How music cured the blues

A terrible car crash left musician Ian Campbell unable to play. But specialist therapy taught him a unique one-hand guitar technique – and gave him his groove back, he tells Simon Usborne

A cup of blood – no more – would have been the difference for Ian Campbell between death and a life barely worth living. It was the night of Halloween 2009, and the renowned blues guitarist with a career spanning five decades had set off alone for a gig with the King Earl Boogie Band. He never showed up. As his bandmates, including the Status Quo drummer John Coghlan, played on with a man down they had no idea Campbell lay unconscious in a ditch, bleeding by the pint through a ruptured artery.

Firefighters cut Campbell out of his car, which had been struck head-on by a speeding teenage driver. They and a team of surgeons would save his life, but they could not rescue large chunks of his brain that had been starved of oxygen. As the guitarist came round, he would discover he no longer had the use of his smashed left leg, eye or arm. He could learn to live without limbs but a life without music threatened to rupture his soul.

"Guitar has always been the channel for all my emotions, angst – everything," Campbell, 62, says at his home in Farnborough, Surrey. "Blues is the ultimate expression of that emotion. When I became aware of my view of the rest of my life, I felt utter despair. I didn't think I would walk again or ever play the guitar." Later, he adds, "despair became rage, and then a feeling of total grief."

When he got home after months of treatment and rehabilitation, his guitars rested on their stands as cruel, silent reminders of a different life. "I could only look at them but I couldn't pick them up," he recalls. "Just being aware of music and what other musicians were doing made me feel even more of a sense of loss and lack of control."

Physiotherapy helped Campbell regain the use of his leg, but his arm and eye remain dead. Counselling, meanwhile, helped him resolve the anger he felt towards the 19-year-old driver, who admitted to losing control on a bend. But without music, Campbell's biggest wounds would never heal. It was a case worker at the insurance company dealing with the accident who suggested a possible remedy. Campbell was sceptical at first.

"I had a bit of a prejudiced view of music therapy," he admits. "I thought it was all about helping disabled children bang drums, which is terrible of me, but I just didn't know what it was going to give me. I was adamant I wouldn't go."

Campbell's partner, Julianne, a nurse who has also become his carer, persuaded him to try a session. He travelled to Croydon and a therapy centre run by Nordoff Robbins, a leading national music charity. Lindsay McHale, a classically trained musician who enjoyed a first career as a record-company executive, remembers well her first meeting with Campbell, almost two years after his crash.

"He was quite hopeless and uncertain about how I was going to be able to help him. I think he was also unsure of the quality of musicianship involved in therapy, that it was just playing a triangle not very well, so he first asked me to play a Chopin piece on the piano."

It was the first time McHale, 37, had worked with a professional musician. Campbell got his first electric guitar as a teenager in the mid-1960s. Inspired by the evolving sounds of musicians such as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Eric Clapton, he taught himself to play blues. Within a few years he was performing at top venues with the Levee Camp Moan band. Spells followed with the Nashville Teens and his own Ian Campbell Band, while he remained the lead guitarist with the King Earl Boogie Band.

McHale did not normally grant requests to play herself, but felt it was important in Campbell's case. And so she sat at the piano and played the "Raindrop prelude". "It completely changed the dynamic," she recalls. Campbell agreed to come back. Soon McHale encouraged him to touch a guitar for the first time, and then to put one on his lap. By using only the fingers of his right hand to pluck the strings over the neck of the instrument while fretting at the same time, Campbell realised he could create a sound he liked. With McHale's accompaniment on the piano, he had a go at George Gershwin's "Summertime".

"It was a revelation to me," he says. "I couldn't believe what I was doing. I was crying, which surprised me. It was the moment I realised I could do so much with one hand." With those few notes Campbell found hope. After two years of tuneless despair he threw himself back into practice, sometimes spending eight hours a day perfecting his one-handed technique.

In Farnborough, Campbell limps from his kitchen to his music room and sits with his Fret-King Super-matic electric guitar, which uses a built-in computer to tune itself, leaving his one hand free to play. He says there are some things he can't do, but a listener with closed eyes would not know he had any impairment; Campbell's technique is startling, his five fingers doing the work of 10 as they dance over the strings.

"It sounds like a cliché, but being able to do this was like being born again," he says while playing "Hoochie Coochie Man", the 1950s blues classic. "I thought I'd lost this completely and suddenly I had a route to get out my feeling and emotions again. Blues is about your soul shouting out. I'd got my soul back."

McHale admits she did not expect Campbell to reach the level he has. Her job was not to rebuild a professional musician, but to help him regain at least some of what music had given him – confidence, a sense of worth, a social life, control. The therapy also helped heal his brain, restoring some of the memory he had lost in the crash.

As early as the 1940s, physical therapists observed the effects of music on injured soldiers learning to walk again. Rhythm has since been shown to help bring order to the brains of patients with neurological disorders such as Parkinson's. Singing "American Pie" and other simple songs helped Gabrielle Giffords, the US congresswoman shot in the head in 2011, learn to speak again.

In the late 1950s, Paul Nordoff, an American musician, and Clive Robbins, a teacher, founded the Nordoff Robbins charity, initially to help vulnerable children. It now delivers more than 50,000 sessions a year across the UK to people of all ages with challenges including depression, dementia, autism and trauma, helping them physically and emotionally through a combination of playing, listening and conversation.

As Campbell gained confidence he began to jam again with his old pals. They formed the Ian Campbell Single Handed Blues Band (iancampbellblues.com) and, this year, Campbell decided he was good enough to perform again. This Halloween he will play at the annual gig he missed four years ago. It won't be his first. 10 days ago, the band played at a small music festival in Reading. McHale was in the crowd. As he began to play, Campbell's pre-gig nerves, something he had not felt before, quickly vanished.

"There was a moment during a Van Morrison number called "Gloria" when I did a solo in the middle and realised it sounded as good as it used to," he says on the phone. "I was in another world. I had this amazing feeling of total control and relaxation. I felt like I was in charge of my identity again."

To find out more about music therapy or donate, go to nordoff-robbins.org.uk

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

    BC2

    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    SAP Data Migration Consultant

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

    Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

    £300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice