Dave Woodhall talks to a survivor.
Kevin Hackett sings in a tribute band called Roxy Magic. He has an uncanny resemblance to Bryan Ferry, both in voice and the way he moves. However, this is only one aspect of a man who has a remarkable story to get across.
Birmingham-born Kevin grew up in Yardley, and with his bands Still and then Glass, played the local pub circuit during the mid-seventies. Then the Ferry connection began to cause problems.
“I was always being compared to him and David Sylvain from Japan, which made getting gigs more difficult so I thought I’d go away and do something different. I joined the Army, originally for three years, then I stayed in for almost 23, leaving in June 2003.
“I served in the main wars, the Falklands, the first Gulf War in ’91 and did some UN tours. These days you see pretty much all of it on TV so you can get an idea of what it was like. The Falklands and the Gulf were polar opposites – one was a low tech war in a cold country, the other was very hot and high-tech with the threat of chemical weapons.”
It was after leaving the army that Kevin fell victim to a common occurrence amongst ex-servicemen – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
“I was diagnosed after I left the army with quite a bad scoring of PTSD, depression, that type of thing associated and I receive a war pension because of it. The exposure to so many different areas of conflict over the years and other events within the services, things like aeroplanes, helicopters and all that stuff.”
We now hear horrendous tales of the after-care received by ex-servicemen during this time. What was your experience of the help that was available?
“Extremely poor. I hope that all the lads coming back from Afghanistan now would be looked after and I’m sure it has improved, but after the Falklands we came off the aircraft and straight on leave, no debriefing or counselling whatsoever. Not many hours after landing I was back on the streets of Birmingham. It’s very hard to describe, when I look back at my time in the army now it’s like it didn’t happen to me and I think that’s part of it all, it’s just foggy. I found that with the areas of conflict, with PTSD, once you stop doing something that’s when it gets you.
“I get a war pension and that was extremely difficult to achieve because you are fighting the MoD to get money from them and it’s not an easy process. It took years, what you are trying to do is improve the percentage rate of PTSD you suffer from but it’s very difficult because it’s not like having an arm missing. It’s a mental disorder, they can’t see anything to gauge you by so they have to question you. I get panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, it really messes your life up. It’s very difficult to explain to people that you’ve had something that is life-changing; it’s so complex. For example, one of the panels I had to go to, at the time I had facial alopecia. It’s not life-threatening stuff, it’s psychological. One of the MoD representatives said he had to shave every day so surely that makes my life easier. I said that in that case if I’d had a leg blown off it would help me get dressed quicker. That’s the kind of thing you’re up against.”
It’s ironic that these days, probably more than at any other time, we idolise the military, but once you leave the services you’re forgotten. As a result there have been some horrendous statistics – for example, last year more ex- or serving soldiers committed suicide than were killed on active service
“And more Falklands veterans killed themselves after the war than were killed by the enemy. After the first Gulf War they had a process called Options for Change, where they got rid of all the people who weren’t achieving the right rank by the right age. They got rid of a lot of experienced people but they also took away some of the medical side and one of the first to go was the hospital that was equipped to treat people with PTSD. So subsequently when I left I was under the NHS and they had no idea, they didn’t understand what you’re talking about.”
It sounds a lot like the civilian understanding of mental illness, where sympathy is often at a premium and a lot of people think you should just pull yourself together.
“There have been huge studies and it doesn’t matter how much the military pretend they understand, I’m sure that to this day if a guy said he was suffering from PTSD they would do everything in their power to get him out of the service as quickly and as quietly as possible. So they just carry on and try to get through it, but as time goes on and you go through more and more conflicts you keep topping up the problem. And there is still the stigma of mental health around it. People say how can I dance around and sing on stage, but they don’t understand that this is why I do it, because it’s one of the best things for PTSD. One of the Vietnam veterans’ standard things is distraction, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m acting the part of another person. I’m not being me when I’m doing that so for some reason my brain allows me to do it. But I’ve had to cancel some shows because I’ve had attacks and couldn’t get to the venue. I had a bad attack last night for instance and they change your next day completely. You can’t do anything because you don’t know whether you can get through. If I had one arm people would understand, I’d be a hero when I went out but because it’s PTSD, it’s a mental thing and… It was even difficult for my family to understand, they really couldn’t get their heads round it until they saw TV programmes about it.”
Without sounding flippant, but to talk about something a bit lighter. Glam, arty Roxy Music aren’t exactly the sort of choice you’d expect of someone who spent so long in the army.
“I was a huge Bowie fan at the start, then I was a Roxy fan from when their first album came into the house. People are always saying I must have rehearsed the mannerisms and the way Ferry moves but it’s all from memory because I’ve seen them live over the years and I remember the feel of it, all the facial mannerisms from all those years ago so it’s more natural.”
And it’s a proper, full-sized band. No tapes, no pre-recording.
“No, I’m so dead against that. Everything’s all completely live. It’s a genuine tribute.”
Looking as he does, Kevin must get mistaken for Bryan Ferry.
“All the time. It happened yesterday. I walk round our local market town and people call me Bryan. I can’t knock it, though. It sells tickets.”
Roxy Magic are appearing at the Robin 2 on Thursday 18th July. For details visit www.therobin.co.uk
Kevin is also keen to help anyone suffering from PTSD. If you, or anyone you know, think they may be a sufferer, e mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.combatstress.org.uk