Graeme Duffin had many years of struggle with his speech as the 'fifth member' in the newly reformed rock band Wet Wet Wet. He is now an active member of BSA, helping to organise the 2004 conference in Stirling. Graeme recently described his journey to BSA trustee Eddie Phillips.
Eddie Phillips - First of all many congratulations at the band getting back together. You kept that one a secret, you sly dog! I saw Wet Wet Wet in 1994 in the SECC. You were brilliant and I'm not just saying that.
Graeme Duffin - Yes you are. Actually I wasn't keeping anything quiet because I didn't know about anything until a week before the start of a recording session at the beginning of July!
EP - How did the guys decide to reform. Who made the first phonecall? Was it you?
GD - I got the call from Dougie Souness (No Half Measures Management) asking if I could be involved. The guys in the band weren't just assuming that I'd do it. I love performing and recording so I wasn't about to pass it up. The catalyst was probably seeing everybody at Marti's Mum's funeral. It was the first time in 6 years that we'd all been under the one roof. That seemed to get the guys talking again and highlighted the fact that there was unfinished business to take care of. (Editor's note: Marti Pellow is lead singer of the band)
EP - I see you will be launching your tour at the end of the year. What after that? Any other plans for 2005 onwards?
GD - Let's see how things go. I don't suppose a new album would be out of the question next year, but we're just delighted to be doing the tour this year. I'm looking forward to a single being released in the autumn, along with a 'Greatest Hits' album which will include 2 or 3 new tracks. I'm really excited about the new tracks we've recorded (although if you hated the Wets music before, you'll still hate it now!)
EP - Will it be different for you the second time around? Do you intend to be more in the public eye, not just musically but fronting up interviews etc?
GD - The setup in the band is pretty much the same as before, with the four band members being marketed and me partially involved in that area but fully involved in most other areas (TV promo., gigs, recordings etc.) Because I'm not signed to the record company, I tend not to be involved in interviews directly with the band. It wasn't so much to do with my speech, although I suppose I was glad not to have to do them. There was one particularly dreadful interview experience that's etched in my memory. It was a Radio Scotland interview (pre-recorded, thankfully) where I literally blocked on every syllable of every word. I came out out of the studio exhausted, disheartened, embarrassed, and sorry for Nick Lowe who tried for 2 hours to get something broadcastable. Unfortunately nothing was - so it was a double embarrassment with failure added. This may all sound depressing but 2 years ago Radio Scotland wanted to interview me regarding an involvement I had with a remarkable project called 'Amazon Hope'. Guess who showed up to conduct the interview! I swear Nick's face fell when he saw me, but I reassured him that my speech had much improved since our paths last crossed. The interview went really well and I was able to say exactly what I wanted to say, in the way that I wanted to say it, with no struggle. Ironically I've done far more interviews during the last 6 years than I ever did during my 15 years with Wet Wet Wet. That partly reflects my level of confidence in my ability to deal with and enjoy that situation now, and partly having the desire to talk passionately about speech related issues.
EP - What's it like to play to audiences of 10-30 thousand as you must have done in the 80's and 90's. Wasn't it a bit scary?
GD - For me, as with many performers, 10,000 seems easier than playing to a few friends in a room. The more intimate the situation, the more challenging it seems. I'm relishing the prospect of doing some big shows again. I love it!
EP - What have you been doing since the band split? Were you still active in the music industry?
GD - Yes. My daughter Esther was with a band, Ashton Lane, for a couple of years and I had an involvement with co-writing and production on their recordings for EMI. Lots of other little projects on the go too. I'm also in the final planning stages, with two colleagues, putting together a Centre for Music Production Training, with recording, and rehearsal facilities. This will be in a compact premises on the site of the old Ravenscraig steel works, and called 'The Foundry'.
EP - I know you're very involved in the McGuire Programme. How did you first hear about it? Has it helped you?
GD - My involvement with the McGuire programme began when I decided to enrol in January 2000. I soon discovered it's not just a case of attending a 4 day course, but making the commitment to work hard, and do your best for as long as it takes! I first heard about it when someone I knew in London met a guy who was involved in the programme, and reckoned quite rightly that I would love to hear about it. I felt very excited at the prospect of gaining control over my speech and couldn't wait to get started. Unfortunately the next course wasn't for 3 months, and in Bournmouth. (I'm in Glasgow!) It was worth the wait because the improvement in my speech was immediate and dramatic.
EP - You must be pleased with certain aspects of your life now. I mean specifically the progress you've made with your speech. Would you like to tell me a bit about it.
GD - Gaining almost instant fluency on an intensive course is the easy bit, and the temptation to pass myself off as a 'fluent speaker' immediately following my first course was overwhelming. I loved it but flirtations with fluency are usually short lived! I then became more of a covert stammerer as I had fluency techniques which enabled me to hide it or think I was cured. The programme does emphasise the need for self acceptance as a person who stammers working and training to become a better speaker - otherwise we end up using technique as yet another trick in order to 'try and not stammer.' This leads sooner or later to a return to the previous level of dysfluency. Fluency techniques, in my opinion, are only useful if a person is willing to travel in the direction of their greatest fears and be willing to voluntarily be perceived as a dysfluent speaker. I think it's taken me getting to this point to realise how crucial this aspect of the programme is. Somebody once said 'The habits created through punishment based learning are particularly tenacious'. My experience leads me to believe that we punish ourselves (or have done) when we stammer and the resulting conflicts lead to avoidance, and more fear of continued 'punishment' (ridicule, embarrassment etc.) This maybe goes some way to explain why stammering is so difficult to deal with effectively. Those who do well with any programme help create their own success by having the determination to take responsibility, prioritise and face the challenges with courage. The quality of the material taught on McGuire courses coupled with the community aspect and support network make involvement for me very beneficial and rewarding. I've made some great friends on the programme and whenever I go back on a course it's always a real buzz meeting people from further afield whom I may not have seen for some time.
EP - you're now a McGuire facilitator. What does that entail?
GD - The programme runs a system of further training, with in-depth examinations and peer evaluations which enables internal certification to become a coach, course instructor, or staff trainer. It's been a massive privilege for me to have had the opportunity to instruct several 4 day courses, and be inspired again and again by the courage shown by the new students. It's a real two way thing because the new people become inspired by our ability to speak well in many situations where we couldn't before. This initial inspiration is crucial, because such a high level of motivation is required for the work necessary for continued and sustainable improvement. We also become personally responsible for one to one coaching, and providing well run local support groups.
EP - I couldn't leave this part without asking, Gareth Gates - how did he get to hear about McGuire and is he enjoying being involved?
GD - I'm not sure where Gareth heard about the programme. He's attended McGuire courses this year in Stirling (what is it about that place...) and Wigan. Gareth is working towards instructing a course in the not too distant future, and when we met in Stirling he was on great form. We had some good conversations in the bar during the four days and I also had the privilege of meeting his dad, Paul, and enjoyed getting to know him. Sickeningly he looked more like Gareth's striking looking big brother than his dad! He seems to really enjoy being involved in courses, as it provides a bit of a respite from the pop mayhem.
EP - You've been involved in the BSA Conference Organising Committee. Was that fun? Have you learned anything from your involvement (apart from remembering to say no the next time the Conference is in Scotland!)
GD - It's been great. Apart from some dodgy Councillor guy who won't stop talking. He's supposed to be one of these PWBS (politically correct term for stammerer) but I think he's kidding on just to get more votes. (Editor's Note: Eddie Phillips is a local Councillor in Scotland and has stammered since a child.) Seriously though, the experience has been positive, and I trust that as BSA Scotland takes shape the relationship with myself will continue. As an organisation I feel that an important role is to bring together elements of the stuttering community which may have become polarised. It's good to see so many different things being supported at the conference, and I look forward to doing as much speaking as possible at it. (..watch out Eddie...)
EP - Are you looking forward to Stirling? What interests you the most about BSA Conference?
GD - I'm very much looking forward to it. I hope there's lots of speech therapists there because I really enjoy talking to them, and those who are interested can feel free to interrogate me about stuttering. Catch me at any point during the conference. A good keynote speaker is important so I'm looking forward to hearing Lee Reeves.
EP - Does BSA have a role to play in helping stammerers overcome their problems? How do you rate BSA as an organisation?
GD - If it can act as a facilitating body, pointing people towards appropriate groups, therapies, programmes etc. while providing helpful workshops and non-partisan support groups for people to move forward with their lives, then it's fulfilling an important role. I'm too new a member to have any views on rating it on a scale of 1-10, I'm ashamed to say.
EP - Finally and most importantly, any complimentary Wet Wet Wet tickets going about for your concerts. Only joking! I've already got two for your Glasgow gig. Good luck with the tour and best wishes to the boys.
GD - Thanks Eddie. Enjoy the show, and I'll see if I can get you back stage passes!
A shortened version of this interview was published in the Autumn 2004 edition of Speaking Out