt one of his massive, shouting and stamping blowouts. I didn’t say a thing – I slammed down the lid of the piano and ran upstairs.
I soon learned the only time I could practice the piano was when dad wasn’t in the immediate vicinity, or he would start to do that loud sigh that came before screaming at me for half an hour. Which of course meant I couldn’t do very much practicing at all.
As I grew older, I wanted to learn to sing. I already had a very good voice for my age. My mum immediately forked out for lessons, beaming with pride every time I performed a song for her. I started to perform in the little concerts at school. She would be there each and every time, with her partner, without fail. Dad, however, wasn’t so easy to see there.
Sometimes he would bundle in to the room half an hour late, looking pissed off and stressed. Sometimes he would not show up at all, too busy with work. I understood he was struggling work-wise, but when he did sit and listen to me singing he never had anything nice to say. The first thing he would tell me would be that the chairs in the hall were uncomfortable. Or that I needed to stop doing that weird shaking hand thing when I was performing.
When I was about 16, I sang as part of a concert my singing teacher put on in a cold, dingy church in the middle of York. My dad was sat in one of the pews at the back. I came on stage, and saw him. It meant so much to see him there, but he looked angry. Really, really angry. He was shuffling about. He was rubbing his arms.
At the end of the concert, he was livid. He told me the seats were so uncomfortable, it was really cold in there, and the whole performance seemed like my singing teacher fanning his ego. Dad was entirely right, on all three points – but I just wanted him to tell me I had done well. I just wanted him to tell me that he was proud of me. But he didn’t. I felt like I had been punched in the chest. He was in a shitty mood all evening. I cried for a long time in bed that night.
Throughout the years, even though he showed his support by showing up to whatever show my band was doing or listening to whatever songs I wrote, he never said they were good. He only pointed out something that was wrong with them. I did try to record music – dad even built me and my then-boyfriend a recording booth in our flat (which was used maybe once) – but knew that showing dad the fruits of my labour would be met with some indifference.
In my early twenties, we were sorting out a room in his house which I was going to move in to. I put on a CD – Gorillaz, Plastic beach. I was humming along while he cut up vinyl sheeting for the floor. Suddenly, he turns to me and says “did you write this?”
I stared at him. “Write what?”
“The CD. Is this your music?”
I was gobsmacked. And I instantly just started crying. Sobbing.
“This is a band with tens of thousands of pounds to spend on recording and mixing,” I spluttered while he looked sheepish. “How can I possibly make something like this? Why can’t you just tell me I’m good at what I’m doing rather than expecting this level from me?”
He was gutted to have upset me. But I never showed him any of my music ever again. Couple this with the fact my singing teacher attempted to groom and sexually assault me, and I stopped writing music entirely. I stopped singing.
I gave up my dream because of the behaviour of other people. I gave up my dream because I was desperately searching for pride from my dad. Pride which, he told me recently, was always there the whole time. He just didn’t know how to express it.
It’s true what they say, isn’t it – your parents fuck you up. They don’t mean to, but they do.
My first recorded album will be for dad.