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Paul Gillies: More Rhythm than Stephen Hawking

By Published: December 4, 2008

Since then, I have tried various pills and potions with various levels of success, the most successful being betaferon which was self-administered by injection on alternate days. These injections seemed to slow down the progression of my MS, and I endured the worsening side effects for eight years before reluctantly deciding to stop. My progression had been slowed, but I was still deteriorating. I have come away from the hospital now, and I self-manage my MS on a daily basis.

AAJ: Can you define the various stages of this illness? At what stage are you now?

PG: MS is a disease of the central nervous system and it interferes with messages between the brain and other parts of the body, so in other words, various bits of your body stop working. Most people have periods of relapse and remission, whilst, for others like myself, MS has a progressive pattern. I don't need to tell you that this makes life especially unpredictable.

I tend not to think of my MS in stages of deteriorating but more of being on a journey with obstacles around most corners. It matters not where I am on my journey, but it matters greatly that I enjoy the ride. This outlook has helped me bring up two wonderful daughters, and I have always had a full and fairly active social life.

AAJ: You have really done things that many people unencumbered by a wheel chair have not done. This would include walking up Mount Vesuvius on crutches, jet power-boating in New Zealand, bungee jumping 300 feet over the River Thames and tandem freefall parachuting from 10,000 feet. That's a remarkable list of credits. Are you pushing yourself to do these things because you refuse to be limited by your illness? Would you have done these things if you didn't have MS?

PG: Good question. I probably wouldn't have considered any of these things, had I been fully fit. I guess I was aware that the clock was ticking down, and so I made a list of things I wanted to experience before the alarm bell rang. It wasn't exactly refusing to be limited by my MS—it was more a hunger for life, and gave me the chance to stick a finger up at Mr. MS.

AAJ: As well as these things, your most daring feat is joining four mates and forming a blues band. How did this come about?

PG: I have always loved the blues, and was an unconvincing but enthusiastic harp player in my late teens. I had put the harp down for a few years but the hunger to wail-away behind a band had remained. So it was with great excitement that I added this task to my list and began the process of teaching myself to play properly. I played at a reasonable standard from 1993 until 1999, when my MS worsened and prevented me from being able to hold onto my green bullet mic. Then poor co-ordination and fatigue finally forced me to give it up.

It was in 2007 that my good friend and harp maestro Tim Aves gave me a Shaker mic that fitted snugly into my left fist, and so I taught myself a different technique that allowed me to just about sound OK. The addition of a Fender Bassman pedal gave me back the missing tone, and I was ready to rumble. I put the word out and started tooting away with firstly my good friend Tony. Then a few weeks later, his pal Alan joined us. I was then approached through MySpace by Jason and Stevie Bee asking if I wanted to jam with them. And so it was that Wheelchair Willy and the Whiprounds was born!

AAJ: Introduce the blokes in your band.

PG: The band consists of Jason Silverback on vocals/bass guitar, Tony May on lead/rhythm guitar, Alan Poulter on slide/lead guitar and Stevie Bee on brushes/drums.

AAJ: You made an arrangement with the "horned-one" upon news that your wife was expecting your first. Can you tell us about this? Do you feel this may have helped your music?

PG: Ahhhh I'm guessing this question comes from one of my blogs: "A pact with the devil" from my personal web page.

My daughter Rebecca wasn't planned and neither Carol nor myself wanted any children who might have to experience growing up without a father. Religion has never been my thing, so I guess my bargain with the "horned one" was me reaching out for any kind of assistance. Maybe I was appealing to Mr. MS to show a bit of compassion—I'm not sure—but here I am 21 years later with two healthy grown up kids and a smug grin on my face. As for it helping my music? Yeah, you could be right. When I'm sitting in with the Whiprounds, pumped full of adrenaline and blowing a storm, I certainly feel I'm giving Mr. MS the finger!

AAJ: Now, on this, it might be a good idea for others to follow your example. What instrument do you play, and what do you do when your playing takes an unexpected turn?

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