Parkinson’s is more complicated the older you get, and
that’s what the album’s about – all the symptoms, all the feelings you get and
the strange ways that people start to treat you. If you have Parkinson’s,
you’ll recognise it straight away – it’s all to do with how we feel and not
necessarily how we look. The message for those with Parkinson’s is ‘you’re not
The condition came along when I was about 54. It started
off in the shower – I was trying to rub my back and realised my left arm
wasn’t working very well. I went to the piano and I thought, “actually, it’s
falling behind the right hand”. My doctor referred me to a neurologist in
Nottingham, who said: “Have you ever heard of Parkinson’s disease?” It wasn’t a
very nice moment.
Parkinson’s can take you to dark places in your head. It’s
not the shaking and it’s not the stumbling or falling – it’s the phases of
nightmares and sleeplessness. That’s where I was at the time I started to write
my album two years ago. Parkinson’s impacted my piano playing – so the only
thing left to me now is to write music.
It’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a lot of humour to be had – we get ourselves into some interesting situations! If you can find a reason to laugh, you’ve got to take it.
What’s your musical background?
I’m a retired music teacher, but a full-time musician.
I’ve worked with lots of young people over the years through choirs, classroom
teaching and practical music making. I wrote music for amateur and professional
theatre and used to direct and write music for Derby youth theatre. I was a
That’s where my MBE – an order of the British Empire award – came from. When I received the letter, I thought it was a joke actually because it was all typed out like on an old typewriter. Prince Charles gave me the award and it was very special.
Why did you choose to feature a range of different genres and styles?
It was a conscious decision to explore different styles. The fascinating thing about Parkinson’s is that all sorts of different talented people and all different types of character can get it. The different styles reflect these different people. There’s going to be something for everyone – there’s folk, modern rock and a bit of country – there’s even opera in there.
How has music been important to your experience of Parkinson’s?
Sometimes it’s almost miraculous. I’m working on a new album and I put it on the other day. To be honest, I couldn’t walk at the time. I literally had to crawl because I was so worried about falling over – one of these days I’m going to fall straight through the drum kit! I put this track on, and it motivated me so much that I was able to snap straight out of it. And by the end of the track, three minutes later, I was dancing. I could even dance on one leg.
What role do you think that music can play during the coronavirus crisis?
Music can shake up our emotions and also straightens them
out. I love dancing around the studio listening to a track that I have
just recorded. A Beethoven symphony or a Benjamin Britten opera, or the White
Album can all take me to a special place in my head that Parkinson’s can’t get
Take some time out to plan some making and listening time for music. It does not matter how skilled you are, what experience you have, what style, where in the world the music originates, whether you are making music or listening or dancing – or all of these simultaneously. Just do it. Music, however you engage with it, will help you through.
What would you like to achieve next?
I’d like to raise more money for Parkinson’s research. 50% of anything I make on the album is going to a charity for Parkinson’s and if there’s any profit, the rest is going to be invested in my next album. I’d like to take it to a professional studio and producer, because collaboration has always been the key to the best things I’ve done.
Do you have a message for people with Parkinson’s at the moment?
My hope for the Parkinson’s community is that the science and the determination of humanity to find a vaccine to stop the coronavirus, will continue to advance and find a cure for Parkinson’s and all other disease. It’s ambitious, as well as hopeful – but we can do anything if we all put our minds to it.
To find out more about Parkinson’s and creative therapies, please visit the EPDA website.
Need to Know
Tony Coffey from Guernsey, Channel Islands, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009. He retired as a music teacher aged 60 – a year after receiving an MBE for services to education in 2014. His album ‘Out My Head’, dedicated to the carers of people with Parkinson’s, features 18 tracks about his experience of the condition.
How a TikTok video inspired a new pill bottle design for Parkinson’s disease
A simple solution for “an everyday struggle”
3 days ago
Ireland survey aims to uncover link between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease
Previous studies of vineyard and agricultural workers in France and the US highlight potential correlations between pesticide exposure and Parkinson’s risk. Now, a team is conducting the first study in Ireland to investigate this potential link. Last week, researchers from University College Cork, Ireland, took to the country’s National Ploughing Championships – a three-day country show, agricultural trade fair and ploughing competition. Their goal? To “gather information on the environmental risks associated with Parkinson’s in Ireland”, according to Professor Aideen Sullivan of the university’s Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience. “Our survey is a broad-stroke approach. We are going to ask people what categories of pesticides they’ve used,” said Sullivan’s colleague, Dr Lucy Collins-Stack. “We are going into this thinking there may be a stronger link with rural settings rather than towns, but we still want to look at both.” The survey can be completed online.
Is there a link between Parkinson’s disease and blood vessel dysfunction?
Scientists in Slovakia have investigated the link between blood vessel dysfunction and Parkinson’s – and found that dopamine agonists may have an impact. The team studied the function of the endothelium – a membrane which lines the heart and blood vessels and helps control blood fluidity – in 41 people with the condition and 41 people without. Endothelial function was then measured through a parameter that assessed how easily blood could flow through the vessels. The results showed that while more people with Parkinson’s had endothelial dysfunction compared to those without, the difference did not reach statistical significance. However, the researchers noted that the findings suggested “an association between smoking, dopamine agonists, and impaired endothelial function” in those with the condition. Outlining the study’s limitations, the team noted that more research is needed to explore this potential link.
New swab test may help with Parkinson’s disease diagnosis
Researchers at the University of Manchester, UK, have drawn on one woman’s sense of smell to develop a swab test that may be used to detect Parkinson’s. The scientists used the test to analyse sebum (a type of oily substance on the skin) in 79 people with Parkinson’s and a control group of 71 healthy individuals. The team identified more than 4,000 different compounds in the participant samples – including 500 that were unique to those living with the condition. The test was developed with the help of Joy Milne from Perth, Scotland, whose unique sense of smell meant that she noticed a change in her late husband Les’s odour twelve years before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Speaking to the BBC, Professor Perdita Barran, who led the research, described the test as potentially “transformative” – and said that the team hopes to roll the test out to people in…