Music Facilitator Simon writes about the 2022 Men’s Music Jam, which culminated in a successful recording session at Mayfield Studios.
The Men’s Music Jam was a free music group for men experiencing problems with their mental health, in which participants jammed together with a variety of instruments. It ran from May until December 2022, culminating in a successful recording session at Mayfield Studios on 5th December.
The Men’s Music Jam is the embodiment of Tonic’s first value:
We believe that participation in music and the arts can promote and sustain good mental health.
The jam sessions were designed to provide a safe and supportive environment for men to come together, make music, be creative, and make new friends.
The sessions had an unstructured feel throughout, with participants always able to suggest songs they wanted to play. We were lucky to have some great musicians in attendance, which meant we could play a wide variety of songs, often at an intermediate-to-advanced difficulty level.
The Kinks – Sunny Afternoon
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon Rising
The Rolling Stones – Sweet Virginia
Bob Dylan – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
The Band – The Weight
Otis Redding – Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay
The Beatles – I’ve Got a Feeling
Iggy Pop – The Passenger
The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil
Radiohead – Creep
Neil Young – My My Hey Hey
Justin Hayward – Forever Autumn
Led Zeppelin – Kashmir
The Pretenders – 2000 Miles
Oasis – The Importance of Being Idle
Talking Heads – Psycho Killer
Neil Young – Heart of Gold
Stealers Wheel – Stuck in the Middle With You
The Kinks – Lola
Jimi Hendrix – Hey Joe
The Cranberries – Zombie
Razorlight – Golden Touch
The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles – With a Little Help from My Friends
The Beatles – A Day in the Life
Here’s the first of our recordings from Mayfield:
The Weight by The Band
The character of the jam sessions was one of fun, escapism and laughter. We jammed in a large circle facing each other, some sat down and others standing.
The sessions always had multiple guitars, a bass, singers, and hand percussion (usually a cajon, with bongos and other percussion-related oddities featuring as special guests). In a couple of sessions, Jim, one of the facilitators, was even kind enough to treat us to his (terrible) trumpet playing.
Many of the participants were living through real adversity, the jam sessions providing a much-needed respite. It was a privilege to be a part of something that was light-hearted and fun on the surface, yet providing real support. The power of music participation to lift moods and build confidence is unparalleled.
For many of the attendees, myself included, it quickly became the highlight of the week.
The second of our recordings from Mayfield:
Sweet Virginia by The Rolling Stones
The recording session at Mayfield Studios was on the afternoon of December 5th.
The weeks leading up to it were far from ideal, with illness meaning that we were rarely all in attendance as a full band. Despite this, everyone put in the work at home, so we turned up on the day with enough practice under our belts to complete the session.
It was unclear whether we would be playing to a click (metronome) and overdubbing our parts, or playing as a live band. In the end, we played as a live band, with a bit of vocal overdubbing. This was definitely the right choice, as that’s how we had played together in all of the jam sessions. Playing together as a live band meant that it was harder to tidy up mistakes, many of which feature on the final recordings, but it also meant that we could feed off each other’s energy, providing more feeling to the performances.
The final recordings sound a bit raw, and rightly so. We were raw. And by modern standards, the tracks are certainly underproduced. But the result is something refreshingly real. We captured a moment, and everyone was pleased with the results.
The first track we recorded was The Weight, and the second was Sweet Virginia. For both of these, the second-and-final take was used.
The third track we recorded was our own composition:
It’s Not Getting Better Now by Men’s Music Jam
The music to this track was composed in its entirety in a little over 5 minutes at one of our jam sessions. The tempo and key were lifted from a guitar-less electronic track on YouTube that Karl had been practising his vocal to, with all-original guitar parts written to replace it. The order of composition was the same as how the guitar parts enter on the final recording – acoustic guitar followed by bass guitar and then electric guitar, with all parts essentially the same as that first attempt. The track was accompanied by a cajon in the weekly sessions, with drums added on the studio day.
The songs were presented to the participants as a CD, as well as on YouTube as videos showcasing photos of the group.
The Men’s Music Jam provided support in a number of ways. Moods were lifted by the camaraderie and light-hearted nature of the sessions. Confidence was built through performance and accomplishment. Emotions were released through musical expression. The participants who kept attending until the studio day left as the best of friends, having formed a bond by triumphing in the face of adversity. In short, the Men’s Music Jam was a success.
A playlist of The Weight, Sweet Virginia and It's Not Getting Better Now
The Men's Music Jam was funded by Adult Community Mental Health Transformation (No Wrong Door) and HIWCF (Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Foundation).
A big thanks to Dom Elton at Mayfield Studios for donating the session to Tonic, and for contributing keys on Sweet Virginia. And a big thanks to Matt the sound engineer.
“I suffered from my mental health for years and becoming a full-time carer for my 2 disabled boys has added to my isolation and depression. I was recommended to find a support group to help, but struggled to find something that motivated me to attend. I came across Tonic via a newspaper article and with music being an early passion I thought I would make contact. I hadn't actually played or picked up a bass guitar since the late 90s, so I had some apprehension about joining the Men’s Music Jam, but after meeting with the team I fought all of my anxiety and attended. The group has been nothing but positive for me. I never once felt out of place or questioned my ability. It was facilitated brilliantly with the staff members being encouraging, supportive and relaxed – it felt like a safe place to be ‘myself’ and to talk to other people who were experiencing similar issues. The session at the recording studio was excellent, and was something I would never have even attempted at the start of the Men's Music Jam, but after weeks of the group getting together and with the help and mentorship from the facilitators it was a great experience. My only regret is that it had to end.”
“I joined the group as I have social anxieties and was interested in what the MMJ could offer. The initial period was to be for 4 sessions of inspiring ‘jamming’. Thankfully, it lasted much longer and I felt my confidence building with each session, as we expressed our musical interests and capabilities. I am now looking for drumming tuition. I am proud of the recorded versions that we made, and would like to continue being in a group environment. It was good to be in an open and safe environment, to chat, play and laugh as a collective. Thank you so very much for a positive memorable experience.”
Cajon and Vocals
“From a personal perspective, the entire experience of the MMJ group was positively brilliant. Witnessing the confidence of the guys grow week by week – both in terms of playing and more generally – was incredibly rewarding. The group perfectly demonstrated the therapeutic power of music and social connection. I’m proud to have been part of it.”
“The MMJ really was enjoyable on so many levels. It was sensitive to individuals' needs, in safely nurturing their musicality and confidence in a relaxed and fun way – always encouraging and enabling individuals to express themselves on their terms and at their own pace. There was no prejudice or judgement on musical taste – nothing was off limits and many styles were enjoyed. The bonds that were built and the meaningful connections that were made really is testament to all that attended. The highlight for me (apart from Steve falling backwards off a stool and continuing to sing) would have to be the joy of participants when they were told the group would be extended for another week... and another... and culminating in a trip to Mayfield Studios – an experience many had not expected or thought would be possible. A genuinely memorable and meaningful experience shared with individuals who had complex daily struggles that went away a little bit every week. Loved this group and I was so proud of everyone's achievements.”
Drums (studio) + Guitars / Horns (sessions)
“Participating in the Men's Music Jam was a great experience. It lifted my mood and built my confidence. We developed a camaraderie as a group that I will never forget.
“I am so proud of everyone's progress, which culminated in a successful day at Mayfield Studios recording 3 tracks. Like many of the participants, this was my first experience of recording in a studio, and it wouldn't have been possible without the supportive environment created by Tonic.”
“The Men's Music Jam provided a fantastic opportunity for musicians of all skill levels to come together, share their passion for music, and collaborate in a supportive and creative environment. It was an event that brought people together, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie.
“As someone who participated in the Jam, I found it to be an incredibly enriching experience. It not only allowed me to showcase my own musical talents but also provided a platform to connect with others and learn from their unique experiences with mental health and music.”
“I would never have attended anything like this before. I would have been too anxious. Now I feel really comfortable in the group. I feel generally more sociable and approachable. The group is inclusive. I feel heard and valued in my contribution. I’ve also made friends with someone else in the group.”
“I felt welcome straight away. It got me away from my day-to-day problems. I felt like I was myself again. My wife noticed I was more upbeat afterwards.”
“Tonic has been able to support me in attending. I now feel able to ask for help if I need it. I feel welcomed and included.”
The group typically had 2 or 3 facilitators, with at least one focusing on the music and one able to provide mental health support.
Some participants registered for the programme after seeing our social media posts. Others were referred by Adult Mental Health services, Community Connectors and the Portsmouth Probation Service.
Overall, 10 men attended the group, including a trans man, and their ages ranged from mid-twenties to mid-fifties. Diagnoses of mental health disorders varied and included generalised anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, psychosis, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In the first couple of groups, a number of participants were noticeably anxious. However, as the weeks progressed, people became more familiar with each other. Anxiety reduced and social connection was evident as participants left the group together chatting and even offering lifts to those without transport. The groups soon became relaxed with lots of fun and laughter.
For some participants, their interest in music, as well as their motivation to pick up instruments or write lyrics, was rejuvenated. Practising creativity at home in between sessions became a regular activity.
For those participants with poor personal organisation and very little daily structure, just attending each week was a significant achievement.
The majority of participants reported being ‘very satisfied’ with the playing skills learnt, mental health support offered, accessibility of the sessions, the facilitators, and the materials used.