The Way We Roll

The Man in the Hat Comes Back

November 27, 2020 Season 2
The Way We Roll
The Man in the Hat Comes Back
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

A tech journalist, by day, a musician by night Steve O'Hear is a quietly confident disabled person, all the time. Earlier this year, Steve released an album entitled, ‘Between Floors’. After a few listens, Simon and Phil decided that they needed to have a chat with the man in the hat.

Steve has a large presence in the niche field of tech finance journalism. He's been working from home (effectively shielding) way before it became commonplace. It means he's adept at networking and good at developing leads from afar, but he does wonder if he's missed opportunities by not actually being in the room.

What is striking is Steve's approach to disability, how he presents, and thinks, about himself. He cites a conundrum - those who get entirely involved in disability rights, well, that's a loss of their skills and talents in other areas, right? However, if you don't get involved, you don't step up, are you really making a difference? Is what you’re doing instead, truly worthwhile? Steve, Simon and Phil explore the pros and cons of being a ‘normal' and a ‘professional’ disabled person.

Steve explains music is his best friend. He was in a band at University and played the clubs. Years later, he got the band back together and they’ve made the album they didn't have the time, money or equipment to make whilst at University. Steve talks us through the process, his influences and the stories behind the songs from the reformed band, now called Otis Max Load and the Thirteen People.

Twitter Tech Crunch 

Twitter Personal
Steve’s Website   

Spotify In Between Floors 

Apple Music In Between Floors  

YouTube Trailer 

Announcer  0:00  
This is The Way We Roll with Simon Minty and Phil Friend.

Simon Minty  0:13  
Welcome to The Way We Roll with me Simon Minty.

Phil Friend  0:16  
And me Phil Friend.

Simon Minty  0:17  
If I said the word Otis Max load, what would you immediately think of, Phil?

Phil Friend  0:24  
probably about my powered wheelchair being close to this lifts capacity I suspect.

Simon Minty  0:29  
So in days gone past I would have agreed now, who is your favourite singer or band who has a disability? 

Phil Friend  0:38  
Past and present? It would be Ian Dury.

Simon Minty  0:41  
Now in days gone past I might have agreed with you.

Phil Friend  0:45  
What on earth are you banging on about?

Simon Minty  0:46  
Okay, sorry, I was being a little bit flamboyant. Yes, this all links to our guests, Steve O'Hear by day he's a journalist on tech startups. Then he waits until the midnight hour and transforms into a musician, one part of Otis Max Load and the 13 Persons and their new album In Between Floors is out now.

Phil Friend  1:06  
Ah, get you now. Hello, Steve, good to meet you. How are you doing?

Steve O'Hear  1:11  
I'm good. Thanks for having me.

Simon Minty  1:13  
Thank you for putting up with our painful introduction to there, Steve.

Phil Friend  1:19  
We got three topics to chat with you about Steve. One is your sort of day job, what you do there, your music, of course, and where or how your disability fits into all of this.

Simon Minty  1:30  
Now, on your website, you say I'm a technology journalist and commentator and currently write for TechCrunch, a leading global technology news site where I focus on European startups, companies and products. Now Phil and  I love tech so we want you to talk about smart speakers AI and self-driving cars. But that isn't it is it this it's about new ventures or creating new tech and trying to bring it to market is that more appropriate?

Steve O'Hear  1:55  
Yeah, I mean, we, we cover tech startup so we can cover them all the way up to when they become huge companies. But we started out with a kind of remit to obsessively profile companies from right from the beginning. So when they get their first little bit of funding, you know, could be like a good, you know, a guy and go in a garage, you know, with a tech idea. And obviously, some of those companies go on to become, you know, the Facebook's and Google's and Spotify's of the future, right? So my job is sort of day today is to track those early companies, who are invested in them, who's leaving another company to start one of their own within the sort of European tech startup ecosystem. So yeah, that's what I do for my day job.

Simon Minty  2:47  
Presumably, they love you, because you're giving them profile and talking about them as much as you need to write about them.

Steve O'Hear  2:56  
Yeah, I mean, yeah, I think love is the right word for they certainly, at the end of the day for any industry to thrive. And you have to remember, the tech industry, especially in the UK, is still relatively young. And it's sort of tech startup industry, but for any industry to thrive. You need information, right? information, sharing, and for people to know what's going on. So yeah, of course, I get pitched like 10 20 30 40 50 times a day by startups. So in that sense, yes they love to quote, unquote, love me or love TechCrunch to be more accurate, but also, it's not all one way. I mean, I go out and find stories, I hear back deals that are being done. And I try to break as much news as possible. For two reasons. Sometimes companies don't want certain news to come out, but it's of interest to the public or to the industry. And the second reason is, I just think it's healthier if they're kept on their toes. Right? Because tech, in the end, has the potential and it is potential to change all of our lives and to impact the way society is run as a whole, you know. And so these companies do the ones that are successful, they end up going on to be very powerful entities. And we're seeing that right with like Facebook, and its inability to control, you know, hate speech, or what have you, or the way Facebook and Google have, you know, soaked up all the online advertising money, so it's really hard for other people to make that work. You know, they wield a lot of power. And so it's important even when they're small, these companies as they grow, that they know, there's, you know, a healthy, you know, tech press to ask some of the questions around those issues, you know, as they get bigger, right.

Phil Friend  4:44  
So how did you get into this line of work then, Steve, I mean, how did that come about?

Steve O'Hear  4:50  
It's funny because like, it's not that well known, but I always wanted to be a journalist. When I was a kid, and I'm one of those rare people that made it into journalism. When you know, journalism is a hard industry to break into. But I didn't want to be a tech journalist. No surprise, I wanted to be a music journalist. I thought writing about music would be really fun. But then I got lucky, I did a work placement only for two weeks at The Guardian newspaper. And, and I kind of thought, okay, there's more to this journalism, mullarkey than reviewing other people's albums. I then I went off to uni, it's funny this, this is slightly disability-related, actually, because I researched different universities,  a couple of years before I attended, and visited them and checked out their access and stuff. And in the end, to the disappointment of some of my teachers, I decided I didn't want to go to Oxford or Cambridge, I didn't want to go to somewhere like Sussex, or Reading some of these, you know, revered universities, I wanted to go to Bournemouth, because they did a multimedia journalism course. And yet when I got there, this like a year before going, so I sort of checked the place out, I found out that you had to do a work placement at the local newspaper, and the local newspaper, The Bournemouth Echo was not wheelchair accessible. So that scuppered that plan. But luckily, there was like another course at the same Uni, which was just media production, which is more like TV, and radio and stuff. And also with the love of music. I love the idea of recording equipment. And, and I already liked film and stuff. So the idea of actually making stuff and not just writing about it really appealed to me, even though conversely, I am very academic. So it's a strange one because normally you stereotype is that non-academic people, sort of, you know, attracted to more practical work, but I just loved the idea. Like, let's do stuff, let's make things. So I didn't do journalism at uni, I did just media but like I say I managed graduate goo involved in the dot com, boom. And from there, I managed to rekindle or reconnect to what I always wanted to be with as a journalist.

Simon Minty  7:13  
You alluded, you sort of teed me up beautifully for my next question. It's two parts. The first one is when you said, you know, you could get 10 20 30 pictures, even more, a day, I presume some of those can be pretty bizarre ideas or curious and you've even gotten your website. This is how to pitch to me. And when I saw that, I thought, Oh, he's a bit confident. But clearly, I can see why. Because if people are doing it all the mishmash, the flip side of that is, have you been involved with ones who now are huge companies. And you were involved in the early days? Have you stayed in contact?

Steve O'Hear  7:48  
Yeah, absolutely. So I think that's the bit that gives me the edge that I have within. So you know, I'm not that a well-known journalist, outside of tech startups. I sort of sometimes joke, I'm the journalists that everybody on the inside knows, but nobody on the outside has heard of. Right. And that's what I do to answer a question specifically. I mean, the one that often gets cited is, there's a company called Transferwise.  And I was the first-ever journalist to cover that company, I am responsible for the first thousand dollars that got transferred on Transferwise. And I think literally, every year, when they do their sort of anniversary and talk about where they're at today, they often refer back to that original pitch email, which I have to say, I was a pretty naive, awful journalist back then. But it's a kind of true story. And yet, I still know the founders, I'm still in touch with them, semi-regularly. And, you know, I think they're gonna probably be listed on the public markets. In the next couple of years. That'll be a fun one. And you know, what, since then, there's a number of others that, you know, kind of up and coming, like some of the challenger banks, Monzo I know all the people involved, and then, to be honest, I'm losing count of how many, but that isn't really me. That's just as I've developed my career, the ecosystem around tech in the UK, and Europe has grown up with me if that makes sense.

Simon Minty  9:17  
But you have to be very careful with your ethics, because you can see these fabulous ideas and go, Okay, I'll bung a bit of money into that, but you can't because you've suddenly........ 

Steve O'Hear  9:26  
I'm not allowed invest, it's one of the jokes that sometimes when I get, you know, get like a founder at moaning to me, all right, you know, please cover this, this incremental update or whatever their company. And you know, obviously, journalism doesn't really scale, right. But you can't, there's no, there's only one of me. So I'm like, No, I can't do that. Blah, blah. And sometimes when they really go heavy, and I joke I kind of annoyingly remind them, I'm like, Listen, I have no skill in the game, right? There's like zero upsides for me. This is your company, you might wake up every day. And it's the most important thing. But you know, to me, you're one of the hundreds. And you know, I didn't sleep well, last night, whatever, you know what I mean? 

Announcer  10:13  
The Way We Roll hosted by Simon Minty and Phil Friend,

Simon Minty  10:17  
We said we're gonna hit three big subjects. One of them you dropped in all the way through, you're what I call a "normal", normal disabled person. And what I mean by that is you are a part of it, but you just get on with it. And so there's a part of you that is clear to see, we haven't actually established it. You've said your wheelchair user and some weak muscles. And so on what is your condition? What's your disability?

Steve O'Hear  10:39  
It's funny because I normally refuse to answer that question

Simon Minty  10:41  
Oh you don't have to

Steve O'Hear  10:43  
For your audience. It's fine. Like, it's just erm? No, I have quite a rare form of muscular dystrophy. And the reason why I don't answer it normally. It isn't because it isn't actually any sort of, particularly political reason. It's more that when I was a kid, you would say, muscular dystrophy, and people would go off and research it and they would be like, Oh, my God, he's gonna die in X number of years. And I didn't think that was a particularly good look.

Simon Minty  11:16  
I have a good friend of ours, Liz Carr, the actor, for many years, she would refuse because she said it. sidetracks people, they get caught up on it, I suppose the nature of our show, but um, thank you for that. Now. Have you been shielding during COVID? Is that part of the deal?

Steve O'Hear  11:31  
Yeah, I've been shielding since just before national lockdown. So yeah, it's quite difficult in the sense of, I think anyone who's shielding, it's not necessarily about the day to day experience. Because disabled people are very adaptable. You had to make certain trade-offs forever. But it's more just, we don't know when the end date is right. And then it's quite tactical. So for example, I now look back with hindsight and think there was a window to sort of be a bit more cavalier, which was probably two weeks after the other lockdown. Because there was like a window of where the rate was down enough that you might want to say, Well, you know, what, if I'm going to have to go back to full shielding, I'm going to go out a bit for the next two weeks. Not like, fully, but you know, just that breaks the sort of self-imposed and I didn't do that, because the other side of it was like, I'm not gonna like, mess it all up now. I've come this far. So but then, yes, so it's, it's definitely taken its toll in terms of no end date. And also, I'm very aware that other people, so I've got one main PA I employ, he was shielded with me. And that's an extraordinary sacrifice for someone else to make. So that wears on me a little bit.

Simon Minty  12:48  
Yeah, sorry go back but wears on you as in you you thinking blimey, I've asked a lot of this person. 

Steve O'Hear  12:53  
Yeah, yeah. Oh, it's not? Luckily, it's not so much having to ask, as they have given. Right. But it's, it's a sacrifice. Because, you know, I mean, listen, I'm pretty pragmatic, right? It's not their problem. You know, it's my problem, in the sense that it's not their life. Right. So, you know, so that's a lot to ask for. But on the other hand, you know, it's important to remind everyone that, like, and I'm very lucky because of the job I do. And you mentioned Twitter followers. And it's kind of funny to me to get hung up on that stuff. But, you know, I've had so many people volunteer to help, right, like, you know, on Twitter, total strangers, total randoms. I call them my, my disciples, they are not my Twitter followers, right? They turn around and people say, Hey, give us a short email saying right now actually live miles way outside London, but I don't mind doing a round trip to go to Costco. Because actually, I'm so bored in lockdown down. I wouldn't mind going for a drive. You know what I mean like.

Simon Minty  14:07  
This is an okay time. I mean, I think in any time of not pandemic you might go, Well, that's a bit weird. Where's that coming from? Or why are they doing that? But this is the time I think you can accept help from anybody. It doesn't matter that 

Steve O'Hear  14:19  
I'll accept help I don't really know how other disabled people feel like this. But I can't stand asking for help. You hear disabled people often say, Well, people often say, I hate it when I'm at a supermarket. And some stranger will say hey, do you need help getting this or whatever? Right? They, they sort of get sick of us being asked do they need help. And I understand it I saw someone on YouTube say like, every time they transfer themselves out of the college, they will check. They did there is horrible people running up to them and saying, Don't do that. Don't do that. Like, let me help you. And there are no it actually takes twice as long when you help me because I'm better at it doing it myself. But when I read that, I totally got it. But I'm like, You know what? I absolutely love it. When people say, do you need that door open? Do you need help in the lift? Because I hate asking for help. It's not really a pride thing. I just find it awkward. And I'm not really a small talk kind of person. And it's just to me, it's not a great situation. So I love it when people ask for help. And I have no problem accepting help if I need it. Right, you know, it's fine. It's a nice thing 

Phil Friend  15:35  
For you it's really just another thing you deal with, really, it's not the main event. It's just an inconvenience at times. And more than that, obviously, other times what's not re-engaged it's not really a debate as such.

Steve O'Hear  15:50  
So I guess I'm, I'm going on a journey, right? Because when I was a kid, so I should put into context. My dad fought really hard for me to go to the local mainstream school. But then we moved to Haringey in North London, where they had an integrated education system. So the mainstream school integrated kids with disabilities, right. So I think I was one of 14 kids out of 1000 with a disability, which to me, and maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm right. But it taught me this idea that you want to be integrated, where you make up roughly the right percentage of that population. And that was to me, like the Mecca, of kind of disability, was that you weren't the only disabled person, and you were fully supported. And we had, you know, we had physiotherapists, we had class assistants if we needed them, accessible toilets, you know, all the stuff you would need, but you are not in a ghetto. Right. And even though within the school, we were occasionally pushed into a ghetto, and that created, like, for me, a really horrible aversion to being stuck with other disabled people. Right, which I think is terrible.But that's a natural reaction as an ambitious, confident person I wasn't even that confident. But you know, a kid who just wanted to fit in and be like everybody else. And I guess I've gone a journey where, nowadays, I am so passionate about disability rights. I'm a very political person. I remember I wrote an open letter to Ed Miliband saying he should reverse the policy on your ILF. And that got published in Labour list and then picked up by the Morning Star.

Simon Minty  17:40  
ILF is the Independent Living Fund. 

Steve O'Hear  17:43  
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That got picked up on the Labour List and then the Morning Star ran it. And I thought, well, if you can appeal to both sides of of the left, you do, better then any politician. So like, and now I know, a few more disabled people. And I read, you know, read them. Is it DNS, Disability News Service network thing? I know, I know, john a little bit and so it's not that I'm not. It's not I don't want my disability to be the forefront. politically. I definitely do. I just think that initially, at least for the first I mean, I'm 45. So I felt like the best way for me to support and change the situation of disabled people was to absolutely get to the top of my game within whatever field I wanted to, to enter, which in this case was tech journalism. And I never wanted to be a career disabled person. And I actually think there's something really sad, right, which is this, this might be controversial, but it's really sad to me, we're in a state where disabled rights, especially in the UK, which I think have gone backwards, is in such a weak position, that we still need to dedicate our best, most talented disabled people to essentially make disability, their vocation. And to me, that's criminal because a real sign of progress would say that it's not a loss that I'm not 100%  everyday activist, sometimes I wake up and think I should be, I generally think it would be more meaningful to enter fully disabled activism, but now I see it I mean, recently I've been seeing a lot of YouTubers, young, disabled people thinking, This is amazing we never had that when I grew up. These people were like, they're just like me back then. But they have a platform. And then, on the other hand, I think it's really sad that they need to have a platform and they need to bang on about disability. Because if progress had been made, they would be like reading the news or they'd be l don't know they'd be in Parliament or whatever, you know. I mean, and so yeah, I'm still, I guess I still haven't fully resolved that kid that will be pushed together with other disabled kids at school with my natural, political, very outspoken, I mean, you know, I'm very political right and people know it, and even I use my influence within tech to push some of these issues up the agenda. And I do a lot of stuff behind the scenes. So yeah, I don't know if that really answers your question.

Simon Minty  20:46  

Phil Friend  20:46  
It does. I mean, I think it's very interesting, isn't it? I remember asking David Blunkett years ago Why he never talked about being blind when he was sort of an upcoming because he didn't know it was obvious, he had a bloody dog with him all the time, but he never talked about it. And he said to me, it's very simple. You don't bang on about it when you're climbing the greasy pole. You know, you've got to get established and, and then you're not quite saying that, but there are elements of that.

Steve O'Hear  21:11  
I will say, because you just made me think of what I didn't say, on a pragmatic level. When I entered the tech industry, I didn't ever hide my disability. Because you can't do that. Because when you then say, I need a press pass. for X and Y event. Yeah, you've still got to sneak in "Oh, and by the way, is it accessible". It's not like you can completely like, but I was very aware when I graduated. that disability is so linked in people's minds to health. And health is so linked again in people's minds to employability that I did, I had a, I had a rule. And the rule went like this. If you're applying to the BBC, right, or any giant broadcaster flag up your disability totally in your face, play the disability card, right. They have quotas, they have checkboxes. If you're applying to anybody else, you need to completely hide it. It needs to be a surprise. And the job that I talked about earlier that I never got. So I got this job, but it never materialised. I remember I got the interview. On the morning of the interview, I phoned up like, an hour before and I said, oh, by the way, does your office have a lift? And they were like, Why? And I said, Oh, because I use a wheelchair. You know, and the interview was already booked. So there was no reneging on the offer so that was my rule. So I don't want to sort of downplay the fact that Yeah, there was a conscious decision when I started my career that disability must be in the background for purely pragmatic, I'd rather get a job thanks  For me, the best form of activism starts with being financially independent. Because you can't rely on the state, not because you shouldn't have to, but because the state doesn't have your back. Okay, we've seen that in the last 10 years, the state does not have disabled people's back, fact. So if you can work, work, climb up the greasy pole. Be smart with your money, his is to me is sort of individual disability activism, because then you're in a better position to then put forward the arguments. Because you know, you're not, you're not like, you know, you're not drowning. You know, I mean,

Simon Minty  23:47  
I like a lot of what you're saying, Stephen, I know, in my background when people say, Oh, you're very good at business. Simon I kind of know there's a bit in the background. It's me saying, I just want to make sure I get paid something for doing a good job. But there's also the bit I just want to save a little bit because I do want to be able to know that that sort of independence that comes with it. There in that earlier bit. You said I think we agree that inclusive school and the sort of roughly the right percentages absolutely fabulous. And everything is set up so you can use it and be part of it. I think that's a great utopia. And I think your resistance of hanging out with other disableds is people like Jane Campbell Baroness Jane Campbell said, you know, she was in her early 20s and didn't want to hang out with them. Why would I? I'm better than them. And I'm different than them. And don't drag me into that. And I think it's very normal, especially if school it was a bit weird. I'm really struck by your it's a loss of talent for the professional disableds. They could be going out there doing something else. I mean, at the moment, we might still need both, but it means you got to do what you're doing, which is already radical and rights because you're just getting on with it. And there are other people who are pushing the agenda a bit more overtly,

Steve O'Hear  24:56  
Yeah, totally and but also, again, just so I'm clear, despite that aversion to not wanting to be put in a ghetto at school, perhaps even being a bit mean, to other disabled kids if I'm really honest, you know, it was definitely. I mean, conversely, I campaigned at school, to have the science labs made wheelchair adaptable because all the science lab desks were the wrong height. I campaigned on, you know, back then, you know how the British schools were quite cute, there'd be like, a school council made up of students I campaigned at every school council had to have at least one disabled person, then I think, I won the election without being the disabled person so we ended up with two, so it's not like I was kind of this weird screwed up kids that didn't recognise that I was disabled, or that by it, you know, the rising tide would lift all boats, I just felt that there was something quite prejudiced about society saying, you know, oh, you know, you're a lot, you know, go in there and sit in the corner. Right. So it definitely wasn't a simple thing to grapple with. And so I think I'm still on a journey because now I wish I knew more disabled people, for all sorts of reasons. Just there's so much to learn from other people's experiences. Turns out there alright disabled people!

You've probably got and you'll have a lot to offer as well. .

Phil Friend  26:35  
Absolutely, perhaps we should move to your musical stuff. Because, you know, that's a big chunk of your life. Now, I know creatively, at least, is that what you do in a sense to relax, is it to make albums, 

Steve O'Hear  26:51  
I don't know if it's relaxing. I'm not really good at relaxing. Like, my nightmare is a holiday on a beach. Right? Because, like, yeah, I like making stuff and bringing new things into existence, including music, I've always had a passion for music, like, as a kid, I think music was my best friend, you know,  especially as the other kids would go out and do more stuff. And, you know, it can sometimes be isolating as a kid as a teenager, when everybody seems to move around a lot faster. Right. I think that's how I got into music really, I just found it was something I could do on my own. In terms of consuming music. And then again, it goes back to technology. somebody bought me a computer, someone showed me how you could start to record and create music on a computer previously need a massive recording studio with a massive mixing desk. So I in parallel fell in love with with the way music is produced and made, at the same time as becoming a massive music fan myself

Simon Minty  28:01  
I'm thinking of the Ed Sheeran's and the David Gray's who would do it all up in that I mean, I feel we should listen to some of your music. So the first song from the album, The album's "Between Floors", the first song is called Bump. Can you tell us about it?

Steve O'Hear  28:21  
So the album as a whole, it's like part biographical, and part concept album. And the concept is kind of the breakup of a relationship and how you put yourself back together again. So it's very sort of introspective, but we did it as a concept because even though it is a lot of it is me and I had just had quite a serious relationship. And it was, you know, part of the kind of the recovery process and the heartbreak or whatever. But we did it as a concept down because I worked with other singers and other musicians. And so it freed us all up to explore some of those themes. But the track that I think you're gonna play is a track about how you know not every relationship is about love. And there's a fine line between just wanting to feel wanted, and actually being in love. So it's kind of raunchy, as well, if you listen really carefully, it's on the edge of, you know, I guess, and I guess it sort of fits into like a kind of Tinder generation. When you know, intimacy is not the same as, as real love or gravity gratification.

Phil Friend  29:32  
Let's have a quick sample of what this is all about. (Music plays)

Simon Minty  30:17  
I adore this album, I can't I think I was following you on Twitter. And I think you put it out there. And I started playing it. And I just oh, this is really good. And, I probably play it three times a week. Now there are times it just comes on. And I just play it all the way through, because I think there are lots of really standout tracks in it. I probably did that classic disability bit where you go this could be a bit pants, but it's superb. I mean, that you, you must be thrilled with it.

Steve O'Hear  30:47  
Yeah, I mean, I am, I'm really, really proud of it, I think. I mean, for me, a lot of the musicians on it are people that I played in a band with, the band started at university. And it got us through university and made us like the cool kids in our year. And we continued in the band for a couple of years after graduating, as difficult as that was, with everybody trying to start their careers and stuff. But back then, to put it in context, we're talking very late 90s, early 2000, we never had money to go in the studio properly, we would like to get our money together and go in for a day or two and making a record in a couple of days. It requires a certain way of doing it. But if you're not experienced working in a studio, you ultimately come away disappointed in terms of you're so proud of what you did, but it was always rushed. And it was under duress. And it's a lot of what-ifs. Right. So when I did this album, it was for me it was like unfinished business. Like I want to bring the guys back. Have a lot more time. have total control. And so that was it. So the record is romantic, in sort of multi-layered ways. And part of the romance is putting the old band back together. And yeah unfinished business.

Simon Minty  32:14  
Did you start wearing the hat in the 90s as part of a band? Because that's kind of part of the cool image in that?

Steve O'Hear  32:20  
Do you know I really wish I did? I definitely I was, I don't want to be horrible to the bands. But I was probably the second least cool of the band back in the early days. I won't say who was the least cool. Yeah. 

Simon Minty  32:36  
But they know it. They know it. 

Steve O'Hear  32:37  
They know it. They know it. They know it. Yeah. But I started wearing a hat. I'm not sure how many years ago? But I remember this is really funny but do you know the way people treated me changed overnight with the hat. Yeah, it's ridiculous. It's like, and I don't know if this is true, but it felt like they suddenly saw the hat before they saw the wheelchair. So I don't want to advise any other disabled person doing this? Because it's a one-trick. You know, it's like, yeah, so you're gonna work once, right? But

Simon Minty  33:11  
I know I think there's something in it because I remember seeing the profile and you've got 20,000 followers or some of those. Okay, this is a big hitter I don't know about. And then the hat. Oh, cool guy. the cool guy wearing a hat. And music is it all came together? I think Phil and I need a little geek bit, Phil. I mean, not just slippers,

Phil Friend  33:30  
I'm a bit of hat fan. But but but I have to say my generation of hats are a bit different from yours, Steve will have to take a picture of you that people can see the splendid hat you do wear? I mean, you mentioned earlier how transformational tech was in terms of its miniaturisation and how that allowed you. But have you ever worked in a big studio with a big band? Or is that just something you're not bothered about?

Steve O'Hear  34:00  
No, no. So when we did our early recordings, in my previous band, so in the band that I sort of inadvertently almost tried to put back together as we went into bigger studios. We actually were very lucky we recorded an EP at BBC Maida Vale, that's now shut down, which is the legendary BBC studio. That was massive. They had I mean, I remember going I'm a really big fan of the Hammond B3 organ, right? And remember, we went in that studio. I didn't own one I still don't of own one. I just own a very good digital clone. But back then I had a less good digital clone. And I remember we went into Maida Vale and it wasn't like do you want to use a real Hammond it was like we've got three which one do you want to use? So we've recorded in some great studios. Look, I still love the idea of a big studio, but in music the way music technologies progressed. They now talk about do you want to mix in the box, or outside the box, by which they mean, how much of your workflow? Do you want to be within a computer within a laptop or whatever? And how much do you want to still use out outside gear? And I've now come to a place where I've got a little studio in my house, that is like a hybrid, right? So a lot of the difficult physical stuff happens, quote, unquote, in the box, but I've now managed to get quite a lot of outboard gear that I've got right on kind of the right level on a desk to be able to reach and things like that. And I've wired it in such a way that it's like a kind of hybrid of the virtual and the real. And that's to me, right? I'm so happy the way things are developed because that's the that's like as close as I can get to have the best both worlds.

Simon Minty  35:53  
So when locked down, unlocks, yeah, go back into venues, would you tour this, you're gonna play live gigs.

Steve O'Hear  36:02  
So a lot of the people involved want to do some sort of live gig we were gonna do, like a launch party and stuff. Obviously, we got scuppered. So yeah, so I don't know if we are going to tour it. I'm not a huge fan. I mean, I like playing live. But I was always in the band. I was always the studio guy. And yet we used to play live so much. I mean, it's really hard work. And that's what I mean about not being able to afford to go into the studio do you know what I mean?. So your answer is maybe never say never.

Simon Minty  36:32  
I hope so and they say that the way people get the income and promote now is by going out live you know, you get all your streams or whatever. But that's a hard, tough thing. But getting out there. I mean, Phil and I will be in the front row with our slippers and our new hats. singing along, I'd love you to go to get out there. 

Phil Friend  36:51  
Well I mean, at least we know if you're playing it's likely to be accessible.

Simon Minty  36:57  
Or all the disabled people have to be on stage with you if that's the only accessible area.

Steve O'Hear  37:03  
I mean, back in the day with the health and safety rules that we would break. We were playing in some absolute dives up flights of stairs, we scored this private residency in a big venue on the pier. And the promoter who booked us. He said, right, got this like an amazing idea, what you're going to do is because we had to lift the wheelchair up some stairs onto the stage. It was like you're going to carry Steve on a bit like the sort of James Brown clip. If you all lift the chair up with him in it go these stairs, and like carry him on it'll be all you know, a great sort of stage entrance. And by the way, I was not like the leader or the star of the band. Right? It was kind of gonna be a good gimmick. And they tried it right. The first gig everybody almost broke their backs and dropped me and it was like, you know what? We ain't doing that again.

Simon Minty  37:56  
I think disabled artists, particularly wheelchair users, starting out you have to make you can't sit outside the venue shouting. I want rights?  actually dammit. I've got to be carried to get in there. I want to ask a couple more questions and we will move on but the album you said it's 10 songs heartfelt, retrospection and funk-fueled optimism weaved together with a lifetime of musical influences in blues and soul. I'm interested in the blues and soul. Where's that come from? The love of

Steve O'Hear  38:25  
Yeah, I was the weird kid at school because when I was about 14, someone introduced me to blues music and I just loved it straight away. And so this is like the early 90s every time I gravitated towards a piano I'd be playing twelve-bar blues so its definitely from teenagers, John Lee Hooker particularly, was a hero growing up because his music is very simple, and not overly technical. And because, again, because of my disability, like I was never going to be the fastest piano player. So for me, it was more about making every note count and learning, learning how to work within your limitations and sort of having more feel to music rather than technique necessarily. Which sounds probably slightly abstract but so that John Lee Hooker it's crazy how you find heroes in places that are not obvious.

Simon Minty  39:17  
I think we should have one more song. Do you have a favourite we can play

Steve O'Hear  39:25  
Probably my favourite is the last track still at the moment which is "Walking in the Park" which is sung by a great friend of mine, Jimmy Lyons and it's Yeah, it's very melancholy. (Music plays)

Phil Friend  40:22  
Steve, I've just worked out where the hat's from for me and your reference to blues and stuff. I'm a big Van Morrison fan

Steve O'Hear  40:31  
There you go he knows how to wear a hat.

Phil Friend  40:34  
He knows how to wear a hat. Well look, I'm afraid we're, we're rapidly running out of time. We need to have a two-hour podcast. But Steve, I mean, what I'd like to do is, first of all, to say thank you very much for giving us your time and for being so open and frank about your all of your experiences really. And I'd like also for you to choose the song we play you out with but perhaps Simon just wants to say a thing before you make your decision about that.

Simon Minty  41:04  
No, I just echo what Phil said. Thank you I'm adoring in your music. I like your day job and it's really interesting to hear where you're at on the disability bit and you know, I hear you I get you so thank you appreciate the honesty and the eloquence as well.

Steve O'Hear  41:20  
No, thanks for having me on and you probably think I say this to every single media outlet I engage with. But no, I think this has been probably one of the most fun interesting, you know podcasts that I've done to date because it's not a side I really talked about very much. And certainly not a side I've talked about to two esteemed gentlemen who probably get it better than most people. Right. So thanks. Thanks again.

Phil Friend  41:47  
So what song should we play you out on Steve from your new album?

Steve O'Hear  41:51  
I think you should play the track "Everything". 

Phil Friend  41:54  

Simon Minty  41:57  
And if people want to find your album. It's presumably on all the platforms. 

Steve O'Hear  42:01  
It's on Spotify, Apple Music also you can go to 

Simon Minty  42:13  
Thank you, Steve.

Phil Friend  42:15  
Thank you very much, Steve. Great talking to you

Steve O'Hear  42:32  
Thank you (Music plays)

Announcer  43:02  
The Way We Roll presented by Simon Minty and Phil Friend. You can email us at or just search for Minty and Friend on social media. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Transcribed by

Early Years
Disability and all that Jazz
Music is my best friend
Music clip "The Bump"
Music clip "Walk in the Park"
It's a Wrap