Watching musician Michelle Parry perform on stage you would never guess she is battling constant pain.
Pouring her heart and soul into the music, she almost forgets the crippling condition that has blighted her life for more than a decade.
But the stab of pain in her lower back is there every time she sings. Moving and dancing to the rhythm can leave her unable to walk next day.
Michelle is lead singer of the eight-piece band Turntable. Music is her lifelong passion ... she sings, plays saxophone, piano, clarinet, and flute, and teaches.
It is also her living. And since she developed degenerative disc disease in her spine there have been many times when working was impossible.
She has already had three serious operations, and faces more complex surgery in a last ditch bid to stave off the effects of her illness .
Now, she is planning a major fundraiser to give something back to the charity that helped save her from bankruptcy.
She is organising a concert at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds to raise money for Help Musicians UK.
It is the leading UK charity for musicians, supporting them through times of crisis, and stepped in when Michelle was struggling financially.
“Help Musicians, and also the Royal Society of Musicians, have helped me for four or five years and have both been incredible”, she says.
“They helped pay my mortgage, and prevented me going bankrupt. They even sent me £50 M&S vouchers to cheer me up, and vouchers for reflexology.”
Turntable are headlining the concert, which is named One Good Turn, supported by St Edmundsbury Male Voice Choir, and the choral group Out of the Shadows.
Michelle, 34, who lives in Bury, first felt the effects of her condition in her early 20s..
“I have been in pain for over 12 years, but at first doctors couldn’t work out what it was. I had times when I couldn’t walk or work.
“I felt no-one believed me about having no feeling in my leg, and the pain, and started to wonder if it was all in my head.
“Once I was playing the piano and my left had seized up and wouldn’t move. I couldn’t control or feel it. I couldn’t eat because I couldn’t swallow. I couldn’t sing.
“Then I was sent for an MRI scan. A disc in my neck had prolapsed. If I had fallen it could have severed my spinal cord.
“I had an operation in the March, then one that December to have two vertebrae in my lower back fused.
“That went well but as I began to recover I started to feel I needed to fight back.
“I hired a personal trainer and started running races and doing Pilates to strenghten my core.
“For three months I was pain-free then it went again very badly last May.
“Maybe I overdid it. Maybe I shouldn’t have been running, but I was so happy after 10 years of being in pain.
“It was wonderful suddenly being able to do things like put on my socks, paint my toenails and walk the dog.
“I had more surgery but because my back was such a mess it didn’t hold.
“I’m now waiting to go into hospital for another operation. Fusion is my last option.
“It will ease the pain it won’t make me 100 percent better because my condition is degenerative.
“The surgeon is waiting for me to agree but I’m fearful of it. I will have to spend six to 12 months in a wheelchair.
“I’m in a lot of pain all the time and am on morphine and a nerve pain killer.
“My meds make me ill and every so often I have a day when I’m violently sick.
“I don’t look as if there’s anything wrong with me, which is both a good and a bad thing.
“Chronic pain is difficult to deal with because people don’t always understand.
“If I do a gig with the band and move about a lot, the next day I won’t be able to walk.
“Another aim of the Apex concert is to make people more aware of the problems faced by those living with constant pain.
“It completely wipes you out. My marriage has just ended because my husband found it too hard to deal with.”
Music helped her through the toughest times. “It isn’t just my job, it’s my entire life,” she says.
“It has been there to heal and support me, whatever else was happening in my life.”
Michelle has been performing since the age of three when she sang Run, Rabbit, Run in a concert organised by her grandmother.
She grew up in Stowmarket, started out learning the recorder, then moved on to to her other instruments, eventually studying music at Cambridge University.
“I was a shy child, I’m still shy now, but not as a performer,” she says.
“I sing in a couple of bands, and in a duo with a guitarist. I also play clarinet, sax and flute with orchestras.”
She says fellow members of Turntable, with whom she sings and plays saxophone, have been a huge support to her.
“The boys in the band are my family, really. Sometimes I feel like their mum, other times it’s like having several brothers.
“I also manage the band, so it really keeps me going. We play at functions like the Mayor’s Ball in Bury, festivals, and lots of weddings.”
Teaching is massively important to her. “I teach people from six to 86.
“When I can’t work I really miss the students and inspiring others to love music as much as I do.”
But Michelle knows her future is uncertain. The charities that supported her have limits on how long they can help people, and will not be able to do so again.
“My life hangs in the balance. It all depends on how my back holds up. I’m thinking of setting up an entertainments agency in case I can’t carry on performing.
“I have the most amazing friends who help me. The boys want to adapt a wheelchair for me so I can still perform with the band if I deteriorate.”
Turntable, who play a mix of modern pop and classic funky tunes, will perform in the second half of the Apex concert.
First the audience will be treated to two very different takes on choral music.
St Edmundsbury Male Voice Choir has around 90 members and performs a wide repertoire of songs from 1940s swing, Welsh hymns, spirituals, folk songs and material from musical theatre, to tunes from the
Out Of The Shadows are a group of young women with a fresh approach to modern choral singing, who delight in creating new arrangements of songs from folk and country to rock and jazz.
The One Good Turn concert takes place on Saturday August 27 at 7pm.
To book tickets contact the Apex box office.
A raffle will be held in the interval and anyone who wants to donate a prize, or would like more information on the band, can contact Michelle on 07771 588712.