I arrived back home in Brighton in 1968 after dropping out of university. I was riding the wave of flower power and the summer of love, so decided to form a band, called the Fox. I was the frontman, and we played only original material, a heady mixture of soul and psychedelia.
By autumn 1969, we’d made a bit of a name for ourselves. We performed at the Brighton festival, signed a record deal with men who promised us the world, released an album and opened at the Dome for David Bowie. November was busy, with seven gigs across the country.
One Saturday morning we piled into the back of a van heading to Bristol University. We were excited to be performing to a big crowd of students, with our friends, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, headlining. The sound check went great. I couldn’t wait to get on stage.
There was a crowd of hundreds as we stepped out. I was in my element, strutting around and putting on a show, channelling Small Faces in my mind. Halfway through a song called Lovely Day, I noticed my microphone was pointing up at the wrong angle. It was hard for me to adjust while I was playing guitar, but after singing the line “as I lie beside your side”, I knew I would have a few seconds’ break. So I played my chord, held it down with my left hand, and lifted my right hand to quickly adjust the mic.
I hadn’t noticed that the earth wire had come loose from my amplifier. When I placed my hand on to the microphone to pull it closer to my mouth, I completed the electrical circuit. I was singing live, literally, as a huge current travelled through me.
It was like being hit by a bus, and my muscles clenched. I was grabbing on to the microphone and the guitar, so while my body convulsed away, my fingers gripped on tight, unmoving. There was an enormous roaring noise, a huge force rushing through me.
Rather than panic, I was consumed by a deep sense of calm. This might have been earlier than I had planned on meeting death, but I knew in that moment that there was nothing I could do to stop what was coming. It’s hard to describe exactly what happened next, but I found myself zooming through a vortex towards far-off lights. This certainly wasn’t any kind of religious revelation. It was more like: I’m powerless from this point. I felt no pain. If this was death, so be it.
That’s when I heard a sound like a scream, somewhere in the distance. The noise got louder and the lights began to fade as I was sharply pulled, on what felt like a bungee cord, away from whatever might have been awaiting me. I was being dragged back into my body, and I realised the yelling was mine, wails of total agony.
While I’d been out of body, our organ player, Alex Lane, had worked out what was happening. The audience, I think, thought my jump into the air and bodily contortions were some wild act of showmanship. I’ll forever be grateful that Alex realised I was mid-electrocution and tugged the microphone cable out of my grasp to stop the flow of current. He saved me.
Consciousness regained, I tried to work out what was happening. Someone was fanning my face with a silk scarf and people gathered around me before I was carted off in an ambulance.
Much to the doctors’ surprise, all I needed was bandages for the burns on my hands. A few hours later I was back at the gig, jumping out to surprise my bandmates, who had been sitting fretting in our dressing room. The next night we had a show in Norwich; this accident wasn’t going to stop me, though my bandaged hands made me look straight out of a horror movie. For a year or so, fear left me struggling to grip on to anything metal.
Fifty years on, the scars on my hands are yet to fade. Sadly, the Fox never quite took off. Once our management company signed a band called Black Sabbath, they were less interested in us. Now I play in a band called Sonic Blue and work as a fine art photographer.
In a strange way, being nearly electrocuted on stage was quite healing. Getting so close to death – and it not being so bad – has taken away some of the fear of it in the decades since. In that moment, I accepted my own mortality. I’m in no rush to die, but when my time comes for real, I’ll say cheerio and head off on my way.