Not the end of the road

By admin
13 September 2013

When the Idols judges announce the names of the top 16 for the final round, after gruelling elimination rounds, there’s laughter and crying on our TV screens. The joy of those who’ve been selected is tempered by the tears of the unfortunates who didn’t make it.

Edward Allen (27) of Port Elizabeth was one of the disappointed ones who got no further than the top 32 round in the current Idols series. He was told by the judges, “This is the end of the road for you.”

His hair is longer than it was when those words were recorded but he recalls the feeling. “It wasn’t at all a pleasant feeling. It felt as if a piece of my soul had been torn out.”

He had caught the attention of the judges and viewers not only because of his unique voice but also because he suffers from the neurological disorder, Tourette’s syndrome. It’s characterised by repeated involuntary physical and vocal “tics”. Edward and his twin brother, Richard, were diagnosed with the disorder at the age of seven.

As he chats to us in the house belonging to his granny, Faye Mynhardt (82), you wouldn’t guess he had Tourette’s. “My Tourette’s is regarded as severe but you wouldn’t know it because I keep it under control consciously and with medication,” he says.

His specific “tics” include smelling his fingers and various other objects, thinking aloud, groaning, rolling his eyes, jerking his head and swearing. “It’s as if your brain and body are overcharged, as if they’re running too fast. You need an exhaust valve for the energy – either a verbal one where you repeatedly swear or [one where you make] repeated head movements.”

He says living with the disease isn’t easy. “As children my brother and I were often chased out of class for making noises we couldn’t help making. Teachers didn’t understand and thought we were naughty. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forget it; it had a big influence in making me what I am today.”

Have things become easier now that he has more control over his tics? He thinks for a while before answering. “It’s different. I struggle socially. I live with it, but it’s almost as if I’m permanently holding my breath. I can never relax completely.”

But when Edward picks up his guitar and plays the symptoms seem to vanish. “That’s something I’ve heard all my life. I get a unique self-confidence when I perform. If I watch a recording of myself I can still see the Tourette’s but it’s less severe.” He has often wondered why this happens. “I think I get so caught up in the rhythm of the song that I’m freed from my own rhythm. I allow myself to express all my frustrations in the song. That’s why I need music; it’s a safe outlet valve for my Tourette’s.”

Edward attended school until Grade 10 and then obtained a technical qualification in electrical engineering at a Port Elizabeth college. Thereafter he went to university to study information technology but quit after a year. “The course was my father’s choice, not mine. I was still so young.” A relative gave him work at a video production company where he did a bit of everything.

“I wanted to make a living from music but I knew it was difficult, expensive and not very practical.”

In 2009 Edward went to Britain, where he worked as a waiter. On his return to South Africa in 2011 he became depressed. “I was in a relationship that wasn’t good for me. I began to take drugs and had a breakdown.” He spent two months in a rehab centre near Potchefstroom. The staff at the centre asked him to perform at some of their functions and he also helped organise a choir performance.

His psychologist at the clinic told him it was important to have something to focus on. “I chose music. It keeps me alive. It’s like a religion to me,” he says enthusiastically, pointing out a tattoo on his arm that declares, “Music is my life. Life is music.” The nurses at the clinic encouraged him to enter Idols and he made it one of his goals. “I would rather be a tramp who plays the guitar and sings than someone who works in a bank and makes money. Rather a man of value than a man of money,” he says seriously.

A love for the arts is definitely in his veins. For years his dad, Nicholas, was dean of the then PE Technikon’s art and design faculty. Today he’s director of international relations at North-West University. His mom, Odette, and his sister, Gabrielle Richards, are both art teachers, and his twin brother, Richard, is a tattoo artist. “It’s interesting. Richard and I are both interested in art and music. But he chose to go more in the direction of art while I want to make music my life.”

Edward regularly plays and sings in restaurants in Port Elizabeth. He also works a few shifts a week as a waiter and driver at a restaurant and does freelance work for the video production company. “I’m recording a new song and will approach a few record companies with it. We’ll see what happens.”

He stays with his granny because it’s too expensive to rent his own place. He helps her with tasks around the house and also pays a little rent. “We have a wonderful relationship; she’s the best granny in the world, like a second mother to me. She’s like Mother Teresa.”

Edward says his life hasn’t been easy. His parents divorced when he was 13 and it wasn’t always a happy family environment. “But I’m grateful for my life – all parts of it. I believe you can’t be a real artist if you don’t have life experience to back it up. I’ve seen it so often: people who really touch others are those who have something unique, who have had tough lives.”

Despite the disappointment he’s grateful for the Idols experience. “It’s great getting a little recognition for what you do. It gave me the chance to show all those who said, ‘You’re nothing; you can’t do anything,” that I can. I don’t let people get me down.”

I ask Edward what characteristics he has that will help him make a success of his musical career. He thinks for a long time. Granny Faye, who’s been listening all along, helps him out. “Perseverance,” she says. “He practises for hours and hours. Practises, practises and practises as if he’s mad!” Edward laughs. “Yes, I definitely have dedication. I could literally live in the recording studio. I can go for days without sleeping – that’s how much I love music.”

-Suzaan Hauman

Pictures: Riaan Labuschagne

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