THE LIFE OF A SUCCESSFUL ROCK MUSICIAN is one of intense periods of working followed by intense periods of – not working. First there’s the touring, living out of suitcases at home or abroad. Then there’s the recording, trapped at odd hours in the unhealthy confines of the studio.
And then there’s the enforced waiting for the next concentrated round of activity – the equivalent of the surface interval.
Ryan Wilson, guitarist with indie-rockers the Pigeon Detectives, put his most recent surface interval to good use by realising a long-held ambition – he learned to dive. And Ryan has become passionate about his sport, becoming a DIVER reader, as you do, and eagerly pushing on towards instructor and technical grades.
The Pigeon Detectives are five mates from Leeds who chose a neo-psychedelic band name that they’ve been trying to live down ever since they first hit the charts in 2007.
They had already been together for five years when their debut album Wait For Me reached the number 3 spot in the UK, going platinum. The follow-up, Emergency, got to fifth place, and four singles from the albums made the Top 20.
Touring apart, a rather less frenetic period followed, which was when Ryan decided to kick back and start diving. Then last year the band went to New York to record their third album, Up, Guards And At ‘Em!, and the single Done In Secret. Both have just been released.
They are now embarking on a UK tour, with a big world tour to follow next year, taking to new audiences their relentlessly upbeat, uncomplicated and catchy songs.
And when I say catchy, I’m not kidding – since I started writing this, I’ve been unable to shake their old hits like Romantic Type and I’m Not Sorry out of my head.
“We decided to take a bit of time off after the second album, and that’s when I got into diving,” Ryan tells me. “I’d always been fascinated about the whole idea of being under water, just watching cartoons and films when I was young, and later Jacques Cousteau – we had the whole of his Odyssey on video. So it was always at the back of my mind, but it was finding the time and the money. It’s not a cheap sport!”
A planned holiday to Mexico with his girlfriend in May 2009 hit the skids when swine flu broke out there, so the couple switched to Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt. “The Magic Life Hotel had an SSI dive centre attached to it, very well run by a couple of Dutch fellas. I looked in, and decided to do an Open Water course.
“It’s a nice place to do your first dives, and I guess I must have been very lucky, because we were doing a safety stop at 5m on my second open water dive and I saw a manta ray! My instructor certainly reckoned I was lucky, because it was the first time in three or four hundred dives that he’d seen one.
“I’ve seen some pretty lax practices at dive centres since then, but those guys were great – I was in good hands.”

BACK IN THE UK Ryan, keen to pursue his new pastime, headed for Diving Leisure in Leeds. “To get my PADI Advanced Open Water I had to do a crossover, which meant redoing the tail-end of the Open Water course, but that was OK. This was in July, and I did the first part in Capernwray and the second half in Stoney Cove, where the water’s deeper.
“I made some friends at Diving Leisure among the instructors and divemasters, so I joined its club.
I really want to be a good confident diver, and I’m keen to learn.” He has since done six speciality courses, including deep wreck, enriched air and navigation, recently moved to diving with twin-sets and has qualified as a PADI Master Scuba Diver – but he has no intention of stopping there.
“I’ve become a frequent UK diver. I prefer the North Sea, though if the weather isn’t good I dive the quarries. I want to see more wrecks, because I’m interested in them and I want to learn to be confident and safe at 40m, how to line-up and so
on. But I really want to get into diving World War Two subs. They can be quite deep and fairly difficult, so I’m looking to do a trimix course next.”
Ryan plans to do a PADI technical course with Divewise Malta. “I was out there with a friend, and he was doing a TecRec course while I was pleasure-diving. We dived the big container wreck, the Um El Faroud [110m long in 35m depth].
“ I had a 15-litre cylinder and my gas consumption’s OK, but my friend was able to do deco stops and get that much more out of it.
I wouldn’t want to be tek-diving every time I dive, but I want to get more into the deco side of things.
“I’m planning to go down the professional route as well,” says Ryan – to which end Diving Leisure is ready to take him through the PADI Dive Master course when he’s free.
“It would be nice to have instructing on my CV – and it’s a back-up plan. We love England, but one day I’d love to live abroad, perhaps in the Med – Greece or the Balearics, or even the Canary Islands.” In the fickle music business, a good fall-back position seems a sensible precaution.

SO WHEN WILL RYAN FIND TIME for the advanced stuff, what with record promotional work now leading into a hectic touring programme for the band, including the USA, Australia and Japan
“I will need time to concentrate on those courses,” Ryan agrees. “I’m privileged to get to see the world as part of my job, and wherever I go now I’ll try to fit in a few dives. It would be absolutely fantastic to dive in Australia on days off, so I’m sussing out the dive centres.
“I haven’t been on tour as a diver before, but I will be taking my computer and regs. I like to use my own regs, but it depends how much I can carry.”
Can’t he just slip all his dive gear in with the band equipment and leave it to the roadies I ask, but I’m obviously thinking of Pink Floyd or the Stones.
“When we travel abroad we have to go as light as possible – we just have a few crew-members going through the airports with all the gear.
“Our manager might not be all that happy if they were heaving my dive gear about too. I’m not that precious about taking my own kit!”
Which is, for the record “Apeks XTX 40 regs, DS4 first stages, Oceanic LX BC for single tanks, a Suunto D4 and the bigger Cressi Archimedes computer
I got when I first started. I have an O’Three R12/100 drysuit, a Fourth Element skin and I’ve just splashed out on a new set of fins, Scubapro Novas, because they’re good in currents. I also have a Halcyon wing and harness to use with 12-litre twin cylinders.”
Ryan is also serious about his underwater photography. “I’m into photography on land and use an SLR, though a housing for that would cost about £2000. So I take a compact on all my dives – it’s a nice little set-up, a Fuji F80 with strobe arm and a fish-eye lens that I can attach to the front. With a wide-angle lens you can get close, so it looks really clear.
“It’s a lot of work doing the white balance all the time, and you do have to be a good diver, but at the same time I’m aware of not wanting to be a bad buddy, as photographers can be.
“I’ve been reading Maria Munn’s book, and as I become a better diver and understand the concepts better, my photography should improve.”
What do the other Pigeon Detectives make of Ryan’s recreational habits “The band aren’t that interested – when I tell them about the dives I do, when it’s dark and cold with strong currents, like on the last wreck I did in the UK, it doesn’t really appeal to them.
“Mind you, when I told them what it was like diving through the crew quarters on the P29 US minesweeper wreck in Mexico, they thought it was actually pretty cool.
“Our singer [Matt Bowman] mentioned that he’d like me to teach him to dive when I’m an instructor. In the meantime we might go snorkelling or something.”

THE BAND WRITE MANY of their songs together in the studio. Any likelihood of a number celebrating the underwater world “Not yet, but our tour manager was talking about getting me under water for our next video.
“Still, as the rest of the band don’t dive it would be a bit weird just having me finning about on my own!”
Favourite underwater moments “That manta was memorable, but one of the best dives I’ve done was in the Farne Islands last year. The seals were playing with the divers, and that was a pretty amazing experience – I got some good shots.
“It was a sunny day in August, we had just dived the Glanmire, the old steamship wreck at 30m, saw a 10ft long jellyfish on the shotline – that day just sticks in my mind as what’s great about British diving.”