I grew up in the north east of England, a little ship building town called Jarrow. Jarrow is a Nordic word, it was the first place after Lindisfarne that the Vikings landed when they invaded Britain.
Growing up music was always playing in our home. No matter how many times we moved for various reasons music was always an ever presence. I think the first song I remember hearing at legitimately 1 year old was Nothing Really Happens by a Scottish called Del Amitri, I remember where I was sitting, the record player, clear as day.
Throughout the years there was a healthy mix of music that heavily informed my choices to this point. Northern Soul, Blues, Motown, but above all heavy rock and metal. Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, The Scorpions, you name it. So when it came time for me to make my own music choices my ears were waiting for rock.
I think like most people when I was coming up most of my music choices were what was on radio, TV or around the house. I remember HAMMERING Use You Illusion 2 by Guns N Roses, my dad had the double cassette. It was the mid to late 90s when I was looking for my own identity and my own music, so I would latch onto any bands with that edge. Green Day, No Doubt, Faith No More, there are probably a lot more but these were bands that made their way onto “The Box” TV channel in the UK at that point.
As it is today I still love these bands, but my music taste now includes things that are much heavier than those. I think once you start on that path it’s inevitable that you crave heavier and heavier but also that little nugget of something else that draws you in. My friends and I often talk about significant bands in the progression of our music tastes that changed things, that served as anchor points for a change in the paradigm. If you lean into Grunge music that might have been Pearl Jam, if you liked Grunge but wanted a bit more rock that might have been Nirvana, and so on. For myself and no fewer than 10 of my friends that band is Slipknot, for me at least it changed everything. I remember being in Miss Lacey’s form room at Huntcliff Secondary School in Saltburn-by-the-Sea on the north east coast. Saltburn, by the way, is a Victorian coastal town that has won awards for its flower arranging, legitimately. It’s chocolate box quaint.
We would hang out before school started. Play music, mess around with finger boards, have slap fights, whatever. A friend of mine put on Wait and Bleed, and we stopped. This beautiful moment of dark crystallisation took over, things were different now. We must have played that song on repeat every morning for a month. From that point on I wanted the heavier music. No Doubt and Green Day were replaced with Slipknot, Korn, Mudvayne, Spineshank, Static X.
Aside from the intoxicating effect that heavy music has in and of itself, Slipknot, metal and the surrounding culture offered something that I felt I was missing up until that point; acceptance. I want to be careful how I say this because it could easily come off like the typical affected youth “You don’t understand me maaaaaaaaaan, I’m different” type of statement, but stick with me.
Slipknot always played up to the different, the disaffected, the “out there”. Shock factor was a big part of their marketing, I’m sure. However one thing they always ALWAYS pushed was this sense of family. The lead singer Corey Taylor refers to the audience in every location as Slipknot’s family. The cynical amongst us, and part of myself if I’m honest, could say this of course be a marketing tool, absolutely. But the fact is that these were 9 guys from shit hole Des Moines, Iowa. They were us.
Regardless of how intelligent, attractive, statuesque, motivated and whatever else you are, if you don’t fit in, you don’t fit in. I was 6ft when I was 12, golden blonde hair, I was a straight A student, but I always felt slightly removed from the norms of society around me. I didn’t like football, I was sensitive, I cried a lot, I liked to draw, I didn’t kiss a girl until I was 14 or 15 I think, I’ve never smoked. growing up in the north east of England not being a “manly man” going down the pub on a weekend and watching the match is alien to most.
It’s such a deeply engrained part of the culture here that most people don’t expect someone to not be that. One of the biggest tragedies in life, I think, is not knowing who you really are and not becoming the person you are supposed to be. When I started listening to Slipknot it offered me an outlet for my weird differences and a ready made community to become part of.
Learning that you don’t need to fit and be who others expect or want you to be is of paramount importance. The freedom to experience what you want to experience and let your spirit find its own unshackled direction in life is the point of life as far as I’m concerned. It was hard at first but once I embraced the differences, followed my heart and did things on my own terms my life all came together.
I grew up a metal head, tattoos, piercings, you know the type. I never wanted to let go of this, ever. In my late 20s I got my degree in applied maths and went into the corporate world. Power suits and handshakes. I had a choice to make here, fully conform for the good of my career or stay myself and be a good example for people like me, fight the fight to go as far as I could despite my differences. I am now a senior at one of the world’s biggest tech firms, I have 20mm tunnels, one (soon to be both) hands completely tattooed and I have the respect of my peers and my superiors.
It sounds like hyperbole but when I was making these difficult choices I had 16 year old me in mind, every 16 year old me. The moshers, the mods, the trendies and the punks, whether you’re into metal, soul, pop, reggae, whatever. My purpose became showing people that it doesn’t matter at ALL what you look like. Tattoos, clothing, hair style, none of it. I have a real chip on my shoulder about being made to feel like I don’t belong or I’m not good enough to be somewhere. I call it the “Is that right, is it?” reflex. I LOVE it when I get told I’m not suitable for something.
When I first joined my previous company as a graduate I went on a 4 week training course. The tutor was quite old fashioned, but I have good manners and I’ll respect people until they give me a reason not to. On the last day of the course he took us for a drink which was very sweet. When we got into a social setting I rolled my sleeves up and he saw my tattoos, and I saw a visible change. When I got back to the office on the Monday morning I was called into my manager’s office and was told that this trainer had sent an email to my manager saying that I was a terrible representative of the company and even called me an “embarrassment”. My manager said not to worry he knew I was a good representative and was more than happy with my work.
From that point on I made it my business to be as open as I could about myself as a person, including my appearance. I went into every meeting with a suit and tie, but once I saw one other person take their jacket off and roll their sleeves off, I did the same and exposed my tattoos. I overwhelmed people with my work ethic and quality of work, they had no choice but to change their opinion.
Fast forward 5 years and I’m a respected man who has spoken at Cambridge University, filed an invention patent and had my work nominated for awards. A man with all of these achievements who went to see Slipknot at 34 years old recently. It was the 3rd time I’d seen them, and it took me straight back to being that kid. When Corey Taylor came out and said “Turn the lights up on all of my family here in Newcastle.” I got that same comfort that I did over half of my lifetime ago, that reinforcement that we can be who we want DESPITE our differences. It was really nice that they played songs from every stage of their career including their very first and very latest singles because it took me right back to that feeling having them as my alarm for school to where I am now. If you want to be a heavily tattooed mathematician, do it. Let your work speak for itself. If you want to be a respected doctor and still like to wear make up and wear heels, do your thing. If you want to be a working class orchestra conductor, go for it.
There will always be a hardcore of every group who states that you’re selling out. But what I say to those people is that I use my money to fuel my fantasy metal lifestyle. I travel to the gigs I’ve always wanted to see, I pay for the best tattoos I can, I buy all the black tshirts my little black heart could ever want. Why must it be that a person is a sell out? Or that they’re “pretending” to be 2 people. Why can I not just be a tattooed man in a suit? More to the point don’t ever let anyone tell you to be something, never be scared to be who you want to be. I know it can be scary stepping out of your shell but once you embrace what you love and let everything else fall away like old, dry papier mache, everything else will fall into place.