Primary Instrument: Harmonica
Paul Gillies is an extraordinary individual. He has walked up Mount Vesuvius (on crutches); jet power-boated in New Zealand; Bungee jumped 300 feet over the River Thames; and tandem free fall parachuted from 10,000 feet. These physical feats would have taxed the average non-athletic person. But Paul has done this while experiencing a personal degenerative disease, one that has robbed him of his sight in one eye, and will eventually claim his life.
Paul Gillies has progressive Multiple Sclerosis.
Rather than thinking of his MS in stages of deterioration, he sees it more of being on a journey with obstacles around most corners. Philosophically, to Paul, it matters not where he is on his journey, but it matters greatly that he enjoy the ride. To this end, he has made a list of things that he would like to accomplish before his end.
Having always loved the blues, Paul was an unconvincing but enthusiastic harp player in his late teens. He put the harp down for a few years but the hunger to “wail-away” behind a band remained. So it was with great excitement he added this task his “list” and so he began the process of teaching himself to play properly. He played at a reasonable standard from 1993 until 1999 when his MS worsened and prevented him from being able to hold onto his green bullet mic, then poor co-ordination and fatigue finally forced him to give it up.
No matter how hard Ihe tried to move his fingers they remained gnarled-up into a fist. This paralysis soon spread into his forearm but stopped at his elbow, leaving his bicep and shoulder weak but still useable. Even the easiest things became difficult and soon he reluctantly stopped picking up his heavy Green Bullet harp mic and packed away his harps. He carried on going to see bands and occasionally jamming but playing his harps was very difficult and he was never totally in control of himself musically.
The years slipped by and although he missed the gigging/playing terribly he resigned himself to the fact that he would never play again, having to make-do with his musical memories.
However early in 2007 Big Tim Aves (Paul’s harp mentor and good friend) front man of the now sadly disbanded R 'n' B bands Automatic Slim and The Rockin' Aarmadillos came to the rescue by giving Paul a small, lightweight “Shaker” Harp mic that fits snugly into Paul’s left fist and so Paul began teaching himself an adapted style of harp playing. Paul's lack of coordination often gives some unorthodox phrasing to his harp-lines but as Paul says “if I make a mistake I’ll play it twice and everyone will think I’m playing Jazz!”.
Most recently, he undertook, possibly, one of the most daring pursuits of his life. It was in January 2008, Paul four of his musician friends got together in the back of their local pub, the Swan in Witham, Essex, for a few pints and a jam session. It was here that Wheel Chair Willy and the Whiprounds was born.
In April 2008 Paul and the band traveled down to Saint FM Recording Studios at St. Peter's school in Burnham-on-Crouch. There they were met by top Sound Engineer Pete Crisp who patiently guided them through the process of recording four songs, making five ordinary guys sound half-decent.
The band is available to play free of charge at local charity functions supporting any individuals that may be in need of a helping hand. Contact band for availability.
On a personal note, Paul's personal outlook has helped him bring up two “wonderful” daughters and he has always had a full and fairly active social life.