top of page

Coming Round: what ever happened to Ken Owen of Carcass?

“So, you had the stroke in 1999?”

“Yeah. February ‘99, yeah. I was born with an aneurysm in the brain and it burst in 1999.”

“And you’d had no idea about the aneurysm?”

“Absolutely. No signs there was anything wrong until it actually happened. Totally out of the blue. Unexpected.”

“Were you at home, or…”

“I was living with my wife at the time in Nottingham and went out with a couple of friends and I bent over to stroke the cat and passed out because the force of bending down brought the blood flow through the aneurysm and it burst. And that was it,” he adds simply.

Nut roasticism - dining the insalubrious

From the kitchen across the hall of Ken Owen’s well-heated bungalow (one of the health issues he has been left with is the inability to properly self-regulate his body temperature), the sounds of a roast dinner coming together can be heard. We have been invited round for Hallowe’en Sunday lunch. Ken’s long-serving friend, Sally, and the Good Doctor are busily working on the last stages of a delicious homemade nut roast. Ken has been veggie since he was 15.

“Well, the band were all vegan/vegetarian and it made it a lot easier, and also I didn't want to have animals injured or dying just for my food. I was quite into The Smiths at the time as well. Meat Is Murder.”

Rather than The Smiths, I somehow have Ike & Tina swirling around my head. Nut roast city limits. Meat and offal aren’t allowed in it.

"But the thing was I had no pupil response at all from the light, and that’s a very, very bad sign because it means your autonomic responses aren’t working very well. That’s the deepest level of subconscious and if that’s not working very well you’re pretty much fucked. Which I was. For a long time."

Ken and I are sat in the living room. The live broadcast of the Women’s FA Cup semi-final between Manchester City and Chelsea is paused on Ken’s – for the size of the room – enormous TV. We have talked a bit about how he met Sally through a mutual friend, Johnny Carter of Pitchshifter, and about Tony the Interpretive Dancer; we have discussed Jeff Walker and Bill Steer’s appearance in an episode of the BBC comedy Red Dwarf, and we have covered the emergence, growth and hiatus of Carcass. But I am most keen to know what happened to one of metal’s most influential drummers since.

“And you were in a coma for some time?”

“Two hundred and eighty days. Ten months. Yeah. I don’t remember anything about it except doctors shining a light in my eyes and faces bending over, peering at me. That’s all I remember from that. But the thing was I had no pupil response at all from the light, and that’s a very, very bad sign because it means your autonomic responses aren’t working very well.” He arranges his hands in his lap before explaining, “That’s the deepest level of subconscious and if that’s not working very well you’re pretty much fucked. Which I was. For a long time.”

As it was a right-sided brain aneurysm, the left side of Ken’s body has been affected. Such is the convoluted networking of neurons. In the time Ken was in the coma, unable to move his left side, the tendons of his left arm and leg retracted causing mobility problems. In hindsight, he reflects, it would have been better if his limbs had been wrapped in an extended position to help prevent this, but it wasn’t known at the time that this would be needed. “I’m a unique case, basically,” he beams. “The nurses at the hospital were fantastic, don’t get me wrong.”

So, what is it like coming out of a coma?

“It wasn’t just like waking up. It was a very slow emergence. Day by day I would get slightly more conscious.” He assures me the Hollywood version of a light being switched on is a far cry from the truth. “It’s just very slow and progressive. My family were coming in to see me every day, and some days I would be good and some days I wouldn’t be.”

Ken has come a long way since those early days after regaining consciousness, but his troubles did not end there.

“I made almost a full recovery after the stroke, and then a year later we found that the aneurysm that caused the stroke in the first place was still present in my brain. There was an 80% chance of it going again, and that would have killed me. You don’t survive two strokes. So that was…” He takes a breath. “The worst news in the world, to find this time bomb in your head and it’s going to go off again. So I elected to go in for surgery a year later to have the aneurysm surgically removed. And that was a massive decision. A life-changing decision. I didn’t know what the results would be.

“They had to induce a coma for another five months,” he continues. “I didn’t know they were going to have to induce a coma at the time. I was just expecting to wake up after surgery and it would be perfectly fine, but no.” He laughs at his naivety. “When I did come round from the induced coma, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t walk. I had to use a standing frame and walking frames and everything.”


It’s time to show my own naivety.

“How long did rehabilitation take?” I ask.

“It’s still going on, really. It was the year 2000 I had to go in for surgery and I’m still improving day by day now.” He reflects on the early days. “It was very tough to begin with. I had to go and live with my mum and dad when I first got out of hospital, and they had to look after me as though I was a baby again; bring me up, teach me how to live. It was a really hard experience to go through, being nearly 30 and having to go live with my parents again.”

Ken explains how he has been under several regional health authorities over the intervening years, and how each one completed its own assessment to decide what level of help they believed he needed.

“Up until recently I had help.” Ken has been receiving disability benefit payments which have gone towards much needed support, but lately a change in funding policy by the local government – foisted upon them by the national government – has heavily impacted him. “In their wisdom they decided to cut my funding by 80%, which meant my PA, friend and helper, Chris, who I’d known for 20 years and who helped get me walking independently again, we had to make him redundant. So that was a massive problem for me because I’m partially sighted as well, so it means I have to find other people to drive me around. Chris was my main carer and helper, and he drove me everywhere I wanted to go. He also slotted in very well with my family’s and friends’ lives. He’s a similar age to me, we got on really well and all my friends liked him and got on well with him.”

Ken now has to rely on his parents, his sister and his friends, a situation which he finds depressing. Yet, somehow, Ken remains sanguine. “One of my friends, Debs, she’s also an expedition leader and she’s been taking me climbing a lot recently. She’s been brilliant with me over the years.”

Though Covid has made climbing, like many things, difficult.

“It’s not impossible, but you have to go at certain times and make sure there’s space in between climbers and everything.”

“Bill and Jeff [...] They’ve been absolutely phenomenal throughout the years.”

But these are not the only people who have supported Ken since his health issues began. During a quick tour of his home, I had spotted photos of him at Wacken 2008.

“Yeah. There are some photos of me walking on stage at Wacken in front of 15,000 people all going, ‘Ken! Ken! Ken! Ken!’ It was amazing.”

How did all this come about?

“What happened was, Bill and Jeff, who are the main guys from Carcass, realised I was going to need some help, so they organised some festival gigs to earn the band some money so they could help me out. And they did, I think, about 12 or 13 gigs around Europe – big metal festivals – and the money the band got, they gave me a portion of because we were always 50-50. And they helped me buy this property.” He gestures to the comfortable bungalow. “They’ve been absolutely phenomenal throughout the years.”

The stroke and brain surgery have left Ken in an unenviable position for any musician in that he cannot play what was his primary instrument as well as he used to. But Ken, a self-confessed determined and fastidious person, has not let his creativity stagnate.

Despite Ken being best known for his involvement in rock and metal, a relationship which started at the age of ten with the purchase of his first album, AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, it wouldn’t be too long before he started getting into dance music.

“In about 1990, when I was about 20. I used to go out to raves and parties. A lot of fun, a lot of dancing around, lots of sweating. A lot of hands in the air,” he laughs.

So it was to electronic music he turned for a creative outlet.

“Is it something you’re constantly tinkering around with?” I ask.

“Yeah, in fact I’ll play you some.” Ken hunts down the CD and puts it in the player. Passing me the case he says, “That’s a photo of me after surgery. I had about 30 staples in my head. This is the first album I released after I started writing music. It’s called Possibilities and it was released by Anthony [‘Tony the Interpretive Dancer’] Hodgkinson who used to be in a band called Bivouac in the 80s in Nottingham. He’s got a label called NGland and he helped me release this album.”

Techno music starts coming out of the speakers. Ken is distracted with skipping through, trying to find his favourite track off the record, ‘Growler.’

“I wrote this at Confetti,” Ken explains, “which is a studio in Nottingham set up by Carcass’ old sound engineer, tour manager and live engineer, Craig Chettle. He set up this school in Nottingham called Confetti which teaches young people about creative industries like music, art, film, etc. Originally, I used Cubase [software to create the music], but then I went on to use Reason. Then I learned how to do a bit on some other, slightly more advanced software.”

A new track starts playing in the background.

“This is a track I wrote there. It’s called ‘Emergence’. It’s about my coming out of the coma. I wanted it to be harsh sounding because what happened to me was harsh and hard. I wanted to convey some of the struggles that I had.”

But Ken wouldn’t have you feel pity for his plight.

“I don’t want to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths, or think, ‘oh, poor Ken.’ That’s the last thing I want. I want people to think, he’s been through hell but he’s come out the other side smiling still. Throughout rehabilitation I was aiming to be as close as possible to the person that was almost lost. So, 22 years later, I think I’m pretty much the same person. My friends and family have guided me back to the person I used to be.

“You have to realise,” he continues, “that with the accident that happened to me, it was so huge and devastating, the outcome was very bleak at the time. My attitude has been to try to make the most of every day and enjoy every moment from now on. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do, and it’s working for the most part anyway. The proof’s in the pudding, and I’m the pudding in this case,” he grins.

Postscript - a favour to the Dark Lord

Ken has asked me to relay a message to you all. Perhaps a call to action, perhaps a motto to take succour from. I will let you decide: “Drum to your own beat.”

Ken Owen on Bandcamp:


18,179 views0 comments
bottom of page