The Awkward Silences

Music for Inclusive Outsiders

Paul's Story


Paul Hawkins never Had any intention of being a musician...

Apart from anything else, it surely wasn't possible. He was born with various disabilities - usually the ones nobody else seemed to have and ones that were a bit complicated and embarrassing to explain to strangers. His Dad's work colleagues sent sympathy cards, people told his Mum it was part of God's plan but weren't wholly clear on what exactly that plan was and his primary school headteacher didn't even think he should be in mainstream education, let alone actively participating in society.

Paul didn't understand all this. Perhaps it was another symptom of his disability but he didn't understand why a few medical complications meant he couldn't do things. And his parents certainly didn't think so. They had an absurd idea that Paul should have the same opportunities as everyone else did. And, children being as affected as they are by their parents, Paul believed in this idea too. And so he tried to do the same things as everyone else.

Sometimes this didn't work. He was terrible at sports. Cricket, rugby, basketball and tennis were all equally disastrous. And he loved football but his only skill was an uncanny ability to miss open goals. Art and technology classes felt like exercises in torture, purely designed to remind Paul of how bad his coordination was. Music classes weren't great either. Paul just couldn't learn the guitar the way everyone else did and, because he couldn't learn the same way as everyone else, he started to believe he couldn't play guitar at all.

But the rest of school was okay – or at least it was once the school had realised the fact somebody being unable to write wasn't the same as somebody being unable to learn. Once they realised that, they gave him a computer and he was absolutely fine. He got GCSEs then he got A-Levels then he got a degree. And then a masters. And then a PGCE. And then he wrote a book about the history of Father Christmas that was published by Simon & Schuster.

And he learned to play the guitar too. He found a guitar teacher who taught him how to see the unusual way his coordination worked as an advantage, rather than a disadvantage. It might mean he couldn't do some of the things other people could but it also meant he naturally did some things that other people didn't. And what's more, perhaps due to his experiences, Paul wrote songs about things that nobody else did. Songs about school dropouts who faked being doctors to boost their self-esteem. Songs about people leaving long-term institutions to face the world outside. Songs about people who were haunted by visions of better-looking and more confident spectres of themselves. In short, songs about the outsiders, the forgotten and the dispossessed. The songs were clever, the songs were funny and the songs had a raw and brutal honesty that set them apart.

But what Paul really wanted was a band. Paul had only one friend in London and not many friends anywhere else. So he went out and played his songs at open mic nights - as much as a way of meeting new people as anything else. Sometimes people ignored him, sometimes people laughed at him, sometimes people laughed with him and sometimes Paul wasn't sure if people were laughing at him or with him and he had a feeling the audiences themselves weren't sure either.

Then a man called Ian Button heard Paul's music. Ian had played in the Thrashing Doves when Margaret Thatcher allegedly killed their career. And then he had played guitar in Death in Vegas. Now he was a producer and a drummer and, as his recent recordings as Papernut Cambridge attest, an absolutely ingenious master of the pop song. But what he loved was pop music gone wrong and Paul's pop music was going very wrong indeed.

So he began to produce Paul's records and then Ian & Paul decided to from a band. And so The Awkward Silences were born. Over the next little while things began to go right. Or at least go wrong for all the right reasons, or perhaps right for all the wrong reasons. Whichever way, they played a gig with a semi-conscious bassist and accidentally got a record deal. They sent some records to Radio 1 and accidentally played Latitude. They wrote a theme song to a French radio show by mistake. And they slowly went from being slapdash and chaotic to actually being rather good indeed.

Nowadays the Awkward Silences consist of Adam, Chris, Jes, Mary, Paul, Robyn and Stu. They've recently had a video made by Sarah Gomes Harris, the animator of Sarah & Duck, and have another on the way. They run a monthly night called Outsider Pop where they put on Outsider Pop. They released an album called Outsider Pop this year and they're looking to release another.

Paul also works for a charity called Attitude is Everything, advising music festivals on how to improve their access for Deaf and disabled customers. Paul's disabilities made it hard for him to camp at festivals when he was younger and, whilst his friends would go, he'd end up having to only go for the day or stay at home. He wants to help festivals to make sure nobody has the same experience he did. He also wants to help make sure Deaf and disabled people feel confident coming to gigs and playing gigs themselves. All Awkward Silences gigs have captioned lyrics, where the lyrics appear on a screen for anyone who can't here them (or who just wants to know what they are!). He's very happy to hear from disabled musicians who'd like some advice or a chat. Go to our contact page to find out how to get in touch.