Why I wrote the song 'I Can't Say My Name'

A man holding a guitar in a music studio

1st December 2021

Musician Gary Pickard tells us about the inspiration behind his song, which he released today to raise money for STAMMA.

Hi, I'm Gary and I've been a professional musician since the age of 16. My main love is playing the guitar and producing music. 

When I was a child my stammer was severe. It affected my confidence growing up and I found solace in learning the guitar, which I started playing at 10. It helped me channel my frustration of not being confident with my speech. 

School can a very tough place if you don't fit into the so called 'normal' bracket. I spent most of my days at school practising the guitar at break and lunchtimes just to avoid verbal conversations with my peers. In a way I was really talking through my guitar. 

Throughout primary and secondary school my speech got in the way of my learning. The doctors told my mum I would grow out of it; "My brain was thinking too fast for my mouth," was one comment from my doctor at the time.

I spent most of my days at school practising the guitar at break and lunchtimes just to avoid verbal conversations with my peers. In a way I was really talking through my guitar. 

Saying my name was the biggest challenge to face. There was one really bad episode where I had to introduce myself to a new teacher at my secondary school. What happened next affects me still to this day. It was a normal school day but we had a new English teacher who did that thing of "We are going to go round the room and get you to introduce yourself". My classmates already new that this was my biggest fear. I also had the unfortunate condition that my face would glow red when I was embarrassed or nervous. My fellow classmates had made a chant that would start with a whisper and get louder the redder my face went: "Gary's going red. Gary's going red." It was finally my turn to speak and the chant had begun. In a panic I thought it would be easier to say "I've forgotten it." The teacher exploded in rage as she thought I was trying to be funny and whacked me round the head about 10 times with a book she was holding. "Say your name"…whack…"Say your name"…whack… Obviously this really didn't help my cause and it has haunted my memories ever since.

I eventually left that school and was lucky enough to get a place at the prestigious BRIT School. This is where I learned my craft as a musician and met like-minded people. My stammer was never an issue there. I worked out a way to speak where I would use words that I could say easily and adapt them and use them in everyday living. 

Writing my song

I wrote 'I Can't Say My Name' when I was 22 following an encounter with an old school bully (back at the school from hell). My parents were having some work carried out on their house and I opened the door that morning to find the main bully was the person that had been sent to fix the problem. Nothing was said between us but the fear and anxiety all came flooding back. I wrote the song in 15 minutes after the bully had left. It felt amazing to actually write a song about something so personal to me. The lyrics and chords all fell into place; it sounds like a joyous song and it was a way for me to finally accept the way I speak.

Watch Gary introduce his song above.

I did nothing with the song for 20 years until I watched the BBC documentary 'I Can't Say My Name', presented by Felicity Baker and Sophie Raworth. I couldn't believe the coincidence of the title and the subject matter. It was an emotional watch for me; hearing other people sharing their stories of living with a stammer made me feel like I wasn't alone.

I would be grateful if you could share the link or play the song to someone you know who is going through the same thing as me. My goal is to help inspire others to write and share their experiences in a creative way and to raise a bit of money along the way for such a brilliant organisation. 

I decided to reach out on social media to the stammering community. I made a short video for my song and tweeted my first ever tweet. Felicity saw it and very kindly re-tweeted it and this helped get a steady interest in the song. 

One of the first stammering organisations to get in touch to say how much they enjoyed it was STAMMA. After finding out more about them I wanted to think of a way to become part of this movement they're leading to change how the world views stammering, while supporting and empowering people who stammer. I wanted to help raise awareness and even some funds for their ongoing projects. I decided to offer them my song. 

The track is now available for download on all major music platforms, with 100% of all downloads and streaming revenue going to STAMMA. It costs 99p to download. Go to ditto.fm to download and stream.

I would be grateful if you could share the link or play the song to someone you know who is going through the same thing as me. My goal is to help inspire others to write and share their experiences in a creative way and to raise a bit of money along the way for such a brilliant organisation.

Read more great stories from our supporters at Your Voice.

If you would like to write an article for Your Voice, or share any music, art, poems, etc, email us at editor@stamma.org and we'll give you more information.