My next story begins on a restless Spring afternoon in 1980, a few months before I began recording the album “Celebration” I was living in Highgate Village, London and experiencing an acute attack of writers block on my return from a TV promo tour of Germany The Ferris Wheel One evening during this trip, my record company ‘minder” and I had been lured to visit a fairground that was regaling the night air with festive music near the hotel.
There was a daunting-looking Ferris wheel looming in the centre of the park and I have always been
both attracted and repelled by the thought of flying around at speed far above Terra Firma! However my intrepid friend persuaded me that I could overcome my nerves and maybe even stir up the creative juices for my next album. I felt up to the challenge that evening and as the wheel began to climb I felt mildly excited and thought “Yes, maybe I can overcome my nerves this time” But then ‘horror of horrors” my heart began to pound in my chest as we went over the edge at the top of the cycle and soon I was in the grip of a monster panic attack, hanging on to my friend for dear life!
Excitement and Fear – Two sides of the coin
At the age of 21 I experienced a spontaneous “near-death spiritual experience” and ever since then I have studied spiritual teachers from many different devotional paths. In the midst of my terror on the Ferris wheel that night I was able to recall the words of Dr. Deepak Chopra who said something like ‘The difference between the hormones of fear and the hormones of excitement is but a hair’s breadth and can change one to the other in a heartbeat with a “SIMPLE CHANGE OF INTERPRETATION”.
The next horrifying cycle of the Ferris wheel began and just as I was about to throw up I recalled these words of wisdom and sent out a prayer for angelic intervention. I tried desperately to focus my thoughts on being EXCITED by the ride and ELATED that I was safely soaring above the sparking lights of the fair – instead of thinking “OMG I am about to pass out!” I will never know how my experience suddenly transformed, but as I tumbled over the next precipice on this wheel of death,I began to feel a faint sense of excitement as the pounding of my heart began to transform from the hammers of hell into a slowly building sound of -----an interesting bass and drum riff! The rhythm started to build in my head until it became more and more hypnotic,holding my attention so much that my panic attack began to slowly transform into exhilaration and inspiration. “It must have been an angel” were the words that came to mind as I gave thanks that I in fact I was not having a heart attack but had just had a great idea for a new song!
The Ancient Magic of Highgate Wood Back to that “restless spring afternoon” in Highgate London. I was inspired by the seed of my new song, but the melody and lyrics stubbornly refused to manifest- except that I knew the song would be born on the dancing keys of a vibraphone. So I had duly installed a beautiful set of “vibes” in my home studio. However I had spent the past few days staring blankly at the golden keys and trying in vain to invoke my muse.
Completely fed up, I thought I would go for a run in nearby Highgate Wood, donned my track suit and set off through those ancient woodland paths. I LOVE being in woods and forests and my heartbeat began to increase with a sense of well-being as I ran and felt the delicious cool breeze on my face.
Suddenly I had a vivid flashback to that night on the Ferris wheel and wondered if a similar transformation might be about to happen as another spiritual/psychological teaching came to mind:
“Memories are state-bound” - This means that when we are in a state of strong emotional arousal, the brain connects to similar past experiences as if they are still happening and, like a row of dominoes, intensifies the present experience. BINGO!
The Vibraphone Comes to Life Back in my flat, totally elated,I picked up the vibraphone beaters and spontaneously began to play the main instrumental riff of ‘Mandala” as the melody and lyrics gradually took shape. “Hey! My heart is beating- letting in the wonder!” Oh Lord! I can feel the Mandala!” The song was completed that evening and the process of writing it became a spiritual lesson for me as I became aware of the cyclic nature of all creation, of nature, the seasons and of our human experience itself. The beautiful, religious symbol of THE MANDALA seemed to be a perfect title for the song- with the point of shining stillness in the centre, from where the profusion of life radiates outwards to infinity in perfect symmetrical patterns…… SO- if you want to do something, don’t EVER let fear get in the way! Fear is just a bunch of adrenal hormones masking the possibility of transformation into the excitement of a challenge that could lead you to the fulfillment of your highest aspirations.
The single “Mandala” charted in Germany and the album “Celebration” went gold. The original recording in 1980 was based around the vibraphone, but later I recorded a new version using synthesizers instead of vibes - which you can hear on the album ‘The Enchanted Way”. I am told the song is often used by spiritual groups for dynamic mediatations.