Youth Salute bring The Reaction to life.
A few weeks ago, I got a bit drunk and posted the following status about my mate’s band: “I don’t have much musical ability, but music means so much to me. These three lads, over the years, have made me feel part of a scene I’ve no right to be involved in. One day, I’d like to put out an album. I’m a good writer, and I know I could write 12 songs that shit on the crap in the charts nowadays. The problem isn’t that I’m a crap singer, it’s that I’m too scared of looking stupid that I never sing seriously.
These three though, they’ve treated me like a member of the band when all I’ve ever done is carry shit around. They’ve made me part of a world I’ve dreamed of being involved in, yet never had the balls or ability to get there on my own merits. They call themselves The Revolution, and while they may not have changed the world, they’ve made my life so much better. I don’t believe you can change the world; I simply think you can make the world better for each individual you come across in a small way. These boys have enhanced my life so much, and I love the three of them to pieces. Cheers for always letting me tag along in the background xxx”
After reading it, Shane Sanderson from Youth Salute made me an offer: Would you sing Alarms for us at the Warehouse?
Without hesitation, I said no. There’s no chance I’m singing a song like Alarms, I explained. It’s one of the most heartfelt, beautiful love songs you will ever hear. It’s the song that, when played live, the music stops and the entire crowd sings along acapella. It’s your first gig here in over a year — what if someone planned to propose during Alarms, only to have the moment they’ve been dreaming of all their lives drowned out by my tone-deaf warbling. There’s not a chance I’m standing up in the 1,000+ capacity Warehouse and singing Alarms, not a chance in hell.
Give me Making Knots.
“I don’t want to think about all the things that I’ve missed out on.
Everything I see and hear makes me want to be someone else.
If only for a little while, let’s go back a few years in time”
There’s several songs Shane has written that communicate emotions I struggle to explain. It’s why, sixteen months ago when my mental health degenerated rapidly, I chose to sprinkle his lyrics through everything I wrote. It’s why, when I started making videos, I used his music on most of them. Of all of his songs, Making Knots was the one that connected the most at that time.
Over the next two weeks, I must have sang that song a thousand times, with a thousand different vocal styles. I told Shane I’d nail it, but it was all bravado — I was shitting myself. There’s very few people that have sung original music on the main stage of the Warehouse, and I’d be fronting the best band in Cumbria, despite suffering from an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult to leave the house. Despite telling Shane I’d nail it, I’d not sung on stage since supporting punk legends No Thrills at the 500+ capacity Blues Nightclub 14 years earlier, the reason being that Andrew Lawes is a shit singer.
“I don’t want to think about all of my missed chances
I was too focused on finding love and wanting to be your king
If only for a little while, let’s go back a few years in time”
With about three days to go, I was ready to pull out. The Chief had offered me the opportunity to practice, under the expert tutelage of himself and Martin Banter, but I’d declined; one suppressed grin and I’d have sacked the whole thing off. These are people for whom performing at the highest level is second-nature; I just wanted to go the distance and hang with the champ, and I couldn’t allow my fragile little ego to be shattered.
When I arrived at the venue, I declined the opportunity of a soundcheck. I implied I was confident it wouldn’t be necessary; the reality was I thought if he heard me sing, Shane would have rescinded his offer. I knew I had to take the stage for two reasons: my nieces and my love. Of everyone who was affected by my mental health decline, none were more harmed than her. Yet, here she was, a year later, still loving me, still fighting for me, still supporting me and still making me a better man. This was my chance to show her that I could beat my anxiety. I knew that, whatever happened, she’d be proud of me, and I wanted to give her something to be proud of.
“I should have had you there, and made you my bride, just for one night
Instead I sleep alone, words tangled in my head, making knots”
What I wanted to give my nieces was a dream. I live in a very cynical town, the sort of place where people belittle your dreams because they are scared to chase their own. I know they will have dreams of their own. I had to let them know that, if they believe in themselves, they have a chance to live those dreams, despite the oppressive Tory background they will develop in. I knew that if I had one video, one short piece of evidence that I could spin into a wild tale to them, well, that seed will only grow in their minds, and no outsider will be able to permeate that belief.
Because then they’d always know that dreams can come true; they’d know because it happened to their Uncle Andrew. And if something like that could happen to a fuck-up like Uncle Andrew, then you can only imagine what those two miracles will accomplish.
“I have a clear idea of what I’d like to change
I’d better get building that time machine, and everything else I will need”
When I was 15, I went to see the great Bon Jovi perform at Gateshead International Arena. Halfway through the set, I turned to my Mam and echoed the words I’d read so many others quote in interviews: “Mam, one day it’ll be me on that stage. I’m going to be a rock star”. I’m a wrestling fan, and the characters that connect with the audience are those that are, essentially, the performer playing an amplified version of themselves. For me to take the stage, I had to have a picture in my head of what that character would be for me. If Andrew Lawes was a rock star, he wouldn’t be the insecure, anxiety-riddled person of the last few years; he’d be The Reaction, and he’d believe in himself completely. Could I capture the essence of The Reaction in video, so that I could later tell the stories to my nieces?
My love had spent the previous two weeks nursing me through almost-daily crises of confidence. As the second song drew to a close, I looked her in the eye. I told her I was shitting myself. She gave me a kiss, took the camera and told me it would be fine. I went on that stage and, in front of some of my musical inspirations, in front of bands with decades of accumulated international experience, under the ever-watchful eye of The Chief, I did my best to go the distance with Apollo Creed.
I did my best to make my Adrian proud.
The rest of the evening was a blur. I remember Youth Salute smashing the rest of the set. I remember thinking Over and Out were better than similar stuff that saturates Kerrang TV, and that I want to see them again. I remember Die No More gave a homecoming performance filled with the intensity and rugged aggression that has seen their heavy metal penetrate Europe.
I watch the video, and I think, “Poor microphone technique resulting in feedback; clear lack of self-belief as demonstrated by averting gaze from the crowd; irrespective of sound issues (caused by own reluctance to soundcheck) fails to attack the microphone, clearly outshone by Shane”. There were better singers on-stage that night — hell, there were better singers in the crowd. But …
I sang the right words, in the right places. I didn’t go out of tune. My voice didn’t break. The one note that required holding — “you’re just a head in the wooooo-OOOOO-alllllll” — I managed to hold, twice. My stage movement, though limited, was in time with the music. Aye, I sang too softly, but I trusted the sound engineer to do their job, rather than panicking and resorting to shouting. I may not have been Trent Reznor, but there were glimpses of The Reaction, short bursts where I was able to leave Andrew Lawes behind.
It may not have been Gateshead International Arena. It certainly wasn’t St. James’ Park. But it’s the closest I’ve come. It’s a bigger venue than many better singers than me will ever perform at. It’s a better music video than 95% of the shite on YouTube. It’s a better song than anything in the charts. It’s something I can use to tell my nieces a story, and if I tell that story well enough, then maybe they’ll take that seed and turn it into a great oak.
Yo, Adrian, I did it. Maybe I’m not the World Champion, but neither was Rocky. At least, not until he got back in the ring with the Champ one more time. Whether The Reaction takes the stage again remains to be seen, but at least this isn’t one of those missed chances that Shane sings about. At least I did my best. That’s all anyone can do.
Here are some of their songs, performed to a far better standard:
Note: the correct lyric is, “Words tangled in my HAIR, making knots”. I only realised that in September. Throughout my breakdown, psychosis, sectioning and recovery, the idea that the words were in my head, I just had to rearrange them to be able to explain myself better. In my head, that’s what I heard when I needed a message. It helped simplify my thought processes and is a mantra I repeat silently when I start getting anxious; this calms me because I start thinking that I’ll explain better in a few days, once my thoughts have settled. I included my mistaken version in the main section because it fits the story better.
Plus, I’m bald, so there’s nothing for words, or anything else, to become entangled in.