Coll Michaels: The pharmacist with a passion for the BLUES.
“The Blues are what I’ve turned to, what has given me inspiration and relief in all the trials of my life.”
The awe inspiring beats of the blues and the strumming of the guitar is not only limited to the music industry, but across other professions including pharmacy.
Pharmacy and music? You would wonder about the connection until you meet Coll Michaels. The Watford based community pharmacist leads a dual life—one that makes a “real difference” to people through his pharmacy and the other that follows his passion of playing the guitar.
Going back in time, Michaels remembers: “I was 12 when I nagged my father into buying me my first guitar. After learning the basics I was soon singing and playing folk songs until I heard some inspiring blues guitar; I was then hooked on the genre for life!”
His debut performance for Blues Apex drew an immense amount of appreciation. He reminisces: “The first gig was at our school’s Christmas variety show. We had a captive audience of friends, family and classmates who cheered whistled and clapped noisily after each song. It was great!”
Not only was it great but from there, there was no looking back. Today, he plays for the Cadillac Blues and manages to shuffle his time between prescribing medicines to the community and entertaining quite effortlessly.
“Being an owner-manager helps so I can arrange locum cover if the venue is a distance from home. However, usually the gigs are within a few miles of home so I get home after work, load up my guitars and amplifiers and meet the other members of the band on site,” he said. Though the gigs are usually performed in front of close-knit groups his most memorable one was at The Roundhouse in London while supporting some famous bands at a CND fundraising event, which he describes as an “unnerving slot”.
“It’s quite a unique and thrilling sensation to entertain such a large crowd, a little like floating on a cloud!”
Somewhere music helps him break free and provides the perfect balance between two activities that he loves the most. Michaels explains: “As a pharmacist one is accustomed to conforming to rules, following SOPs and delivering with care and professionalism. With my music, in many ways the same principles apply, except that a little deviation from rigid song structure driven by creativity gives the music flavour and personality. There’s a sense of intellectual and spiritual freedom granted by playing music, an opportunity for self-expression.”
And it is not only self-expression but also a relaxant— music is proven to be a relaxant— something to soothe your nerves and calm you down. Though Michaels loves to listen to classical, folk, country, blues, rock and jazz, his playing “seems to revolve around the blues/rock idiom”.
“I’m fickle with inspiring songs but I guess in my earlier years the most significant influences have been Freddie King’s compositions “Hideaway” played by Eric Clapton and “The Stumble” played by Peter Green when they were members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Recently I would place Eric Johnson’s “Lonely in the Night” and John Mayer’s “Belief” on that pedestal.”
While Blues is his favourite genre to play, all but heavy rock is relaxing. “Driving to and from work, I often listen to “soft” and country rock—artists like John Mayer, Karla Bonoff, Bonnie Raitt, and top guitar players like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Robben Ford,” he says.
Though music is an integral part of his life he does believe that the characteristics one requires to sustain in both the industries are very different. He finds very little in common between the pharmaceutical industry and the music industry.
He said: “I believe that the pharmacy business is based on service, honesty, integrity and dependability, characteristics woefully missing from most practices in the music industry. The standards of conduct, care and discipline we conform to day-by-day in the profession would get you nowhere in the music business. You have to be tough, somewhat egotistic and totally focussed to succeed.”
Having said that, for Michaels it is extremely important to feed your soul as well – so if you have a passion – follow it. Juggling two diametrically opposite careers could be difficult but at the same time it is important. Michaels states: “If you have a strong desire to express yourself through music, sport, art or any other creative activity you have to live that part or you risk your happiness. Work is an essential part of self-worth – particularly in Community Pharmacy where you can make a real difference to the quality of people’s lives – but you still have to feed your soul!”
His love for music and performing is strong, so what made him make that a passion and pharmacy a career: “I’m not sure! I lacked the confident determination to commit to a career in music. I wanted to work within a scientific or medical discipline, yet retain an interest in commerce. I guess pharmacy fulfilled those criteria— and I’ve made it give me the freedom to pursue my muse!” he signs off.
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