Tonic adviser John Barnes writes a follow-up to his successful blog post The Ghost Town Effect, which featured the original song All in this Together.
All in this Together was included on the album Now That’s What I Call Glastonbury Calling.
Much of the advice in this blog is aimed at people living in the Somerset area.
All in this Together by John Barnes
All in this Together
I’m really blown away by All in this Together being included as a bonus track on the album Now That’s What I Call Glastonbury Calling (thank you Ian), especially as the proceeds go to keeping local venues open.
Why has a Somerset psychiatrist (me) written the song All in this Together?
At the start of lockdown I started writing a blog for the charity Tonic Music for Mental Health. Tonic, though based in Portsmouth, have been working with me, my colleagues and our patients here in Somerset.
The blog I wrote was about the effect that the conditions in which we are born, grow, live and work have on our mental and physical health. For people with a socioeconomic disadvantage, living in relatively deprived areas, this effect is particularly bad. I settled on the title The Ghost Town Effect, referencing the 1981 hit by The Specials, which highlighted the social problems of the time, including “all the clubs being closed down”.
If you read the blog, you will see that I explain how The Ghost Town Effect works to produce devastating effects on both physical and mental health.
The blog makes the case that to make things better we need action in all areas of society. We need to empower local communities to be active with health, social care and grassroots voluntary organisations.
Outside an NHS clinic in Southsea, Portsmouth
Mental health and creativity in Somerset
To avoid you falling asleep reading the rest of this blog, trying to make it to the links at the end, here they are! If you are interested in doing a free course to aid your wellbeing or recovery from mental health problems – gaining you knowledge, understanding and skills – check out the new Somerset Recovery College, operating online in the lockdown, but otherwise at venues all over Somerset:
https://somersetwlc.co.uk/ If you live or work in Sedgemoor, check out the forthcoming Arts Council funded community arts programme for everyone to attend, called Seed Sedgemoor. This isn’t a project explicitly badged for wellbeing, but rather one focused on arts participation for everyone. This has got underway despite the lockdown:
Seed are keen to get as much participation as possible now, with a 10-year vision in mind. Join the conversation and have your say in what you’d like to see developed in Sedgemoor arts and culture (including music):
https://seedsedgemoor.com If you are a professional musician or artist in Somerset or surrounding areas, who might be interested in, or just curious about, helping people in the community develop their own creativity, then please contact Seed Sedgemoor directly.
Transforming mental healthcare in Somerset
Somerset has become one of 12 NHS pilot sites in the country for radical transformation of the way mental health services are provided.
Here’s what the national charity Rethink Mental Illness say about this national programme: “We’re supportive of the place-based approach and look forward to seeing how the 12 pilot sites each craft their own local solution to place community at the heart of their new mental health services. The significant funding behind these pilots should allow each area to foster strong relationships and deliver holistic, rounded care to a group that has for too long been forgotten.” This programme has started with the formation of the Somerset Mental Health Alliance, a partnership of ten voluntary organisations to work alongside NHS services:
To learn more about how this programme is progressing, and also how music and the arts might contribute to its development, please watch the following recorded webinar about the new alliance and its transformation plans, featuring keynote talks by Jane Yeandle (Service Director, Mental Health & Learning Disabilities Directorate, Somerset NHS Foundation Trust) and Vicky Sullivan (Health & Wellbeing Coordinator, Spark Somerset):
This video also includes some inspiring examples of current arts projects in mental and physical healthcare in Somerset.
How are local venues helpful to local wellbeing?
I asked mental health social worker Steph Langan, of the aforementioned Tonic Music for Mental Health, to comment on the importance of local venues.
Steph reflected on Tonic’s experience in Portsmouth:
“Grassroots music venues are a vital fabric to every community in every town and city across the UK. They provide a platform for local and emerging artists to learn their craft in front of a home crowd of family, friends and music lovers hoping to discover the 'next big thing' in their local intimate venue.
“The venue owners and staff provide vital support, advice and guidance to young musicians just starting out and navigating the complexities, and often insecurities, of the music industry. They provide a vital community benefit to local charities, organisations and colleges. Local venues host regular benefit gigs to raise funds for causes within the local area, waiving hire fees and costs, enabling greater funds to be raised.
“It was our local music venues – The Wedgewood Rooms and The Cellars – that we first contacted upon starting Tonic, and where we first met Geoff Priestley (owner of The Wedgewood Rooms) and Steve Pitt (owner of The Cellars – now closed) for guidance and advice. Geoff has supported us with free hire of the venue for gigs, and we held our very first music and art workshops in the Edge of The Wedge. This was also the venue that our Tonic Ska Choir first performed in, and this will always hold special memories for not only me, but for every member of the choir who performed that night.
“Profit margins for grassroots venues are always slim. It's a tough business at the best of times, never mind during a pandemic. It is vital that we all support our local grassroots venues now more than ever, so they can be protected for future generations of music-makers and music-lovers.”
Founder / Chief Executive Officer, Tonic Music for Mental Health
The Tonic Ska Choir’s first ever performance, held at The Wedgewood Rooms
The self-evident benefits of attending live music performances are probably well understood by the majority of visitors to the Glastonbury Calling page!
There’s also a growing body of research evidencing the health benefits of music.
The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing of the over 50’s has found that attending cultural events can provide a protective effect against the development of depression in the 10 years after attendance. This includes a “dose effect” determined by how frequently you go, with a 32% lower risk of developing depression for people who attended every few months, and a 48% lower risk for people who attended once a month or more.
Creative City Somerset project
Music is helpful to many people in their recovery from mental health problems, as the work of Tonic Music for Mental Health demonstrated at 2019’s Creative City Somerset project. The name of our project was inspired by Glastonbury Festival – a “creative city” springing up phoenix-like every year in the fields at Worthy Farm.
Recording artist and Tonic trustee Vinny Peculiar helped our patients recovering from mental health problems write and perform a song together, as well as make a video, with help from Richard Tomlinson of Somerset Film and his use of green screen technology.
Creative City energy and cohesiveness was in abundance at the project, via African Drumming led by Sharon Stone of Organic Rhythm:
See this brief documentary clip with Vinny and I about the project:
Many thanks to Phil Shepherd at The Engine Room for keeping the project on track:
I’d also like to thank to my colleagues in the Somerset Foundation Trust, whose enthusiasm made the project happen, with special mention going to Occupational Therapists Gail Mackenzie, Chloe Hofgartner and Zoe Walker (who also plays the flute on All in this Together).
Vinny Peculiar, with acoustic guitar and friends
Creativity for the Common Good and empowerment of disadvantaged groups
I focus here on the history of how artists and musicians bringing people together can improve health and wellbeing. One could start this history over 40,000 years ago – a vulture bone flute of that age was discovered in a cave in Germany in 2008. Ancient flutes are evidence of an early musical tradition that likely helped modern humans communicate and form tighter social bonds:
But let’s fast forward to more modern times!
During World War 2, there was investment in arts and culture to support morale in the armed forces and on the home front.
This closed down after the war ended, but the Arts Council was then formed, which began by focusing on the fine arts.
Since the 1960s, pioneering community artists and musicians worked to empower disadvantaged groups, but it’s only in recent years recently that their work is being recognised as meriting, or being in the remit of, the Arts Council.
In 1979, 2-Tone bands, with black and white line-ups from the Midlands, fused Jamaican ska and reggae with punk. They dominated the charts for 30 months, challenging the racism of the era:
In recent years, Arts Council England set up a large community arts participation project called Creative People and Places, focusing on less well-resourced areas in the country, and last year they announced funding to support grassroots local venues:
For a full and stimulating history of the development of community arts, you could do no better than read A Restless Art: How participation won, and why it matters (2019) by François Matarasso, who, in order to make it accessible, provides a free PDF of the full book here:
For the full story of how and why 2-Tone music developed, the conclusion of Sarah Conduit’s 2017 MA thesis is really readable:
Dr John Barnes
Last verse and chorus
I hope you have found the All in this Together song and blog, as well as the Ghost Town Effect blog, stimulating and the links helpful.
They only scratch the surface of the work artists and organisations of all kinds do, in Somerset and elsewhere, that benefits health. Despite these examples of good practice, it is recognised that this is not available to everyone in this country, particularly people with major mental health problems who remain some of the most excluded members of our society:
https://baringfoundation.org.uk/resource/creatively-minded/ (pages 5-6) I think there is hope that the transformation of our services will diminish these types of inequality, to the benefit of all.
I hope that there will be more opportunities for artists and musicians to develop community art and music as a strand in their careers – and as an adjunct to health services – helping us to provide fully comprehensive care in a holistic way.
We should all get out to gigs more – regular live cultural attendance is protective to our long-term mental health.
We also need to keep local venues open, enabling them to support the development of musical careers and provide the thriving resource to local community organisations that will be key in the transformation of NHS mental and physical health services. As the song goes…
“We’re All in this Together Let’s try and make this true!” That’s all for now! John Dr John Barnes Consultant Rehabilitation Psychiatrist, Somerset Foundation NHS Trust Adviser to Tonic Music for Mental Health