PEOPLE OF WATERBEAR: DAN HICKS
“During my work at WaterBear it never fails to humble me when I look at the quality of the students on the programmes. ‘Students’ seems such an unsatisfactory word to use, as I learn at least as much from them as they do from me. But I suppose that’s what it’s all about: a community of like- minded professionals concerned with social enterprise, being creative and getting things done together. Living life on our own terms.
However there is an inevitable element of personal struggle inherent in a creative life lived well. Take interviewee Dan Hicks for example, today I found our he had a bad motorbike smash in 2011 leading to severe brain trauma and endured many years of recovery. Today he had compiled a MA and is back to working in music full time. This is his story”.
Bruce Dickinson, July 2019.
Dan Hicks MA Music Industry Enterprise and Innovation class of 2019
I grew up in a very creative family, throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90s my Grandad was a session bass player, seven years on the road with Eric Clapton as his bassist, he worked with Henry Mancini and Joan Armatrading to name a few. So right from a very young age I was surrounded by musicians and that creative life. From 3 months old I sat on my Grandad’s lap and he would grab my arms and pretend to play drums, I got my first kit at four, played in church loads and started my first band at 14. I played drums until I was 19 years old, session stuff and first small tours at the age of 16. I felt like I had no choice, I wasn’t pressured in to it, it was just in the blood.
It was either do music and give it a go, or be miserable.
At age 19 I found I loved singing even more than drums. That’s where the band Mordecai started and I found my place at the front of the stage. I really found my stride at age 21 when I started playing guitar as well.
Everything we ever did was DIY, except my old man managing us, which looked professional for the gigs that needed it. We never had a label or booking agent, always DIY. Even now, I’m reluctant to sign a deal because there’s a lot I know I can do myself. From 2005- 2011 there were the usual line up changes, but we made progress gigging a lot, working with Producer Chris Tsangarides (Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest) and pushing tons.
But in 2011 I had a nasty motorbike accident, afterwards my memory lasted 30 seconds and the doctors suspected a brain hemorrhage, my hand and foot were badly injured and the doctors said I probably wouldn’t be able to remember lyrics or play guitar again. My IQ had dropped down to 63. That was 8 years ago and I was 25.
The physical recovery wasn’t too bad at all, they pinned my hand in traction for 8 weeks and I put my guitar next to the TV. I wanted it out. I didn’t put it away. The day they took the pins out they gave me exercises to do. They said it would take 6-8 weeks to be able to touch the tip of my fingers to the pad on my palm, and then I could consider playing guitar again. I managed to do that in 6 hours and was playing guitar that day. I wasn’t going to have anyone telling me what I and or can’t do.
I was diagnosed with having PTSD as a result and had to have four year’s worth of psychological brain training. The main issues I had were coping with highs and lows of emotions. I would watch an advert on TV and it would make me cry. Being in the music industry is tough enough as it is, without that. And the industry was changing fast. I suppose my brain training allowed me to cope and get on with it.
A year after the accident, in 2012 through Andy Copping, we got our first slot at Download Festival and were booked two years running with no management, label or booking agent. In 2013 was the Red Bull stage, we played to about 6000 people, but that was the time that the industry was turning, and after Download it felt like we couldn’t get a look in anywhere decent. We still had to choose between playing for £30 or for free, or not at all.
2015 we released the EP ‘Valour’ with Producer John Mitchell (You Me at Six, Architects, Enter Shikari) at Outhouse studios. Working with John was the best studio experience I’ve ever had and the result was the best release Mordecai had produced. Then Metal Hammer cover mounted the single on their ‘Best Of British Unsigned’ CD. But two weeks later Metal hammer wouldn’t even review the EP. We realised how fickle the industry could be.
We played shows with bands like Fightstar, Opeth and Wes Borland and had done pretty much every major rock festival in the UK at least once – Ten years of hard work, great experiences, huge gigs and supports and yet we found the Industry still didn’t want to know. So we slowed it down and in 2016 I more or less gave up on music.
I had two years of playing 3 or so show’s a year. I wasn’t in a good place. I’d lost motivation for anything creative. We were all very burnt out with it all. What kicked me back into gear was a relationship ending, which meant that not only did I have to rebuild everything from ground up, but also it meant I could start fresh. The big push was also from a phone call with Nikki Smash (The Rocket Dolls). He reignited the fire, introduced me to WaterBear and everything that was going on. He kicked my arse. I told him I was done with music and his response was ‘no you’re not’. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without Smash’s input.
I started Caine in 2018 and we’ve been through some inevitable line up changes. This year we played Breaking Bands Festival with a couple of friends standing in, they only had 2 weeks of prep time. Everyone in the band had ten plus years touring experience and it felt great. Especially having Nikki there, someone who had my back. It felt very fresh and the response was fantastic.
Now I have given up the boring day job. I’m turning my dissertation into a book, Caine is heading in to the studio soon and I have rekindled a fire for a project that we’re revealing at the end of the summer. I’m working part time in a college as a performing arts technician and going out more and more as a Tour Manager and guitar tech with some great bands.
The journey that I’ve gone through, I wouldn’t change anything. Crap as some of it was, without the recovery from the accident and the let downs I’ve had from the music industry I probably wouldn’t have experienced things like Download in 2013 or completed a master’s degree for instance. I wouldn’t change a thing.