NEWS: Jo Fooks marks return from illness with charity gig (Oct 5th - Halstead Kent)

Saxophonist Jo Fooks has been through a serious illness which kept her away from playing for more than a year. She is making a return with her first gig, a charity evening in Halstead, Kent next month. She told us about the ordeal, the gig, and the things she has become more aware and more certain of as a result of what she has gone through:

[ UPDATE: Jo Fooks has set up a Justgiving page for people who want to support the cause ]

LondonJazz News: We didn't know you'd been ill . How terrible - What happened?

Jo Fooks: I came down with Bells Palsy on 15th May 2013. My face had been twitching the day before and I thought I'd burnt my tongue. The next sign that something was wrong was when I was brushing my teeth in the morning and I couldn't spit properly. I then noticed that my mouth wasn't responding, which was quite scary. Buster rushed me to our local hospital where they initially thought that I was having a stroke but then confirmed it was bells palsy. Over the space of about 24 hours I lost all use of one side of my face and was unable to blink.

LJN: What was the treatment regime?

JF: I was prescribed a 10 day course of very strong anti viral pills and steroids. These made me feel very ill and I'm not sure if they helped with my recovery. After that, the Dr's said it's just a matter of time. After 5 months of very little improvement my Dr referred me to Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead where they specialise in facial Palsy. I receive facial retraining and botox injections every 4 months. Botox is used to calm the over active muscles which is a bazaar side effect of this condition.

LJN: Were you able to play at all?

JF: I was unable to get any sound out of the saxophone for 14 months. I had no control of my cheek muscles (buccinator muscle) and my lips were unable to form a seal so any air I blew came straight out my mouth and not down the saxophone. Eating was also a challenge as I was unable to move food around my mouth. My taste buds were effected, my unblinking eye was light sensitive and my hearing became super sensitive as some of the muscles involved in hearing were unable to function properly.

LJN: How is it now?

JF: Things are so much better now and I am so happy to be playing again. Recovery was slow and there were many times when I thought that I'd be unable to play the saxophone. One of the neurologist told me that it was unlikely that I would be able to play the saxophone again. Fortunately I proved him wrong! My blink returned after 8 months then after 14 months I found that I could finally get a sound out of the saxophone! That was a very happy day!

LJN: You must be looking forward to the gig

JF: I'm very much looking forward to my first gig and sharing the stage with the fabulous Ted Beament on piano, Pete Ringrose on Bass and my gorgeous husband Buster Birch on drums. I'll be playing a selection of my favourite and jolly standards. Details below.

LJN: And its for a charity? Why did you choose the one you chose?

JF: I'm hoping to raise some money for The Royal Society of Musicians as they were an enormous help to me during my illness. I'm so graceful to them as their help was more than financial. They took away a lot of stress and enabled me to focus my energies on getting stronger.

LJN: What an incredible thing to go through. What are your thoughts as you emerge from it?

JF: Bells Palsy has taught me to acknowledge and celebrate the good things in life as the bad thing's will always demand our attention. Also, having an enforced year out from music has made me appreciate how important it is. Being able to make music is a gift and I'll never take that for granted ever again. Finally, bells palsy taught me to find and focus on the "silver linings" as they help make life easier.

HALSTEAD VILLAGE HALL, Knockholt Road, Halstead, Kent, TN14 7EU 
TICKETS £10 on the door. No advance sales. Doors 7:00pm


  1. I do hope Jo makes a full recovery. I did. I had a bilateral facial palsy which turned out to be a rare sympton of Lyme Disease. It is a very scary when you cannot close your eyes, cannot move your lips, cannot smile and can bearly speak. It took around a year for me to get most of my facial muscles back - around the same time as Jo from this account. It would be especially scary for a horn player. Facial Palsy can be triggered by a number of things. But it is always worth checking for Lyme Disease which is tranmitted via a tick bite. Best of luck Jo. Hope you sound as good as you always did!

  2. Gosh, I can only imagine how dreadful it would be to have full facial paralysis. So glad that you recovered from that. I used to fear the onset of wrinkles but now I'm so happy when I see them return! All the best, Jo xxx

  3. What a scary thing to go through, you're a brave girl Jo, and it's great to have you back and playing again. Good luck, see you at the gig.

  4. I believe that Digby Fairweather suffered this condition some years ago .Might be worth a word with him.

  5. Good that you are playing again. I always loved your beautiful crystal clear sound. Best of luck.