Experience: amnesia made me forget ever making an album

A car crash left me with major memory loss. When I listened to the songs afterwards, I was hearing things I had written but had no recollection of

I remember the date – 1 September 2001 – because England had just beaten Germany 5-1 in the World Cup qualifiers. After the match, we all went to the club night I used to run called Uncle Bob’s Wedding Reception. That was one of our best nights. Partygoers were giddy after the football, then blown away by the first live performance by a band called the Darkness.

Afterwards, in the early hours, I drove home from central London to Staines with my friend Jim. That’s when my life changed for ever.

While driving down the North Circular near Hanger Lane, a car being pursued in a high-speed police chase hit my Morris Minor head-on at 99mph. The car was flattened. We had to be cut out as quickly as possible because we were bleeding to death. Luckily, there was a fire station nearby and the crew got us out in four minutes.

Because it was so quiet on the roads and we were near a hospital, the medical team managed to save my arm and leg, despite the fact that they were both smashed completely in two. We were given 40 pints of blood each in the following 24 hours.

I broke almost every bone in my body; only my foot was left unscathed. I was in a critical condition with serious injuries, and both Jim and I were in a coma for two weeks. I had to have my shoulder reconstructed. The ambulance team told our families we were the most smashed-up people they’d ever seen who were still alive. Most of the stuff I know about the crash and being in hospital for weeks after, I can’t remember; other people told me.

In fact, I don’t remember things from months before and after the crash. It’s left me with massive patches of amnesia. There’s a whole three-year chunk of my cultural memory missing – I don’t remember any of the music or TV shows from 1999 to 2001.

Before the crash, I was best known as a singer-songwriter who had worked with Sophie Ellis-Bextor in our band called theaudience. I’d quit the band in late 1998, but I still had a publishing deal, writing songs for other people.

My brother, Simon, had kept a box of items he’d recovered from the mangled wreckage of my car, as well as photos of the crash scene that he’d never let me see. Inside was a MiniDisc with demo songs on it that I’d written and recorded not long before.

In 2017, my brother felt I was finally ready to have the box. My wife, Helen, told him to throw it all away, apart from the MiniDisc, as neither of us wanted to be reminded of the trauma of the crash. As it was, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the MiniDisc for another two years.

When I eventually put it on, I was hearing songs that I had written but had no recollection of. I didn’t know what the lyrics were about, what I was thinking, who they were written for. But I thought: these are pretty good. I decided to make an album from them, even though now, my main career is as a travel reporter for BBC Radio London.

I got my mate Richard Archer, the lead singer from the band Hard-Fi, in as a producer. He removed my vocals and added some other instruments, such as piano, and other friends, including Mark Morriss from the Bluetones, and guests, including Simon Raymonde from the Cocteau Twins, singing over the top.

I’m calling the record The Helicopter Of The Holy Ghost. I’m not religious, but it’s like the songs were written by a ghost because I don’t remember anything about writing them. It’s upsetting to have amnesia about such a big chunk of my life, but at least I have made these songs into something real.

The crash has left me disabled – I still haven’t got full use of my arm. But I look at it as a series of recoveries. I recovered that first day because I didn’t die when the doctors were telling Helen to prepare for the worst. Then I recovered from all the operations, then came out of the coma, then got through the first week, first month, first couple of years. Jim came through it all, too. Before the crash, he was a hotel store manager. Now he’s an artist and did the artwork for the album sleeve, which is fitting.

I never imagined that, after everything, I’d be releasing new music at 55. Now it’s finished, it’s unbelievably thrilling. I had a near-death experience, but it led to me bringing these songs from the crash back to life – one final recovery.

• As told to Jody Thompson

Do you have an experience to share? Email experience@theguardian.com

Billy Reeves

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Experience: my wife lost her memory while giving birth
She patted our son distractedly. I realised she had no idea he was ours

Steve Curto

04, Oct, 2019 @9:00 AM

Article image
Experience: I was electrocuted on stage
I was singing live, literally, as a huge current travelled through me. It was like being hit by a bus

Stephen Brayne

21, May, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Experience: I threw away a pop career to deal drugs
I passed out on a record executive’s shoulder, ending my record deal before it began. He’d seen it all before

Adam Norrie

12, Oct, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
Experience: I’m a world-class whistler
I do between 75 and 100 concerts a year and earn twice as much as I did as a nurse

Geert Chatrou

09, Aug, 2019 @9:01 AM

Article image
Experience: we fell in love without speaking
We played music together for hours, creating new compositions without talking

Faith Ristic

07, Dec, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
Experience: I was Tupac Shakur's pen pal
In Barnsley, the phone rang and a voice said, ‘It’s Tupac. You sent me a copy of your fly-ass magazine’

Nina Bhadreshwar

31, Jul, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
Experience: I was in a Scientology jazz band
L Ron Hubbard spent hours with us each day. I was scared the first time I met him, because I thought he could read minds

Neil Sarfati

26, Feb, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Experience: I mudlarked a skull
Hang on, I thought. Am I about to become a prime suspect in a murder investigation?

Martin Bushell

22, Mar, 2019 @9:58 AM

Article image
Experience: I accidentally became a global fashion brand
People across the world were wearing unofficial merch with my band’s logo on it. I decided to cash in, but do it ethically

Peter Boothroyd

23, Apr, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Experience: I learned to play the piano without a piano
I Googled the dimensions of a keyboard, drew the keys on to a piece of paper and stuck it on my desk

Andrew Garrido

22, Nov, 2019 @10:00 AM