Hello ! My name is Bob Houlston and I am the web master of this site. The photograph here was taken sometime ago but my smile remains the same. If I knew then what I know now I would have bought shares in lithium ! ;) Read on to learn something about me and if you want to know what I look like now you'll have to come to my gigs or book a guitar lesson. I've been described as: "You're boring." & "You're a Left Wing Fascist !" Whatever that is, never did find out. Left school with nine 'No' levels. I've never been to university, I didn't have time...I was too busy working. As for John Lewis I hate it. I can't afford any of it. I'm much happier in Poundland.
MONUMENTAL are Charlotte Gibson (vocals & percussion) & Bob Houlston (guitar & vocals). I was performing at my first Mind in Mid Herts AGM concert Harpenden in October of The Millennium 2000, the night I will always remember. I've performed many more concerts before and since but this ONE is still highly memorable, not only because Charlotte was so ON that night, but because she was literally ablaze with raw, incendiary creativity and the crowd were pulsating right along with us! Our set list comprised of rock songs: Twist & Shout, Roll Over Beethoven & Wild Thing. I feel blessed, not only to have witnessed that show, but also because I am still alive twelve years later to remember it!
At the age of sweet sixteen I was an apprentice guitarist in a working Rock 'n' Roll band. Pretty soon (with the advantage of experiencing live gigs) I was propelled into the local music scene and played various venues with many musicians. Out of necessity (our girl singer found herself a boyfriend and she was gone) I developed my vocals and this equipped me with the skills, along with my guitar, to front my own band. This was a guitar, bass and drums trio by the name of Daybreak.
Music impacts more on our lives nowadays than it did at any time during history. It is pretty much impossible to escape (should we want to) and the diversity of styles available to us is breathtaking - jazz to classical, rock to dance, hip hop to world and many, many more - we are a veritable ocean of textures, sounds, dynamics and beats.
Advertisements use music to court our fancies, television programmes to enhance their message; be it punchline or climax and of course there is the colossal music industry itself which runs itself ragged trying both to dictate and predict what we will/won't/just might like and so download or buy to appease that nagging urge in our brains that tells us that we MUST own that particular piece of music.
Why? Hmmm... good question. Now before we open a philosophical NIGHTMARE and ask "But why do we like/need ANYTHING?" let's hold our horses and remember it's MUSIC that we're talking about here. That's all.
Hang on a minute -THAT'S ALL???!!!!!!
Music, or at least certain genres of it, run a close second to food and water in some peoples' book (mine included).
I've been gigging for 30 years and the first thing I look for in a band member is a person who will be road-able. A gig is a little chunk of your life and when you are living with people in a highway submarine, there are no secrets at sea. No matter how successful a gig or tour, if there's a jerk on the bus the whole experience can be hell so the first thing I look for is people who are essentially good people. They have to be able to do something special on their instrument too.
My practical gigging experience was gained from working with local groups e.g. Pebbledash and Kontagious. (That's something you're not likely to see nowadays, the band tuning to a harmonica.) Three years in Kontagious was the best education a young man could have. You learned everything about the world and its characters, good and bad. It was a fantastic thing to do. I came out of it alive, which was even more remarkable.
Subsequently I moved on to; Crystal Clear, Entertainments Unlimited, Sean O'Reilley Trio (there were four of us), Joe Gallagher, Gabriel, Cut Loose, Talahassee, The Zodiacs, Don't Think Twice, Recall, Monumental, Rhythm Riot, and more recent projects; Daybreak and Lithium. I also thoroughly enjoyed myself when not gigging by jamming and auditioning with various other local bands e.g. Cat Astral, Moondogs, Porky and Doppelgänger.
Daybreak played a variety of songs and instrumental melodies for sing-a-long and easy listening that created a cheerful party atmosphere at wedding receptions, anniversaries, tea dances, pubs & social clubs. We were either a duo/trio or myself the leader; Bob Houlston solo guitarist/singer with own backing tracks and good sound equipment.
Styles included: Buddy Holly to Beatles, Jim Reeves to Jimi Hendrix, Shadows to Status Quo and Eagles to Elvis. Most of the popular dance rhythms were catered for including: Jive/Rock 'n' Roll, Line Dancing and Ballroom; Waltz, Quickstep, Fox-Trot.
BTW I've never performed at a professional level... merely mercenary ! ;)
I witnessed Rory Gallagher at Hemel Hempstead Pavillion in the mid 70's. I don't actually remember much about it though...so that must mean I really was there ? ! Rory Gallagher and Peter Green were inspirational for me as a teenager doing the Pub Rock circuit. I am fortunate to being living in St Albans. It is a most musical town but also the home of Simmons Electronics where I worked helping to make the early electronic drum kits. One day a notice appeared on the wall; "Watch Tommorow's World tonight...we're on it!"
At the age of twenty-one I decided that I wanted to be a working musician and to be working for a long time. Many moons later, here I am, still working. Despite performing numerous gigs and sessions it was insufficient to propel me into the public consciousness. But hey, I'm doing well and enjoying life so that is a reward in itself. Too old to rock 'n' roll and too young to die so now I teach instead !
At the age of fifteen I was employed at Napsbury Psychiatric Hospital as a porter. I remember being issued with a blue card that entitled me to free meals in the staff canteen. I enjoyed my time working there. I used the money I earned to buy my first electric guitar. I later returned to Napsbury Hospital several times to play in the staff social club.
Check out 1973 photograph below. The first group I gigged with... Pebble Dash. Left to right; Bob Bell, Steve De'ath, Andy Fox and myself on far right. The venue was Napsbury Hospital staff social club.
I have many happy memories of Napsbury Hospital. The grounds were beautiful with acres of parkland and mature trees. The psychiatric wards were named after trees.
What is the difference between God and a psychiatrist?
God doesn't think he's a psychiatrist! ;)
As a student nurse (failed the exam therefore not qualified - the best thing I could do was fail interestingly and fail well) in NHS St Albans General Hospital training (photograph of me with my former colleagues below) I would often wonder: "What goes on in the NHS psychiatric hospitals? Everyone seems to just sit around drinking tea all day." Subsequently, when I became a mental in-patient, I learnt what really goes on in the NHS psychiatric hospitals. It's true... they do seem to just sit around drinking tea all day! ;)
My motivation for being a student nurse?...conceit ! ;) There I was, nineteen, working the wards and working the circuit by gigging with a Rock 'n' Roll band called Kontagious spelt with a capital K. They head-hunted me through the Musicians' Union. I felt that I was most fortunate and when I look back on my life I still feel that way. Also, that was the period when I met my darling wife June because she is the sister of Roy who was previously the rhythm guitarist in the band Kontagious I was gigging with. I mean, how cool is that? Some years later I worked in the WRVS - Womens' Royal Voluntary Service tea bar at St Albans City Hospital for 2½ years.
However, although I lost my job in the NHS 35 years ago now I'm back. See my ID badge below. I am now a part of the Spitiruality Through Singing group. We entertain frail elderly people that may have a mental health issue e.g. Alzheimers. It's great, I perform a couple of hours a month at NHS care homes in Hertfordshire. Old time sing along, songs from the 1950s shows and early Rock 'n' Roll. Seems like I have a quasi evangelical belief in the unifying healing power of music. This can mean only one thing, my music is salubrious. I'm too old to rock 'n' roll and too young to die, so I gig for the NHS instead ! You can join in too, see below:
Raise Your Voices ! - Spirituality through Singing is a National Health Service project encouraging singers and musicians to join together in a group and entertain in elderly care units. If you would like to volunteer for this Hertfordshire activity then contact Karen Balmer-Cribb, Spiritual Project Manager, MHSOP, 99 Waverley Road, St Albans AL3 5TL. You can contact her direct on her mobile: 07500 814152 or through the main Hertfordshire Partnership Foundation Trust NHS switchboard on 01727 804700. This is a new venture for the NHS. An occupational therapist has explained to me that some elderly patients lose the ability to hold a conversation but can remember songs and join in with a singalong. The group that I perform with is called "The Vera Lynn" sing-along group. We share 1st & 2nd World War songs, songs from the shows of the 1950s and early Rock 'n' Roll. We're adding more songs as we go along with requests from the audience. I play guitar, it's great. I feel that some people reading this might like to join us? The 300 & 301 buses serve Hemel Hempstead and Stevenage bus stations to Oaklands in St Albans which is just a short walk to the venue. Also, the 724 bus serves Hertford bus station, Ware and Well-Being centre Watford also stopping at Oaklands St Albans. Plan your route from other locations via: Traveline. It's great fun and damp-eyed nostalgia will leave everyone with a warm and sentimental glow. Volunteer now and enhance the meaning of your spare time.
Stay Tuned & In Touch,
Bob #==(o )
Author Neil Walton has written about me for his book:
Bob Houlston bipolar
As we know after the event, the arduous trek from illness to a final diagnosis is usually a lengthy one, and during that time the patient has time to acclimatise themselves to their disorder, even if they don't fully understand their prognosis yet. Then, when they reach a level where they can think straight, the loop-tape of self-questioning begins.
This process, like the illness itself, has an open-ended time scale, but with medical support and help from family and friends the patient can eventually piece back together the puzzle that left them in a state of mass confusion. It may take months to find the answer, but it is an essential path for the sufferer to follow, as they need to know why the illness has affected them. Generally the answers lie in traumatic life events such as, the death of a close relative or partner, redundancy and divorce. Once they discover what triggered their disorder things are easier to understand, but how do they cope when a trigger hasn't been detected?
Bob Houlston was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder but at the time he hadn't a clue why he had become ill. It's safe to say he was burning the candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle too. From the age of 19 until 21 he was a Student SRN at The School of Nursing at St Albans General City Hospital. Dryly he remarked once, "I didn't qualify because I didn't pass the exam. The best thing I could do was fail interestingly and fail well!" He did find a crumb of comfort surrounding the mystery of his illness however; he discovered that an uncle had also been diagnosed as bipolar.
He has played the guitar for decades and prior to his breakdown he was in a Rock 'n' Roll band playing anywhere that held a music license. He was also working as a guitar tutor with his private students. Add to that, rehearsals, late nights and time spent travelling to and from gigs and probably a poor diet as well and you've got yourself a really busy life.
The link between mental illnesses and creative people is clear, none more so than in musicians. Now straight off the bat, that doesn't sound like such a big deal but believe me - it is! The instrument is part of them and an extension of their inner thoughts, conscious and subconscious, and that combination brings a certain peace and equilibrium to a musician, because if you can't say it with words you can convey your feelings through your music. It's a passion and a sense that no other person can comprehend except another player.
As a person, Bob is the shy retiring gent with a dry sense of humour but like all of us he's been through his own private hell. However, he survived, even though at times the outcome of his life-altering trails were languishing in the lap of the Gods.
For the most part it's an abrupt learning curve and it takes us way outside our comfort zone. But, eventually we do readjust and learn that, rather than keep beating ourselves with the same stick each day, it's healthier to let go of our losses and pass on our vital knowledge to those who need it.
Having said that, once we are 'well', there is one factor that goes largely unreported, even though the past has been dealt with and the depression and mania are in remission. You have a serious condition and you're reminded of that every time you take your medication, but what people don't see or recognise is that a former patient still has to deal with how their illness has left them. In a straw poll at an MDF meeting one evening, I asked the 20 members present, if they still had any current problems with their disorder, and they all said the same thing, they all had broken sleep patterns.
Bob's life has settled down recently, to the point where he has a definite direction, which for us is a vital asset, he also has a better quality of life; and that's largely due to receiving the correct medication. But make no mistake; just as our disorder is a painful experience, taking anti-psychotic drugs is no picnic either. All drugs carry side-effects, even aspirin, but the difference between the two are enormous and the stronger the drug the more powerful the side-effects are. In some cases the unwanted effects can be as debilitating as the illness itself. And it's only another patient who can fully empathise with the misery this situation can cause.
Fortunately the human brain does repair itself, it's not an over night fix by any means and a sufferer can't be cured but our illness can be managed and a patient can go on to live a 'normal' life. There is no question that Bob is a talented man, although I guarantee he wouldn't go and shout that up the high street. He still plays guitar and he still teaches too. He's a giver and whatever he does, it's undertaken with care and diligence and he is still seeking out new ventures. Subsequent to him finding Business Link courses he has attended many of their workshops and also been invited to HMRC Inland Revenue income tax training days. At the last Business Link workshop the tutor was impressed that his web site was doing so well in bringing in the customers to him that he suggested that he should share his knowledge. To that end he created a web page at: "SEO - Search Engine Optimisation"
There seems no stopping him now. He joined a gym, takes Zumba classes and paints as well. [Go Bob!] He has also joined the U3A - University of the 3rd Age. As well as his other commitments finds time to work a few hours a month at NHS elderly care homes in Hertfordshire for frail patients with mental health issue e.g. Alzheimers. The occupational therapists have told him that many of their patients lose the ability to hold a conversation but retain memories of songs and can join in.
And finally, not content with sitting around doing nothing all day, Bob has just taken a job with the NHS Spirituality Through Singing department! Unbelievable! All he has to do now is take up ballet and he's got a full house! Ladies and gentleman I give you a star in his own right, Bob Houston...
p.s. from me:
I was at a Viewpoint meeting a while back on a Neuro Linguistic Programming course and the class was offered a chance for one person to have a session of Hypnotherapy. I jumped up for it and got it. Hypnotherapy was brilliant, I established my direction as a guitarist and was really cheerful from then on.
"Help" by The Beatles. I was listening on an old utility radio my dad gave me from the 2nd World War. I would plug my guitar into the back audio in connection and Rock 'n' Roll to my heart's content. Then, when I wanted a rest I would tune into Radio Luxembourg; "The Geat 208" and hear Emperor Rosko ! :)