“You’re here for the auditions?” I was greeted with the standard perplexed expression I was so familiar with.
“What bothers you?” I said sharply, impatient with yet another judgemental face, “The wheels or the tits?” I pushed through the double doors on my own, drum stick bag balanced on my knees, and headed towards the small crowd gathered in front of a stage where they were being addressed by the bands’ lead singer, Josh.
“Welcome to the auditions to become the new drummer for The Avalanche. We’re looking for someone to come on our UK tour with us after Sam quit the band last month, and perhaps to record future music with if all goes well.
“The auditions will work like this; you will be called onto the stage in alphabetical order, where you will be asked to perform snippets of three of our songs, randomly selected by us. If we think you have potential, you will be asked to stay. Those who have potential will perform again after everyone else has left; you will be asked to do a randomly selected song in full.
“Good luck,” Josh stepped off the stage to sit with Danny and Adrienne, the other members of the band.
My surname meant that I would be one of the last to audition, so I sat back and tried to relax as I watched a stream of white men climb onto the stage and drum clumsily along to the backing tracks provided. Only a few were requested to stay behind and I could see the band growing impatient and bored. It was only when my name was called that I realised that I was the only woman to be auditioning, let alone the only wheelchair user.
As expected the stage had steps to ascend. I rolled up to them and looked over at the band, who were mortified. Adrienne stood up.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed, “There’s a wheelchair ramp in the store room at the back. We didn’t think to bring it through. I’ll go get it now, and we’re so sorry!” She dashed out of the room and a few minutes later returned with a metal ramp. Josh and Danny fitted it securely to the stage with some difficulty, requiring a little direction from me as the only one with experience using them. They were all apologising profusely, although I could feel the hostile glares I was receiving from the other drummers in the hall. I repeatedly assured them that it was OK and that what mattered to me was that they dealt with the problem.
I rolled up the ramp, moved the drum stool out of my way, and pulled my drum sticks from their bag. Flustered from the flurry of activity I forgot to put my brakes on and the second I started to play the requested song, my wheelchair rolled backwards and off the stage. Now it was my turn to look mortified as I heard footsteps running to my side. Adrienne helped me upright and checked I was alright, and then I returned to the drum kit. This time I made sure the brakes were securely on, trying not to blush as the other drummers sniggered at me.
Certain that I had screwed up the audition so badly as to destroy any chance of being chosen, my nerves disappeared, and I could fully focus on the music. I hit every beat cleanly and crisply and even added my own technical flourishes where I felt they were needed. By the time I had completed my three song excerpts I was almost disappointed that it was over, especially as the band had been gracious enough not to “randomly select” the three easiest songs for me to perform out of misguided sympathy. When Josh requested me to stay behind I was so surprised that I almost fell off the stage a second time.
A little less than an hour later the band had come to their decision and were addressing me and the other four drummers who had been asked to perform a second time.
“You all did extremely well,” Josh said as he took to the stage once more. I had the feeling that he was simply trying to be nice to the unsuccessful drummers, particularly me.
“However, the decision was unanimous. We all agreed that our new drummer should be Lily Thorpe.”
There was a moment of silence while all of us sat there, stunned. There must have been some mistake. However, before I had the chance to express my disbelief, the four men around me started shouting loudly.
“This is ridiculous. You just feel sorry for her!”
“You’re only doing it to improve your social status by being all liberal and inclusive!”
“She couldn’t even get on the stage without your help; how the hell do you think she’ll manage on tour?”
Secretly, I think I agreed with them.
Josh raised his hand and their complaints died down to a murmur.
“Actually, she was the most technically proficient, she was able to insert her own distinctive flair into the music, and she clearly knows our music well. She was also the nicest, which given the amount of time we will spend together over the next few months counts for more than you could imagine,” Adrienne chipped in.
“Precisely,” Josh said, “and even if that wasn’t the case, you’ve all just proved that you’re not the type of people we want to spend time with.”
“You may take your leave,” Danny added firmly.
The others filed out of the room, chuntering unhappily among themselves. As the doors swung shut behind them, a quiet settled over the room.
“Congratulations!” Adrienne said, a big grin lighting up her face.
“Are you sure?” I practically whispered, “You don’t have to do this out of sympathy, you know.”
“We are sure, and this isn’t sympathy,” Josh said, “I’m sorry the others were like that.”
The man who had greeted me at the door now wandered into the room. His eyes settled on me and he frowned slightly.
“No luck then, I take it?” he said. To my great surprise Adrienne marched across the room and punched him on the nose.
“I’ve been waiting all day for the perfect excuse to do that,” she muttered between clenched teeth, then turned to me “I don’t know how you cope.”
“By drumming,” I replied, a small smile spreading across my face, “So, when do I start?”
We had filled a minivan with our instruments, wires, and amps, with Josh and Adrienne crushed together in the front while Danny took the wheel. I had bought a ramp for the van, allowing me to park in the back of it surrounded by our equipment. Every time we went over a speed bump the ramp clashed one of the cymbals right next to my head, leaving me with an intense ringing sound in my ear before we had even started.
After a two hour drive we reached our first venue, a community centre that had been converted into a bar and club the year before. We parked up using my disabled parking badge to obtain a nice, wide space. Josh and Danny, now experts at handling the ramp, had me out of the van within a minute and we began unloading our equipment. I carried wires, accessories, and small amps on my knees, relying on the others to carry the larger pieces.
The community centre had been a relatively old building, and although the conversion into a club had made it accessible, the makeshift ramps that had been bought wobbled worryingly every time I traversed them. The doorways were very narrow and I bumped my elbows and knuckles countless times as I propelled myself forwards, an act which had my arms stuck out at odd angles. The backstage corridors were narrow and maze-like and the stage where we were performing had no ramp at all, with the owners of the club having to provide an old sheet of thin plywood at a very steep angle as a poor substitute. With nothing to hold it in place at either end, I had to rely on my bandmates to hold it still while one of them helped push me up the ramp. The disabled toilet was also being used to store cleaning materials, and I had to slalom around mops and brushes.
We had finished setting up, including our sound check, about 15 minutes before the doors were due to open. Now, with nothing to take my mind off the task, I started to grow nervous. This was the first live gig I had had with any band and I knew that as the newest member of The Avalanche I would be subjected to great scrutiny. I had already been the hot topic for discussion on our social media, with everyone wondering whether I had simply been selected out of sympathy. These comments seemed to irritate Adrienne more than me, who had dealt with many sexist comments when she joined The Avalanche as it was. I didn’t mind. I had decided to prove those who doubted my abilities wrong by proving my own capability.
Once the doors had opened one of the first spectators who entered was a wheelchair-bound girl, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, proudly sporting one of our new band t-shirts. She smiled at me broadly, as did the woman with her who I assumed was her mother, and I returned the compliment. Adrienne turned round to speak to me.
“Well, you have one fan already,” she smiled.
The room slowly filled up, and the buzz of anticipation grew with the crowd. Lots of people wanted to get a good look at new drummer, and I blushed slightly. Half an hour after the doors had opened Josh leapt up to his microphone, gave a warm welcome to our spectators, and played the opening chords of our first song on his battered electric guitar. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and let myself become immersed in the music. As I opened with my first drum break a round of applause swept through the crowd, some of whom were beginning to accept that I was no sympathy vote.
We played for over an hour before taking a break while a stand-up comedian took to the stage for his half-time show. As I reached the disabled bathroom the young girl I had spotted before the show opened the door and rolled outwards. When she saw me I thought she was going to leap straight out of her wheelchair.
“Oh my god, mum, it’s Lily!” she looked up at her mum who was stood behind her.
“Hi,” I smiled, “What’s your name?”
“I’m Lily too,” she grinned enthusiastically, “and I want to play the drums like you!”
“Nice name and nice choice,” I laughed, “Do you want to be the first person to receive my autograph?”
Her mum rummaged around in her handbag for a notepad and pen, and then I wrote my message.
You are the first person to receive my autograph!
A piece of advice; don’t let those who doubt you stop you from doing what you want to do,
She grinned and bellowed an enthusiastic thank you before heading back into the club with her mum, chatting excitedly the whole time.
I was grateful for a drink and a rest with Josh, Adrienne, and Danny in the green room before returning to the stage half an hour later for an even longer set. We got an excellent reception from the crowd and by the end of the gig I was too exhilarated to be tired. Slowly the crowd dispersed, a few stopping to speak to us and get our autographs or a selfie. I lost count of the people who told me I was a great drummer, very deserving of my place in the band, but the best encounter of the night remained the young girl that I had inspired. It felt good to set a good example for people like her to follow.
The van was loaded up again, myself included, and then we headed off to our motel around the corner. The van was locked securely in the garage and we all filed into reception looking sweaty and dishevelled. The receptionist did not appear to be phased and provided us with the keys to our rooms. I was sharing with Adrienne, who was able to hold open doors for me as I used all my strength to push myself along the thick carpet.
I was tired beyond belief and in desperate need of a shower, and my ears were still ringing loudly, but despite all this and a hard, lumpy mattress I managed to sleep the whole night through. The next morning I got up, washed and dressed, and by 10 am we were ready to set off and do it all over again.